Despite setbacks, by mid-1995 peace was firmly on the agenda of a wide range of Sierra Leonean organisations and individuals. Approaches to bringing the war to an end had been regularly suggested by the Supreme Islamic Council to local Muslim clerics as subjects for weekly services. The Sierra Leone Labour Congress had been one of the prime movers of the NCCP, while the Council of Churches was a member of the Multi-Religious Council for Peace and had its own Peace Committee. The Sierra Leone Women's Movement for Peace (SLWMP) was active as part of the broader women's movement (see 'Sierra Leonean women and the peace process').
The ICRC had facilitated initial discreet radio contacts between four civic leaders and the RUF in August and had offered to arrange a meeting between an expanded group of civic and religious representatives. However, after the initiative was communicated to the government and it responded by widely publicising the possibility of talks, there was no movement on the part of the RUF, even after the ICRC formally informed the RUF that the government would allow such a meeting to go ahead. Threats by RUF spokesmen against relief convoys clouded the prospects for talks further, along with atrocities carried out in the name of the RUF near Bo, and accusations of collaboration by government officials and supporters against some of the civic leaders.
To prepare for possible talks, the NGOs expressed an interest to Conciliation Resources for training in negotiation and mediation skills. In October 1995, a training session took place in Freetown with fourteen members of a 'contact group' of civic leaders. Participants included a paramount chief, senior officials of the Supreme Islamic Council, the Council of Churches, the Labour Congress, the Teachers Union, the Petty Traders Association, officials of the SLWMP, and representatives of displaced people. Several of those involved had ongoing professional and personal contacts with key government officials, members of the military and representatives of the international inter-governmental and non-governmental community. Three of the participants had spoken with Sankoh by radio. These and other activities made the organisations and their leaders visible and credible actors in the peace process, as well as targets of suspicion.
The training session was aimed at strengthening the capability of the individuals involved and their organisations to respond to concrete peace overtures, and to act, if called upon, as intermediaries between the parties to the conflict. Another objective was to improve communication between and among the civic groups and encourage a spirit of trust and cooperation in pursuit of long-term peace and reconstruction. All the participants expressed a firm commitment to pursuing peace both as individuals and through their organisations. However, optimism for civilians to play an intermediary role between parties to the conflict was at a low ebb, in part due to government publicity of the RUF invitation and the collapse of ICRC efforts to deliver food and tools to RUF-controlled areas. The sessions also underscored the differences of opinion on the root causes of the war, varying degrees of opposition or sympathy towards the NPRC government, differing opinions and feelings with regard to the culpability of different parties to the conflict, and degrees of personal and organisational distrust. It was also evident that the overall climate of fear and intimidation had had a chilling effect on the ability of individuals and organisations to openly express themselves and carry on certain activities without fear of reprisal or vilification.
Following the sessions a delegation of participants met with a government official to discuss the seminar and the future activities of the group. That the group had come together to discuss and develop its mediation capabilities was communicated to the RUF in mid-November. But Sankoh never followed up on their invitation to meet with civil society leaders and the group's existence was short-lived. Nonetheless, a number of individual members, such as SLWMP President Fatmatta Boie-Kamara and Pujehun peace activist John Massaquoi, were to continue to play influential roles at the national and local levels.
Ahmed – aged 25
Interviewed by Ambrose James in April 2000
I was a Kamajor defending my community. In 1996 with the bad governance of the NPRC, we all wanted democracy. When elections were declared, we voted for President Kabbah. After the elections the president was overthrown by the AFRC – more military business. These soldiers started to threaten our people and put them under pressure and it was because of this that I thought that by joining this society I will help to put an end to this. I was a patrol commander with fifty men under my control and my role was to discuss with these men about strategies. [The Kamajor society] had a genuine cause in defending this nation. The medicinal power was very good if you abide by the laws and principles. In fact, I used to hesitate to face battle initially, but when we were attacked at our base at Gbaima, I saw it. Bullets hitting me all over and dropping, leaving me unhurt. It is an organised movement but we lacked logistical support. The Kamajors were not a disciplined force because of the high illiteracy rate amongst us. [In the future] I still want to continue my driving job.