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President Koroma addresses ECOWAS Army Chiefs

President Koroma addresses ECOWAS Army Chiefs

At a short but impressive ceremony at State House today, President Ernest Bai Koroma addressed Chiefs of Defence Staffs from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) who are in Sierra Leone to attend the 26th meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Defence Chiefs.

Addressing the galaxy of military men, President Koroma, after welcoming them to State House and to Sierra Leone, expressed happiness at the opportunity to host them at this very opportune time, as “it helps us to showcase where we are now.” The Commander-In-Chief recalled that just a few years ago Sierra Leone was considered and was indeed a war-torn country, and had to get assistance from other countries to get back to her feet.

“I am happy to report that a lot has been achieved since then to the extent that what was done in support of us, we now do to support others. Sierra Leone is now part and parcel of the United Nations peacekeeping outfit as our soldiers are now in Darfur [Sudan] helping that country to get back to its feet. That is where we are now,” he maintained.

The President then thanked all of them and their individual countries for the tremendous support shown during Sierra Leone’s hour of need. He however noted that the meeting was now being held at a critical point in the sub region’s politico-military development: “At a time when we’ve made progress in advancing the ideals of democracy and a time when the leadership of ECOWAS has shown commitment to move forward, we are experiencing challenges that we must consider very serious, bordering on the political, drug trafficking, the proliferation of small arms and organized crime that could undermine the peace and stability of the sub region. As you are the people charged with the responsibility to protect the peace in the sub region, I enjoin you to address these challenges, sharing your experiences and comparing notes.”

The Head of State noted that he and the government and people of Sierra Leone are very concerned about developments in Guinea, noting that the Mano River Union and ECOWAS are determined to address all the issues threatening the peace: “At the political level, we believe we will find a solution; but we will look forward to your own contributions with a new culture of a military force that will be professional, a military force that will keep to its constitutional mandate, with heads that will not look beyond being Chief of Defence Staff to become a Head of State.”

President Koroma noted that the sub region has great potentials for economic growth and development, but that these would not be fully realised without the essential ingredient of peace: “But with the kind of commitment you are showing, with the kind of commitment I see in your faces, I believe the sub region is entering a phase that will usher in peace and prosperity.”

The President urged the Army Chiefs to take time off their busy schedule and look at the new Sierra Leone “and you can go back and tell the story of the new Sierra Leone – a Sierra Leone that is peaceful, a Sierra Leone that is ready to do business.”

President Koroma also noted that he was informed that a good number of the visitors had served in Sierra Leone before either with ECOMOG or with UNOMSIL, thanking them profusely for the personal sacrifices they made. He urged them to continue to play the supportive role, as any support would be welcome and appreciated. He thanked them for the establishment of the West African standby force for which Sierra Leone has provided a depot.

Earlier, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), Brigadier Nelson Williams, in introducing his counterparts, thanked the President for his unflinching support to both the RSLAF and the conference. He noted that the Roman Army was powerful because it formed alliances with other armies, indicating that the RSLAF is now taking the same route.

In giving the vote of thanks, the Chief of Defence Staff of the Nigerian Military,  Air Marshal Paul Dike, thanked the President, the government and people of Sierra Leone for the hospitality accorded them, noting that the committee has resolved that peace and security must reign in the sub region. He wished Sierra Leone better days, and revealed that a team comprising the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau was being sent immediately to Guinea “to tell the military leadership there that the world has shifted from what they think it is, to what it is now.” He ended by saying that “the road may be long, the road may be tough, but I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

The master of ceremonies was Brigadier Komba Mondeh, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations), RSLAF.

Meanwhile, President Koroma leaves Sierra Leone this afternoon for Libya to attend a conference of the Committee of Ten, of which he is Chairman. The President and delegation will return tomorrow.

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