The RUF is a loosely organized force that fought a ten-year civil war to seize control of the lucrative diamond-producing regions of the country. The group funds itself largely through the extraction and sale of diamonds obtained in areas of Sierra Leone under its control.
The RUF was virtually dismantled by the imprisonment of RUF leader Foday Sankoh in 2001; a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program begun in mid-2001; and the official end to the civil war in January 2002. The group’s poor showing in the May 2002 Presidential elections and the possibility of prosecution if the impending UN-sponsored Sierra Leone Special Court for war crimes have further weakened organizational cohesion. From 1991 to 2000, they used guerrilla, criminal, and terror tactics, such as murder, torture, and mutilation, to fight the government, intimidate civilians, and keep UN peacekeeping units in check. In 2000, they held hundreds of UN peacekeepers hostage until their release was negotiated, in part, by the RUF’s chief sponsor, Liberian President Charles Taylor. The group also has been accused of attacks in Guinea at the behest of President Taylor.
Once estimated at several thousand supporters and sympathizers, the group has dwindled to several hundred, although many of the demobilized fighters have not been reintegrated into society and could take up arms against the government again.
Location/Area of Operation
Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.
A UN experts’ panel report on Sierra Leone said President Charles Taylor of Liberia provided support and leadership to the RUF. The UN also identified Libya, Gambia, and Burkina Faso as conduits for weapons and other materiel for the RUF.