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Sierra Leone Government Under Fire

December 20, 1997

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) _ West African leaders told Sierra Leone’s military government Saturday that it must stick to its agreement to hand over power to a civilian government in April.

The announcement, made at the end of a meeting of foreign ministers from five nations of the Economic Community of West African States, came two days after Sierra Leone’s military leader said he was unlikely to abide by the agreement.

The ministers ``emphasized the need to adhere to the time table of the peace plan,″ said the announcement, which also accused the junta of attempting to illegally import weapons and called for the deployment of a United Nations observer force.

Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma, who ousted the 15-month-old government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in a bloody May coup, told the BBC World Service on Thursday that he didn’t think a handover to civilian rule would be possible by April 22, as his government had previously agreed.

Koroma blamed delays in steps leading up to the handover, especially on disarmament, which was supposed to have started Dec. 1. However, Koroma’s government has refused to allow West African peacekeepers to carry out the disarmament.

Kabbah’s government in exile, in a statement released Saturday in neighboring Guinea, lashed out at Koroma.

``The whole world has now seen that they are not serious about peace and their real intention ... is to bide time so as to rearm themselves and plunge our country into a bloodbath,″ the statement said.

The ministers group includes representatives from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia. It monitors the situation in Sierra Leone for the economic community, though Nigeria is largely in control of the West African peacekeepers who are stationed there.

The Nigerian-led peacekeepers tried to dislodge him, and then West African states imposed a U.N.-approved port blockade. In October, the junta signed a cease-fire under which Kabbah is supposed to return to power by April 22.

The deal includes amnesty for the coup leaders and disarmament of military factions.

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