The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

January 2000
 

31 January: The RUF, which registered provisionally as a political party in November, had always planned to transform itself into a political movement, RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh told the BBC in an broadcast on Monday. "In any struggle there are two phases. There (is a) military option and a political option," Sankoh told BBC correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Liberia. "The RUF has been a political - military movement. We are not after a military takeover in Sierra Leone. It has been planned -- it is a plan from the origin since we started fighting that one fine day we would have to transform ourselves to a political party." Sankoh said that were he to become president he would work toward "a united progressive Sierra Leone that will be able to work to destroy the rotten system that made our people to be poor," adding: "The first and foremost we should try to feed our people. If we can feed the people of Sierra Leone within a period of two years, it means we’ve made a revolution. There is no need for a country like Sierra Leone to go to China, go to Korea or even America to buy food. It seems we are slaves to them." The former rebel leader said the RUF was now committed to democracy, but he sidestepped a question as to whether he would cooperate with another party in power if the RUF should fail to win the election. "Man, there is no question of 'if'," he told Paye-Layleh. "I said I am sure we are going to make it. Victory’s on our side."

The peace process in Sierra Leone remains "very fragile," Deputy United Nations Secretary-General Louise Fréchette told the U.N. Security Council on Monday. "Nowhere in Africa, at this moment, has the United Nations taken on a greater responsibility," she said. "I am glad that discussions during this month have moved us closer to having the mandate and the resources we need to carry out that responsibility, and I hope that next week the Council will be able to adopt a resolution to that effect, as planned."

Nationals of 23 countries, including Sierra Leone, were aboard a Kenyan Airways Airbus 310 that crashed into the sea Sunday night shortly after taking off from Abidjan. The airline did not provide a breakdown of passengers from each country. 

30 January: The Sierra Leone government has backed a ban on diamond mining announced last week by RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh. "Sankoh's declaration in halting all diamond mining throughout the country was definitely in consultation with the president," Information Minister Julius Spencer told journalists on Saturday. Sankoh, in his capacity as Chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD), also cancelled all diamond concessions and leases pending review by his Commission. Spencer confirmed Sankoh's earlier statement that he had taken the action only after consultation with President Kabbah. According to Reuters, some miners have refused to obey the ban, claiming that they had received no official order to stop mining. Others claimed Sankoh did not have the authority to issue the ban, as his Commission had not yet started functioning. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya has endorsed the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a stipulation of the Lomé Peace Accord, because, he said, "It is taking a lot of persuasion for our people to actually admit, accept, the fact that they have to live with the former combatants and secondly, that they have to forgive them for what has happened." Banya told BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle Sunday that "we have got to have justice, and we can only have that justice by having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission." The minister acknowledged that justice would be served by making those who had committed war crimes answerable to a court, but he asked rhetorically whether this would only serve to prolong the conflict and the suffering. "When, I met the Commonwealth Ministry Action Group, I pleaded with them, and even in my address to the United Nations, that we accept and we understand the feelings of the international community in the face of these horrendous crimes that have been committed, but at the same time we want to get these people out of the bush," he said. "Look at those children, at the age of six years, they were abducted. I mean, what do you expect of them now, if they learn that their fathers and their uncles, who are being prosecuted in court, will never come out. So, it is important to put that before." Responding to whether this approach might encourage what Doyle termed a "cycle of impunity," Banya replied that it was a risk the county had to take. "You are very correct, I mean, there is such a risk like even giving them incentives for handing over their guns; it may encourage others," he said. "On the other hand, you have got to take a chance on it. We have some experience of what is happening in South Africa and though we are not adopting the same thing, we are trying to adapt it to our own particular situation."

28 January: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has determined that there has been no "massive spontaneous return" of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea or Liberia, as had been reported by local non-governmental agencies earlier in the week. "The UNHCR office in Liberia reports, however, that several refugees from the Sinje camp in the area of Vahun have been crossing the Mano River Bridge to their villages in Sierra Leone. Most of them say they go on assessment visits and take the opportunity to do some cleaning and other preparations, and subsequently return to Sinje," the agency said in a press briefing on Friday.

