Sierra Leone peace pledge

BRITAIN ASSURED Sierra Leone of its "absolute commitment" to work for a lasting peace in the country yesterday after Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, met the President in Freetown.

The Government will host a six-nation meeting of the Sierra Leone Contact Group next Wednesday, and try to persuade the United States, Russia, France, Germany and Italy to contribute to an aid effort for the bankrupt country. The UN has appealed for $35m (pounds 23m) to finance the demobilisation of the rebel soldiers.

The rebel army is guilty of countless human rights atrocities, most notoriously the random and routine mutilation of thousands of people by hacking off their arms and legs, but the deal gives a blanket amnesty to the perpetrators of the crimes. Commenting on the deal yesterday, the Foreign Office said that "peace on those terms is better than no peace at all".

The agreement was signed on 7 July in Lome, Togo, by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front, and is designed to end eight years of conflict.

The rebels are allied with a junta that overthrew Mr Kabbah's elected government in 1997. He was reinstated last year by a Nigerian-led intervention force and the rebels then conducted their brutal war of destabilisation.

Apart from allowing an amnesty to the rebels, the deal gives them four of the 20 cabinet seats. The first soldiers were released at the weekend, while others walked into Freetown from the countryside. These were not carrying their weapons, which were assumed to be hidden, raising fears that the war could erupt again.

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