Thank you for allowing me to speak, on behalf of the European Union, and to report on a recent EU mission to Sierra Leone and other West African countries.
Arriving in Freetown, it is not far to go from Hastings airport to the UNAMSIL headquarters on the peninsula. But its still enough to see that life in Sierra Leone is changing.
Freetown is now a rapidly growing city, full of activities everywhere, and you see people returning who had to flee in the past, and refugees from camps elsewhere coming in as well.
But you also drive past another kind of camp the camp of the mutilated. Thats where some international NGOs are helping many of those who suffered from the worst atrocities of the rebels. Those who lost their ears and arms in the most cruel acts of terror, committed also on women and children. This is a reminder of what has occurred during the tragic civil war in Sierra Leone. And when you meet some of the kids in the camp, deprived not only of their parents and their childhood, but also of parts of their own bodies, you feel not only sympathy but also outrage over these awful crimes.
From this camp, its just a few more miles down the road to the UNAMSIL headquarters. They also bustle with life, UN officials of many nationalities are hard at work here, and there is a feeling of confidence in the air. Visiting this very same place two and a half years ago, on behalf of one of the sanctions committees of this Security Council, I remember the building being scaringly empty. Some Nigerian soldiers were standing guard in the hallways, and the rebels had been sighted just a few miles outside Freetown. A few weeks later, they had taken over the city.
Coming back now, with the troika of the European Union, we found the cease-fire holding, and we saw a beginning dialogue between the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone. RUF had even been offered one of the government buildings for rent, and it has been issued temporary registration as a political party. This, Mr President, is real progress. It speaks well for those participating in the dialogue. But it also calls for a special tribute to the men and women of UNAMSIL. Their efforts to stabilize the situation, and to help with disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, are indeed leading to results. We heard from the UN observers, actively engaged in collecting and destroying weapons and ammunition, about steady progress in these efforts, with a possibility to conclude the disarmament phase already this coming August.
It is too early yet to be sure. But it seems as if President Kabbah and his government are on the right track, and that plans for national elections can soon be implemented. We hope that the former rebels will be fully integrated, taking into account the need for justice to be made on atrocities committed. Civilian institutions and basic social services also need to be re-established in former rebel territories. The European Union stands ready to support this peaceful and positive development in Sierra Leone, including the holding of free and fair elections, as we have supported the work of UNAMSIL. The EU and its member states are now looking actively at possibilities to increase our contribution to the DDR program.
Let me also commend this Council and the Secretary-General for your respons to the challenging situations in Sierra Leone in the past, not by withdrawing but by enforcing in time of crisis. That, as we see now, was indeed the right thing to do.
The EU troika came to Sierra Leone as part of a mission to the entire Mano River region. The political and humanitarian crisis there has long been of particular concern to the European Union. We started our mission by going to Mali, to the presidency of ECOWAS, to express the support of the Union for what it and President Konaré are doing to find a political solution to the crisis. We found the President being particularly concerned about the deterioration of relations between Guinea and Liberia. He had made several attempts to organize a meeting between the leaders of these two countries, but that had failed so far despite the help given also by President Wade of Senegal and President Obasanjo of Nigeria. President Konaré said he hoped that the international community would support the efforts of ECOWAS and assist in pressing for a dialogue between Liberia and Guinea.
The European Union is ready to give such support. One of the main messages of the troika mission was to encourage the parties to solve the conflict by political means, to stop fighting and to start talking, to put it bluntly. And there are serious differences that have to be overcome. President Conté of Guinea reiterated his position, not to enter into direct dialogue with President Taylor of Liberia, as long as his own country was violently provoked. To no surprise, President Taylor gave a different description of the conflict in the border area. He claimed that Liberia was being attacked by Guinea, but that he nonetheless is open to talks with President Conté.
