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Country Reports
SIERRA LEONE, Landmine Monitor Report 1999



Sierra Leone has been in crisis for nearly a decade. Discontent during the one party rule from 1978 to 1992 led to instability which was fueled by the civil war in neighboring Liberia. The military took power in April 1992 and initiated a transitional program which was derailed by another military coup. In 1996 President Tejan Kabbah came to power following the first multiparty elections in nearly two decades. However, another military coup was staged in May 1997 which led to the introduction of Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) forces into the country in February 1998; the West African force ejected the military government and its allies. This civil war has been characterized by very high levels of violence. In the early part of 1999, the rebel forces returned to Freetown, the capital, and unleashed untold violence on the population.

Mine Ban Policy

Sierra Leone signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 29 July 1998. Sierra Leone was not an active participant in the Ottawa Process, it did not endorse the Brussels Declaration or attend the Oslo negotiations. But Sierra Leone did vote for the key 1996, 1997 and 1998 UN General Assembly resolutions in support of a mine ban.. In September 1997, Foreign Minister Shirley Gbujuma told Human Rights Watch that the government in exile would sign the Mine Ban Treaty.[1] In 1997, President Kabbah told Human Rights Watch that his government would sign in Ottawa, and once returned to power, would quickly legislate.[2] After President Kabbah was restored to power in 1998, he did ensure that his country signed the Treaty. However, Sierra Leone has still to ratify. On 6 May 1997, a local NGO Sierra Leone Campaign to Ban Landmines was launched, but it lasted only a few weeks because of the coup.


Sierra Leone is not known to produce or export antipersonnel mines. It maintains landmine stockpiles, but will not disclose how many and what types.[3] A number of minefields were planted by a private army of fifteen Lebanese mercenaries hired by De Beers in the mid-1950s to stop diamond smuggling from Sierra Leone.[4]

Rebel forces in the east and south used a small number of landmines along roads in the early 1990s. Of the thirty-seven landmine deaths in 1993, three were civilians. According to the U.S. Department of State there was an average of three to four landmine incidents in 1993 and these mines were discouraging relief efforts.[5]

In 1997, following the coup, the Nigerian ECOMOG forces were responsible for laying some new minefields, resulting in some civilian casualties. There is evidence that ECOMOG forces used landmines to protect the area around Lungi airport and the Kossoh town area. The Military Junta claimed that the Nigerian forces used landmines much more widely, sometimes suffering injuries while laying them, and then blaming the Junta.[6]

The Nigerian press also reported, in September 1997, that eleven Nigerian soldiers serving with ECOMOG “were killed by landmines planted by the military Junta, particularly on the passage routes used by ECOMOG and there had been civilian casualties.[7] Several villages have also suffered from the Junta forces laying landmines according to President Kabbah.[8] There has also been an unconfirmed report that the Junta had used landmines along certain roads with a heavy concentration in Kailahun District in the East and in the Kangain Hills in the North.[9]

A number of mercenary forces have also operated in Sierra Leone. Gurkha Security Guards (GSG) denied that it conducted any training in 1995 involving landmine warfare and claimed to have spent "half an hour with the Army Chief of Staff in Sierra Leone talking him out of his wish to lay landmines in order to protect their borders and vital installations. While I could not get his agreement to destroy their landmine stockpile; he agreed not to permit any to be laid."[10]

After capturing the Kono diamond area in August 1995, the South African mercenary force Executive Outcomes allegedly secured this area by ringing the mining complex with landmines.[11] Rebel leader Foday Sankoh in August 1996 alleged in an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that EO was using antipersonnel mines against his forces.[12]

Merlin, a medical NGO active in Sierra Leone reported that it had not heard or dealt with any landmine victims in over eighteen months in Sierra Leone. However, its BO clinic in late March received a patient whose injuries might have been due to a landmine.[13]


[1]Interview , London, 15 September 1997.

[2]Interview with President Kabbah, 6 October 1997.

[3]According to Jeremy Harding, an editor at the London Review of Books, he was told in 1995 while in Sierra Leone by a diamond industry source that the British military equipment agent, J & S Franklin Limited had procured landmines for the Sierra Leone government. Telephone interview with Jeremy Harding, London, 31 March 1999.

[4]Anthony Hocking, Openheimer and Sons (London: McGraw, 1973) p.287.

[5]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis (Washington DC: Department of State, 1994) pp.16-17.

[6]Sierra Leone Daily Mail, (Freetown), 4 October 1997.

[7]Guardian, (Lagos), 17 September 1997.

[8]Interview with President Kabbah, London, 6 October 1997.

[9]Olive Sawyer, 'The Mine Problem in Africa,' Special Landmine Workshop Supplement, RADDHO and African Topics, Dakar, November 1997.

[10]Alex Vines, 'Gurkhas and the private security business in Africa,' in Jakkie Cilliers and Peggy Mason (eds.), Peace, Profit or Plunder? The Privatization of Security in War-Torn African Societies (Halfway House: Institute of Security Studies and Canadian Council for Peace and Security, 1999) p.130.

[11]Abdel-Fatau Musah, Research and Publications Co-ordinator, Centre for Democracy and Development, London, 27 March 1999; David Lord, Co-Director, Conciliation Resources, London, 27 March 1999; Khareen Peck, independent journalist, Johannesburg, 31 March 1999; Lucy Taylor, Trading Force Ltd, London, 30 March 1999. All the above individuals have been told by secondary sources in Sierra Leone that EO laid mines in this operation or spread the word that the areas around this diamond area were mined.

[12]Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 'Diamond Mercenaries of Africa,' Background Briefing, 4 August 1996.

[13]Telephone interview with Peter Paul de Groote, Merlin, London, 31 March 1999.