Leading Article: A disingenuous solution for Sierra Leone

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The Independent Culture
BRITAIN HAS decided to stop helping the elected leader of Sierra Leone fight the rebels who opposed his government, and is now putting all its weight behind a deal reached between President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front. The RUF's means of destabilising Mr Kabbah's government involved rape, kidnapping thousands of children for its ragtag army, and hacking off the arms and legs of people in areas it deemed loyal to the President. These methods have won it four posts in the new cabinet in Freetown, and a blanket amnesty for those behind the atrocities.

The Foreign Office and the International Development Secretary, Clare Short, argue that the deal is the country's best chance for peace and should therefore be supported. Assuming that the deal does not collapse, the acceptance of these men into the international community sits oddly with the proper exclusion of Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies from that community. Britain argues that, as the amnesty was agreed internally, the question of bringing RUF criminals before the international war crimes tribunal does not arise. Clare Short washed her hands of the issue yesterday, insisting that it was not up to her to interfere.

This seems more than a little disingenuous. We are told that the great hunger of the people of Sierra Leone is for peace, and that if the price of peace is the forgiving of appalling atrocities, they will pay this price.

It is not at all clear, however, that those speaking for the Sierra Leoneans have bothered to ask them. Elections are planned for 2001, and the Foreign Office says that these elections will provide an opportunity for the people to give their judgement. Meanwhile, these people will be ruled in part by those who have raped, mutilated and kidnapped them and their children.