U.N. adds troops in Sierra Leone

The U.N. Security Council demanded on Friday that Sierra Leone’s rebels allow U.N. peacekeepers into diamond-mine areas they control and authorized an increase of U.N. troops to 17,500 from 10,350, Reuters reported.

In a resolution adopted by a 15-0 vote, the council extended the mandate of the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone, known as UNAMSIL, for six more months, a period Britain called crucial in the West African country’s 10-year-old civil war.


“This could well be the make or break period,” British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters after the council’s decision, Reuters reported. “The priority is the re-establishment of the government throughout the country. I hope that that will lay the basis of the beginning of the end of the rebellion in Sierra Leone over the next six months.”


Set up in October 1999 to support a peace agreement that was supposed to end a nine-year civil war, UNAMSIL is currently below its authorized strength of 12,500 following the withdrawal of Indian and Jordanian troops late last year.


Forces from Bangladesh as well as air support units from Ukraine are expected to bring UNAMSIL up to 12,500 shortly. The United Nations then hopes for several thousand more troops to boost the mission to the West African nation.


The resolution demanded that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels fulfill obligations under an agreement signed in Abuja, Nigeria, in November to ensure U.N. troops can be deployed throughout the country, which includes areas rich in diamonds.


It said the Sierra Leone government should prepare “for the restoration of civil authority” throughout its territory, especially where peacekeepers are expected to be stationed, Reuters reported.


Cheered by crowds, some 100 peacekeepers from Nigeria on Wednesday moved to the RUF-controlled town of Mange, some 40 miles from the capital, Freetown, and began patrols near the key regional town of Kambia, about 6 miles from the Guinean border, Reuters reported.


But the RUF rebels, who shattered a peace agreement last May by taking 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage, have not allowed the government to extend its authority to large swatches of the country they control. U.N. peacekeepers have also not fanned out into most of the territory run by the RUF, including diamond-mining areas.


The diamonds are said to flow to Liberia in exchange for guns, and the council has imposed a ban on all Liberian diamond exports to shut down the arms-for-gems trade. That will take effect on May 7 unless Monrovia cuts off ties with the RUF.


Friday’s resolution says the rebels, notorious during the height of the civil war for murder, rape and for chopping off limbs of civilians, including babies, continued to abuse people.


It demanded they stop recruiting adults and youths for ”fighting and forced labor.”