Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2738
          5 December 2000
     Secretary-General Calls for Free Access
    To Rebel-held Territory in Sierra Leone
     

     NEW YORK, 4 December (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks made by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Sierra Leone yesterday, while addressing a meeting with paramount chiefs and civil society representatives:

     If you don’t mind, I will start by exercising my right as a paramount chief and not stand up during my remarks.

     Thank you very much for those kind words that you said about me, and that very warm reception.  It gives me great pleasure to join you today.

     And thank you for the great honour you have bestowed on me by naming me as a paramount chief of the Northern Region -- and for doing so in the name of Bai Bureh, one of the earliest African rulers to assert his rights, and those of his people, against autocratic power and the arbitrary imposition of unjust law. For that, he was deported to the Gold Coast, but he has come back today, symbolically.

     By this fraternal gesture, you have signalled your faith in me, and in the United Nations.  In return, I pledge that we will stick by you in this difficult period of your history, and continue working with you to bring about the era of peace and stability for which you have so long yearned.

     I am pleased to be in this country again.  I am here to express my solidarity with you, the people of Sierra Leone, who have been traumatized for so long, but who have also shown great resilience in coping with this terrible nightmare.  

     You in Port Loko, especially, have shown extraordinary courage.  Between May and August of this year, your region was attacked no less than sixteen times.  Each time, those attacks were repelled.  Tribute must be paid not only to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) troops deployed here, but also to you, the people of Port Loko.  You stood up to these challenges to your lives and livelihoods.  Despite the destruction, you quickly settled back in the area once the immediate threat to peace had passed. 

     Let me assure you that the United Nations is wholly committed to assisting your country in restoring peace and security -- so that those who were displaced can return to their homes; so that those who are hungry can find food; so that economic recovery can continue; and so that all of you can live your lives in safety and dignity.

     Since my arrival yesterday, I have met with President Kabbah as well as my United Nations colleagues.  I know you share their sense of the urgent need to embrace the new opportunity for peace offered by the Abuja ceasefire agreement. I am pleased to note that the ceasefire is holding so far.  But we all know how fragile ceasefires can be.

     Let me take this opportunity to call on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to demonstrate its commitment to peace by allowing free access for UNAMSIL, the Government and humanitarian agencies to the entire territory of Sierra Leone, and desist from blocking the roads and preventing people from going about their lives.  People and goods must be able to circulate freely throughout the country.

     I would also like to urge all Sierra Leoneans to continue with confidence-building measures, and so help to revive the political process that was damaged so badly in May.  Dialogue and reconciliation, rather than threats or violence, are the path the people of Sierra Leone and of the wider region must choose if their hopes for peace are to come true.

     The international community may seem a very abstract concept at times.  But UNAMSIL is here with you, and we are working hard to bring the mission up to its full strength.  United Nations humanitarian agencies and their non-governmental organization partners are also here in force.  We are all committed to providing both emergency relief and longer-term development assistance.

     But for this support to be sustained, a crucial ingredient will be the progress made by Sierra Leoneans themselves in resolving their differences peacefully and equitably.  That is where you, the country's leaders, local authorities, parliamentarians and civil society representatives, must make a difference.  You can set an example of peaceful coexistence.  You can promote reconciliation.  You can speak up for ordinary people, and make yourselves accountable to them.  In short, you have a key role to play.

     Your country has suffered mightily in recent years.  Children, in particular, have borne an enormous burden quite inappropriate for their age.  But your experience has touched the world, and the world has come to your help. You and we have now forged a close partnership.  Caution is in order, but cautious optimism, not despair.  If we work together, peace is within our reach.

     In that hopeful spirit, allow me to thank you again for your welcome.  It has been a deeply enriching experience.  I shall think carefully about what you have told me, as we continue our work for peace in your country.  Thank you very much, my fellow countrymen.

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