The United States will insist that future United Nations resolutions on peacekeeping operations contain language aimed at increasing troops' awareness of AIDS, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said on Friday. In resolutions due to be adopted Monday on southern Lebanon and Georgia, the U.N. "welcomes and encourages efforts by the United Nations to sensitize peacekeeping personnel in the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, in all its peacekeeping operations." Similar language appears in a draft resolution to increase the size of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone, which is expected to be acted upon next month. Holbrooke, the current Security Council president, has declared January the "Month of Africa." In December he described AIDS as a security issue facing the African continent. 

Rebel SLA commander Sergeant Santigie Kanu, commonly known as "Brigadier 55", is wanted for questioning on allegations that he has persisted in "harassing civilians, extorting money, disturbing UNAMSIL officials and recently threatening to burn down the Nigerian High Commission in Freetown," the ECOMOG High Command announced on Friday.

27 January: The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Oluyemi Adeniji, has issued a strongly-worded response to a speech delivered in Makeni last week by RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh. Adeniji accused Sankoh of "deliberately misinterpreting" the Lomé Peace Accord as it concerned the U.N.'s role, of making "wild allegations" against the U.N., and of an "unwarranted personal attack" against U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Mr. Sankoh's rhetoric...could only have incited his audience against the Sierra Leone peace process," he said. The statement did not detail Sankoh's remarks, but the former rebel leader has been quoted in the past as alleging that the U.N. peacekeepers were paid at the expense of the local people, and that money allocated for peacekeeping purposes could better have been spent on his followers. Adeniji recalled that Article IV of the Accord provided for the creation of a neutral peacekeeping force composed of ECOMOG and U.N. troops. "Security Council resolution 1270, which created UNAMSIL, merely responded to the Lomé Agreement," he said, adding: "For Mr. Sankoh to assert that the resolution is contrary to the interest of the Sierra Leone people can be interpreted as indicative of a hidden agenda which will certainly be unattainable through the presence of the United Nations peacekeepers." Adeniji stressed that the U.N. "does not distribute the financial contributions of its member states to the upkeep of combatants in any member state" but rather "invests in helping any member state in conflict to re-establish peace, security and good governance which will enable all its citizens to devote their energies to development activities."

26 January: RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh has said there will be a delay in disarming his followers in eastern Sierra Leone, British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain said in a BBC interview broadcast on Wednesday. In a meeting with Sankoh which he described as "businesslike," Hain said the former rebel leader promised he would abide by the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord. "That means he has to disarm the RUF contingents, especially in the eastern part of the country. And he said he would do that, but he said he wouldn’t expect to be able to do it soon. Well my view is that is should be done sooner rather than later," Hain said, adding: "It’s important for his own position and that of his followers that he is seen to comply honestly and openly and quickly with the full terms of the agreement, the Lomé Agreement, including disarming and demobilising his soldiers. Now as long as he delivers that strategy then I think he’s in a much better position to pursue his own future."

Six of ten child soldiers who attended the International Jubilee for Children in Rome on January 2 have been reunited with their families, Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi told the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). Four others have been placed with temporary foster families in Port Loko. The children, who were being rehabilitated at the Interim Care Center at Port Loko, accompanied Biguzzi on a "pilgrimage" to Rome on December 27. "It gives me immense joy to see these children, including two girls, return to their families," Biguzzi said. "The families of the other four children have also been found, but we must wait since they live in areas that have not been disarmed."

