- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2000

If the manner in which 500 United Nations peacekeepers were captured this month in Sierra Leone has been disconcerting, the manner in which their release is being negotiated is even more so.

To date around 200 have been released, which is good news. But another 270 peacekeepers remain hostage with no immediate prospect of freedom. After government troops finally captured the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, who took the hostages in the first place, Mr. Sankoh's rebels began demanding his release as a condition to restart peace negotiations. Worse, the hostages' freedom depends on two people who helped make this ghastly debacle possible, Liberian President Charles Taylor and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

It was Mr. Jackson, now in West Africa negotiating for peace on behalf of President Clinton, who helped spring Mr. Sankoh from death row in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sankoh had helped to wage a terror campaign that led to the brutal murder of 6,000 people in that country and the maiming of thousands more. Mr. Jackson, backed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, helped negotiate the Lome peace accord to halt hostilities in the country, but that accord also provided for Mr. Sankoh's pardon and entry into the Sierra Leonean government with the status of vice president. When Mr. Jackson and the other notables left town patting each other on the back for their good work, the rebels, led by Mr. Sankoh, went right back to their deadly ways.

Mr. Sankoh isn't the only problem, however. The man whom West African nations chose to negotiate the release of the U.N. hostages, Mr. Taylor, has a questionable history himself. Held in a Massachusetts jail on charges of embezzling from the Liberian government more than a decade ago, he escaped and eventually returned to his homeland, where he waged his own war on the Liberian government. This he funded by capturing the diamond, gold and timber areas in northern Liberia. Once in power, he funded Mr. Sankoh's rebel Revolutionary United Front fight against the Sierra Leone government in return for getting a cut of the diamonds the rebels capture.

It says something about the perilous state of affairs in West Africa that the United Nations and the United States are reduced to dependence on peace negotiators like the corrupt warlord Mr. Taylor and an envoy with a demonstrated record of failure like Mr. Jackson. As heroic as Mr. Taylor may now wish to appear for the partial release of hostages, the United Nations and the United States must make clear that any new peace agreement they would support will not place men such as Mr. Taylor or Mr. Sankoh in any position of power, whatever wishes Mr. Jackson may have to the contrary. Now that Mr. Sankoh has been captured by the Sierra Leoneans, the United Nations and the United States should resist the temptation to inflict another failed peace plan on the region and spare it further disastrous advice from Mr. Jackson. The war-torn region doesn't need more "help" like this.

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