Nothing came closer to scuttling the talks than the AFRC–RUF demands for power-sharing, in a four-year transitional government, and the speedy removal of ECOMOG troops from Sierra Leone. Both issues were not new. The RUF had floated the idea of an interim government of national unity in 1995 but the election of Kabbah and the Abidjan Peace Accord had submerged it. From 12 June to 6 July, when these issues were decisively resolved, they taxed the energies of the negotiators, the mediators and the West African regional leaders.
The RUF knew that the major obstacle to their entrenchment in Freetown had been the presence of a government with both popular and constitutional legitimacy. These two elements gave Kabbah the continued support and sympathy of many governments in the region (and beyond) and led to the continued presence of the Nigerian-led ECOMOG force, which repeatedly thwarted RUF efforts to overrun and hold the capital. Even when the disloyal national army had invited the RUF to Freetown in May 1997, it had failed to sustain the takeover. What it could not gain through violence and terror, it now sought through aggressive negotiating tactics. The RUF knew that if it succeeded in wrestling any major concession, either on the constitutional issue or on ECOMOG, the government's position would quickly become unsustainable.
For the AFRC–RUF, power-sharing and transitional government meant substantial control over the state apparatus. At the request of Eyadéma, they provided an extensive shopping list of government posts in which they demanded the expansion of the cabinet to twenty members and asked for eleven ministerial and four deputy-ministerial positions, including the posts of vice-president, defence and finance. They also asked for six top diplomatic posts including ambassador to the US, deputy high commissioner to the UK, high commissioner to Nigeria, and ambassador to Liberia. Furthermore, they wanted eleven key para-statal offices, including the governorship of the Bank of Sierra Leone and the head of the Port Authority. They also demanded one of the three resident minister posts – for the north – as well as the mayor of Freetown and head of a post-war reconstruction commission.
The government delegation saw through the RUF strategy to gain control of ministries, other state institutions and the capital's administration and rejected, not only the AFRC–RUF demands, but also the very notions of a transition government and power-sharing. The delegation cited the government's inability to create a transitional authority outside the constitutional framework and argued that 'the government itself is a creature of the 1991 constitution (and) derives its powers and authority only from that constitution'. The negotiators offered the RUF four ministerial posts (two full and two deputies) in a sixteen-person cabinet, suggesting that these would include justice, defence, foreign affairs or finance, and the chairs of some of the committees proposed in the draft accord.
The limited concessions made by the Kabbah government showed the pressure it was under at home. Parliamentarians and some hard-liners within the cabinet, defensive of their positions and the constitution, threatened revolt and impeachment. Fearful of losing their hard-won democratic gains, workers, human rights activists, teachers, students, women and civil groups shut down the capital in protest on 17 June 1999.
Despite popular disapproval, the RUF fought tenaciously to push through its political proposals deploying adversarial negotiating tactics such as holding up negotiations, reneging on compromises, reintroducing old issues, spectacular public outbursts, threatening pullouts and shifting final authority.
These methods were used effectively twice between 23 June and 5 July. By 21 June, after a week of intense regional diplomacy, coaxing, compromising and a bit of arm-twisting, it was felt that a mutually acceptable formula had been found to break the deadlock, namely 'power-sharing within the framework of the 1991 Sierra Leone constitution'. The RUF had accepted a total of four ministerial and three deputy ministerial positions and the Nigerians had agreed to halt their troop deployment in Sierra Leone. The mediators were optimistic. Two days later, Sankoh shocked everyone by rejecting the formula in a BBC interview. He maintained that the RUF had not fought for nine years for four cabinet posts: 'We are still demanding a transitional government. The RUF leadership will never back down.'. He restated the RUF original demand for an expanded cabinet and more ministerial positions, arguing that what they wanted was a 'real' transition regime, not entry into a 'corrupt SLPP' government.
The RUF used similar tactics again on 5 July, when an AFRC–RUF delegation headed by Rogers and sent to sell the final draft to the commanders on the ground, returned to Togo with a new draft agreement. After Sankoh's BBC outburst, Eyadéma had resorted to using the influence of Nigerian President Obasanjo. Newly elected and wary of the Sierra Leone conflict, Obasanjo wanted to bring Nigerian troops home and focus on pressing domestic issues, but not at the cost of Nigeria's pride and regional hegemony. Within these constraints he and Eyadéma had pulled the parties together at Kara, northern Togo, on 25 June. Together, they ironed out what they thought were any wrinkles in the final draft and agreed that Sankoh would head the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development. They also agreed that Nigerian troops would remain part of ECOMOG with a revised mandate of peacekeeping until peace was consolidated and a UN force put in place. Obasanjo left the meeting at 3:00 am on Saturday 26 June, exhausted but optimistic. After his return on 4 July, Rogers reintroduced the RUF's old demands of transition government, vice-presidency and ECOMOG withdrawal.