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Indian Defense Delegation's visit to Sierra Leone

New Delhi
June 21, 2000

An Inter-ministerial delegation comprising Director General of Military Operations Lt. Gen. N.C. Vij, Mr. B.S. Lalli, Joint Secretary (G), MOD and Mr. Dinkar Srivastava, Joint Secretary (UNP), MEA visited Sierra Leone from 08 to 11 June, 2000. The delegation visited the Indian troops at Daru, Hastings and Rogberi and found them in high spirits. They also held consultations with the President, Vice President and Deputy Defence Minister of Sierra Leone to seek their assistance for the release of the Indian hostages. However, the delegation confirmed that the hostages are in good health and the food was being supplied to them on a daily basis by own troops. The delegation also took stock of the logistic problems being faced by our troops on ground for which the rectification measures have already been instituted. This includes the important aspect of regular delivery of mail to them.

The delegation also had consultations with their British counterparts at London. At New York, the delegation briefed the Defence Peace Keeping Operations head, Mr. Miyet along with the representatives of the Permanent Mission of India. Besides giving an assessment of the ground situation in Sierra Leone, the delegation conveyed India’s grave concern with regard to the security and well being of the Indian hostages. It was emphasized most unequivocally that under no circumstances will the release of Indian troops be allowed to be linked with any political bargaining. It was also clarified that the Indian troops have been deployed only in ‘peace keeping’ role. At Washington, the delegation along with the Indian Ambassador met Mr. Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State and Mr. Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State and the serious concerns of the Government of India with regard to the security of our hostages was conveyed. The American authorities assured them that they were applying maximum possible pressure, in all forms, to secure an early release of the Indian hostages. In this regard, it may also be recalled that the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had already spoken to President Obasanjo of Nigeria and has now also written to President Charles Taylor of Liberia, on the ongoing crisis in Sierra Leone. The MEA representative of the delegation, Mr. Srivastava who had stayed back at Freetown has been in constant touch with Mrs. Cooper, the special envoy of President Taylor, to mediate between the ECOWAS team and RUF. It is also learnt that the ECOWAS team has in consonance with the stance of the Indian delegation insisted for an unconditional release of the Indian hostages on priority and de-link it from the proposed cease-fire.

The delegation also confirmed that the Force Commander was doing a commendable job under the difficult circumstances. They also expressed hope that the hostages will be released soon.