(Wednesday 7th July 1999): President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh signed a peace accord to end more than eight years of civil war in Sierra Leone sparking widespread jubilation across Sierra Leone. Reaction to the signing of the accord in Freetown had been “very overwhelming,” according to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah.
“I drove for most part of the day today across the city, from the east end to the west end, I could see little children, adults, civilians, policemen, all jubilating,” Fofanah told the BBC’s Network Africa programme in the morning when news broke that a Peace Accord was going to be signed that day.
“I mean they were very excited that today is the day, today is the day that they’re going to sign the peace talks in Togo. In fact at some stage it was rumoured that it has been signed already. And I could see people dancing all over the town. Even the amputees and the displaced people at the camps were rejoicing.”
|President Tejan Kabbah (right) signing the Lome peace accord in 1999 with rebel leader Foday Sankoh
The final draft of the peace accord was hammered out overnight at a mini-summit attended by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, and Liberian President Charles Taylor.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has “warmly welcomed” the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, “ending years of brutal and painful warfare,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by his spokesman’s office.
“(Annan) sincerely hopes that the people of Sierra Leone can now begin rebuilding their country and their lives,” the statement said. “He now calls on the parties to the peace accord to honour their commitments, and he offers the vigilant support of the United Nations in their efforts at reconciliation and rebuilding.”
U.S. President Bill Clinton congratulated President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on signing an agreement which, he said, “offers the hope of ending nearly eight years of terrible conflict in Sierra Leone and bringing peace and a brighter future for its people.” In a statement issued by the White House press office, Clinton said the United States was prepared to work with ECOWAS, the U.N. and the OAU to ensure appropriate support for implementing the agreement and beginning reconciliation efforts. “We will work with the people of Sierra Leone and the international community to support the safe return of more than one million refugees and internally displaced people and the reconstruction of the country,” Clinton said.
The Lomé Accord was finalised during seven hours of talks with the presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Liberia and Burkina Faso which lasted into the small hours of Wednesday morning. The agreement was signed at about 5:00 p.m. in a formal ceremony at the Palace of Congress in Lomé, in the presence of the four West African leaders, OAU, ECOWAS and UN mediators, members of Sierra Leone’s Inter-Religious Council, and representatives from civil society groups.
President Kabbah called on Sierra Leoneans to “forgive and forget,” declaring that “civil war in our country is at an end, and we have all resolved never again to take up arms to settle our political differences.”
Kabbah dedicated the accord to Sierra Leone’s children, whom he called “the most vulnerable victims of war.” Before signing, he lifted up three-year old Memunatu Mansaray, whose right hand had been hacked off by rebel fighters. In her remaining arm the little girl clutched a teddy bear. “This is the product of war,” Kabbah told the gathering. “I hope we shall all learn from this and try to embrace peace.”
Kabbah also signed a warrant pardoning Sankoh and freeing him from any form of prosecution, and he gave the rebel leader a Sierra Leonean passport. Sankoh was convicted and sentenced to death on treason charges in October 1998, and his appeal was still pending before the Appeals Court in Freetown.
Sankoh was silent throughout most of the ceremony, but afterwards he urged forgiveness for atrocities. “We, the RUF, deplore all atrocities,” he said. “We are asking for forgiveness for all those who have committed these atrocities, be it RUF, Kamajors, ECOMOG, Sierra Leone Army. As a leader of a political organisation I say we are sorry. We are ready to give peace a chance...Let us try to forgive. We are asking for forgiveness. We need the support of everyone, especially our brother the president.”
CULLED FROM SIERRA LEONE WEB
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.