ECOWAS' Blunder: Another Prescription For Sierra Leone's Horrors
By Tom Kamara

The pathetic disarray within the paralyzed Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), regarding its earlier reprieve for the detained Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh, a reprieve now rescinded, is a testament of the deceit and treachery that reigns within the regional organization that many foolhardily expect to handle West Africa's multiplying and horrific problems. First, ECOWAS announced that the loathed rebel leader was to be taken out of Sierra Leone into safety. A Few hours after, it said, "Sorry, we made a mistake. Sierra Leoneans may now decide his fate."

In Liberia where any thought of a defeated RUF is anathema, the news of Sankoh's reprieve immediately led to celebrations within the Government - declaring it a "welcome gesture."

But this jubilation may have been too pre-matured. Under extreme global pressure, ECOWAS bitterly swallowed its decision, if at all there was one. Its Executive Secretary, the Guinean Lansana Kouyate, (who grossly underestimates Taylor's violent designs for his own country) in a bizarre twist, said he "probably" made a "mistake" in announcing what he regarded as the decision. "It was very late and we were debating and there were very controversial positions," he said. But Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer, disagreed. "This matter was not even discussed at the main summit. It was discussed at the security mediation committee meeting." He added that Kabbah "did not" back the decision and that Kabbah had called Kouyate and "pointed this out to him that there had been no decision on that." In Freetown itself, civil organizations threatened action against any move to relocate the rebel chief whose bodyguards publicly gunned down about 19 peaceful protesters in early May, among the thousands of atrocities committed by his followers since the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement which made him Vice President and rewarded him with diamonds.

One wonders where the decision endorsing Taylor's position on Sankoh, and announcing it as an ECOWAS position, come from? Did it come from determined Liberian and RUF lobbyists and inserted in the document? Why did Mr. Kouyate go along in announcing it to the world and thus creating confusion and bitterness within Sierra Leone? Mr. Kouyate later said he "probably" made a "mistake", and that "I apologize". What was the mistake for which this confused apology was given? There are definitely more questions than answers in this soap of deceit and apparent cover-up.

The extent of the complicity among African decision-makers in crime under the cover of politics can also be seen in the United Nations' Panel of Experts report released this year. The report linked many African leaders to UNITA's diamond smuggling that has fueled the Angolan war.

Based on this report, "the Panel learned that Ouagadougou was a particularly favored safe haven for transactions between UNITA and diamond dealers based in Antwerp. Typically, Savimbi (UNITA's rebel leader) would call President Compaore (the Burkinabe leader) in order to alert him that a delegation would be arriving. .." In one instance, the report mentioned that at one point, Savimbi informed Compaore that "all those who are coming to sell or buy, they are all my friends", the UN Panel revealed. The leaders of Togo, Ivory Coast, etc., were also linked to the Angolan smuggling ring. The same applies to Sierra Leone, where Taylor, the Ivorians and Compaore have backed the rebels in return for diamonds. Thus we can see the influence of diamonds, corrupt money, in African decision-making particularly when totally corrupt leaders are entrusted with the affairs of the continent.

But even before the summit, Charles Taylor, now globally accepted as the RUF's main brain, denounced any attempt to try his comrade. Using similar language he used in 1997 when Sankoh was tried, Taylor said the Sierra Leone Government's decision was "foolish." Thus, ECOWAS' first decision "to give protection" to Sankoh was an endorsement of Taylor's "foolish" verdict. Its spokeswoman went as far as announcing that apart from removing Sankoh from Sierra Leone, he had a "positive role to play" even if the UN had declared the rebel chief "discredited."

Acknowledging the cover-ups and duplicity, Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, breaking ranks and with protocol, chided his fellow ECOWAS leaders. "I am sorry to say this in public... But my colleagues have not often shown honesty during our meetings especially during discussions on the region's civil wars as we are witnessing in Sierra Leone."

In this timely bravado, Mr. Rawlings was not specific, but according to the Pan African News Agency, he later revealed that the Nigerians, at the summit, rebuked Taylor for his continued backing of the Sierra Leone rebels.

"Only last Saturday night, we witnessed hot exchanges between myself and His Excellency, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo as well as President Charles Taylor of Liberia and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. In the end, I was satisfied with this open exchange. It is to me, a sign that a level of growth is being witnessed amongst leaders since they are willing to tell each other their wrongs to their face," Rawlings said. "Some leaders would rather push their personal agenda than pursue the end of civil strife in the sub-region and Sierra Leone in particular," he noted. We must recall that a UN Panel of Experts, in a report released this year, accused Eyadema, along with Compaore and others, of involvement in Angola's diamond smuggling

Meanwhile, the VOA quoting local sources, reported that about 400 Burkinabe mercenaries crossed into Sierra Leone to help the RUF defend the diamond mines during the early stage of the UN hostage taking crisis. Late last week, reports from Sierra Leone indicated that hundreds of Charles Taylor's NPFL fighters had stormed Kono - ready to defend the diamond stronghold. "Hundreds of mercenaries from Liberia comprising of NPFL and Burkinabes have already arrived in Koidu to fortify all mining areas under the control of RUF-SL", according to one of the sources in a release. Sources revealed that these well-armed and trained mercenaries were instrumental in retaking Lunsar, a key town into the rebel stronghold of Makeni, Kailahun and Buedu close to the Liberian border. Foya, Mende Korma and surrounding towns are reportedly serving as staging posts for hundreds of RUF/NPFL fighters. Sierra Leone deputy minister of defense, Hinga Norman, told Nigerian journalists that allegations of Liberia's "big hand" in Sierra Leone are now being substantiated on a daily basis. But Taylor, speaking to Nigerian journalists, said the Sierra Leone terror is comparable to a fight between husband and wife.

