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Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK

World: Africa

Joy at Sierra Leone peace

Foday Sankoh and President Kabbah in agreement at last

A peace agreement has been signed between the government and rebels in Sierra Leone, ending eight years of war and six weeks of hard negotiation.

Voices from Freetown: "I am the happiest man so far"
The formal ceremony took place in the great hall of the Palace of Congress in the Togolese capital, Lome.

The deal - which effectively paves the way for a government of national unity - was signed by the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Foday Sankoh, and the Sierra Leonean President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

Sierra Leone
The signing sparked joy on the streets of the capital Freetown where people had spent much of the day listening to their radios for news of a final deal.

Several African heads of state were present at the ceremony, including Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

'Forgive and forget'

BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle: "Terror has now led the search for peace"
In a speech before the signing, President Kabbah called on Sierra Leoneans to "forgive and forget" and dedicated the peace document to all those who were victims of the war.

Correspondents said he brought tears to the eyes of many of those present by introducing them to a young girl who lost her right hand after being shot by the rebels.

The precise details of the deal have yet to be spelled out, but it is likely that the RUF has accepted an offer of four cabinet positions with at least one major portfolio.

Foday Sankoh, who until now has been facing a death sentence has been given a full pardon and reprieve and may take up a ministerial post.

Freetown celebrates

Lansana Fofana in Freetown: "People were glued to their radio sets for news of the deal"
As news of the signing emerged, celebrations were already underway on the streets of Freetown.

Although there are considerable reservations among the civilian population about the policy of bringing the rebels into government, such concerns appear to have taken second place to the general sense of relief.

BBC reporter in Freetown, Lansana Fofana, said there had been an overwhelming reaction in the streets of the capital.

He said that from the east to the west of the city children and adults - many of them amputees - were dancing with joy.

There was a carnival atmosphere as people crowded into the streets beating drums.

Drivers honked their horns and cars were emblazoned with the flags of Nigeria, Guinea and Ghana - the countries that have been contributing to the Ecomog peacekeeping force.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who is touring Africa, is due to visit Freetown on Thursday.

Rebel demands

The peace agreement is a considerable diplomatic triumph for the Togolese Government which has acted as host and mediator during the talks.

As the signing ceremony took place, Togolese people in Lome danced and sang in praise of President Eyadema.

[ image: 100,000 people suffered mutilation by the rebels (UN photo)]
100,000 people suffered mutilation by the rebels (UN photo)
There was a last minute hitch to the peace process on Monday when Foday Sankoh made new demands that appeared to dim 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".

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.

Bloody conflict

[ image: Togolese President Eyadema and Liberian President Taylor put pressure on both sides]
Togolese President Eyadema and Liberian President Taylor put pressure on both sides
The RUF ousted President Kabbah 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 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
  • Two million people internally displaced

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Internet Links

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Human Rights Watch - Sierra Leone report

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