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A Brief History of the Conflict in Sierra Leone

April 1961: Sierra Leone gains independence and opts for a parliamentary system within the British Commonwealth. Sir Milton Margai of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) becomes Prime Minister.

May 1962: First general election 1964. Sir Milton dies and his half brother Sir Albert Margai succeeds him. He attempts to establish a one-party system and meets fierce opposition from the All People’s Congress (APC).

March 1967: In a closely contested election, the APC wins plurality of seats. Siaka Stevens, APC leader and Mayor of Freetown is appointed new PM. Within hours Stevens and Margai are placed in house arrest by Brigadier David Lansana, Commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) on grounds that the determination of office should await the election of tribal reps to the house.

23 March 1967: A group of senior military officials, the National Reformation Council (NRC), seize control of the government, arrest Lansana, and suspend the constitution.

April 1968: NRC is overthrown by a “sergeant’s revolt,” the Anti-Corruption Revolutionary Movement. NRC members are imprisoned and Stevens assumes office under restored constitution.

November 1968: A state of emergency is declared after provincial disturbances.

March 1971: The government survives an unsuccessful coup.

April 1971: Sierra Leone adopts a republican constitution and Stevens is appointed President. He calls in Guinean troops to help support his government from 1971-73.

May 1977: The APC wins seventy-four seats and the SLPP wins fifteen in a national parliamentary election. The following year, Stevens’ party wins approval for the idea for a one-party system that the APC once rejected. Members of the SLPP join the APC.

November 1985: Stevens retires from office after eighteen years of being head of state.

August 1985: The APC names Major Geneneral Joseph Momoh as successor and in October, he is elected President.

1 October 1991: Sierra Leone returns to a multi-party system. First attacks of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are launched led by Capt. Foday Sankoh.

March 1991: The RU crosses the border from Liberia into the South-Eastern part of Sierra Leone, occupying the border town of Bomaru in Kailahun district. A few months later, the rebels control one-fifth of the country in the South-East region. In a counter-offensive, the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Force (RSLMF) recruits hastily. Its numbers rise from 3,000 to 14,000 men in the first year of the conflict. The RSLMF joins forces with the United Liberian Movement for Democracy (ULIMO). Forces from Nigeria and Guinea also join.

April 29, 1992: A group of soldiers under command of Capt. Valentine Strasser overthrow President Momoh and send him into exile in Guinea. This coup is popular among civilians as Sierra Leone has suffered rapidly deteriorating social conditions, labor and student unrest, and impending elections, which the opposition alleges the government was preparing to rig. The Sierra Leone military being controlled by Strasser’s National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), re-equips and causes major losses among RUF combatants. A cease-fire occurs and general amnesty is extended to RUF soldiers who surrender. The RUF uses this time to regroup.

End of 1992: Having launched a major campaign involving attacks on several locations in the country with very short intervals, the RUF starts to attack economic targets in the diamond-rich area Kono district. Attacks also begin to get closer to the capitol of Freetown.

Late 1993: New civilian forces (CDF) enter the war. The Kamajors, drawn mainly from the Mende ethnic group, the Temne Kapras, Koranko Tamaboros, and the Kono Donsos are among the new forces.

Mid-1995: With the help of foreign aid (Guinea, Nigeria, Angola), the NPRC pushes RUF rebels from their positions close to the capitol and repels them from the main diamond mining areas.

January 1996: Amidst allegations of corruption, Capt. Strasser is overthrown by his deputy, Brigadier Bio. Radio contact between the RUF and RSLMF begins. The nation plans for multi-party elections. The SLPP wins and its leader, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, is elected president. He pledges to continue peace talks.

November 30, 1996: A peace agreement is signed in Abidjan between Kabbah’s government and the RUF. It provides for the transformation of the RUF into a political party. The peace process fails as Sankoh is arrested for arms trafficking, and the RUF struggles to find a new leader. Some dissidents oppose  de-mobilization and peace talks while others support peace. Hostilities continue.

