afrol.com, 9 January - After the first meeting between UN peacekeepers (UNAMSIL) and Sierra Leone terrorist (RUF) leader Issa Sesay one month ago, UN sources yesterday confirmed they have maintained low level contacts with the RUF. In a meeting this weekend, RUF representatives reassured the UN of their support to the Abuja peace process, contradicting earlier speculations.
Peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) have held meetings with rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) over the past week as a way forward to the peace process in the region, the UN mission spokesman Hirut Befecadu yesterday confirmed in Freetown. He said UN peacekeepers and military observers had held meetings with the RUF on 4 January in Mile 91, 5 January in Masiembu and 7 January in Dambu.
In December 2000, a statement from the so-called "official web site" of the political wing of the RUF terrorists claimed that Sesay did not accept key issues of the Abuja ceasefire and peace plan. The disputed issue has been UN deployment of peacekeepers on RUF-occupied territory, so far not accepted by the RUF but agreed to by the negotiators in Abuja. Rumours say the negotiators had gone further than authorised in their concessions. Although Sesay has not met with any UN official since the statement saying he was against the concessions was published, his representatives repeatedly have claimed the statement was not authorised by him - according to UN sources, though.
The UN spokesman again goes far in assuring RUF support to the Abuja peace process, although not mentioning the disputed statement, now seen by most analysts as a falsification. The recent meetings aimed in part to "maintain the relationship that existed between the RUF and UNAMSIL peacekeepers," spokesman Befecadu stated. He also claimed that, during the meeting in Dambu, the RUF representatives had expressed their commitment to peace and had "indicated that" they had been authorised by their high command to open the Daru-Kailahun road (passing through RUF-occupied territory). There are no reliable RUF sources to confirm (or contradict) this interpretation.
UN sources have become more careful making statements about the political situation as there still is some confusion to the internal situation in the RUF. A possible split between followers of Sesay and imprisoned (ex-?) leader Foday Sankoh may explain the diverting versions of RUF positions. However, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was relatively clear and optimistic when he yesterday stated that "I think there are war profiteers who are not interested in peace, who fund these wars for their own financial and commercial interest," indicating that there only are splitter groups not wanting peace.
The RUF terrorists so far reportedly have compiled with the ceasefire, returned conquered UN weapons, re-opened minor roads and let humanitarian personnel and some observers enter the territory occupied by them temporarily. UN peacekeepers, somewhat mistrusted by Sierra Leoneans for their infirmness with the terrorists, have not yet seized the opportunity trying to deploy forces on RUF-occupied territory.
UN ambiguity is demonstrated by Annan's call last month to the "rebel group" to "demonstrate its good faith" and "not to lose this unique opportunity to return to the peace process." RUF leader Sesay has made equal statements, if one is to downplay the "official web site" of the RUF as a falsification. According to UNAMSIL commander Opande, who met with Sesay only days before the disputed "official statement", Sesay had told him that "he would like to have the [UN] military observers move in as soon as possible." In an interview released this weekend, Sesay even distances himself from earlier RUF terrorists acts against the civilian population, asking Sierra Leoneans to forgive him and saying that he and other RUF fighters "were tired of ten years of war, and now wanted peace."
Signals from the RUF field leadership seem positive and inviting, making the passivity of the UN hard to understand. At the moment, it rather seems that the UN is losing "this unique opportunity". On the other hand, UN peacekeepers are lacking personnel and RUF aggressions seem to continue on other fronts. According to the American group Human Rights Watch, atrocities against civilians have continued after the signing of the Abuja Agreement. Further, there are strong indications that RUF fighters are heavily involved in attacks on civilians and refugees on the Guinean side of the border - while sticking to the ceasefire in Sierra Leone.