ECOWAS is still seriously considering to put up a border force between Guinea and Liberia, which could help prevent a direct military confrontation between the two countries. The European Union could support this plan, provided that the mandate is reasonable, and that the countries concerned give their consent and cooperation. President Conté said that he was not against a border force as a matter of principle, but insisted that it should be deployed in Liberia and Sierra Leone and not on his own territory. President Taylor in Liberia said that he accepted the force, while there was substantial skepticism in Sierra Leone towards the idea, based on the limited size that was presently envisaged.
President Konaré expressed a strong wish for increased co-operation in general between the European Union and ECOWAS, and we have responded in the same spirit. ECOWAS is becoming more and more involved in conflict prevention, but in many cases lacks resources and capacity to implement its own decisions. The EU has started to support building up such capacity here, and we encourage contributions also from others.
When the Security Council earlier this year adopted a new sanctions regime for Liberia, this was strongly supported by the European Union. All efforts must be made to end Liberia’s military and financial support for and contacts with rebel groups, in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the region. We also approve of the way these new sanctions have been structured, targeted not only directly on arms transfers but also regulating the diamond trade and imposing a travel ban on members of the government.
Meeting with President Taylor in Monrovia, we repeated to him our endorsement of these sanctions. We said that it was now up to him and his government to prove to the international community that they fully comply with the demands of Security Council resolution 1343. It is our understanding that the political and psychological impact of the sanctions is being felt quite strongly in Liberia. In that sense, these sanctions already work. President Taylor obviously thinks that they are unfair, but he said to us that he accepts the sanctions as a political reality, and that he would comply with the demands imposed on him.
That, of course, remains to be seen. President Taylor particularly emphasized the need for an independent UN mechanism that could control sanctions, and called for sanctions monitors. We, on our side, suggested that the best course for the Government of Liberia would be to cooperate fully with the sanctions committee, chaired by Ambassador Mahbubani. That committee has an important responsibility in ensuring the effective implementation of the sanctions, as long as they are in force.
The humanitarian situation in the Mano River region continues to be extremely serious. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are still suffering from previous hostilities in Sierra Leone and new clashes along the border between Guinea and Liberia. The European Union recognizes the substantial efforts made by the Government of Guinea in hosting most of these refugees. We welcomed the assurances on refugee security which were made in February by President Conté to the new UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and hoped these would be fully implemented.
As regards the northern part of Liberia, in and around Lofa County, the actual situation is still unclear to us. Estimates of very large numbers of internally displaced persons there have been circulated, but it is difficult to establish reliable statistics since no external actors are permitted access into the area. Refugees, fleeing by sea, have in the last few days born witness of a deteriorating situation. Also the human rights situation in Liberia is getting worse, and should be given increased attention. The European Union intends to conduct an open and frank dialogue with the Liberian government on this, and on the need for a global solution to the crisis.
Visiting the Mano River countries, we found a strong fear of a spread of the conflict there to neighboring countries. If instability persists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, there is a clear risk that we will see an economy dominated by illicit trafficking in arms and goods, by mercenaries and other elements with potentially destabilizing effects for the whole region.
It is the view of the European Union that the humanitarian and political crisis in this area cannot be solved without a direct dialogue between the governments concerned. President Kabbahs initiative to engage the countries of Mano River in a dialogue could be a first step, that could be supported. It is also vital that the international community acts in a coordinated manner in the promotion of basic confidence building measures, which are necessary for this process. However welcome, stabilization in only one country is not sufficient for the over-all stability in the sub-region.
The European Union and its member states make up an important part of the donor community in this region. Wed like to increase our coordination with others, in particular with the United Nations. We see a scope also for more general cooperation between the EU and the UN, in West Africa and in the Mano River region in particular.
This statement has dealt with a region far away from Europe, our own continent. That does not lessen our concern over a political and humanitarian crisis that has led to so much unnecessary suffering. These are countries rich in natural resources, with the most beautiful scenery. The people around the Mano River should be able to develop their land, look forward to a prosperous future, and leave civil strife behind. Their children should be able to go to school, not to have to go to war. For the United Nations, as for the European Union, and the world community at large, there could be no finer mission than to assist these people in making that come true.