More Sankoh?

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

More Sankoh?

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

More Sankoh?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
May 18 2000 11:23 AM

Barton Gellman and Amy Wilentz

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Dear Amy,

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My, you've grown serious. Now I'm glad I didn't buy you that copy of Torso magazine I spied at the newsstand this morning. (From the cover it looks like a good prospect for underwear boys.)

Intriguing, your speculation on how Sankoh lived through his first day in captivity. (That is, the first day of his second captivity.) Of the bargaining chips you mentioned, I like the U.N. peacekeepers better than diamonds. I imagine the Nigerians and others with peacekeepers held hostage took note of their national interests in Sankoh's intact hide. In case they didn't think of it, I'm sure you saw that Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has been "mediating" with his buddy Sankoh for the peacekeepers' release, had his spokesman describe Sankoh's arrest as "a stumbling block in the way of the release of further hostages." Translation: Whatever befalls our friend Sankoh shall be visited in turn upon the 270 hapless foreign troops. Meanwhile, the British have landed like Lions in their former colony to secure the emergency exits for the U.N. So why not turn the troublesome Sankoh over to them?

I hope our British friends recall that the Lion Phase of Western intervention doesn't last long in conflicts like this. You must have seen that in Haiti. I certainly did in Somalia. When the Marines and Army 10th Mountain Division hit the ground around Christmas in 1991, the local militias saw them as supermen. I drove around with a squad of three 19-year-old riflemen, the senior-most a corporal, and watched them confiscate Kalashnikovs at will from groups of war-hardened Somalis twice their number. But once the strongest militia leader, Mohammed Farah Aideed, decided the Americans were a nuisance, it didn't take him long to inflict enough casualties to discourage Washington from staying around.

Obviously, it would be grotesque to cut another deal with Sankoh. This is the guy who filled kids with drugs and dispatched them to slice off limbs and gouge out eyes of innocents to "send a message" to the government. The arrangement last summer absolved him of war crimes in exchange for a peace he made no effort to keep. Could the U.N. coalition do it again? I don't know enough to predict, but I wouldn't bet the mortgage against it.

Lest we spoil our readers' breakfast altogether, allow me to cite the story just adjacent to Sankoh's in this morning's New York Post. The enterprising tabloid ambushed the reliable Donald Trump last night with news that Marla Maples is set to auction the 7.45-carat diamond and platinum engagement ring he gave her in 1993. The auction house, DuMouchelle, figures it should bring $150,000 or so. Trump, ever ready to oblige with self-parody, harrumphed the following pronouncement: "It seems pretty tacky to me."

Bart

A former Pentagon, Middle East, and diplomatic correspondent, Barton Gellman is special projects reporter for the Washington Post. Amy Wilentz is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. She writes frequently about the Middle East and is finishing a novel about Jerusalem.