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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Sierra Leone road trip: Masiaka to Makeni
Masiaka Makeni Yengema Koidu BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle takes a road journey across Sierra Leone to witness first-hand how the peace process is progressing. Day two.

The commander of the United Nations troops in the northern city of Makeni says he is a happy man.


The combatants are all fed up with war

Lt-Col James Oladipo
Lieutenant Colonel James Oladipo, commands the contingent of Nigerian UN soldiers now billeted in the former teacher training college on the outskirts of Makeni.

"Between 150 and 200 civilians are returning here every day," says Lt-Col Oladipo.

"They're encouraged by our presence and the return of security to resume their normal lives."

Makeni is the former headquarters town of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Early this year in keeping with the ceasefire agreement, the RUF decided to allow soldiers from the UN's largest peacekeeping force in the world to enter their territory and occupy Makeni.

Dialogue

As for the RUF who used to control this town through the barrel of the gun, Lt-Col Oladipo says they have now come round.

UN peacekeeping force
The UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone is the largest in the world
"The combatants are all fed up with war and they realise there is nothing to gain if Sierra Leoneans continue killing each other. The only solution is to dialogue".

The RUF have signed peace agreements before which they have reneged on. I asked Lieutenant Colonel Oladipo what was different now.

"The presence of the peacekeepers in all the RUF areas like here in Makeni makes the difference," he said.

"We keep on educating and talking to them to explain that without peace there cannot be development and there cannot be commercial activities.

disused tank
Remants of war still litter the country
"The RUF leader, General Issa Sessay, has said any one of his men not committed to the peace process would be handled as appropriate and I believe and trust in what the RUF have said."

The professional optimism of UN soldiers is familiar to Sierra Leoneans but some of them are sceptical.

Signs of war

In the centre of Makeni the signs of war still abound.

Near the central roundabout there is a three-storey building which was last year rocketed by the Sierra Leonean army's attack helicopter. The tin roof is still a mass of tangled metal.

Rebel leader Foday Sankoh
Rebel leader Foday Sankoh is being held in Freetown
Down on the ground, with pride of place in the centre of the roundabout, is a picture of the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh.

Mr Sankoh was detained last year after his men kidnapped 500 UN peacekeepers and then, during civilian disturbances, his supporters shot dead some anti-rebel protesters in the capital Freetown.

A special UN court is due to try Foday Sankoh and other key rebel leaders accused of war crimes. But the political decision about when to do this will be difficult.

On the one hand, the elected government wants to be seen to be punishing criminal activity. On the other, there are general elections due - probably early next year - and the government may not have the political strength or will to risk a negative reaction from RUF supporters.

It is a dilemma which reflects the knife-edge peace process existing in Makeni.

There is no war but no real peace either.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Africa
UN condemns 'callous' attack
18 Jul 01 | Africa
Sierra Leone diamond mining ban
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