Hostages give new hope to peace bid

THE SIERRA Leone hostage crisis may have saved the West African country's shaky peace process, diplomats believe. The test will be whether the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, turns up for a high-level meeting today in the capital, Freetown.

The meeting, involving the President, the British high commissioner and World Bank officials, has been kept quiet because a no-show by Mr Sankoh, who has failed to materialise before, would send a deeply negative signal at a crucial time.

The week-long hostage crisis, in which five British military observers were among more than 40 people held captive in the jungle by a rebel group, forced rivals into a dialogue.The information minister, Julius Spencer, said: "What happened was a blessing in disguise and everybody has been able to express their commitment to making the peace agreement hold." Signatures, including Mr Sankoh's, were put to a peace accord in the Togolese capital, Lome, on 7 July. The deal is intended to end eight years of violence, which has left up to one-third of the population displaced and tens of thousands dead or mutilated by machete or axe.

Many people view the agreement as iniquitous. Britain, the former colonial power, heartily supports it. Britain has spent millions of pounds on the country's weak President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, elected by the people in 1996.

Through costly military support, it ushered him in, then spent money on keeping him there; and it even helped to restore him to power after a 1997 coup.

In the end, prompted by cost considerations and war-weariness among those Britain and the United States were arming, chiefly Nigerian forces who lost thousands of men, London decided that the rebels could not be beaten on the battlefield.

In March, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told President Kabbah that, like it or not, he would have to do business with Mr Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front and his ilk. At that stage, the rebels controlled three- quarters of the country, and they still do.

The deal gives rebel groups seats in government and virtual control of Sierra Leone's extraordinary mineral wealth, unparalleled in the world considering that the country is the size of Scotland.

Many Western diplomats accuse Britain of treachery. One said: "After pouring money into supporting Kabbah, Britain decided enough was enough at the worst possible time for him. At some stage it was going to be necessary to make a deal with the rebels, but it should not have been when Kabbah's government had lost control of most of the territory and was in a weak negotiating position.

"Nor should it have been when there were, as there are now, at least seven fighting factions."

The deed is done and Britain is still here, foremost among countries and institutions trying to make the deal work. Sierra Leoneans' desperation for peace, could just be enough - if Mr Sankoh turns up today.

Britain has pledged pounds 8.5m, some of it spent already, and the World Bank is looking to spend about $9m (pounds 5.6m). But the entire process is proceeding grindlingly slowly - there is not even national radio station in Sierra Leone with the transmitter capacity to broadcast news of the peace, let alone reconstruction, to the largely illiterate four million population.

The kidnapping of the Britons and others may have come about partly because the rebel group involved, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, lacked information about its future place in government. In this atmosphere of chaos, more needs to be done, more quickly. And Mr Sankoh needs to leave the comfort of his Togo hotel and roll up his sleeves with the rest of them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...