Where are our diamonds, Mr. President?
Where is our gold, NPRC?
RUF is hungry to know where they are
RUF is fighting to save Sierra Leone
- excerpt from RUF/SL Anthem
Today a violent civil war rages in Sierra Leone a decade after its inception. Over the last decade the war in Sierra Leone caused the death of 75,000 people and forced over half of the country's population to leave their homes. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), backed by the Liberian government of Charles Taylor, wages a brutal guerrilla campaign throughout Sierra Leone, a campaign in which the deliberate and systematic mutilation of civilians became commonplace. Successive multi-national peacekeeping forces, the Nigerian lead ECOMOG and today the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMSIL, have failed to put an end to the strife in Sierra Leone. In the summer of 2000 the RUF, held hostage several hundred UN peacekeepers confiscating their weapons and equipment for use against the rest of the UN mission. Confronted with some of the horrors that this conflict produces the international community is now making an effort to isolate the RUF. This effort focuses upon the role of the diamond trade upon the conflict. Control of the diamond producing regions of Sierra Leone is the primary source of revenue for the RUF. Trade in these gems allows the RUF to purchase weapons, equipment and mercenaries to support its campaign against the government of Sierra Leone. Lead by NGOs the international community is looking for a way to keep 'conflict diamonds' from Sierra Leone and other war torn African states, out of the worlds jewelry stores.
In 1991 the RUF lead by Col. Foday Sankoh crossed from Liberia into eastern Sierra Leone. The government of Sierra Leone overwhelmed by a crumbling economy and a corrupt government was unable to put up a significant resistance. Within a month of entering the region, the RUF controlled much of the eastern portion of the country. Following up on its initial success the RUF targeted economic centers. Diamond mines in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the country became the main targets.
The RUF first displayed some of its brutal tactics, which it is now infamous for, as it consolidated its hold in eastern Sierra Leone. Brutal attacks on civilians and public executions of minority ethnic groups where attempts to copy Taylor's successful tactics of ethnic incitement in Liberia. The RUF murdered more then 100 Fula and Madingo traders in its first two months of operations. Soon refugees began to flee towards the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown, the first of what would become millions of internally displaced persons. As the conflict spread through Sierra Leone over the next two years these brutal attacks on civilians continued. "The RUF had two major calling cards: dead civilians, and hundreds, possibly thousands, of living civilians with their hands, feet, ears or genitals crudely amputated"
Throughout the civil war the RUF has been assisted by a series of inept and corrupt regimes in Sierra Leone. Much of what support the RUF does enjoy emanates from dissatisfaction with the corrupt governments that have been in place since the United Kingdom relinquished control of their former colony. In 1992, dissatisfied with the lack of pay and equipment provided to it, government forces fighting the RUF sent a group of soldiers back to confront the central government with the situation. This delegation became a coup and a military junta quickly took control. This did not usher in any changes the new regime quickly came to resemble the one it replaced. The lack of authority and ability within the government of Sierra Leone has been a constant problem throughout the civil war. This has a direct effect of the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the governments troops to put down the RUF.
By January 1995, facing demoralized and under equipped government troops, the RUF controlled the three most important mining operations in the country, including the Koidu diamond area. Rebel troops now held positions only miles from the capital of Freetown. Faced with imminent defeat, and the inability of government troops to hold off the RUF, the government of Sierra Leone turned to Executive Outcomes. Executive Outcomes (EO) is a South African Company staffed by many former members of the South African Defense Force (SADF). Hiring EO brought immediate results, the RUF was swiftly beaten back from the capital, and within a month regained control of the diamond producing areas. It is interesting to note that EO was paid in part by being given a piece of the diamond operation in Sierra Leone (EO had a similar agreement with the Angolan government). This swift series of defeats and the loss of control of the important mining regions brought the RUF to the negotiating table.
A peace agreement was signed in November of 1996. The RUF appeared to have been defeated and the President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, agreed to end the contract with EO. This left the government with its inept military forces and after a few weeks RUF attacks resumed.
May 1997 a coup lead by Major Johnny Paul Koroma forced President Kabbah to flee the country. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), with Major Koroma at its head assumed control of Freetown. Declaring an end to the war the AFRC invited the RUF to share power, giving the RUF free access to the capital. Images and reports of widespread looting, rape, and murder soon revealed the horror of the situation to the world. The period of AFRC/RUF control of freetown resulted in chaos, referred to by the RUF as "Operation Pay Yourself".
A Nigerian lead ECOMOG force returned to battle the AFRC/RUF for control of Freetown. By February of 1998 the AFRC/RUF was forced out restoring President Kabbah to power, and the leader of the RUF Foday Sankoh was arrested in Nigeria and returned to Freetown. Pursued by ECOMOG the AFRC/RUF returned to the countryside. A broken force the RUF then began a systematic campaign of murder, mutilation and kidnapping referred to as "Operation No Living Thing", terrorizing the countryside. The AFRC/RUF infiltrated forces into Freetown catching ECOMOG by surprise. The result another brutal battle in Freetown as ECOMOG and RUF forces fought for control in January of 1999.
