IN THE NEWS #428 - Sierra Leone/UN Peacekeepers

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed to the world not to forget the people of Sierra Leone. He made the appeal Thursday night at a Security Council meeting called by African countries. The UN chief also demanded the immediate release of five-hundred peacekeeping soldiers held by Sierra Leone's rebels.

Nine-thousand UN troops are in Sierra Leone. The current limit is eleven-thousand. More troops are expected to arrive soon. The soldiers come from several African countries as well as Jordan, India and Bangladesh.

The troops are holding positions around the capital, Freetown. They were sent to the West African country to supervise a peace agreement signed last July. So the UN soldiers arrived in Sierra Leone prepared for administration and enforcement - not for war. They do not have tanks or other heavy weapons.

The Clinton administration supported the peace treaty but says American troops will not take part in fighting in Sierra Leone. No European country has offered ground troops, either. On Monday eight-hundred British troops arrived in Sierra Leone to remove British citizens from the former colony. In the process they took control of an airport near Freetown.

Rebel leader Foday Sankoh disappeared Monday after his bodyguards fired at protesters outside his home. On Friday nineteen victims received a state funeral.

The peace treaty gave Foday Sankoh and members of his Revolutionary United Front amnesty from charges of war crimes. They also were given top positions in the government. This happened although the rebels cut off children's arms and legs, burned families, and carried out group sexual attacks on young women. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives in eight years of civil war.

Mr. Sankoh's rebels still control much of northern Sierra Leone. They also control the eastern area where diamonds are mined.

Kofi Annan says African countries believe the United Nations is not willing to spend as much for operations in Africa as in other places. African countries want the organization to expand its peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone. And, they want the troops given the right to use greater force against the rebels.

UN peacekeepers suffered several failures during the Nineteen-Nineties. They failed to stop widespread killings in countries such as Rwanda and Angola, or in Srebrenica, in Bosnia Herzegovina. But experts say the UN is doing a better job in East Timor.

The United Nations has increased its forces by one-hundred percent in the past two years. Thirty-thousand soldiers now wear the blue hats of the UN peacekeepers.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.

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