25 January: Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare and President Kabbah will make a joint visit to Sierra Leone’s provinces within the next few weeks in an effort to revitalise the peace process, delegates to the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) were told in Freetown on Monday. Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman, was on hand for a one-day meeting of the JIC, set up last July under the Lomé Peace Accord to monitor the peace process in Sierra Leone. The two will be accompanied on their tour by the RUF/RUFP leader and CMRRD chairman, Foday Sankoh, the AFRC leader and CCP chairman, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, and ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, according to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting. Delegates to the JIC expressed concern Monday over delays in the implementation of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, which was to have been completed by December 15, as well as on "the minimal success recorded by the programme." The JIC recommended better coordination among institutions working to implement the DDR programme, including UNAMSIL, ECOMOG and various non-governmental organisations. Delegates also appealed to the Bretton Woods institution for the assistance Sierra Leone needs to carry out its reconstruction and rehabilitation programme. The JIC condemned "the numerous violations of the ceasefire, the continued erection of illegal road blocks in some parts of the country and the unleashing of terror on peaceful civilians," called upon UNAMSIL and ECOMOG to take "appropriate measures" against ceasefire violators. To ensure unhindered access by UNAMSIL, ECOMOG and humanitarian agencies, the JIC recommended that representatives of the Government of Sierra Leone, the RUFP, the SLA, the CDF, UNAMSIL and ECOMOG undertake joint verification missions to ensure the dismantling of all illegal roadblocks erected by former combatants. The communiqué noted "a relative reduction in the cases of kidnapping, hostage taking, and rape," but expressed "deep concern" at the high number of children who were being conscripted into armed groups. Delegates demanded "the immediate demobilisation of such children so as to put a final end to this phenomenon." They also called for the immediate establishment of the commissions and committees provided for under the peace agreement, and especially the Human Rights Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The JIC meeting was chaired by Malian Foreign Minister Mamadou Sidibe, and attended by the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo, along with high-level representatives from the U.N., the U.S., the U.K., Libya, the OAU, ECOMOG, and the Commonwealth. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa represented the Sierra Leone government, while Solomon Y.B. Rogers attended for the RUFP and Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma represented the Committee for the Consolidation of Peace.

RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, who on Sunday announced a moratorium on diamond mining in Sierra Leone and the cancellation of all existing mining licenses and concessions, told the BBC Monday night that as chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD) he had the responsibility to ensure that mining policies in the country were reorganised to benefit the masses of people. "All minerals -- all natural resources, minerals in this country, are under the Commission And this are the responsibility of the Commission, to do something that will be in the interests of all, not in the hands of few people who who feel they can enrich themselves while the poor people are suffering. It’s something we should do," he told the BBC Network Africa programme, adding: "All illegal miners, license holders, mining agents, companies, mining companies, contracts, are suspended so that we’ll be able to sit and find a way to reorganise the mining industry in Sierra Leone." Sankoh said the government was currently receiving no revenue from the mining industry. "People are just mining on their own," he said. "People just mine as they like. So it’s better we close it, to suspend all mining activities and reorganise it. Then we’ll be able to bring all these people on board, to explain our policies to them and what is going to happen. Then we’ll reopen the mines at any time."

Local non-governmental organisations operating in Sierra Leone have reported since late Monday a "massive" spontaneous return of Sierra Leonean refugees from camps in Gueckedou, Guinea, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva on Tuesday. He said the UNHCR had not yet confirmed the reports, as the agency had no staff in areas of Sierra Leone along the Guinea border. The UNHCR estimates there are some 305,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and 66,000 Liberian refugees in the Gueckedou area.

Most of the nearly 600 former combatants who turned up at the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Port Loko over the weekend were members of the former Sierra Leone Army, UNAMSIL said on Tuesday. A statement issued by the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), however, said in a statement Tuesday that most of this latest group of ex-combatants came from the RUF. UNAMSIL and the NCDDR also disagree on the number of former combatants who have been disarmed under the DDR programme. According to United Nations figures, 6,572 ex-combatants had registered at DDR camps as of 22 January. NCDDR figures as of 19 January state 13,018 former combatants had been disarmed, including 2,222 from the RUF, 3,838 from the AFRC/ex-SLA, 3,804 from the current SLA, 1,740 from the CDF, and 563 child combatants. Including the new arrivals, the NCDDR estimates the number of fighters disarmed as of Sunday at about 15,000. According to the U.N., 1,082 AK-47 rifles, 201 AK-58 assault rifles, 150 rocket-propelled grenades, 440 grenades, and 62,000 rounds of ammunition have been handed in so far.

British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain, who paid a one-day visit to Sierra Leone earlier this month, said Tuesday there was an urgent need for UNAMSIL troops to deploy around the country. "I want to see the United Nations peacekeepers, in particular the Indian battalion which I saw camped at the main airport outside Freetown, deployed across the country where they ought to be, which is the eastern side of the country where the RUF rebel combatants have been, and are still in large numbers, where the diamonds are and where a lot of the trouble has occurred," Hain told the BBC. "So they do need to deploy there in order to ensure that the mandate for peacekeeping and disarmament and demobilisation is carried out." The Kenyan-born minister also pointed to the need for a political framework, "especially for the former combatants to channel their energies into," adding: "Progress on that so far has been slow, although the intention is quite clear under the (Lomé Peace) Agreement." Hain told the BBC Focus on Africa programme that Britain was investing "enormous resources...something like £40-50 million" in helping Sierra Leone to rebuild. "We’re helping reconstruct the Sierra Leone Army, we’re helping with police expertise and funding, we’re helping in terms of building a new party political structure. There’re all sorts of areas that we’re helping," he said. "That is why if you talk to people from Sierra Leone, they regard Britain very, very favourably as the one country that’s really stuck by them. It’s been committed to a democratic peaceful future for the country, and is sticking by its word."

