UN Delegation Heads to Sierra Leone
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A high-level U.N. delegation is heading to Sierra Leone to determine why about 500 U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage by rebels earlier this month, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.
The team led by former assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping Manfred Eisele was scheduled to leave New York late Wednesday for Conakry, Guinea, en route to the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, said spokesman Fred Eckhard.
Eckhard announced last week that Secretary-General Kofi Annan was dispatching a delegation to assess problems in the peacekeeping mission and make recommendations to improve it.
The Sierra Leone mission _ currently the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation _ has been criticized for its poorly trained and badly equipped soldiers.
In a report to the Security Council last week, Annan said lessons needed to be learned from the operation of the U.N. mission and the capture of the peacekeepers.
Also hoping to help end the fighting were representatives of six West African countries who were planning to travel to Sierra Leone over the weekend to negotiate a cease-fire between government and rebel forces.
The group will meet leaders of the rebel Revolutionary United Front at an undisclosed location and try and bring them to the bargaining table, said Adrienne Diop, spokeswoman of the Economic Community of West African States.
On Sunday, rebels freed what were believed to be the last of the peacekeepers. U.N. officials said four were believed to have died in fighting.
The rebels killed tens of thousands and intentionally mutilated many more during an eight-year civil war. A peace agreement signed last July has been broken repeatedly, and many rebels have refused to turn in their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers.
The U.N. force, which Eckhard said currently stands at 11,280 soldiers, had been expected to reach 13,000 troops by the end of June.
West African leaders agreed Monday to contribute an additional 3,000 soldiers, which would bring the total closer to the 16,500 recommended by Annan.
The U.N. delegation which will assess the Sierra Leone peacekeeping operation also includes Maj. Gen. Timothy Ford of Australia, a former chief of staff in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Middle East; Leonard Kapungu, head of the lessons learned unit in the U.N. peacekeeping department; Peter Phalen, the department’s chief of logistics; and Margaret Carey, one of the department’s political affairs experts.