Sierra Leone: Major Players in the Civil War
The countries and people involved in the civil war
Government of Sierra Leone
Already the victim of one coup, President Kabbah's grip on the country has remained tenuous despite the 1999 peace accord. Presently the Sierra Leone army has an estimated 5,000 men under arms.
Johnny Paul Koroma and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council
The AFRC, headed by Koroma, is presently allied with the government. A born-again Christian, Koroma has fought with the RUF in the past.
Defense Minister Norman heads the pro-government Kamajor militia, which includes roughly 15,000 tribal hunters. They prepare for battle with recitations from the Bible and the Koran; smear themselves with oil, and don mirrors, wigs and horns, which they believe will protect them from bullets.
Foday Sankoh and the Revolutionary United Front
A former army colonel Sankoh leads the RUF, the main rebel force of an estimated 15,000 combat troops. Although it has no ideology, the group began with disenchantment over the governmental corruption. Financed by diamond sales, the RUF is well armed. Observers claim the RUF uses child soldiers. Often abducted from villages at gunpoint, children are frequently forcibly injected with cocaine before battles. Their discipline, fanaticism and fearlessness have earned them a ferocious reputation.
Sankoh, who had been under house arrest, disappeared May 8, but was captured by pro-government soldiers May 17 and brought to Freetown. As word of his arrest spread, spontaneous celebrations broke out across Freetown, who residents had feared an RUF invasion. In addition, RUF troops began freeing the remaining UN peacekeepers held hostage.
President of neighboring Liberia, Taylor has been allied with Sankoh since his own rebel days in 1991. Human Rights Watch claims the RUF uses Liberia to sell diamonds and buy weapons. Another nearby nation, Togo, has also aided the RUF.
Eventually, the U.N. hopes to have 11,000 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. Currently there are roughly 8,700 troops from various countries.
The former colonial ruler of Sierra Leone has been under pressure to play a greater role. British paratroopers were sent to the country as neutral peacekeepers, but have become allied with the Sierra Leone military.
U.S. policy makers are reluctant to get involved, recalling Somalia, whose central government collapsed in the early 1990s in the face of fighting by feuding warlords. Eighteen U.S. peacekeepers were killed in Somalia, highlighting the difficulties of peacekeeping where there is no central authority or clear combatants.
An emerging West African power, Nigeria led the effort to restore President Kabbah in 1998. It could play a role in a long-term settlement, but has been reluctant to continue its involvement.
[ Return to a history of the Sierra Leone civil war ]
Sources: The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Panafrican News Agency, World Book Encyclopedia, infoplease.com, africana.com