Article 19, a London-based organisation which works to promote freedom of expression, called on the Sierra Leone government Tuesday to allow time for "extensive public consultation" on legislation to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, mandated by the Lomé Peace Agreement. Citing recommendations by the Working Group on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a coalition of over 40 Sierra Leonean civil society and religious groups, Article 19 said it was important for the Commission to have international commissioners, including an international chairman, and powers to compel individuals to give evidence. 

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), is set to launch an international appeal Wednesday for $53.1 million to help it respond to an increasing number of requests for human rights work around the world.  The appeal asks for $63,370 to support the establishment and functioning of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone, which is says, "will provide a forum for both victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation (and) recommend measures for the rehabilitation of victims of human rights violations." The funds requested in the appeal will pay for advisory services carried out by a consultant, and for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry which will "investigate and assess human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses perpetrated by all parties to the conflict."

24 January: President Kabbah said Monday that all the parties to the Lomé Peace Accord were committed to peace, while acknowledging that the process of disarming combatants was taking longer than expected. "Although the disarmament process is slow, the parties involved are definitely showing their commitment and we hope that very soon disarmament will come to an end,'' Kabbah (pictured right) said at a ceremony welcoming Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare (left) who, in his role as Chairman of ECOWAS, was in Freetown to open a one-day meeting of the Joint Implementation Committee, set up by the Lomé Accord to oversee the peace process. "We have to look into the detention of civilians still held by the factions, the humanitarian side of the situation and also the bringing back of one million refugees in neighbouring countries," Konare said in a statement to open the meeting.

About 580 former combatants showed up over the weekend at the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Port Loko, the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR),Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, said on Monday. While a NCDDR press release said exact numbers and affiliations of the ex-combatants were still being verified, Kai-Kai told the BBC that some of the new arrivals had come from as far away as Makeni. "They will go through the normal demobilisation process. They will stay there for a couple of days, get registered, get screened, and they will go through what we call a pre-discharge orientation programme, and after which we will try to register them for reintegration," he said, adding that adult former combatants would qualify for transitional payments of about $300. "They will get $150 worth of leones at the going exchange rate, and after three months or so in their communities of reintegration they get the rest. So this is the standard process which they have to go through as well." According to the press release, discussions were taking place to examine the feasibility of moving some of the new arrivals to the DDR camp at Lungi. Meanwhile, it said, additional supplies had to be flown in to cater to the new arrivals. Kai-Kai confirmed that a DFID team was in Makeni and Magburaka Monday to survey sites for future DDR camps. "Makeni has always been a very crucial place for the DDR process, because it’s right at the centre," he said. "It allows us access to further north, Kabala; to Kono, which is the diamondiferous part of the country, and also to Kambia. So getting through to Makeni has been a great thing for us. So yes, our team has started doing reconnaissance already in the Makeni - Magburaka axis. And they are out there at the moment able to locate the sites. We want to speed up the process of a demob centre there, so that will be the next phase for us."

23 January: RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, in his capacity as Chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD), has announced a moratorium on all diamond mining in Sierra Leone. "All mining activities throughout the country come to a halt immediately," he told a news conference in Freetown. Beginning on Monday, Sankoh warned, anyone caught in the illicit diamond trade would be arrested and prosecuted. Sankoh also announced that all diamond mining licenses and concessions had been cancelled, and that anyone wishing to engage in diamond mining would need to re-apply to the CMRRD, which which would issue new licenses once the commission had completed a review as stipulated by the Lomé Peace Accord. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, Sankoh's move came partly in response to allegations -- most recently by Partnership Africa Canada -- of continuing RUF involvement in the illicit mining and smuggling of diamonds. Sankoh called these reports over-dramatized, and insisted that some government officials were also involved in the mining of diamonds. "We will soon know who are the illegal miners and smugglers," Sankoh said after announcing the moratorium.

