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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Jesse Jackson in Sierra Leone talks
Wounded UN soldier
The humiliated UN force needs reinforcements
US presidential envoy Jesse Jackson is in Nigeria, on the first leg of a five-nation tour of West Africa in search of a resolution to the crisis in Sierra Leone.

The purpose was not to compare the RUF and the ANC - there is no equivalence between the two

Jesse Jackson
Mr Jackson flew into Lagos and then travelled by road to the south-eastern city of Benin, where he was expected to hold talks with President Olusegun Obasanjo before returning to Lagos.

Issues to be discussed include Nigeria's possible future military involvement in Sierra Leone, and the role of the recently-captured rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson: Sierra Leone is not yet free
But Mr Jackson's visit to the region had to be delayed for 24 hours following controversial remarks he made comparing Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebel movement to the African National Congress of South Africa.

A visit to Sierra Leone has been thrown into serious doubt following the Freetown government's anger at Mr Jackson's comments last Friday.

Freetown anger

Speaking about to the latest crisis in Sierra Leone Mr Jackson seemed to apportion equal blame to all sides saying: "there's blood on everybody's hands, nobody is clean."

My role is to touch base with the regional leaders about what are the next steps beyond stopping the fighting

Jesse Jackson
This attracted an angry response from the Sierra Leonean authorities in Freetown.

On Monday he sought to defuse the row saying that his comments were misunderstood.

"The purpose was not to compare the RUF and the ANC - there is no equivalence between the two," he said.

Mr Jackson explained that Sankoh and the RUF were solely responsible for the breakdown of the 1999 peace agreement signed in the Togolese capital Lome.

Foday Sankoh captured
Foday Sankoh: Captured on Wednesday
Before leaving the US, Mr Jackson told the BBC: "My role is to touch base with the regional leaders about what are the next steps beyond stopping the fighting, beyond capturing Sankoh, to protect the integrity of the democracy of Sierra Leone."

He emphasised that the capture of Mr Sankoh did not mean that Sierra Leone was now free.

"It is not free until the RUF drop their guns and disengage," he said.

Stronger mandate?

A top Nigerian military official said West African defence chiefs had agreed on the need to send in more troops to Sierra Leone under the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

But he said further consultations would be held on Thursday before a resolution emerged on how they would go about this.

He also reiterated the Nigerian position that there is a need for a change in the command structure and mandate of the UN force and that with its experience of the terrain in Sierra Leone, the Nigerian army was best placed to lead.

At Wednesday's meeting Lansana Kouyate, secretary-general of the 15-member West African Economic Community (Ecowas) said that if the UN was hesitant about strengthening its mandate to enforce the peace, Ecowas was not.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
17 May 00 | Africa
What now for Sankoh?
17 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh's vanishing act
17 May 00 | Africa
UN peacekeepers fly to safety
13 May 00 | Africa
Above Sierra Leone's front line
18 May 00 | Africa
Arrest threat to UN releases
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