In November of 1999 the first UN peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) arrived to replace ECOMOG. The UN force was tasked with enforcing the peace agreement, the Lome accord, signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on July 7. UNAMSIL immediately ran into problems. Contingents of UN soldiers where ambushed and captured, providing the RUF with more weapons and equipment. While questions in command and a lack of cooperation at times paralyzed the peacekeepers. The RUF was again on the move and looked like it could be back in Freetown. The UK deployed several hundred troops, an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier and a number of frigates in May of 2000 to Freetown. The situation stabilized, UNAMSIL with significant UK support controls the western portion of Sierra Leone, with the RUF in control of the eastern half. The RUF portion contains many of the most important mining centers in the country. These mines are the source of revenue for the RUF.
UNAMSIL is beset with problems, the Jordanian and Indian contingents,
which provide half of the peacekeepers, recently announced their decision
to withdraw from Sierra Leone. When Nigerian troops left the country
in 1999 the RUF took advantage of the situation and almost reached the
capital. There is a fear that the RUF could be back again.
Britain is urgently training Sierra Leonean troops, while U.S. special
forces are training Nigerian battalions for peacekeeping duties in Sierra
Sierra Leone, a tiny nation, is rich in natural resources. It has several diamond mines, and it is known for production of gem quality diamonds. Diamond production in Sierra Leone was estimated at 300,000 (worth $100 to $300 per carat) carats by De Beers in 1998. Official exports through the government of Sierra Leone where estimated at 114, 438 carats, while in 1999 this figure fell to 9,320 carats. These diamonds come from the districts of Kenema, Kono, and Bo, located in the central and eastern portions of the country. The drop off in diamond production by the government of Sierra Leone can be attributed to RUF control of the diamond producing districts.
Diamonds mined by the RUF are believed to be exported through neighboring Liberia. There is a long open border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. Last year Liberia is believed to have made $290 million in smuggled diamonds. Liberia, a very poor country, has no diamond mines in its own territory. With no diamond mines of its own, diamonds sold by Liberia, must come from outside sources. Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, helped create and is believed to still covertly support the RUF. Liberia, and Charles Taylor have long been involved with the RUF, and today are involved in facilitating the RUF’s efforts to sell diamonds on the black market. Recently the European Union canceled US$50 million dollars in development aid to Liberia. This was done to punish Liberia for its role in the sale of the RUF's diamonds. Diamonds mined by the RUF make their way from the war torn fields of Sierra Leone into Liberia, and hence onto the international diamond market.
From Liberia the majority of Sierra Leone’s diamond find their way to Antwerp, Belgium. It is estimated that Antwerp handles 80 percent of the worlds trade in rough diamonds . This trade in diamonds comprises a significant portion of Belgium’s exports, and is a major source of revenue for the country. Seven percent of Belgium’s exports are diamonds, and this business raises revenues of approximately 12 billion pounds a year . Controls and oversight of this industry is in the hands of a private organization, the Diamond High Council. This is not a government run organization, and many feel it is to close to the diamond industry to be an effective regulating body. This organization, which represents the diamond dealers, checks the origins of diamonds brought into Antwerp. A diamond’s origin is determined by where it is imported from, not by where it is mined. A diamond mined in Sierra Leone, smuggled into Liberia, and shipped through Switzerland would have its point of origin determined by the Diamond High Council as Switzerland. Lax controls such as these in Antwerp and at other important trading centers (Tel Aviv, and Bombay) have been pointed to by human rights groups for their contribution to the trade in blood diamonds. This trade though brings huge revenues to these countries. This inhibits attempts at reform, nobody wishes to drive away this lucrative trade.
“ The real critical thing is that someone has got to go in there and
get the rebels out” . A Canadian diamond expert, Ralph Hazelton,
highlights one solution to the trade in conflict diamonds. Someone
must go in and take physical control of the diamond producing areas from
the RUF, and hold these areas against counterattacks. As long as
the RUF controls the source of the diamonds they will be able to smuggle
the diamonds out through Liberia or another state. Even with increased
controls over the port of Antwerp and other trading centers smuggling will
Region: Western Africa
Country: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea
Sierra Leone's civil war has sparked a humanitarian crisis in the country. Out of a population of 4.5 million people, it is estimated that 2 million have been forced to leave their homes and are now living in refugee camps. The conflict has also spawned a new type of refugee problem. Survivors of the RUF's campaign of amputation banded together and now live in amputee camps. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that their are over 700, 000 people of concern in Sierra Leone, of which 500,000 are internally displaced people, those forced to flee from their homes and now living in refugee camps in the region.
Shockingly many of the worst atrocities are committed to and by children in the war. Infants have had their hands and feet amputated, young girls repeatedly raped, and thousands of children have been abducted by the RUF. These abductees return later, armed by the RUF, whacked out on drugs who are often the perpetrators of some of Sierra Leone's most shocking crimes. This raises another crisis for Sierra Leone as the next generation has been brought up in a society of fear and violence. Many of this generation knowing nothing more then the use of a gun and the fear that it inspires, they have no incentive to bring peace to the nation.
The conflict in Sierra Leone has caused a total break down in civil
order throughout the country. A humanitarian and environmental problem
which the world must now confront.
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone human rights and refugee crisis
Conflict has recently spread into neighboring Guinea. Guinea home to refugees from civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has become a target of the RUF. Both Guinea and Liberia have conducted cross border raids on each others territory. Their is now a fear that Sierra Leone's civil war could evolve into a full-scale regional war.
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