HL Deb 12 November 2001 vol 628 cc54-5WA
Lord Hylton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the latest situation in Sierra Leone following British military intervention and provision of aid and training; in particular:

  1. (a) what percentage of the territory is fully controlled by the legal government;
  2. (b) whether all or part of the diamond fields are still held by the RUF;
  3. (c) how many weapons have been given up by rebels and militias, and whether these have been destroyed;
  4. (d) where UNAMSIL is deployed, and what is its function;
  5. (e) how many displaced people have so far returned to their original homes;
  6. (f) when elections are expected to be held; and
  7. (g) whether government forces are freeing rebel-held areas, and by when they are expected to have full control. [HL1036]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

The situation in Sierra Leone has improved beyond all expectations since our original intervention in May 2000. Significant challenges remain, but the prospects for peace are now better than at any time since the conflict began. Over 20,000 combatants have disarmed and handed over 3,115 handguns, 11,883 assault weapons, 709 group or crew-served weapons and 518,340 rounds of ammunition since May 2001: 10,800 of these weapons have been destroyed to date. The rebel leadership has renounced violence in favour of transforming the RUF into a political party ahead of elections announced for 14 May 2002.

The UK's engagement, in support of the United Nations, together with that of regional leaders including President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Konare of Mali, has underpinned the recent progress in the peace process. But the Government of Sierra Leone will need the continued support of the international community to enable them to consolidate the peace and begin to rebuild the country's shattered institutions and infrastructure.

The Government of Sierra Leone have not, so far, had to use their forces to free up territory previously held by the rebels. The government are gradually extending their authority throughout their territory as disarmament progresses: the Sierra Leone police are now present in the nine of Sierra Leone's 13 districts—constituting over 70 per cent of the country—that are officially recognised as disarmed. We expect them to have gained full control over the whole of their territory once disarmament has been completed in December.

The main diamond-producing area of Kono was one of the first to demobilise. But a sizable presence of RUF ex-combatants remains in the diamond producing areas, which are beginning to come under government control.

UNAMSIL has deployed troops throughout Sierra Leone. Its function is set out in its mandate authorised under Security Council Resolution 1270 (1999) of 22 October 1999, amended by Security Council Resolution 1289 (2000) of 7 February 2000. Its main objectives are to assist the Government of Sierra Leone to extend their authority, restore law and order and stabilise the situation progressively throughout the country, and to help to promote a political process towards disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and the holding, in due course, of free and fair elections.

Spontaneous returns make it hard to determine a precise figure of displaced persons who have returned to their original homes. UNHCR records indicate that 26,000 resettled between April and June 2001, and plans are in hand to resettle another 18,000 from December 2001. Another 120,000 internally displaced persons now in camps in Sierra Leone await resettlement, and a further 80,000 are being accommodated in host communities. Regionally, Guinea is hosting about 109,500 Sierra Leonean refugees, Liberia 70,000, the Gambia 7,630 and an estimated 9,000 Sierra Leonean nationals are in other West African countries awaiting repatriation.