Rebel forces have on several occasions seized arms and equipment from Kenyan and Guinean contingents of peacekeeping troops, diplomatic and military sources told the Sierra Leone Web over the weekend. In one incident, RUF fighters loyal to Colonel Issa Sesay stripped the Kenyans of rifles and supplies, while the second incident involved the AFRC's "Occra Hills Boys," a diplomatic source said. "In that incident five Kenyans were stopped and taken into the bush and they lost everything," he added. In the most recent incident involving a Guinean battalion on its way south to Freetown, the Guineans were stopped by the RUF between Kambia and Mange. "They lost a number of things, including three or four armoured vehicles. On at least was spotted being driven eastward," the source said, adding: "Since this has happened a couple of times to the Guinea troops, they will now deploy via ship to Freetown."

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), set to meet in Freetown Monday to assess progress in implementing the Lomé Peace Accord, to measure the agreement's success not only by the participation of former combatants in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, but also by respect for human rights and the establishment of the rule of law. In a letter to the JMC co-chairman, Foreign Minister Mamadou Sidibe of Mali, HRW's Africa Division Executive Director Peter Takirambudde said that since the last meeting of the JMC on August 7, "Human Rights Watch has documented scores of abuses including murder, mutilation, abduction, rape, and massive looting and displacement of the civilian population around the areas of Port Loko, Makeni, Kambia and Kabala," adding: "Acts of lawlessness and impunity by rebel soldiers including extortion, petty theft and acts of intimidation against businesspeople, civilians and expatriates within the Freetown area are routine." Takirambudde said HRW had also documented several cases of excessive use of force by ECOMOG soldiers resulting in civilian deaths, and the torture of prisoners by members of the loyal Sierra Leone Army. The human rights organisation called on members of the JMC to insist that all parties to the Lomé Peace Accord bring their troops under their full control, and to "initiate criminal investigation and proceedings" against troops who continued to commit human rights abuses. HRW also called for the immediate establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Human Rights Commission, as stipulated in the Accord, and to insist that all institutions mandated to protect the civilian population -- the Sierra Leone Police, ECOMOG and UNAMSIL -- "act more proactively on behalf of the civilian population." HRW also called on the JMC to insist that the RUF and AFRC "immediately release all abductees and prisoners of war currently being held by their forces," and that all parties desist from harassment and detention of humanitarian aid workers operating behind rebel lines, ensuring "that the property of aid organisations be respected, and access to all areas of the country to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance is provided." "The continued perpetration of human rights abuses not only violates national and international law and contradicts the text and sentiment of the Lomé Agreement, but also serves to undermine the peace and reconciliation Sierra Leoneans so desperately want," Takirambudde concluded.

Laboratory tests have confirmed on January 19 have confirmed two cases of dysentery in Moyamba District and Koinadugu District, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday. Tests performed in November and December also confirmed outbreaks of the disease in Sierra Leone. According to figures provided by Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health, 3,094 cases of shigellosis (a form of dysentery caused by Shigella flexneri) were recorded, causing 132 deaths. "The outbreak appears to be spreading and a rapid epidemiological assessment of the situation is being planned through a WHO mission to the affected areas," the agency said. 

