Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
    Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2560
    Release Date:    12 May 2000
    Secretary-General, in Statement to Security Council, Demands 
    Unconditional Release Of United Nations Peacekeepers in Sierra Leone

     NEW YORK, 11 May (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the statement delivered tonight, 11 May, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the open meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Sierra Leone:

     I commend the Council, and other Member States represented here, for the sense of urgency they are showing in dealing with the grave crisis in Sierra Leone.  This is entirely appropriate, given the very serious challenge which that situation now presents to all of us in the international community.

     As of this moment, several hundred United Nations peacekeepers -- the great majority of them Zambians -- are still being detained against their will in various parts of Sierra Leone.  

     These are soldiers who came to Sierra Leone not as enemies, but as friends and peacemakers, under the terms of an agreement negotiated and signed by both parties, including Corporal Foday Sankoh on behalf of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).  The United Nations peacekeeping mission was asked, under the agreement, to manage the disarmament process.  

     It is deplorable and unacceptable that the same RUF should now not only interfere with the disarmament process, but arbitrarily detain members of the United Nations mission.

     Once again, I would like to remind Mr. Sankoh that he is responsible for the action of forces under his command.  He will be held accountable for their actions, and for the safety and well-being of all those who have been detained.  

     I demand the immediate and unconditional release of all United Nations personnel -- and I thank all those, in particular the leaders of neighbouring countries, who are working to secure that outcome.  I am glad to confirm that two United Nations military personnel were released earlier today.

    But, Mr. President, it must go without saying that our concern is not limited to the safety of United Nations peacekeepers.  It must embrace the plight of all those they are there to help, namely, the people of Sierra Leone, now threatened with yet another round of fighting, and inevitably fearful that the atrocities of past years will be renewed.

     Mr. President, it is vital that the world should not now abandon the people of Sierra Leone in their hour of greatest need.  They are entitled to expect, not only humanitarian assistance -- which United Nations agencies are continuing to provide -- but also some protection.

     Let me remind the Council that our mission was configured as a peacekeeping force.  It was neither designed nor equipped for an enforcement operation.  And it was attacked, by one of the parties that had pledged to cooperate with it, before it had been properly deployed.
     
     Given that new situation, we have to consolidate and reinforce our troops so that they can defend themselves and their mandate effectively, and so that they can help stabilize the situation.  

     I am glad to say that additional troops are on their way, including units with battle experience and with combat equipment, such as artillery and helicopter gunships.
      
     I thank the troop-contributing countries for making these units and equipment available more rapidly, and in greater numbers, than had been anticipated.  In fact, when all these troops have arrived, the military component of UNAMSIL is likely to exceed the maximum authorized by the Council in resolution 1289.  I hope that, in the circumstances, the Council will be willing to set a new and more generous limit.

     That said, Mr. President, the logistical difficulties we face should not be underestimated.  Our logistics staff are working very hard.  They have arranged at very short notice for some 120-150 flights into Freetown’s Lungi airport, using a variety of aircraft to bring troops, equipment and supplies from several different countries.  

     While most of these flights will use United Nations-chartered aircraft, we are very grateful to those Member States that are assisting us with this effort. 

     Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has made an invaluable contribution by securing the airport.  The presence of British troops, even for a limited time and with a limited mandate, is a very important stabilizing factor.

     I am also greatly encouraged by the willingness of subregional leaders, expressed at their meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, not only to contribute more troops to Sierra Leone, but also to re-engage themselves politically in the quest for long-term peace and stability.  We must cooperate with them in reassessing the political situation, and in finding ways to reactivate the peace process.  

     The new troops could, perhaps, form the nucleus of a rapid reaction force, which I remain convinced would be the best way to provide UNAMSIL with the combat capability it needs.

     Mr. President, I know that West African leaders, among others, have also called for a revision of UNAMSIL's mandate, to give it a clear enforcement role.  I am not necessarily opposed to that, but whatever mandate is decided, the first priority for the Council must be to ensure that we have the capacity to carry out the tasks this mandate implies.  The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) offer of troops is very important in this respect, but it is contingent on financial and logistical support from other Member States.  

     Mr. President, I hope -- I should like to say, I trust -- that that support will now be forthcoming.  A degree of regional or subregional specialization in handling security issues is quite natural and healthy, but 

    it cannot and must not be seen as a substitute for the overall responsibility of the United Nations, and of this Council in particular.

     It is a refrain you have heard from me before, but it has never been more pertinent than it is tonight.  Africans are facing up courageously to the appalling problems of their continent.  They rightly look for help to the rest of the world -- especially to its more powerful and prosperous States, and most especially to this Council, which began the year with a strong reaffirmation of its commitment to Africa.  

     This Organization has made a commitment to the people of Sierra Leone.  We now face a test of our resolve to abide by that commitment.  More than that, the plight of Sierra Leone and its people has become a crucial test of that fundamental solidarity between peoples, rising above race and above geography, which is the most basic guiding principle of this Organization. 

     Mr. President, I plead with you.  Let us not fail Sierra Leone.  Let us not fail Africa.  This time, in this crisis, let us back words with deeds, and mandates with the resources needed to make them work.

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