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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 18:11 GMT
The President's speech
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Sierra Leone has formally marked the end of one of the most brutal wars in modern African history. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah presided over peace celebrations attended by rebel leaders and international guests. Here are excerpts of his speech:

Never before since March 1996 when I took the solemn oath of office to lead this nation have I been so moved by a public ceremony as the one we are witnessing here today. It is indeed an honour and a great privilege for me to stand here and serve as host for this awe-inspiring declaration of peace in Sierra Leone.

We have learned the hard way that the paths to disarmament and peace are not paved with gold.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah

Not too long ago, the flames of war were mercilessly consuming thousands of innocent lives and countless property in several parts of our country. Today, we are happy that those flames of war have been extinguished, and that now we are about to watch the flames of peace, destroying some of the implements of war. What a relief! The ceremony marks the symbolic conclusion of the disarmament process, and an historic expression of our deep sense of national triumph...

Today, as we celebrate the dawn of lasting peace and security in Sierra Leone, we are also symbolically erecting a new milestone on the road to peace and stability in the West African sub-region. The events in the past ten to twelve years have shown that the proverbial "we are our neighbour's keeper" has become more relevant to the situation in our sub-region...

We remember those Ecomog (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice of giving up their own lives so that our children can live in peace. We renew our assurances to their families and respective governments that their memories will for ever remain in our hearts....

The people of Sierra Leone are equally grateful to the United Nations and the rest of the international community, for their support in making this celebration possible. We acknowledge that long before the outbreak of the rebel war, many of your representatives were here in this country as partners in development, helping us to take care of the health and welfare of our children; working hand in hand with our own nationals to construct roads and bridges, equip schools and hospitals, develop high yielding seeds for greater food production; and building the capacity of Sierra Leoneans to be economically self-sufficient...

Rehabilitation begins

To the United Nations and the international community, I must reiterate that the process of disarmament is formally over. However, the equally formidable tasks of reintegration and rehabilitation have only just begun...

I am confident that guided by the lessons of the past ten years...the forthcoming elections will be free and fair, and will be the most peaceful in the history of our beloved country

We have learned the hard way that the paths to disarmament and peace are not paved with gold. There was considerable loss of life and destruction of property. We encountered obstacles of various dimensions, such as intransigence, bad faith, greed, fear, apprehension, and in some instances financial constraints. There were inordinate delays and detours on the road. Today, we can take pride in the fact that we have at last arrived at a stage where for the first time in more than ten years, we can confidently speak about real peace and security...

Fellow compatriots as the celebration continues, we are about to face our first major challenge in the area of peaceful political transition, namely Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The elections will test our ability to apply the new culture of peace that we recently embraced in our relations with each other. The forthcoming electoral process will test our patriotism, our determination to put armed conflict behind us, to renounce violence as a means of bringing about political or any other change in this country. If we really appreciate peace, we should live and practice peace...

Let me take this opportunity to reiterate that election is not a war. The war is over. What we are about to embark upon on is a friendly contest. Election is a process by which we should freely and peacefully choose those who we believe are qualified to assume the heavy responsibility of serving this nation...

I am confident that guided by the lessons of the past ten years, and inspired by this symbolic but momentous occasion we are witnessing today, the forthcoming elections will be free and fair, and will be the most peaceful in the history of our beloved country.

Reconciliation and justice

Fellow compatriots, another test that we must pass is in the area of reconciliation and justice. We must recognise that justice and reconciliation are major components of peace. Furthermore, the administration of justice is an integral part of the process of national reconciliation.

Peace and forgiveness must come from the hearts and minds of the people concerned, namely, us Sierra Leoneans

If we really want to consolidate the peace, if we really want to facilitate the process of national reconciliation, we must be prepared to deal effectively with the trauma, the emotional pain resulting from that bitter conflict. One principal institution designed for this purpose is of course the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). We should all look forward to its proceedings, and the outcome of its work.

And speaking of reconciliation brings me to the issue of the Special Court which, I must emphasize, is part of the process of national reconciliation. One cannot speak about the need for national reconciliation, and at the same time ignore or dismiss the moral and constitutional imperative of upholding the rule of law. The Special Court is about accountability. It is about justice. I should add however, that justice is not merely an act of punishment, of revenge or of retribution. In our situation it is a means of dealing with impunity. It is also a means of ensuring that at all times, the human rights of every individual, including those who are caught up in armed conflict, are respected and protected...

We must note however, that peace and reconciliation cannot be imposed, it cannot be decreed, and it cannot be established by legislation or by commission. Peace and forgiveness must come from the hearts and minds of the people concerned, namely, us Sierra Leoneans...

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Africa
Sierra Leone's 'flames of peace'
17 Jan 02 | Africa
Bringing justice to Sierra Leone
16 Jan 02 | Africa
Leone war crimes tribunal set up
13 Jan 02 | Africa
Last Sierra Leone rebels disarm
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