21 January: 200 freed former child combatants who were reportedly re-abducted earlier this week by RUF rebels have arrived safely in Freetown, a source told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. Earlier in the day, Fr. Teophilous Momoh, the Programme Manager for the Catholic aid organisation Children Associated with War (CAW) said the children, who had been turned over to CAW at Kabala, were kidnapped along with five CAW officials and four ECOMOG officers while on their way to Freetown. Momoh said the RUF fighters claimed they had not been notified of the group's movement through RUF-held territory. The source told the Sierra Leone Web that the group had not actually been held, but confirmed they had experienced "some trouble with the RUF on the way home." The BBC confirmed the arrival from Kabala of "about 100 children" who had been abducted during the rebel invasion of the capital last January. "Some of the thirteen girls are pregnant and some of the boys are believed to have taken part in the fighting," the BBC report said, adding that the children were now receiving counselling and medical help in Freetown. The Associated Press (AP), quoting aid workers and ECOMOG officials, said rebels had released more than 400 child soldiers this week. The first group, which the AP said consisted of 300 child soldiers, all boys between the ages of 7 and 18 who had been held by the AFRC at Kabala, were released to the Catholic relief agency Caritas on Saturday. The Missionary Services News Agency, which reported the group as consisting of 227 children and 76 adults, said Friday that they had been transferred to the Caritas centre at Lunsar. Caritas director Ibrahim Sesay said AFRC soldiers told him they were still holding 450 children captive pending instructions from AFRC leader and CCP Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, the AP said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen said in Addis Ababa Friday that the UNHCR would show greater concern for refugees and displaced persons in Africa in coming years. The agency has budgeted $300 million for fiscal 2000 to assist African refugees, he said. According to the UNHCR, there are some 21.5 million refugees worldwide, of whom 6 million are in Africa -- down from 7 million last year, Jessen-Petersen said. The African countries producing significant numbers of refugees are Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Angola.

U.S. Secretary of Defence William Cohen and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed troop requirements and financing for peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola during a meeting between the two men on Thursday. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Annan, who has recommended large expansions in U.N. missions to Sierra Leone and Angola, explained his reasoning and the funding levels which would be required. The United States is billed for 31 percent of United Nations peacekeeping costs.

19 January: The Sierra Leone Parliament approved legislation Wednesday which sets up an Anti-Corruption Bureau with wide powers to investigate "instances of alleged or suspected corruption referred to it by any person or authority, or which have come to its attention," according to the government gazette. The Bureau will headed by a commissioner and a deputy appointed by the president, subject to parliamentary approval. "The Bureau has the right to examine the practices and procedures of government ministries, departments and other public bodies," according to the gazette.

A contingent of Guinean troops was briefly detained over the weekend by RUF rebels at Barmoi Junction in Kambia District, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Wednesday. The Guinean troops were heading for Port Loko where they were due to join other Guinean soldiers waiting to be incorporated into the UNAMSIL force. "They were apparently detained by the rebels for moving their contingents in RUF territory without clearance," Fofana said, adding "senior security sources" confirmed on Wednesday that after negotiations the Guineans had been released along with their vehicles and ammunition. The incident took place only a few miles from where a group of RUF rebels detained four Caritas humanitarian workers on Sunday. "Meanwhile, civilians arriving from the riverside village of [Mafalla], in the Port Loko District, have been complaining of harassment by bands of marauding rebels in their area," Fofana said. "They say that the rebels have been dispossessing them of their crops, personal effects, and even unroofing their houses so that they will sell the corrugated zinc and make some money."

Sierra Leone and Ireland formally established diplomatic relations Wednesday by the signing in New York of a communiqué by their respective United Nations envoys, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara and Ambassador Richard Ryan. "The government of Ireland and the government of Sierra Leone fully convinced that the establishment of diplomatic relations correspond to the interests of both states and will further strengthen international peace and security," the communiqué read in part.

Medical conditions in RUF-held Kono District are "appalling", the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Wednesday. The report quoted the RUF's Medical Adjutant in Kono, Captain Amara, as saying over the weekend that there were several clinics in the district, but a lack of drugs to operate them. He said there had been serious outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis, hypertension, convulsion, dermatitis dysentery, diarrhoea and malnutrition. He also noted that the water system in the district was very poor. Acknowledging a lack of medical practitioners in the area, Amara said: "We are making do with those we have. Most of them were trained by the few trained nurses we have." SLENA also quoted District Dispenser Momodu Kamara as saying the lack of access to transportation had compounded the problem. "We strive very hard to get some medicine from Makeni," he said.

Over 25% of an estimated 45,000 former combatants in Sierra Leone have been disarmed under the DDR programme, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) claimed on Wednesday. According to NCDDR figures, 13,018 people have been disarmed, including 2,222 members of the RUF, 3,838 members of the AFRC/Ex SLA, 3,804 of the current SLA, and 1,740 of the CDF. "Also 563 children commonly referred to as child ex-combatants have entered the programme." It was not clear whether the children represented a separate category, but the individual numbers fell short of the NCDDR’s total by about 850. 605 ex-combatants have been discharged from the Port Loko Demobilisation Centre and 1,800 are awaiting photo identity cards prior to being discharged. "Since the opening of the Port Loko camp three months ago, 2,405 ex-combatants have gone through the pre-discharge orientation programme there," the NCDDR said. At the Lungi DDR camp, 1,209 former combatants have been discharged.

