- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

What was left of last summer's peace accord for Sierra Leone could be found in a few scraps of paper left behind in rebel leader Foday Sankoh's ransacked house in Freetown Tuesday. In his flight from the U.N.-guarded house, the peace document obviously did not top the list of most valuable items for the leader of a guerrilla force of up to 45,000 troops. But then again, the U.N.-brokered accord which made him a member of the government and protected him and his rebel fighters from prosecution for war crimes was never much more than a piece of paper to him anyway. It's hard to believe the United Nations thought it would be.

At the time the peace accord was signed in Lome, Togo, last July, Mr. Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had killed, raped and maimed thousands of men, women and children since it first began fighting against the government in 1991. In December 1998 and January 1999 alone the rebel offensive had been responsible for 5,000 deaths. Rep. Frank Wolf, who traveled to Sierra Leone in December 1999, said the RUF had been responsible for 90,000 deaths in total. And yet this was the merry band the United Nations trusted to lay down its weapons and whose leader it hoped would run for president.

Now the U.N. force of 8,700 peacekeepers a mixture of African and Asian troops on foreign territory who can't communicate with each other hasn't been able to prevent a new outbreak of violence by the RUF, who have captured up to 500 U.N. peacekeepers since May 1. Nor has it been able to prevent the disappearance of Mr. Sankoh, who was able to vanish from his own house with 75 U.N. peacekeepers on duty outside.

Speaking to whether the United Nations had made other mistakes, Fred Eckhard, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said the early months of U.N. missions tend to be unstable. However, to lead a mission without knowing the details of its strengths and failures, to expect a mission to be unstable and to fix the problem by sending another 2,000-plus troops would seem a formula for failure.

Even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has admitted: "It's not the proudest moment of the force." Indeed.

Now a Nigerian-led coalition army from West African states has said it will help bring peace back to the country, but funding and Nigerian parliamentary support still need to come through before that happens. Furthermore, the Nigerians have tried it many times in the last decade, with no lasting peace.

What is needed, Mr. Wolf said in an interview, is for the rebels to be tried for their actions in the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. If they don't give up their weapons and refrain from violence by a certain date, a new policy allowing such trials should go into effect.

With the United Nations acknowledging that the peace process is "in profound crisis" and that the RUF is the chief culprit, Mr. Wolf's proposal would not be a bad place to start. A consistent no-tolerance policy toward the violent actions of Mr. Sankoh and his men, rather than poorly planned reactionary peacekeeping efforts are now the only way forward.

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