Thursday, December 15, 2005

SIERRA LEONE NOW AT PEACE!

UN troops bid farewell to Freetown.
By Mark Doyle BBC World Affairs correspondent

The last United Nations troops left Sierra Leone on Thursday following a five-year mission which faced military disaster when it began, but ultimately succeeded in ending one of Africa's most brutal wars. Fighting may be over, but Sierra Leone still faces huge challenges.

Pakistani UN troops are flying home from the capital Freetown following a ceremony at which the UN symbolically handed over some of its equipment to the Sierra Leone government. The near-collapse of the mission in the year 2000 brought into question the viability of UN peacekeeping worldwide, but today the world body points to Sierra Leone as a success story.

Almost as soon as the UN began its operations in 2000, brutal rebels who had been fighting the elected government of Sierra Leone, mounted a mass kidnapping of hundreds of UN troops. Soldiers from India, Zambia and Kenya were rounded up and humiliated by the insurgents in a move which ridiculed the UN in the eyes of the world. British forces ended their mission in 2002,

After its failures in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, it was almost one blow too many for the very idea of UN peacekeeping. The situation in Sierra Leone was only resolved by a military intervention, separate from the UN mission, by the former colonial power Britain, which faced up to the rebels and allowed the UN to regroup. The British army quickly left, and since then, the UN has successfully completed the task of restoring security and democracy to Sierra Leone.

The country is today peaceful and the UN operation has given it the chance, at least, of developing economically. The UN may have learnt some lessons from the disaster of the humiliation in Sierra Leone in 2000. In Sierra Leone's neighbour Liberia, it has mounted a new peacekeeping force. But this time, unlike in Sierra Leone, it has a core of highly-trained and well-equipped troops which it hopes will get it out of trouble should the need arise.

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