U.N. exploring ways to keep peace

WASHINGTON, MAY 8. The Chief of the United Nations Peacekeeping, Mr. Bernard Miyet, is on his way to Sierra Leone even as the world body has clearly been rattled at the increased fighting there in the last several days. The Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping is expected to arrive in Freetown on Tuesday to step up diplomacy and give a badly needed morale boost to the U.N. force. Some 500 of the force are being held hostage by the Revolutionary United Front of Mr. Foday Sankoh.

The United Nations Security Council held a rare closed door session on Sunday where the members were briefed on the ground realities in Sierra Leone. The Council did not issue any statement after the meeting. However, the word is that the situation is much calmer than what it had been last week with officials there arguing that mis-communication or failure of communication links with U.N. forces in at least two places had given rise to the impression that these had been overrun by the rebels.

There is no doubt that the U.N. is trying desperately to put in place a solid mechanism in Sierra Leone that would allow the peacekeeping operations to continue without a hitch. For there is the all round consensus that if the situation flopped to the extent that the U.N. force was at the receiving end, there was no telling what the next sequence of events could be. And there could be political and diplomatic ripples in the corridors of the U.N. and world capitals as well.

In a bid to end eight years of brutal civil war, the U.N. hammered out an accord that saw an end to the fighting, a supervised disarming of the rebels and an 11,000 United Nations Force to oversee the peace. Thus far, an estimated 8700 blue berets are in Sierra Leone and some 2000 more from Bangladesh and Jordan are expected to arrive shortly.

In the last few days, the U.N. forces have been accused of meekly handing over their weapons and equipment. Caught unawares, vastly outnumbered or with superior weapons, contingents from India, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia have been detained or taken hostage by the RUF. Meanwhile, of the four Kenyan soldiers previously believed killed, two have turned up alive.

As of now, it is maintained that only one Kenyan soldier has been killed and the other listed as missing.

The attitude of the major powers to the fighting and violence has remained unchanged as far as sending in ground troops is concerned. (AFP reports that a first contingent of 250 British troops arrived in Sierra Leone on Monday to secure the international airport of Freetown, where tens of thousands of people protested against rebels holding U.N. peacekeepers.)

The Clinton administration has warned Americans against travelling to Sierra Leone, ordered its non-essential staff out of its embassy in Freetown and has begun a helicopter airlift for those citizens who wanted to leave that country. The State Department has said that the international airport in Freetown is subject to a suspension of operations ``without warning''.