afrol News, 16 May - With a UN envoy acting as a witness, high-level representatives of the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) yesterday pledged to stop fighting as they met for the first time in Freetown under the auspices of UNAMSIL to follow up on progress made earlier this month at the ceasefire talks held in Abuja.
- We solemnly undertake to ensure the cessation of all hostilities and, to that effect, hereby instruct all our combatants to desist from any hostile activity, said a joint communiqué signed by the Deputy Minister of Defence, Hinga Norma, on behalf of the Civil Defence Force (CDF), and by the Chairman of the RUF Political and Peace Council, Omrie Golley, for the RUF. The head of the UN mission in the country (UNAMSIL), Oluyemi Adeniji, witnessed the signing.
The parties also agreed to resume the stalled DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) process, with a fixed timetable for the simultaneous disarmament of RUF and CDF combatants. Under the agreement, the RUF and CDF are to disclose the numbers of their combatants and weapons by location to UNAMSIL. Disarmament of both RUF and CDF combatants will be implemented in the districts of Kambia and Port Loko between 18 and 28 May.
The agreement also stipulated that the UNAMSIL would "immediately ensure the observance of the undertaking as well as the unimpeded movement of persons, goods and services throughout the country."
Today's meeting, which came as a follow-up to an encounter earlier this month in Abuja, Nigeria, was held to discuss the timetable and modalities for the disarmament of all parties to the conflict.
Welcoming the delegations to UNAMSIL's headquarters yrsterday morning, Ambassador Adeniji noted that "major strides in the peace process" had been made since the Abuja ceasefire was signed in November. He appealed to the Government and the RUF to "keep up the momentum" created by last month's meeting in Abuja "to make even faster progress," because the people's expectations for peace had been raised. He said that decisions reached at Abuja should be implemented as soon as possible.
The UNAMSIL chief also said that today's meeting was concerned essentially with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process (DDR), which he called "one of the most crucial elements in this peace process." Without disarmament, he said, ordinary people would not feel secure and ex-combatants would become "a problem for us all."
- So it is essential, both in the interests of overall peace in Sierra Leone and in the interests of the peace and security of individuals, that we get the process right, Ambassador Adeniji stressed. Those who are going to support the programme with funding must ensure that disarmament is situated "in the overall context of a political settlement for the country," he added.
In a further step to build confidence, has handed over a total of 116 ex-child combatants to the relief agency Caritas Makeni, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported yesterday. Earlier, the RUF had pledged to hand over up to 400 child combatants. In yesterday's Freetown meeting, the two sides promised to release all child combatants and abductees to UNAMSIL, particularly women and young children, beginning on 25 May.
During the meeting, the RUF again requested the release of its members currently detained by the government "as a confidence-building measure." The government "reaffirmed its commitment to consider the release of detainees especially in the light of progress being made in the peace process," a joint communiqué said.
Thus, the government still has not promised the controversial release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, which is help responsible for gross war crimes and probably will have to stand trial at a special UN war crimes tribunal to be established later this year. Foday's release so far has been one of the major demands of the RUF, but the group seemingly is placing less importance to this point now.