U.N. forces deployed hastily: Zambia

WASHINGTON, MAY 7. At the United Nations, the focus is still on Sierra Leone where the rebel troops have taken more peacekeepers as hostages and are knocking at the doors of the capital city of Freetown. There is still some confusion here on the latest ``status'' of the rebel march with one set of officials at the world body questioning the assertion that the fall of Freetown to the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Mr. Foday Sankoh, was just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, a report in The New York Times datelined Lusaka speaks of the Zambian President indirectly criticising the military leadership of the United Nations forces in Sierra Leone. The U.N. forces in Sierra Leone are under the command of Major General Vijay Kumar Jetley of India.

Zambia has had about 200 of its military personnel under the aegis of the U.N. taken hostage by the RUF and the President of Zambia, Mr.Fredrick Chiluba, has argued that the U.N. troops had been deployed too quickly in unknown territory, without of date maps and shortage of vital equipment.

``This is not the first time our forces have been in peacekeeping. This is the third or fourth time. We have done very well because whenever we have gone, we have been under some good leadership. That depends on who is in command and who is giving orders to people to do what,'' Mr. Chiluba has told reporters. ``I'm not a military person. But all I know is that I think they were deployed rather prematurely,'' the Zambian leader has been quoted.

Various news reports reaching here point to the RUF holding close to 500 hostages. The rebel forces are using captured armoured vehicles of the U.N. for closing in on Freetown and are said to be using humans as shields for the purpose. For his part, Mr. Sankoh is putting on an air of injured innocence arguing, among other things, that his troops are not holding hostages and that it was the U.N. which provoked by forcibly trying to disarm his men. Analysts believe that what Mr. Sankoh is trying to do is to test the mettle of the U.N. forces now that the West African force led by Nigeria has left the country, and that irrespective of what may be said in public by the RUF leader, there is a general reluctance to abide by the terms of the Lome Accord reached last year. But several African nations, including Libya, are trying to work out a concerted strategy of bringing Mr.Sankoh in line. After having some tough words for the RUF leader, the United States is still not inclined to get involved with ground troops in Sierra Leone.