Sierra Leone’s president shook hands with his rebel counterpart Monday in a war-gutted diamond town, saying he was convinced the West African nation’s war was over, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and the Revolutionary United Front’s (RUF) Gen. Issa Sesay sat together in the Roman Catholic church at Koidu, one of the few buildings left intact after three years of rebel occupation in the diamond-rich Kono District, the AP reported. President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mali President Alpha Oumar Konare accompanied Kabbah to the diamond fields.
“From the discussion the three heads of states had with the RUF leadership, today I am convinced that the war is over,” Kabbah declared, the AP reported. The 1,000 tribal leaders and others crowded into the church burst into applause.
The RUF has killed, maimed, raped and kidnapped tens of thousands of civilians in its more than 10-year terror campaign fought chiefly to gain control of Sierra Leone’s government and diamond fields.
Over the last year, rebels have come under increasing pressure from forces of the United Nations, Britain and neighboring Guinea.
Rebel leader Foday Sankoh and dozens of his followers were captured in May 2000 after rebels breached what was then the latest accord and resumed fighting.
Sankoh is now awaiting an expected war crimes trial by Sierra Leone and the United Nations, and Sesay has replaced him as the RUF leader, the AP reported.
Rebels signed a cease-fire with the government in November. 16,000 rebels and their longtime enemies in pro-government civilian militias have now disarmed.
“Today the destructive rebel war, which has plagued the country for 10 years, is coming to an end,” Sahr Gbomor, a Sierra Leone lawmaker, said, welcoming the foreign leaders, the AP reported.
Ambassadors of the United States and China and officials representing Britain, the United Nations and Sierra Leone’s Cabinet accompanied the delegation to the gutted diamond town, the AP reported. Obasanjo, whose country has long been a major influence on the government side of Sierra Leone’s war, praised the RUF leader for his “singular leadership qualities” in furthering the rebels’ disarmament.
“As from today, you are no more a rebel leader, but Mr. Issa Sesay,” Obasanjo said.