UN alone can't save Sierra Leone

The chaos in Sierra Leone presents the UN with no attractive options. With its largest peacekeeping operation teetering on the brink of failure, the UN can withdraw and suffer a humiliating blow to its prestige and its efforts at peacekeeping. It can reinforce the 7,000 troops there and confront rebels threatening the peace and peacekeepers. Finally, it can try to reason with Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebels.

Despite his troops' use of murder, rape, and mutilation of civilians as a standard tactic, Mr. Sankoh was brought into the government under last year's peace accord. No outside power was willing to impose a peace with justice. So instead of being held accountable for his crimes, Sankoh was put in charge of the country's diamond concessions.

The UN will most likely decide that withdrawal is unacceptable - and reasoning with Sankoh unproductive. So it may find the will to increase its presence to the point where the status quo ante can be restored. This could allow elections to be held next year as scheduled.

But Sierra Leone won't find lasting peace unless the UN goes beyond a simple cessation of hostilities and the release of the hostages. To do that, the UN must take much stronger action with the local actors, the internal resources, and the external forces.

The UN has to verify that the local actors, the parties to the conflict, implement the peace accord they signed in a meaningful way. Most analysts agree Charles Taylor held neighboring Liberia and its peace hostage until he got himself elected president. Sankoh shouldn't be allowed to do the same.

The UN must impose effective sanctions if a country's resources are fueling the conflict. Sierra Leone, the Congo, and Angola all have diamonds - and all have conflicts proving impossible to end. As a recent UN report admitted, UN efforts to prevent Angola's rebels from using the diamonds to buy arms and petrol have been spectacularly ineffective. Unlike most UN reports, this one named those who abetted and benefited from this trade including several African presidents. The UN's response: Appointment of a committee to monitor the situation.

Finally, the UN must ensure the neighboring countries, the external forces, support peace instead of making it impossible. A number of reports demonstrate that arms used by the rebels in Sierra Leone came largely from Libya via Burkina Faso and Liberia. Yet nothing is being done to punish countries that encourage instability.

Many suggest the UN must do much more to improve the training, equipping, and planning of peacekeepers. Unless they're given stronger mandates and the aforementioned factors are dealt with, such steps will still prove inadequate in Sierra Leone and in other peacekeeping operations.

But the UN alone won't determine the success of peacekeeping in Africa. A special Security Council session on January 24 was devoted to the Congo. There, war also rages, but in a country with 10 times the population and more than 30 times the area of Sierra Leone. A series of African leaders spoke vigorously in favor of launching a large UN peacekeeping operation. But almost none of these leaders provide any space in their own countries where a political opposition can fairly vie for power. They all spoke in support of an operation designed to make Congo safe for its president, Laurent Kabila, an erratic autocrat who routinely jails journalists and political opponents. Until Mr. Kabila and other African leaders permit democracy to function, opposition forces will seek power through military means and the wars will continue.

In the early 1960s, Congo was the scene of the UN's first peacekeeping debacle. Hundreds of peacekeepers were killed and the operation nearly bankrupted the organization. If Sierra Leone, and Congo again, are not to be the latest failures, there's much more the UN and African leaders can and must do to ensure peacekeeping succeeds.

*Dennis Jett, who served as US ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, is an adviser at The Carter Center, at Emory University. He is author of 'Why Peacekeeping Fails' (St. Martin's Press).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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