Sierra Leone: Building on a hard-won peace
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Sierra Leone: Consolidating a hard-won peace

They have ended the conflict, disarmed thousands of combatants, freed thousands of child soldiers and watched over democratic elections. But now that the UN’s peacekeepers may soon be leaving, the world must remain committed to helping the country overcome the many challenges to its fragile peace.

The Story
UN peacekeepers could soon be leaving Sierra Leone after a five-year mission that has brought peace and raised hopes for a better future. But while the media focus might have shifted to other crises, the world must remain committed as the country battles to overcome the many challenges that remain.

UNAMSIL has been one of the UN’s most visible successes, having deployed in the wake of a brutal civil conflict that left at least 75,000 dead and many more maimed. The UN disarmed more than 72,500 combatants -- including some 20,000 child soldiers -- and shepherded a peace process towards the creation of a new national government. It has helped regularize the nation's diamond-mining -- the fuel for its bitter conflict -- for the benefit of the entire country. However, Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries, and the UN-supported peace is fragile. The nation's borders are porous, the surrounding West Africa sub-region is unstable, unemployment is widespread and there is a large pool of ex-combatants who could take up arms again.

The Context

  • The last peacekeepers are expected to leave by December 2005 pending a decision by the Security Council. Currently numbering some 3,200 “blue helmets”, the UN force in Sierra Leone had as many as 17,500 military personnel at its maximum strength. They maintained security as government forces were re-constituted. The United Nations oversaw democratic elections and resettled thousands of refugees.
  • Peace is not sustainable without justice: The UN-founded Special Court for Sierra Leone began war crimes trials in 2004 against 13 indictees. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently completed its work and produced a report identifying the root cases of the conflict that have yet to be addressed – poverty, corruption, lack of justice, disrespect for human rights.
  • Sierra Leoneans remain concerned that the closure of the UN mission would threaten the fragile peace and give reason for supporters of the war crimes indictees to cause mischief. However, the UN is not leaving altogether. A considerable post-UNAMSIL presence, comprised of UN programmes and agencies, will continue its work. In addition, an International Military and Training Team led by the United Kingdom will remain in the country, at least until 2010 to train the Sierra Leone armed forces.
  • A border dispute with neighbouring Guinea could threaten stability if it remains unresolved. External security is less than assured unless the army is well-equipped and better-trained.
  • Unemployment, especially among the youths, who make up the majority of the population, is rampant. Mismanagement of natural resources, including diamonds, could be a source of conflict as poverty levels rise.

For further information
United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL):

Sheila Dallas, Officer-in-Charge, Public Information Section, Tel: +1 212 963 9588, ext. 6583, E-mail: dallas@un.org;
Daniel Adekera, Spokesman, Tel: +1 212 963 6588, ext. 6817, E-mail: adekera@un.org
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations:
Nick Birnback, External Relations/Media Affairs Officer, Phone: 1-917-367-5044, E-mail: birnbackn@un.org
United Nations Department of Public Information Susan Manuel, Chief, Peace and Security Section, Phone: 1-212-963-1262, E-mail: manuels@un.org
Sierra Leone Special Court: Allison Cooper, Chief, Press and Public Affairs, Tel: +39 083 1257 034; 1 212 963 9915 x1787034, Mobile: +232 76 655 237, Fax: +39 0831 257001, E-mail: coopera@un.org; SCSL-pressoffice@un.org
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP):
Cassandra Waldon, Communications Specialist, English- and Portuguese-speaking Africa (New York), Tel.+ 1 212 906-6499, E-mail: cassandra.waldon@undp.org
Peter Ngu-Tayong, Communications and External Relations Specialist (Sierra Leone), Tel: +232-76 865691, E-mail: peter.ngu.tayong@undp.org;
Zoe Dugal, Information Officer for UNDP’s Arms for Development initiative (Sierra Leone), Tel: +232-76 662290, E-mail: dugal@undpafd.org