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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK

World: Africa

US push for Sierra Leone peace

Madeleine Albright and Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Sama Banya hug a three-year-old victim of the war

The US will help fund a new United Nations peacekeeping force to oversee the disarmament of 45,000 combatants in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war.

Sierra Leone
The Americans have promised to pay a quarter of the cost of a 6,000-strong force.

The UK has also said it will contribute money.

The BBC's Mark Doyle: ''The Americans have promised to pay a quarter of the cost''
Most of the soldiers will be from West African nations, led by Nigeria but under UN command - a compromise reached after the failure of international military missions in Somalia, Rwanda and Angola.

'Straight talk'

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in Sierra Leone to press the factions to speed up the implementation of July's peace agreement.

She will deliver her "tough message" in the capital Freetown at the start of a six-day tour of Africa.

Soon after arriving, Mrs Albright visited a camp where more than 500 wounded Sierra Leoneans are being treated. All lost limbs during the conflict - most were mutilated by machete-wielding insurgents.

She is also due to travel to Mali, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, where she will attend the funeral of the former president, Julius Nyerere.

The BBC's Mark Doyle: ''Sierra Leone had little choice over the amnesty''
In Sierra Leone, Mrs Albright is planning to meet President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the two main rebel leaders Johnny Paul Koroma and Foday Sankoh.

A US official said she would "talk in very straight terms about what has to be done to implement the peace agreement".

"She will call for swift disarmament, the release of prisoners and co-operation with the international community," the official said.

During her meeting with the rebel leaders, she is expected to tackle the controversial issue of atrocities committed during the nine-year civil war.

Truth commission

[ image: The RUF rebels are funded by diamond sales]
The RUF rebels are funded by diamond sales
Human rights groups have criticised the US for supporting a peace deal that included an amnesty for those responsible for the thousands of murders, rapes and mutilations during the war.

Mrs Albright has been urged by human rights groups to back the creation of a South African-style truth commission in Sierra Leone.

Human Rights Watch said the US had not pursued justice for victims of the war in Sierra Leone with the same vigour that it had in Kosovo.

The US official said Mrs Albright would "make it very clear where she thinks the responsibility for atrocities lies".

Arms trade

Mrs Albright's third visit to Africa as secretary of state is intended to promote democracy and highlight threats to stability on the continent.

[ image: It is Mrs Albright's third visit as US Secretary of State]
It is Mrs Albright's third visit as US Secretary of State
Shortly before she set off, US officials said she would be pressing for firm action to control the illegal trade in small-arms in Africa.

Mrs Albright said that in many instances, this trade was fuelled by the sale of illegally mined diamonds.

Illicit diamond profits had transformed the Sierra Leonean rebels from a band of some 400 people into a marauding army of thousands, she said.

Efforts were underway in the US, which accounts for 65% of the world's gemstone market, to stop rebel groups selling illegally-mined stones.

Washington is also concerned that individual states are facing renewed pressure from transnational problems, such as civil war, poverty and disease.

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Internet Links

US State Dept Bureau of African Affairs

UN humanitarian overview: Africa

Organisation of African Unity

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Human Rights Watch Sierra Leone Report

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