U.N. leader calls Sierra Leone peace mission a success

The head of the U.N. General Assembly commended the 17,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, calling theirs one of the most successful in the history of the United Nations, the Associated Press reported.

General Assembly President Han Seung-soo spoke after a weekend tour of the West African nation, where tens of thousands of rebels have laid down their arms after a 10-year terror campaign that set horrifying new benchmarks for atrocities against civilians.

“I am deeply impressed and touched by the work of the U.N. personnel, who are making noble endeavors despite difficult circumstances,” Han reportedly said in the Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, “On behalf of the member states of the United Nations, I commend the staff … for the excellent work done in Sierra Leone, and for being one of the most successful peacekeeping operations in the history of the United Nations,” Han said.

Progress being made so far by election officials should lead to peaceful and fair presidential elections on May 14, Han said.

Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels launched their insurgency in 1991 to win power and control of the country’s diamond fields.

Under leader Foday Sankoh, now on trial on multiple murder charges in Sierra Leone’s capital, the rebels increasingly made civilians their prime targets – killing, kidnapping, raping and burning thousands, and hacking the hands, feet, lips and ears off many more.

Rebels in May 2000 redoubled their attacks, at one point taking 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage. The United Nations responded by building up the largest peacekeeping force in the world.

After the hostage-taking, the British military sent its own troops to the former British colony. About 400 members of a British-led force remain.

Strengthened U.N. sanctions on Liberian President Charles Taylor’s government simultaneously have clamped down on arms- and diamond-trafficking that was fueling the war.

Nearly 50,000 rebels and fighters in pro-government militias have disarmed under U.N. supervision. Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah declared the war over in January, in a ceremony in which he set alight a pile of surrendered arms.

Han, speaking before traveling to the West African nation of Gambia on Sunday, said he was working to keep the world’s attention on Africa.