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Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK

World: Africa

Sierra Leone peace deal signed

Foday Sankoh and President Kabbah: Deal after six weeks of talks

Sierra Leone's government has signed a peace deal with the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, in a move towards ending the country's brutal eight-year civil war.

Sierra Leone
The agreement has been signed in the Togolese capital, Lome, by Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh.

Mark Doyle in Freetown: "The terror has led to a thirst for peace"
The agreement follows six weeks of talks in the Togolese capital, Lome, involving the representatives of neighbouring governments as well as the Sierra Leone government and rebels.

It was reached after RUF negotiators backed down at the last minute on their demands for representation in a government of national unity.

Reports say the deal will

  • give the rebels four ministerial and four deputy ministerial posts
  • grant rebels a "reprieve" from war crimes prosecutions

Last-minute switch

[ image: 100,000 people suffered mutilation by the rebels (UN photo)]
100,000 people suffered mutilation by the rebels (UN photo)
Foday Sankoh, who was sentenced to death by a Sierra Leonean court last October for treason, had made new demands on Monday that appeared to dim the prospects of an early agreement.

Mr Sankoh said the People's War Council - which represents the rank and file of the RUF - had told him the offer of four cabinet seats in a future government was "not enough".

The BBC's Mark Doyle: "Politically risky deal"
Rebel representatives are believed to have backed down under pressure from Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is seen as an ally of the RUF.

The RUF also dropped a demand that soldiers from Ecomog - the Nigerian-led intervention force which has been backing President Kabbah's government against the rebels - be excluded from a future peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone.

But doubts remain over whether the rebels will abide by the deal, and whether civilians will accept the presence of rebels in the government.

Bloody conflict

[ image: Togolese President Eyadema and Liberian President Taylor were at the talks]
Togolese President Eyadema and Liberian President Taylor were at the talks
The RUF ousted President Kabba and his elected government in 1997, after most of the Sierra Leonean army defected to the rebels.

The government was later restored to power with the help of foreign troops, but the RUF continued to control large areas of the country - and briefly held most of the capital, Freetown, in January this year.

The RUF has conducted a campaign of terror to dissuade people from supporting the government.

Casualties of the war include

  • At least 50,000 deaths
  • 100,000 mutilation victims
  • 500,000 refugees in neighbouring countries
  • 2 million people internally displaced

The talks in Lome, chaired by the Togolese government, have involved representatives of Nigeria and Liberia, as well as the warring parties.

The start of the summit had been delayed by the late arrival of President Kabbah. His plane finally landed in the evening, several hours after his counterparts.

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Internet Links

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Human Rights Watch - Sierra Leone report

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