Sierra Leone UN mission helps disarm 16000 fighters since January

Speaking at a press briefing at UN Headquarters, UNAMSIL’s Chief of Public Information, Margaret Novicki, said the district-by-district disarmament process, which was expected to be concluded by the end of the year, would lead to a restoration of State authority around the country, the return of refugees and the holding of national elections in the early part of next year. But the path towards peace hasn’t been easy, she said.”Last year we had a rather difficult baptism of fire with the collapse of the peace process, the hostage taking of our peacekeepers and the withdrawal of major troop contributors,” Ms. Novicki said. “This time last year there were very few people who were optimistic about the prospects for peace in Sierra Leone.” However, in spite of the obstacles, the Mission is making steady progress and is now in the midst of a renewed peace process, she said. In addition, the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was transforming itself into a political party to contest next year’s elections. According to Ms. Novicki, one element that had contributed to the significant changes in Sierra Leone was the Mission leadership’s “patient painstaking diplomacy” – which had been necessary to rebuild confidence among the parties to the conflict – backed by an adequately robust military force, now close to its authorized troop strength of 17,500 soldiers. UNAMSIL’s approach over the last year had “many lessons for other UN peacekeeping missions in an era when there are many complex internal civil conflicts to be addressed,” she said.Another reason for the progress in Sierra Leone was the fact that the Mission had worked very hard to regain public support for and confidence in UNAMSIL and the UN. “I will say from my own perspective that it has not been an easy process,” she added, noting that the country had a very high illiteracy rate – almost 80 per cent – and normal channels of communication were either hard-pressed, non-existent or had simply been destroyed by a decade of civil war.”So we rely primarily on the civilian component of UNAMSIL to work in this setting,” she said. “Our civilian police and our civil affairs section are working very hard to assist in restoring State authority throughout the country. We are helping the police to redeploy, to re-establish the judicial system, and to reinstitute traditional leadership.”

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