President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh have signed a peace accord to end more than eight years of civil war in Sierra Leone. The Lomé Accord was finalised during seven hours of talks with the presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Liberia and Burkina Faso which lasted into the small hours of Wednesday morning. The agreement was signed at about 5:00 p.m. Wednesday in a formal ceremony at the Palace of Congress in Lomé, in the presence of the four West African leaders, OAU, ECOWAS and UN mediators, members of Sierra Leone’s Inter-Religious Council, and representatives from civil society groups. President Kabbah called on Sierra Leoneans to “forgive and forget,” declaring that “civil war in our country is at an end, and we have all resolved never again to take up arms to settle our political differences.”
Kabbah dedicated the accord to Sierra Leone’s children, whom he called “the most vulnerable victims of war.” Before signing, he lifted up three-year old Memunatu Mansaray (pictured left), whose right hand had been hacked off by rebel fighters. In her remaining arm the little girl clutched a teddy bear. “This is the product of war,” Kabbah told the gathering. “I hope we shall all learn from this and try to embrace peace.”
Under the Lomé Accord, the RUF will receive four ministerial posts, one of them senior, in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government. The rebel group will also receive four deputy-ministerial posts. Sankoh himself has been offered the post of chairman of a commission in charge of mineral resources and postwar reconstruction which would be “nearly the equivalent” of the position of vice president, according to Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh. The accord also consolidates the cease-fire which took effect on May 24, and mandates a pardon for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. The agreement also grants an “absolute and free pardon and reprieve to all combatants and collaborators,” who have committed war crimes, but sets up a “truth commission” to allow victims to “tell their stories” and a “human rights commission” which would “strengthen machinery for addressing grievances...of alleged violations of basic human rights.”
The accord calls for the disarmament and assembly of combatants, including the rebels and the pro-government ethnic militias, the restructuring of the army, the transformation of the RUF into a political movement, and access for RUF members to posts in the army and administration. The role of ECOMOG will also be adapted to the new circumstances. The rebels dropped their demand that ECOMOG withdraw from Sierra Leone after Liberian President Charles Taylor advised the RUF to accept ECOMOG’s policing role, conference sources said. Taylor pointed out that ECOMOG had played a similar role in Liberia, despite his own initial reservations about its neutrality. In an interview with Africa No. 1 (Gabonese state radio) Koffigoh described how Wednesday’s agreement differed from an earlier draft accord. “What is new in the current agreement is that there is a provision for a follow-up mechanism; otherwise, several points in the Abidjan accord are also found in the Lomé agreement, but there is a follow-up mechanism,” he said. “We have the Committee of Seven on Sierra Leone to which will be added other bodies that have been set up, as part of the implementation of this agreement. Provision has been made for periodic meetings, at least one meeting every quarter.”
Reaction to the signing of the accord in Freetown has been “very overwhelming,” according to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah. “I drove for most part of the day today across the city, from the east end to the west end, I could see little children, adults, civilians, policemen, all jubilating,” Fofanah told the BBC’s Network Africa programme. “I mean they were very excited that today is the day, today is the day that they’re going to sign the peace talks in Togo. In fact at some stage it was rumoured that it has been signed already. And I could see people dancing all over the town. Even the amputees and the displaced people at the camps were rejoicing.”
The final draft of peace accord was hammered out overnight at a mini-summit attended by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, and Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Earlier, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh confirmed that he had approved the agreement. “I am going to sign an accord today. An accord has been reached,” Sankoh said. An RUF official told the Associated Press that the rebel movement was united behind Sankoh, despite having expressed misgivings about provisions of a draft agreement earlier in the week. “Nobody rejects the leader’s commands,” the official said. “We must have peace for the country and we are going to give the nation peace.” The Togolese foreign minister also expressed optimism that the accord would finally bring peace to Sierra Leone. “The best guarantee is renewed confidence in the hearts of the leaders and the hearts of the population,” said Koffigoh, who headed mediation efforts at the talks. “Sierra Leoneans are tired of the war and the whole sub-region is fed up with the fighting.”
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has “warmly welcomed” the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, “ending years of brutal and painful warfare,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by his spokesman’s office. “(Annan) sincerely hopes that the people of Sierra Leone can now begin rebuilding their country and their lives,” the statement said. “He now calls on the parties to the peace accord to honour their commitments, and he offers the vigilant support of the United Nations in their efforts at reconciliation and rebuilding.” Annan’s Deputy Spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told journalists Wednesday that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, would sign the Lomé Accord on behalf of the United Nations “with a notation saying that the United Nations will not recognize that amnesty as it applies to gross violations of human rights.” The Deputy Spokesman said that while a sovereign state could grant amnesty for violation of its national laws, “Our view is that amnesty and pardon shall not apply to international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
U.S. President Bill Clinton congratulated President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on signing an agreement which, he said, “offers the hope of ending nearly eight years of terrible conflict in Sierra Leone and bringing peace and a brighter future for its people.” In a statement issued by the White House press office, Clinton said the United States was prepared to work with ECOWAS, the U.N. and the OAU to ensure appropriate support for implementing the agreement and beginning reconciliation efforts. “We will work with the people of Sierra Leone and the international community to support the safe return of more than one million refugees and internally displaced people and the reconstruction of the country,” Clinton said.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.