Archive for the ‘Guinea’ Category

Bureh Beach Sierra Leone

Bureh Beach Sierra Leone

The neighbouring West African nations of Sierra Leone and Guinea have agreed to demilitarize a disputed border area. Yenga, a small piece of land that lies between the two countries, has been under dispute for almost a decade since the conflict in Sierra Leone ended in 2002.  Guinean forces had occupied the eastern Sierra Leonean border during the civil conflict to help their counterparts in the Sierra Leone army to fight the rebel Revolutionary United Front. But after the war ended in 2002, the government of Sierra Leone claimed that Guinean troops were occupying land that belonged to it.

In 2000, Guinean troops, known in Sierra Leone as bombardiers, arrived in the border area to help Sierra Leone’s army fight the rebel group “Revolutionary United Front”.  Using tanks, armoured cars and forty barrel guns, the bombardiers suppressed the RUF rebels on the eastern front and pushed them towards United Nations and Nigerian troops in the north and south. This helped weaken the rebels and eventually led to the end of the war. After a peace deal was negotiated in 2002, the remaining bombardier troops in the country retreated and settled in small towns in between the two West African countries. Special Communication Advisor to Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, Rachied N’jai, says that the troops had stayed to protect Guinea’s borders.

“We can’t say army that is administrative. This is a position in Yenga that has been under some military tension but there is no war between the two countries. This is just border control, in fact.”

In Sierra Leone, Yenga often makes headlines in local tabloids. Reports quote Yenga residents who claim the occupying troops frequently harass them and force them to pay taxes to Guinea. But Sierra Leoneans in the rest of the country pay little attention to these reports. There also seems to be little media interest in Guinea in what is happening on the south/eastern border. Ibrahim Mansary is a reporter with Radio Democracy in Freetown He says boulevard newspapers in Sierra Leone are playing politics over the issue.

“The issue of Yenga, in fact, to me has been politicized in some area of the media especially the print. Presently the way you see newspaper covering the issue, you can see the trail of politics coming in.”

The Sierra Leone government says it will utilize every possible opportunity to settle the dispute with Guinea peacefully. It, however, maintains that Guinean troops are crossing the border to Sierra Leone and are harassing citizens living in the area. Communication advisor in the office of the president of Sierra Leone, Alim Sesay, says they have received many complaints from Yenga.

“There are members of the armed forces who sometimes get over-excited and unwittingly crossed to the other side. But, yes, that is the official position of Guinea that they have no armed forces in Yenga. But we have noticed from our side, some observers from Sierra Leone have indeed noticed few armed forces in Yenga and they are not making life too easy for Sierra Leoneans in that end.”

Conakry has agreed to demilitarize the Yenga area but has refused to accept that its forces are on the territory of Sierra Leone. Presidential advisor N’jai says there should not be any cause for concern because the two leaders are willing to settle their border conflict amicably.

“The two presidents, the president of Sierra Leone and the president of Guinea have a good relation. They have some far kind of similarities because as leaders they come from the opposition party groups. That is why they decided to manage this case differently as it used to be in the past.”

Sierra Leone and Guinea have a lot in common, including migrant tribes with similar culture and identity. Experts say it is hard to identify who is Guinean and who is Sierra Leonean in Yenga because residents on both sides of the border speak identical languages.

“I know that the people of Yenga hardly use Sierra Leonean currency,” says Ibrahim. “In fact, they use the Guinean currency because Yenga is so close and highly occupied by the Guinean army. In the economy there, it is easier for the people there to just go through Yenga into Conakry Guinea.”

There’s been speculation that both Conakry and Freetown hope to find mineral resources in Yenga, specifically crude oil. Some 50 kilometres away, on the border with Liberia, oil exploration teams have discovered large quantities of crude oil. Recently, residents have seen both countries increase their military presence in the disputed zone. But both Freetown and Conakry denied that this has anything to do with the discovery of oil in the area.

Yenga, about the size of five soccer pitches, has become the focus of intense diplomatic struggle. Why this small piece of land is so badly needed has yet to be explained.

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