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U.N.'s Annan starts mini-Africa tour in S.Leone

Annan waits to meet with the Tejan Kabbah in Freetown on Saturday  

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (Reuters) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan began a mini-African tour on Saturday in Sierra Leone, saying that the people of the West African nation had suffered too much from their civil war and that peace was possible.

Annan, whose tour also takes him to a democracy conference in Benin and to Horn of Africa foes Ethiopia and Eritrea, will visit the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operation while in Sierra Leone.

Leone definitely needs peace and peace must be achieved," Annan said on arrival at Lungi international airport before talks with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

"We believe that peace in Sierra Leone is possible and that the people, the government and the international community can work together to bring peace to Sierra Leone."


Annan was accompanied by his new Under secretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno of France.

Sierra Leone is something of a test case for U.N. peacekeeping in the world.

Rebels who flouted a 1999 peace deal in May took hundreds of peacekeepers hostage, holding some for several weeks.

Britain, the former colonial power in Sierra Leone, helped the ill-prepared force regain its composure but the force, known as UNAMSIL, has been plagued by leadership rivalry between India and West African power-broker Nigeria.

India is pulling out following the departure of its force commander. The force now has a Kenyan commander.

Jordan is pulling out saying rich countries, who have shunned the force, should do more.

The force, which numbers less than 13,000, is supposed to be 20,500 strong. Annan has struggled to find replacements for the Indians and Jordanians but officials say that 3,000 troops from Bangladesh are due to arrive by the end of December.

A truce in force since November 10 has been respected by both sides but the U.N. has asked the rebels to embrace confidence-building measures to show their commitment to it.

Annan, who was welcomed at the airport by Foreign Minister Sama Banya, travels to Port Loko to the north of Freetown on Sunday to visit a disarmament and demobilization camp. The camp houses several hundred former rebels and militia fighters.

Annan will attend an AIDS conference in Ethiopia and in neighboring Eritrea he will discuss peacekeeping issues.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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