Sierra Leone: village chiefs aid disarmament effort in Kono, UN reports

Sierra Leone: village chiefs aid disarmament effort in Kono, UN reports

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) today reported that the rate of disarmament in the diamond-rich district of Kono had increased thanks to help from traditional leaders.

"The enormous improvement in the rate of disarmament, as well as the cessation of ceasefire violations, have resulted from the involvement of Kono chiefs and elders who have accompanied the DFC [UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander] on his daily visits," the Mission said in a statement issued in Freetown.

As of yesterday, when Deputy Force Commander Maj. Gen. Martin Agwai travelled again to Kono to supervise the disarmament process, 910 Civil Defence Force (CDF) and 752 Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants had disarmed since 2 July.

UNAMSIL attributed the initial difficulties in Kono to the wide gap in contacts between the Kono CDF combatants and the central CDF leadership in Freetown. During the early period in the Kono disarmament operation, the CDF Kono combatants insisted on receiving instructions from their own local leaders and chiefs, and accused the CDF National Coordinator, Chief Hinga Norman, of having ceased to supply them with their requirements.

"If, therefore, Chief Norman did not know what was happening on the ground in Kono, it is not surprising," the UNAMSIL statement said. "He has been to the district only once in May 2001 under considerable pressure from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who took him along in a UNAMSIL helicopter. To UNAMSIL's amazement, his visit did not help, as the CDF combatants made it clear they would not - and in fact did not - take instructions to disarm from him."

UNAMSIL said it was important to bring out these facts in view of the "continuous unjustified attacks" on the UN operation's approach to disarmament in Kono. "The results being achieved have fully justified that approach," the statement said. "UNAMSIL will continue to pursue its task with strict impartiality, as is expected of it."

Meanwhile, after initial logistical difficulties, disarmament in the south-western district of Bonthe has continued apace, with 997 CDF fighters handing over their weapons.