- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

NEW YORK U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke arrived in Congo Thursday to further a new U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa even as another one appears to be collapsing.
Mr. Holbrooke is leading a seven-nation Security Council delegation through central Africa in preparation for expanding the Congo observer force to some 5,500 persons, including observers, security forces and logistical supporters.
The group will spend five days meeting regional leaders to assess their commitment to honoring a fragile cease-fire accord signed in July 1999 in Lusaka, Zambia.
Mr. Holbrooke met for two hours Thursday afternoon with Congolese President Laurent Kabila. The two afterward witnessed the signing of a "Status of Forces Agreement," granting U.N. observers free access to all areas of the country.
"Are we satisfied that on our first morning in Congo we've made a big step forward? You bet," Mr. Holbrooke was quoted as saying.
But as peace efforts inched forward in Congo, U.N. and government officials scrambled to make sense of an escalating conflict between the U.N. peacekeeping contingents and notoriously violent rebels in Sierra Leone.
Forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began fighting Monday with peacekeepers in three north-central towns, taking military and civilian hostages from Kenyan and Indian battalions and killing four Kenyan peacekeepers.
"Four are missing and presumed dead instead of seven [reported on Wednesday], and others are unaccounted for," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Thursday. Another four soldiers were wounded, and as many as 69 peacekeepers and civilian staff have apparently been detained by RUF forces.
The Security Council authorized the 11,000-person U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone, known as Unamsil, late last year after the Freetown government and rebel leaders signed peace accords. Rebel leader Foday Sankoh agreed at that time that his troops would disarm and demobilize.
Only 8,700 peacekeepers had been deployed through battle-weary Sierra Leone by last week, and U.N. officials Thursday were still deciding how to proceed.
"I've been on the telephone with several heads of state to try to strengthen the force as quickly as we can," said a visibly fatigued Kofi Annan as he entered U.N. headquarters Thursday afternoon. He said Nigeria and Mali had sent senior officials to Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sankoh who claimed his RUF guerrillas were provoked by biased peacekeepers ordered Thursday that the captive U.N. personnel be released.
But officials are clearly concerned that he has violated agreements in the past and may not have control over his guerrillas.
Although Mr. Sankoh was granted amnesty under peace accords signed last summer in Lome, Togo, officials and human rights organizations Thursday branded him a war criminal. U.N. officials said he may be held accountable for atrocities committed since the often-violated agreement was signed.
It is nearly impossible for U.N. officials to contemplate Congo's cease-fire without thinking about the broken promises of Sierra Leone.
"The behavior of Foday Sankoh and his troops risks complicating the situation and the deployment of troops for the Congo because the member states will be discouraged from sending their troops to Africa," Mr. Annan said in Paris before returning Thursday from a two-week visit to West Africa.
After this week's violence, he said, "I think there's going to be very little encouragement for [Western nations] to get involved in operations in Africa."
In Washington, critics of U.N. peacekeeping said the Sierra Leonean debacle calls for extra vigilance before expanding the mission in Congo where peacekeepers will attempt to enforce a cease-fire agreed to by six governments and three rebel factions.
Although no American troops will be involved, the United States is assessed one-third the cost of all U.N. peacekeeping missions.
In Kinshasa, Congo, Thursday, Mr. Holbrooke acknowledged the difficulties of trying to advance an extremely complicated mission when another relatively straightforward one is collapsing.
"I have no doubt that what has happened in Sierra Leone will have an impact in Washington," he said.

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