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 You are in: Special Report: 1999: 01/99: Sierra Leone  
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Sierra Leone Thursday, 8 July, 1999, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Sierra Leone tests a troubled region
Barnaby Phillips in Lagos reports on the regional impact of the conflict in Sierra Leone

To ordinary Nigerians, the conflict in Sierra Leone does not mean much. If anything there is resentment that such a war is being waged by Nigeria's unpopular military rulers at a time when living standards are dropping ever lower and the Nigerian economy is in a parlous state.

Sierra Leone
Popular support for Nigeria's leading role in the West African peacekeeping force which is fighting to keep Ahmad Tejan Kabah in power has been further undermined by reports that some of the Nigerian officers in Sierra Leone have been more interested in mining diamonds than fighting the rebels.

But the conflict has been an enormously important commitment for Nigeria, which sees itself as the major power in the region.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
It was of particular significance for Nigeria's former military ruler General San Abacha, who died suddenly in June last year.

Restoring democracy in Sierra Leone - getting Ahmad Tejan Kabbah back into power - was a way of boosting his own democratic credentials with the rest of the world at a time when Nigeria faced international isolation because of his undemocratic rule.

The attitude of Nigeria's leaders, though, may change when and if a new civilian government takes over from the military leadership there as scheduled later this year.

A new government will find itself facing the continued massive expense of keeping tens of thousands of troops in Sierra Leone fighting a war which - of late - they have not been winning.

Liberian links

Sierra Leone's war has also preoccupied Liberia's rulers. Liberian leader Charles Taylor has been seen by some as the main backer of the Sierra Leone rebels, and has been closely associated with RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh since the start of the Liberian revolt in 1991.

A Nigerian soldier takes cover during fighting in Freetown
A Nigerian soldier takes cover during fighting in Freetown
There have been persistent allegations in recent months as the rebels have advanced of Liberian fighters crossing into Sierra Leone, as well as regular reports of RUF leaders passing through Monrovia.

Liberia, along with neighbouring Guinea, has been deluged by refugees from the conflict in Sierra Leone.

Regional leaders would welcome anything that would extract Sierra Leone from its plight.

But at the same time they are wary about Nigeria's tendency to see itself as a regional superpower, and most do not want to see a further expansion of Nigerian military influence in the region.

Links to more Sierra Leone stories are at the foot of the page.


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Links to more Sierra Leone stories

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