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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Can the UN force restore peace?
A UN soldier faces protesters against rebel leader Foday Sankoh
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The fate of the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone looks increasingly shaky.

At least one Kenyan peacekeeper has been killed and up to four hundred Zambian soldiers appear to have been captured by rebel forces and stripped of their weaponry.

It is easy to criticize the nearly 9000-strong UN force, but the simple fact may be that as things stand there is no meaningful peace in Sierra Leone to keep.

If the UN force was supposed to overawe the locals and effectively impose a settlement, then it simply wasn't equipped, configured or sufficiently well-trained to do so.

Balkan example

The example of Balkan peacekeeping is instructive. In both Bosnia and Kosovo a well-trained, well-equipped force of Western troops deployed rapidly with overwhelming force. Local militias would have been crazy to resist.

Soldiers in the UN force have little experience of this type of operation

Major powers like the United States, Britain and France were heavily involved, but more to the point, their forces - being part of Nato - were well used to working alongside each other.

The UN force in Sierra Leone is drawn from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Its soldiers have little experience of operating together and in many cases have limited experience of this type of operation.

It is not their fault: major Western powers have refused to become involved.

Nigeria's role

It was Nigerian forces - whose rules of engagement are more robust than would be acceptable for a western-led force - who played a key role

In the absence of a significant injection of Western troops, one option would be the return of additional Nigerian troops. The US is reported to have been in discussion with the Nigerians about helping to organise the movement of some two battalions of Nigerian troops back to Sierra Leone.

It was Nigerian forces - whose rules of engagement are more robust than would be acceptable for a western-led force - who played a key role in stabilising the country before the current crisis and provided the context for a peace agreement.

Despite the growing crisis, Jordan, India and Bangladesh still seem willing to deploy their forces to Sierra Leone, but the problem will be to ensure their speedy arrival so that the UN force reaches its mandated strength of 11,000 troops as quickly as possible.

But the UN's problems in Sierra Leone could have a profound impact on its plans to deploy another peacekeeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The crisis underscores the urgency of efforts by Britain, France and the United States to help train local units for an all-African peacekeeping force, which might one day overcome some of the disadvantages of the largely improvised effort in Sierra Leone.

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