afrol News, 3 April - Rebel forces in Sierra Leone yesterday told BBC reporter Mark Doyle the war was over and that they were tired of fighting. The RUF would also consider participating in the December elections, if they were guaranteed to be free and fair, and if they are monitored by the international community.
BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle has travelled to rebel headquarters in the town of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone, meeting no resistance and little tension in the area. He reached rebel-hold Makeni, passing in car through Lunsar, which is now being patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers (UNAMSIL).
In Makeni, he interviewed senior rebel commander Jibril Massaquoi, who said UNAMSIL was now welcome to deploy throughout the country. "The message the rebel commanders gave the BBC was clear - they are tired of the war and they also perhaps realise that, thanks to the British presence, they can no longer win it, Doyle concluded.
On the BBC's Focus on Africa programme, Doyle said the rebel commanders were insisting on various preconditions for resumed talks with the government, including the release of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh and the departure of British forces from Sierra Leone.
The British army has several hundred soldiers in Sierra Leone, which are not a part of the UN Mission. Instead, British forces are training the army of the Sierra Leonean government to face up to the rebels and have been involved in direct attacks on RUF troops.
The RUF calls for peace reported by Doyle are however of limited credibility. The conflict in Sierra Leone has been low-scale over the last months, more due to the pressure against RUF than its peace initiatives. Although RUF has been speaking peace for several months, progress has only been limited, as the UN describes it in its last report on developments in Sierra Leone (March 2001).
Noting that the situation in Sierra Leone had remained "relatively stable" since the signing last November of the Abuja Agreement, the UN report pointed to the continuing reluctance by the RUF to disarm and to allow government authority to be set up in areas under its control, noting that the rebels' actions leave "serious doubts about their intentions."
The RUF has lately been seen in open dialogue with UN representatives and has made minor commitments producing major headlines about the progress of the peace process in the country.
So far, RUF have returned to UNAMSIL 56 personal weapons, 10 vehicles, and 20 armoured personnel carriers, which were part of the weapons and equipment seized by RUF from UNAMSIL contingents last year. However, those vehicles and armoured personnel carriers had been completely stripped of weapons and equipment and were not in a usable condition, according to the UN.
- In particular, it would appear that so far RUF is ready to implement only those aspects of the Abuja Agreement that pose no threat to its military strength and to its exploitation of the natural resources of the country," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in his March report. "Obviously, this position deepens considerably the reluctance on the part of the Government to engage RUF in a political dialogue and to create the confidence that is necessary for such a dialogue to bear fruit."
Also the BBC's Doyle remains sceptical to what he heard rebel leaders tell him. "Many Sierra Leoneans will be deeply sceptical of the rebels' call for peace and will judge them on their actions not their words. This is hardly surprising after a decade of war atrocities, most committed by the rebel side," Doyle concludes.