Delicate Future for Resource-Rich Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone: Building on a hard-won peace
In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations has released a list of ten top news stories that are underreported.
We have chosen to share with you one of these topics -- Sierra Leone. You can find the full list at http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/
They have ended the conflict, disarmed thousands of combatants, freed 20,000 child soldiers and watched over democratic elections. But now that the UN’s peacekeepers are leaving, the world must remain committed to helping the country overcome the many challenges to its fragile peace.
UN peacekeepers are leaving Sierra Leone after a five-year mission that has brought peace and raised hopes for a better future. But while the media focus might have shifted to other crises, the world must remain committed as the country battles to overcome the many challenges that remain.
UNAMSIL has been one of the UN’s most visible successes, having deployed in the wake of a brutal civil conflict that left at least 75,000 dead and many more maimed. The UN disarmed more than 70,000 combatants -- including some 20,000 child soldiers -- and shepherded a peace process towards the creation of a new national government. It has worked to regularize the nation's trade in diamonds - the fuel for its bitter conflict -- for the benefit of the entire country. However, Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest countries, and the UN-supported peace is fragile. The nation's borders are porous, the surrounding West Africa sub-region is unstable, unemployment is widespread and there is a large pool of ex-combatants who could take up arms again.
The last peacekeepers are to leave by December 2005. At its maximum strength, the UN deployed 17,500 blue helmets to Sierra Leone. They maintained security as government forces were re-constituted. Civilian UN workers disarmed combatants, oversaw democratic elections and resettled thousands of refugees.
Peace is not sustainable without justice: The UN-founded Special Court for Sierra Leone began war crimes trials in 2004 against 13 indictees. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission recently completed its work, recommending compensation for war victims and reconciliation among factions.
Sierra Leoneans remain concerned that the closure of the UN mission would threaten the fragile peace and give reason for supporters of the war crimes indictees to cause mischief.
A border dispute with neighbouring Guinea, which is teetering on the brink of violence, could threaten stability if it remains unresolved. External security is less than assured unless the army is well-equipped and better-trained.
Unemployment, especially among the youths, who make up the majority of the population, is rampant. Mismanagement of natural resources, including diamonds, could be a source of conflict as poverty levels rise.
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