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Jewish World Review July 20, 2000 / 17 Tamuz, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone -- THE FULL HORROR of what the Clinton administration did in, and to, the little West African nation of Sierra Leone unfolded a bit more this week with the publication of a cover story in the New Republic. The story opens with what author Ryan Lizza notes is, "even for the Clinton administration . . . an extraordinary lie": a June 5 statement by State Department spokesman Philip Reeker on the subject of the peace agreement signed in Lome, Togo, the previous July between Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Foday Sankoh, the leader of the mass murderers who call themselves the Revolutionary United Front.

"The United States did not pressure anybody to sign this agreement," Reeker said. "We neither brokered the Lome peace agreement nor leaned on President Kabbah to open talks with the insurgents. . . . It was not an agreement of ours." This is, in a sense, true. The United States was not a signatory to the Lome agreement; so it is not an agreement "of ours." But in a larger sense, the surrender of Sierra Leone to the murdering mob was very much our handiwork.

The current war in Sierra Leone began in 1991. The war was started by Sankoh, a Libyan-taught revolutionary, whose mentor and military backer is Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor taught Sankoh a way of war that was the last word in savagery, corrupting innocents to murder innocents. Taylor and Sankoh created armies of child soldiers, boys torn from their parents, enslaved to drugs and trained to murder and maim civilians in campaigns calculated to inculcate mass terror. From 1991 on, Sankoh's RUF boy murderers raped girls and boys, disemboweled pregnant women, cut off heads and (their signature monstrosity) limbs, gouged out eyes and burned people alive. Amazingly, in the face of all this, Sierra Leone's people found the courage, in 1996, to defy the RUF and elect Kabbah, a former U.N. official, president. The savagery continued.

In October 1997, President Clinton appointed Jesse Jackson as special envoy for the president and the secretary of state for the promotion of democracy in Africa. At this time, the administration could have opted to support President Kabbah and help rescue Sierra Leone from the worst war criminals currently at work in the world. It could have done this without risking American lives, by giving financial support to a Nigerian peacekeeping force (known by acronym as ECOMOG) which was fighting with some success to save Sierra Leone. In February 1998, ECOMOG proved itself capable of victory, liberating the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown from the RUF and restoring to power President Kabbah, who had been ousted. But the Clinton administration made no push for military aid until it was too late.

Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Jackson was urging Kabbah's government to adopt a course urged by the RUF's godfather, Taylor--to, as Jackson put it, "reach out to these RUF." In January 1999, a resurgent RUF reached out into Freetown and, in a three-week spree, beat, shot, hacked and burned to death 6,000 people, mostly civilians. No matter; we could still do business. The next month, the State Department hosted RUF representative Omrie Golley in Washington, and arranged, by telephone, the first formal contact between Kabbah and the rebels.

In May 1999 Jackson flew with Kabbah to Lome, where Kabbah signed the cease-fire that the United States wanted. This led immediately to the Lome peace talks, at which, Lizza reports, the U.S. ambassador to Sierra Leone, Joseph Melrose, was a constant presence. John Leigh, Sierra Leone's current ambassador to the United States, says Melrose's job was to "soften the Sierra Leonean delegation to accept the agreement." A U.S. official actually drafted sections of the agreement.

And what did that U.S.-pushed agreement entail? Only that, as Lizza writes, "the democratic president of Sierra Leone . . . hand over much of his government and most of his country's wealth to one of the greatest monsters of the late 20th century." Sankoh was made vice president and given control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines; the RUF was granted amnesty. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice later bragged that the United States had "brokered the cease-fire and helped steer [all parties] to the negotiating table."

This May, it all fell apart. With ECOMOG gone, the RUF (which had never disarmed as required) surged back, holding ill-equipped and ill-trained U.N. peacekeepers hostage for several weeks, as Secretary General Kofi Annan begged Western nations for help. Although Foday Sankoh was, by chance, captured and will probably face a war crimes trial, the RUF remains armed, supported by neighboring warlord Taylor and in control of much of Sierra Leone. A fresh RUF offensive is much feared. Oh, well. As they say in the Clinton State Department, it wasn't any agreement of ours.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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