May 25, 1997: The first accused in a previous aborted coup, Major Johnny Paul Koromah, is sprung from jail and overthrows Kabbah’s government in a coup. Coup plotters claim that Kabbah’s failure to implement the peace agreement with RUF leaders, his alleged “ethnic favoritism,” and his neglect of the army are their excuses for overthrowing him. Many judges, attorneys, and police officers flee the country. Major Koromah’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) invites the RUF to join as partners in their government. Some of the worst state-sponsored atrocities ever in Sierra Leone are committed during this rule, including sexual violence, physical violence, use of child soldiers, abductions and forced labor, and looting and burning.

May 1997-April 1998: International refusal to recognize the AFRC is unanimous. Economic sanctions are imposed by the U.N. An agreement for peace talks is reached in July 1997. On October 23, 1997, a regionally backed agreement to restore constitutional rule in Sierra Leone is reached and signed in April 1998. This includes an immediate cease-fire and disarmament, the return of refugees and displaced persons, a program for humanitarian assistance, the return of an expanded Kabbah government, and immunity for acts carried out during the time the AFRC was in power.

February 5, 1998: RUF members have shown themselves unwilling to adhere to the agreement, questioning the legitimacy of ECOMOG forces in Sierra Leone, and viewing the Nigerian force present as too high, and demanding the release of Sankoh from Nigerian prison, they block a road to Freetown.

February 16, 1998: After large-scale fighting, ECOMOG secures most of the Freetown Peninsula. March 1998: Fighting continues in major towns in the provinces, where the retreating RUF battles the CDF. ECOMOG/CDF forces have gained control over most major cities. RUF forces destroy cities as they retreat into the bush. Thousands of civilians flee into Guinea and Liberia, refugee camps overcrowd, RUF’s policy of targeting and hacking of the limbs of innocent civilians intensifies; mutilations are reported in an increasing proportion of attacks.

October 4, 1998: The rebels call on the government to participate in peace talks mediated by either the UN or the Commonwealth. AFRC/RUF is in control of important bases at Koindu, Kailahun and is in virtual control of the diamond rich Kono district.

December 20, 1998: AFRC/RUF forces are in complete control of Kono.

December 22, 1998: Rebels attack Waterloo and by the end of December, Makeni and Lunsar are firmly under AFRC/RUF control.

December 25, 1998: Nigerian troops begin to send more troops to Freetown (as many as 9,000 to increase their involvement to 19,000) in response to rebel threat. Kamajor militiamen are airlifted from South-Eastern Sierra Leone to the capitol. As rebels approach the outskirts of Freetown, citizens are evacuated. RUF Commander Sam ‘Maskita’ Bockarie claims to have captured Waterloo and Beneguema, twenty and thirty miles from Freetown.

January 1, 1999: Commander Bockarie claims that, “If Kabbah does not agree to respond to our request to open dialogue, then in 48 to 72 hours we will enter Freetown.”

January 6, 1999: Rebels enter the capitol, sometimes using civilians as human shields. In less than twenty-four hours, they capture the entire east and most of the central parts of the city. They raid the prisons to free junta collaborators. The rebels loot and kill, lining up civilians to execute them. They mutilate other residents by hacking off hands or legs. Over 6,000 people die. Slowly, ECOMOG forces recapture the city. Two-thirds of the buildings have been destroyed, 150,000 people are left homeless, and hundreds of people have lost arms, feet, hands, and ears.

July 1999: Lome Peace Agreement grants amnesty to Sankoh and other members of RUF and provides a framework for turning the RUF into a political party. Sankoh is made Chairman of Strategic Mineral Resources Council and given title of VP. The RUF violates the agreement holding hundreds of members of UNAMSIL hostage and capturing their arms and ammunition in the first half of 2000.

April 2000: U.N. peacekeepers begin moving into eastern Sierra Leone, home to several rebel-held diamond mines, and are promptly attacked. In May, troops of the RUF begin capturing and holding U.N. peacekeepers hostage. More than 500 U.N. peacekeepers are held at one point. Many are later freed or escape. Sankoh’s capture has increased speculation about the fate of the remaining hostages.

May 8, 2000: RUF shoots and kills as many as twenty people demonstrating outside Sankoh’s home against violations of the Lome Agreement. Sankoh is arrested and stripped of all political positions.

January 2002: The armed conflict is officially declared over.

The nearly 11-year conflict has resulted in over 75,000 deaths and the displacement of over 2 million people.