United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)

International Information

International Operation Name: United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone

International Mission Name: United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name: Africa

Location: Sierra Leone

Mission Date: 22 October 1999 - 31 December 2005

Mission Mandate: Security Council Resolution 1270 of 22 October 1999 created UNAMSIL with the mandate to assist the parties to the Lome Agreement in implementing the accord. This included disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating former guerrillas, creating confidence-building measures, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and providing support to planned elections. This mandate was amended by Security Council Resolution 1289 of 7 February 2000, which raised UNAMSIL to a Chapter VII operation and added additional tasks, including the provision of security at key government buildings and locations, as well as at disarmament sites. UN personnel would also coordinate and assist in law enforcement. More significantly, the mandate authorized UNAMSIL to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The Secretary-General further amended the concept of operations in his report S/201/228 of 14 March 2001. Paragraph 58 of the report states: "The main objectives of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone remain to assist the efforts of the Government of Sierra Leone to extend its authority, restore law and order and stabilize the situation progressively throughout the entire country, and to assist in the promotion of a political process which should lead to a renewed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program and the holding, in due course, of free and fair elections."

The origins of the conflict in Sierra Leone go back to March 1991. Nigeria, in an effort to end the ongoing civil war in Liberia, attacked Liberian guerrilla leader Charles Taylor. In retaliation for Sierra Leone’s allowing Nigeria to use its territory to attack his forces, Taylor armed a group of Sierra Leonian dissidents - the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Despite changes in government and the intervention of both the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations, the RUF continued their attacks.

Sierra Leone is a multi-cultural nation of 5.3 million people. Sixty percent of the country is Muslim, 30 percent Christian, with 17 ethnic groups, two of which form the largest share of the population. In the ten-year course of the civil war, over 70,000 people were killed, 20,000 maimed through deliberate acts of amputation for terror and at least 27,000 children taken to become soldiers. An estimated 2.5 million people were either refugees or internally displaced persons.

In November 1996, the UN helped to broker a peace agreement. This became redundant following a military coup in May 1997. Further negotiations led to another agreement in October 1997, with an ECOWAS Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) deployed to assist in the peacekeeping. In February 1998, rebel elements of the army attacked the ECOMOG forces, the ECOMOG counter-attacked, overthrew the military dictatorship and returned the former democratic president to power. This did not end the civil war, with the result that the Security Council authorized the creation of the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to assist the Secretary-General’s Special Representative. UNOMSIL personnel were unarmed but were under the protection of ECOMOG forces. The UNOMSIL observers documented atrocities and human rights abuses against civilians.

By December 1998, RUF forces had captured the capital of Freetown, only to lose it when ECOMOG forces retook the city in February 1999 and reinstalled the civilian government. In May 1999, the RUF agreed to negotiate. The Lome Agreement was signed on 7 July, ostensibly ending the civil war. The UN was requested to assist in maintaining the peace.

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was authorized through Security Council resolution 1270 on 22 October 1999. This terminated UNOMSIL. The initial authorized strength of UNAMSIL was 6000 military personnel, including 260 military observers. As part of the Lome Agreement, the RUF would disarm and demobilize, as would government paramilitary forces. The UN would establish assembly areas at which these forces could be demobilized and then receive training to reintegrate them in society. With the UN military forces providing security, unarmed military observers would monitor compliance with the agreement and resolve any problems. The UNAMSIL military forces would also facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, provide security to UNAMSIL’s military and civilian personnel and support future elections. UNAMSIL’s senior personnel would be responsible for creating confidence-building measures that would allow both parties to better implement the Lome Agreement.

When the ECOMOG forces withdrew, they were not quickly replaced by UN forces. The Security Council authorized a strength of 11,100 on 7 February 2000, but this did not bring additional troops. In fact, UNAMSIL military personnel were concentrated only in the Freetown area, thereby allowing the RUF de facto control of the large areas they occupied.

The RUF, apparently never fully committed to the peace agreement, handed in only a few weapons from its estimated 45,000 guerrillas. When the UN attempted to open assembly points for demobilization in RUF-controlled territory, the RUF took exception to this action. On 2 May, the RUF began attacking UN forces with the result that by 5 May, over 500 UNAMSIL personnel were taken hostage. The UN requested assistance from member nations, with India providing troops. These Indian peacekeepers freed their fellow peacekeepers, but the previous peace agreement was obviously dead. In August, British soldiers were taken hostage, prompting British forces to launch a daring assault to free their personnel.

A new cease-fire was arranged in November 2000, with the Abuja Cease-fire Review Agreement (Abuja II), being signed on 2 May 2001. Abuja II included an agreement for the RUF to return UN equipment taken the previous year. This agreement has held, although minor problems have arisen. UN members contributed over 17,000 soldiers to the operation and used the threat of violence before the RUF would become active in implementing the peace agreement.

Abuja II was successfully implemented. The RUF and the government released their child soldiers, demobilization and disarmament of the RUF and paramilitary government forces has been effective, and civil authority has been restored. As a result, the UN has begun a reduction of military personnel. By early 2004, the force had decreased to about 11,000 personnel, with further reductions planned as stability returns to the country. Although Sierra Leone remains very poor and most people are without jobs, the atmosphere is much improved.

Canadian Forces (CF) Information (REPTILE)


Date: 6 November 1999 - 31 July 2005

CF Mission/Operation Notes: Canadian participation in UNAMSIL was authorized through the operation order of 9 November 1999. Five CF officers deployed to Sierra Leone to act as unarmed military observers and work in the UNAMSIL headquarters. Such was the urgency of the situation that four of the personnel had deployed before the op order was issued. The concern over the security of CF personnel was paramount, with the personnel only allowed to deploy to specific locations that met specific logistical, medical and security parameters. This concern was not unfounded, as even in the authorized areas the Canadian UNMOs faced RUF intimidation. This included death threats, rifles pointed at the UNMOs and bombs placed under vehicles. In May, four returned to Canada at the end of their tour, the fifth remaining at UNAMSIL headquarters.

With the outbreak of violence in May 2000, Canada answered the UN’s request for assistance by providing one Airbus from No. 437 Squadron and 20 personnel to move Indian troops from New Delhi to Freetown. This operation started in mid May and lasted two weeks. Canada also provided 1700 fragmentation vests and 1700 helmets as many peacekeepers from third-world countries were deploying without these valuable pieces of protective equipment.

With the UN reinforcement effort increasing, there was also a requirement for personnel to manage the huge amounts of supplies arriving at Lungi International Airport. The CF therefore contributed a Mobile Air Movements Section (MAMS), to handle freight and baggage, with ground communications support from No. 8 ACCS. The 37 members of the MAMS team deployed on 20 May via 436 Squadron Hercules, their equipment going by commercial transport aircraft. Working 12-hour shifts and in up to 43 degree temperatures, the MAMS teams off-loaded 4.7 million tons (2.4 million kgs) of freight in a 21 day period, before returning to Canada on 15 June in CF Hercules.

With the situation stabilized, four UNMOs arrived at the end of June, bringing the CF contribution back to five personnel, who would rotate at six-month intervals. With the tenth rotation in January 2005, the number of personnel was reduced to three.

On the ground the Canadian UNMOs have helped to oversee the disarmament and demobilization phase of the Abuja II agreement. They monitor the cease-fire and the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Overall, about 90 CF personnel have served with UNAMSIL.


Photo: MCpl Paul MacGregor Canadian Forces Combat Camera

Major Allan Poston, a Military Observer (MILOB) with Operation Reptile in Sierra Leone, discuses the camps needs and short comings with one of the many amputees that reside there.

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