With a United Nations envoy acting as a witness, high-level representatives of the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) today pledged to stop fighting as they met for the first time at UN-chaired talks in Freetown.
"We solemnly undertake to ensure the cessation of all hostilities and, to that effect, hereby instruct all our combatants to desist from any hostile activity," said a joint communiqué signed by the Deputy Minister of Defence, Hinga Norma, on behalf of the Civil Defence Force (CDF), and by the Chairman of the RUF Political and Peace Council, Omrie Golley, for the rebel group. The head of the UN mission in the country (UNAMSIL), Oluyemi Adeniji, witnessed the signing.
The agreement also stipulated that the UNAMSIL would "immediately ensure the observance of the undertaking as well as the unimpeded movement of persons, goods and services throughout the country."
Today's meeting, which came as a follow-up to an encounter earlier this month in Abuja, Nigeria, was held to discuss the timetable and modalities for the disarmament of all parties to the conflict.
Welcoming the delegations to UNAMSIL's headquarters this morning, Ambassador Adeniji noted that "major strides in the peace process" had been made since the Abuja ceasefire was signed in November. He appealed to the Government and the RUF to "keep up the momentum" created by last month's meeting in Abuja "to make even faster progress," because the people's expectations for peace had been raised. He said that decisions reached at Abuja should be implemented as soon as possible.
The UNAMSIL chief also said that today's meeting was concerned essentially with the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process (DDR), which he called "one of the most crucial elements in this peace process." Without disarmament, he said, ordinary people would not feel secure and ex-combatants would become "a problem for us all."
"So it is essential, both in the interests of overall peace in Sierra Leone and in the interests of the peace and security of individuals, that we get the process right," Ambassador Adeniji stressed. Those who are going to support the programme with funding must ensure that disarmament is situated "in the overall context of a political settlement for the country," he added.
In other news, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported today that the RUF had handed over a total of 116 ex-child combatants to the relief agency Caritas Makeni, UNICEF's implementing partner for child protection in the Northern Province. Earlier, the RUF had pledged to hand over up to 400 child combatants.