The conflict in Sierra Leone dates from March 1991 when fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched a war from the east of the country near the border with Liberia to overthrow the government. With the support of the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Sierra Leone's army tried at first to defend the government but, the following year, the army itself overthrew the government. Despite the change of power, the RUF continued its attacks.
In November 1994, the Head of State of Sierra Leone addressed a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General, formally requesting him to provide his good offices to facilitate negotiations between the Government and the RUF. On 15 December 1994, the Secretary-General sent an exploratory mission to Sierra Leone to initiate consultations to that effect. The mission noted the serious deterioration of the situation in the country as a result of the three-year conflict. About 10 per cent of the population in Sierra Leone were refugees in neighbouring countries and at least 30 per cent were internally displaced. Vital infrastructure had been destroyed and three quarters of the national budget was spent on defence.
In February 1995, on the basis of the mission's findings, the Secretary-General decided to appoint a Special Envoy, Mr. Berhanu Dinka (Ethiopia). He worked in collaboration with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and ECOWAS to try to negotiate a settlement to the conflict and return the country to civilian rule.
Parliamentary and presidential elections in Sierra Leone were held in February 1996, and the army relinquished power to the winner, Dr. Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The RUF, however, did not participate in the elections and would not recognize the results. The conflict continued.
Special Envoy Dinka assisted in negotiating a peace agreement, in November 1996, between the Government and RUF known as the Abidjan Accord. The agreement was derailed by another military coup d'état in May 1997. This time the army joined forces with the RUF and formed a ruling junta. President Kabbah and his government went into exile in neighbouring Guinea.
A new Special Envoy, Mr. Francis G. Okelo (Uganda) and other representatives of the international community tried, but failed, to persuade the junta to step down. The Security Council imposed an oil and arms embargo on 8 October 1997 and authorized ECOWAS to ensure its implementation using ECOMOG troops.
On 23 October 1997, the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone and a delegation representing the chairman of the junta held talks at Conakry and signed a peace plan which, among other things, called for a ceasefire to be monitored by ECOMOG and -- if approved by the UN Security Council -- assisted by United Nations military observers. On 5 November, President Kabbah issued a statement indicating his acceptance of the agreement, and stated his Government's willingness to cooperate with ECOWAS, ECOMOG, the United Nations and UNHCR in the implementation of their respective roles. Although the junta publicly committed itself to implementing the agreement, it subsequently criticized key provisions and raised a number of issues, with the result that the agreement was never implemented.
In February 1998, ECOMOG, responding to an attack by rebel/army junta forces, launched a military attack that led to the collapse of the junta and its expulsion from Freetown. On 10 March, President Kabbah was returned to office. The Security Council terminated the oil and arms embargo against the government and strengthened the office of the Special Envoy to include United Nations military liaison officers and security advisory personnel.
On 13 July 1998, the Security Council established the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), with the authorized strength of 70 military observers, for an initial period of six months. The Secretary-General named Special Envoy Okelo as his Special Representative and Chief of Mission, and Brigadier-General Subhash C. Joshi (India) as Chief Military Observer. In accordance with its mandate , the mission monitored and advised efforts to disarm combatants and restructure the nation's security forces. Unarmed UNOMSIL teams, under the protection of ECOMOG, documented reports of on-going atrocities and human rights abuses committed against civilians. The Security Council was kept informed of the activities of the Mission.
Fighting continued with the rebel alliance gaining control of more than half the country. In December 1998 the alliance began an offensive to retake Freetown and in January 1999 overran most of the city. This led to the evacuation of UNOMSIL personnel to Conakry, and the subsequent downsizing of the Mission's military and civilian personnel. The Special Representative and the Chief Military Observer continued performing their duties, maintaining close contact with all parties to the conflict and monitoring the situation. Later the same month, ECOMOG troops retook the capital and again installed the civilian government, although thousands of rebels were still reportedly hiding out in the surrounding countryside.
Lome Peace Agreement
In the aftermath of the rebel attack, Special Representative Okelo, in consultation with West African states, initiated a series of diplomatic efforts aimed at opening up dialogue with the rebels. Negotiations between the Government and the rebels began in May 1999 and on 7 July all parties to the conflict signed an agreement in Lome to end hostilities and form a government of national unity.
The Lome Peace Agreement included numerous requests for international involvement, specifically that of the United Nations, in implementing provisions contained therein, and required a substantial increase in the role of UNOMSIL and, accordingly, in its human and administrative resources. Reporting to the Security Council on 30 July 1999, the Secretary-General outlined a number of measures to maintain momentum in the peace process, and recommended that the Council approve, as an immediate first step, the provisional expansion of UNOMSIL. The Secretary-General indicated that following discussions with all interested parties, he would submit additional recommendations on the overall activities of the United Nations in Sierra Leone, including the mandate and structure of a United Nations peacekeeping presence in the country.
On 20 August, the Security Council, by its resolution 1260
(1999), authorized the provisional expansion of UNOMSIL to up
to 210 military observers along with the necessary equipment and administrative
and medical support to perform the tasks set out in the report of the
Secretary-General. It also authorized the strengthening of the political,
civil affairs, information, human rights and child protection elements
of the Mission.
In his further report dated 23 September 1999, the Secretary-General recommended to the Security Council that it authorize the deployment of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a new and significantly larger peacekeeping mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, to assist in the implementation of the Lome Peace Agreement. On 22 October 1999, the Council authorized the establishment of UNAMSIL. At the same time, it decided that UNAMSIL would take over the substantive civilian and military components of UNOMSIL and that the mandate of that mission should terminate.