The vicious nine-year civil war in Sierra Leone has left this West
African nation a state in name only. Despite a peace treaty signed in
July 1999, fighting has again erupted and President Ahmed Tejan
Kabbah's government does not extend much beyond the capital,
Several competing warlords leading their own armies control most of
the rest of the country, including several of Sierra Leone's
lucrative diamond mines. More than 50,000 people have died in the
complicated and brutal war. Rebels have been accused of sowing a
reign of terror by deliberately hacking off the arms or limbs of
opponents and civilians alike. Some reports say the conflict has
turned half the population, more than two million people, into
Background of the Civil War
In response to international pressure, the
military government allowed multi-party elections in February 1996.
These were the first multi-party elections since 1967. Kabbah's
Sierra Leone People's Party won. However, Lt. Col. Johnny Paul
Koroma overthrew Kabbah in May 1997. A Nigerian-led West African
force, ECOMOG, restored Kabbah to power less than a year later.
Subsequent negotiations between the government and various rebel
factions resulted in a peace accord signed in July 1999. Several
rebel leaders received government posts in exchange for supporting
U.N. Troops Held Hostage
United Nations troops began arriving in Sierra
Leone in November 1999 to enforce the peace. Some ECOMOG forces
joined the UN, while others withdrew.
In April 2000 U.N. peacekeepers began moving
into eastern Sierra Leone, home to several rebel-held diamond
mines, and were promptly attacked. In May, troops of the
Revolutionary United Front, RUF, one of the largest rebel factions,
began capturing and holding hostage UN peacekeepers. More than 500
U.N. peacekeepers were held at one point. Many were later freed or
escaped. Sankoh’s capture has increased speculation about the
fate of the remaining hostages.
Meanwhile, 30,000 thousand refugees flooded Freetown fearing an
outbreak in fighting.
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Sources: The New York Times, The BBC, CNN,
Panafrican News Agency, World Book Encyclopedia, infoplease.com,