Perhaps one of the approved decisions that Mr. Kouyate may soon announce and claim "mistakes" later, would be Taylor's offer to provide "peacekeeping troops" for Sierra Leone, an offer with ugly signals marred in treachery. "It's like Milosovich sending troops to protect the Kosovars, or Hitler offering to protect the Jews" protested a London-based Sierra Leone journalist. "Although he has proven to be inept and credulous, if Kabbah accepts Taylor's troops, it will be like pushing the button on his own executioner's chair. If only Kabbah could go to the gallows alone", he added.

Judging from increasing Nigerian role in placating Taylor, it is almost certain that Liberian "peacekeepers" will enter Sierra Leone under "ECOMOG" to further muddy the already muddied military terrain. "Taylor wants to remove focus from his diamond smuggling syndicate, thus portraying himself as a genuine peacemaker. It should not be surprising that the drowning Sierra Leoneans, under a confused leader who just recently told them that Taylor was sincere about peace in the country, will jump on this treacherous offer. This will be the end because diamonds and the rehabilitation of the RUF are the Liberian's main agenda, and he will make many concessions to achieve his final objective as he did in Liberia ", the journalist said.

Meanwhile, Taylor and pal Blaise Compaore are determined to cut their looses in Sierra Leone, and have gone back to the basics in destabilization tactics. Compaore, who admitted sending 700 troops to help destroy Liberia for Taylor's presidency, now says he will dispatch Burkinabe regular troops who, in all intent, will only strengthen the hundreds of Burkinabe mercenaries already fighting for the RUF.

"We commend President Taylor for the satisfactory results achieved so far. He called for our participation in the disarmament and peace process in Sierra Leone. We expressed our readiness to participate", Compaore said.

At the same time, Taylor is warning Britain against arming or training Sierra Leone Army. This new campaign against British military help for Sierra Leone's cornered Government, is identical to the one Taylor launched prior to and after the 1999 RUF failed offensive to take Freetown. He has also intensified warnings against the planned trial of Foday Sankoh, a man with whom he trained in Libya and who fought along side his NPFL forces during the Liberian war. "The transfer of Sankoh (to a neutral country) is a price to pay in order to turn the page in nine years of war in Sierra Leone", he told journalists in Burkina Faso while repeating his denial of controlling Sierra Leone's diamonds. "Diamonds are found all over Liberia with reports that diamonds have been found on Du Port Road in the northern suburb of Paynesville (in Monrovia, the capital)", he now claims. Taylor believes arming the Sierra Leone poses a threat to his own security and targets his influence in the diamond area. "There is a conspiracy to destroy this Government", he declared in Burkina Faso.

But this time, it seems that the Kabbah Government, buoyed by British and UN backing, is far from being intimidated by an increasingly isolated, desperate and weakened neighbour whose unpaid soldiers, according to Liberian Ministry of Defense, are defecting for lack of food while Sierra Leone Government troops are on the offensive against his RUF allies. According to Reuters, they have captured a key rebel base near Port Loko after wounding a number of rebels and capturing large quantities of weapons and ammunitions. They are also poised to retake Lunsar, a key town en route to the rebel-held diamond fields. "Taylor's days as a key player in Sierra Leone are severely numbered. We have made our mistake and we have learned from them", said a just arrived Sierra Leone student in The Netherlands. Allowing the participation of Liberian and Burkinabe forces as peacekeepers will be another prescription for disasters in Sierra.

But the confusion around Sankoh does not only lie within ECOWAS. The South Africans, who are fond of Taylor and were among the first to accord him a Red Carpet welcome complete with pomp and pageantry befitting a conquering king after the warlord shot his way to power, have now declared Mrs. Mbaye Sankoh, Sankoh's Senegalese wife, persona non grata, giving her 24 hours to leave the country because of her pro-RUF propaganda. Poor lady! Her husband was welcomed in South Africa just recently. When the UN reminded Pretoria that there was a travel embargo on one of Africa's most insane killers, they revoked his visa, insisting that the document issued to him by their Abidjan mission was "a mistake." It seems "mistakes" have become official policy in crumbling Africa.

Mrs. Sankoh is being deported for repeating what the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Charles Taylor told world leaders. Remember it was Rev. Jackson who compared Sankoh to Nelson Mandela, arguing that there was "blood on everyone's hands" in the Sierra Leone conflict and that Sankoh therefore had a "positive role" to play. "He who's without sin must cast the first stone", added a jubilant Taylor after a meeting with Rev. Jackson as President Clinton's Special Envoy to Africa.

"How can they say (that) RUF is guilty? This is war. How can anyone determine who is guilty when both sides are killing, raping and mutilating peopleI am not defending my husband's actions, but this is war, and that is why I want it to stop. If the kidnappers would allow Chairman Sankoh to speak, I am confident that he would reveal political treachery, incompetence and bankruptcy in Sierra Leone".

Diamonds are indeed forever. According to reports, Mrs. Sankoh, who travels on a US passport, rarely visits Sierra Leone to see children as young as 5 with hacked limbs, left with an uncertain future.

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