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4 Years After War's End, U.N. to Exit Sierra Leone

November 25, 2005|From Reuters

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — The United Nations handed this West African nation's government the keys to a barracks Thursday as it prepared to withdraw its peacekeepers by the end of the year.

The former British colony was once home to the world body's largest peacekeeping force, with more than 17,000 soldiers, but its mandate expires Dec. 31, almost four years after the guns fell silent following more than a decade of civil war.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in August that Sierra Leone had made significant progress since the end of the war, infamous for images of child soldiers and civilians whose limbs had been hacked off by rebel or government militias.

"Today marks another landmark in the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone," said Daudi Ngelautwa Mwakawago, the head of UNAMSIL, the U.N. mission, as he gave the keys to Vice President Solomon Berewa. "This ceremony is another demonstration that UNAMSIL has accomplished its peacekeeping role in the country," he said.

Sierra Leone's civil war pitted government forces and militias against Revolutionary United Front rebels who seized control of the country's diamond-mining areas and enlisted thousands of child soldiers in their cause.

U.N. peacekeepers were first deployed to the country in 1999. The fighting ended in January 2002.

The U.N. has said it will remain in Sierra Leone, opening an assistance mission focusing on long-term security and development.

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