Trading with the atrocity merchants

THE GOVERNMENT must rue the day it ever chose to involve itself in the post-colonial conflicts in Sierra Leone. The poorest country in the world is revealing an uncanny ability to embarrass the old imperial power.

First, an apparently well- intentioned attempt to bring military assistance to the elected government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah blew up in Robin Cook's face when the Foreign Secretary had to deal with accusations that Britain had broken UN sanctions against the country. Now, having put its weight squarely behind a peace deal between a section of the rebels and the beleaguered Kabbah government, Britain finds the troops it has sent under the UN flag to help to smooth the path to peace are kidnapped by a disaffected rebel group which was not party to the peace deal.

The kidnappers - the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council - ruled the country from May 1997, when they overthrew President Kabbah in a coup, until February 1998, when a Nigerian-led West African force, Ecomog, drove them out of Freetown and brought back Mr Kabbah. Yesterday, the men holding the British soldiers were reportedly wearing tattered Sierra Leone Army uniforms. The AFRC rule, under the leadership of Johnny Paul Koroma, was characterised by widespread arbitrary arrests and the banning of political parties. It did, however, make common cause with the other main rebel grouping, the Revolutionary United Front, that entered the country from Liberia in 1991 and, backed by the Liberian leader Charles Taylor, has ensured the country has not known peace since then.

It is the RUF, under the leadership of Foday Sankoh, that prosecuted the campaign of terror against supporters of Sierra Leone's elected government. Thousands of civilians, many of them children, had their limbs hacked off by machete, or were gang raped, or both. The youngest documented case of dismemberment was against a child of two. Through this campaign of terror, in a deal backed by Britain, the RUF has won itself four seats in the government, with the key position of minister responsible for the country's gold and diamond mines earmarked for Mr Sankoh.

Quite what the Government thought it was doing in backing the Togo peace deal, signed on 7 July between Mr Kabbah - surely under considerable duress - and Mr Sankoh, is not clear. True, the rebels controlled much of the interior, including important mining areas. But the Foreign Office position, that this was the best chance of peace for the people of Sierra Leone, seems naive at best and irresponsible at worst. The insistence by Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, that the deal had popular backing must be treated with extreme caution. Neither is it clear how many, if any, of those who lost arms or legs, and now face being ruled by those responsible, were consulted.

After regarding Slobodan Milosevic through the 1990s as a regional powerbroker the international community had to deal with, the Government finally adopted the principle this year that it was both pointless and wrong to deal with those guilty of human rights atrocities. Such leaders simply had to be removed. This sound principle now applies in Europe, it seems, but for Africa, other rules, and immeasurably lower standards, are still acceptable.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • 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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk