Letter: Sierra Leone agony

Peter Pool
Sunday 08 August 1999 23:02 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Sir: It was perceptive of James Roberts to point out how differently perpetrators of atrocities in Kosovo and Sierra Leone are dealt with ("Trading with the atrocity merchants", 6 August). In the former we seek to bring them to trial, whilst in the latter we broker peace deals and install them in government. But, as with all political problems, the issue is not about what is simply right or wrong but about making a choice from the available options.

References to Sierra Leone's "democratically elected government" are something of an irrelevance. Democracy is a political icon for the people of Sierra Leone, but in practice it means little in a country where the police, army, education, health and agriculture are in a state of near- collapse.

Whatever peace arrangements are made for Sierra Leone the country is too poor to be governed effectively. No government will have the strength to defend itself against the next group of insurgents. Describing the country as "diamond-rich" is another distraction. The country has seen little of the mineral wealth that has been exploited over the years, because, again, poverty and the corruption engendered by it has meant no control of its resources.

War and destruction grab the headlines, but the steady decay of the last 15 years has been largely unreported. The fact that the latest demands from a disaffected rebel group were for food and medicine rather than political power indicates just how far the country has declined.

Can the resources that were deployed to right the wrongs in Kosovo be matched in Sierra Leone to break the vicious circle of poverty and political decay?

PETER POOL

Shipley, West Yorkshire

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