06 December 2005

Troops may join Sierra Leone court mission


06/12/2005 - 18:37:50

Irish soldiers may be deployed to Sierra Leone as part of a United Nations mission to secure a court trying people charged with war crimes, it emerged today.

Defence Minister Willie O’Dea said the Cabinet had granted permission for members of the Defence Force serving in Liberia to be deployed to Sierra Leone as part of the extension of the mission.

But the Dáil also has to grant permission for the expansion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia before Ireland can participate in the expanded mission.

The extended role of the troops on the UNMIL would include providing security detail for a Special Court in Freetown and to evacuate officials in the event of a serious security crisis.

The Freetown Court was established by the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone to try those charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country’s Civil War between 1991-2002.

Six trial judges – including one Irish judge and five appeal judges – preside over the court.

“13 people have been indicted by the Court already, nine are in custody in Freetown, two are now deceased and one is currently missing presumed dead,” Mr O’Dea said.

“The remaining indictee is the former President of Liberia Charles Taylor who has been in exile in Nigeria since August 2003. The possible extradition of Charles Taylor would serve to heighten tensions in the area and would have a serious impact on the security situation.

“As part of the UN Resolution approved today by my Cabinet colleagues and I, the Irish troops’ role in Liberia has been extended to include the apprehension, detention and transfer to the Special Court in Freetown in the event of Charles Taylor’s return to Liberia.”

Mr O’Dea said the security situation in Freetown was likely to become more volatile when verdicts in the case of some detainees are handed down in January 2006 – the proposed start date for the troops’ involvement.

Mr O’Dea said the Cabinet also approved the continued deployment of the Defence Forces for peacekeeping service in Liberia, Bosnia and Herzegovina for another 12 months.

Around 427 Irish troops are involved in the UN Mission in Liberia, which commenced in December 2003.

Around 56 members of Ireland’s Defence Force are currently serving in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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