Abidjan Agreement

The Peacebuilding Commission was established as a result of the Peace Agreement of 30 November 1996. The team of four RUF members and three former ministers and a senior adviser from Kabbah formed the Peacebuilding Commission. The RUF delegation to the Commission visited Freetown for a presentation on 19 December 1996. It was expected that the commission would begin its work with the establishment of six “committees to monitor, inter alia, the camp and the disarmament of soldiers.” 1 Two weeks later, Kabbah traveled to Abidjan for a second face-to-face meeting with Sankoh, again chaired by Ivorian President Bedié. According to reports released on the talks, Kabbah had agreed that Sankoh would return to Sierra Leone with international observers to meet with RUF members. It also set December 1 as the deadline for signing the agreement. Sankoh told reporters in Abidjan: “I must renew my mandate as my fighters and the People`s War Council for new negotiations or the signing of a peace agreement with the so-called Freetown government.” On 15 November, the government announced a general amnesty for RUF members. He signalled his willingness to allow “qualified” RUF combatants to join the national army. A week later, Sankoh returned to eastern Sierra Leone to meet with his supporters, accompanied by red cross and Côte d`Ivoire officials. “I will consult my people on this peace agreement – if I can get a mandate to sign it.” To reassure Sankoh, Kabbah sent that he had ordered government forces to respect the ceasefire.

In early April, Abidjan announced that Kabbah and Sankoh had agreed to meet on April 15. Meanwhile, Kabbah unveiled a coalition cabinet of parties challenging the election and ordered the release of sixty-six alleged RUF members as a sign of “national reconciliation.” International creditors have announced that they will provide debt relief to Sierra Leone after reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on economic reforms. According to a RUF spokesman, Sankoh has planned a regional tour with a first stop in Ghana to discuss the RUF`s position. Upon his return to Abidjan, Sankoh said talks with RUF members had been positive, but would not elaborate. “I can`t say anything until the next seventy-two hours. I am waiting for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the President of Côte d`Ivoire. Everything I do must be approved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs as chair of the peace talks. However, the media suggested that Sankoh`s supporters had advocated for the deployment of international observers and the dissolution of the Kamajor militia before Sankoh signed an agreement. On 28 November, government and international representatives of Sierra Leone involved in the negotiations met in Abidjan. The agreement arrived the next day and the signing ceremony took place on 30 November 1996. Ordinary Sierra Leoneans rejoiced in the streets. In early September 1996, there were indications that behind-the-scenes negotiations and direct contacts between Kabbah and Sankoh through a special hotline had progressed and that a formal agreement might be imminent.

Press reports suggested that Sankoh should be flown to Sierra Leone to consult with his supporters. Government adviser Sheka Mansaray said the government had accepted the major economic, political and social reforms proposed by the RUF, as well as the creation of a trust fund to transform the RUF into a political party. The reform proposals went a long way to satisfying the RUF`s power-sharing efforts – unless they joined the government immediately. “We`ve done all the groundwork to reach an agreement, and there`s a certain level of understanding for everyone`s positions, so that could happen at any time,” Mansaray said. Two weeks later, Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura announced that the RUF had abandoned the request to participate in the preparation of the state budget. The government also said it would allow the ICRC to bring Sankoh back to Sierra Leone for three days. Bangura said the announcement of the “breakthrough” on the budget issue was aimed at showing international donors that progress was being made in the negotiations: “International donor funding for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country is based on negotiations. The news of this breakthrough will certainly encourage donors to help. Ten days later, donor countries pledged $212 million for post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation.

The first meeting in Abidjan lasted four days, with the RUF declaring that it would reject the elections and refuse to cooperate with elected politicians. The NPRC delegation indicated that it would relinquish power and that RUF would negotiate with the elected government. Two concrete outcomes of the meeting were the agreement on a personal meeting between Sankoh and Bio and the establishment of an agenda for the continuation of negotiations by Essy. .

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