18 January: Rebel forces have released 227 child soldiers and 76 former adult fighters at Kabala, according to Makeni Bishop Giorgio "George" Biguzzi. "The children will be cared for by the new Caritas centre in Lunsar," Biguzzi told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). "Another 300 former fighters are expected to be liberated in Lungi tomorrow, although we are still not sure how many of them are children," he added. Meanwhile, MISNA said several workers from the Catholic diocesan Caritas of Makeni were briefly detained Sunday afternoon by a group of RUF rebels at Kamba village, about five miles from the Barmoi Crossroads. The rebels, under the command of "Colonel Bai Bureh," reportedly accused the religious workers of being government spies. Among those held and later released was Caritas vice-director Thomas Borboh Turay. The rebels seized the vehicle and are still holding the driver, Peter Kamara, MISNA said. 

Sierra Leonean-born businessman Jamil Said Mohammed died in London Monday after a long illness, according to a report by the London-based Mano Vision. [Liberia's Star Radio subsequently reported he had died of heart failure in Beirut, Lebanon.] "Jamil" enjoyed close ties to former President Siaka P. Stevens and, for a brief period, to former President Joseph Momoh. During that period his holdings grew to include such businesses as Sierra Leone Fisheries, the Sierra Leone Brewery, and the Precious Metals Mining Company, a successor to the National Diamond Mining Company. In 1987 Momoh accused him of plotting a coup and Jamil, who was abroad at the time, remained in self-imposed exile until returning to Sierra Leone in late 1996 and early 1997.

The Canadian-registered diamond mining company DiamondWorks Ltd. announced on Tuesday a new reorganisation plan and new investors in the company's latest attempt to reverse its recent financial problems. DiamondWorks, which is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange but which operates primarily from offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, acknowledged in December that if it were unable to secure additional financing, "it is unlikely that it will be able to continue with its existing mining operations." The company holds a diamond mining concession in Koidu, as well as concessions in Angola and Mauritania, but its operations have been hard-hit by civil conflict in Sierra Leone and Angola. Subject to approval by stockholders and Canadian regulators, and subject also to creditors agreeing to convert at least 75 percent of their claims to DiamondWorks stock, British-based Lyndhurst Ltd. will advance DiamondWorks up to $5 million in working capital loans, which will most likely be converted into DiamondWorks stock shares. Lyndhurst will also sell DiamondWorks its diamond trading company in the Central African Republic, Central African Diamond Company S.A.R.L., for Cdn. $12.2 million ($8.2 million) in stock. The agreement envisages that DiamondWorks would acquire a second Lyndhurst company, Central African Mining Company S.A.R.L. (CAMCO) within 24 months. Antonio Teixeira, the head of a consortium which controls Lyndhurst, Miguel Caldeira, a consortium member, and four directors nominated by Lyndhurst will receive seats on the DiamondWorks board. DiamondWorks described Teixeira as "a well known Southern African entrepreneur with substantial mining interests in central Africa," but gave no details. However, British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa said Tuesday that his government was referring details of Teixeira's operations to the United Nations, accusing him of violating U.N. sanctions imposed on the UNITA rebels in Angola. "It is widely known in the region...that Tony Teixeira has been supplying diesel fuel to UNITA," Hain said.

16 January: The National Power Authority (NPA) has warned of an imminent deterioration in the supply of electricity to Freetown. According to a BBC report broadcast on Sunday, CEMMAT, which took over temporary management of the parastatal on January 6, announced over local radio that most parts of the city will now receive power once every five days until a new power plant is provided by a French firm eight months from now. Management listed problems facing the NPA, "which range from bankruptcy to the lack of spares needed to operate the only working generator," according to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, who added that the NPA was owed over six billion leones in unpaid bills, and lacked funds to support day-to-day operations. "Up to three fourths of the capital’s residential and business districts go without electricity, and many business houses have complained of a slump in their turnover," Fofana said.

15 January: Officials in Freetown and Abuja, Nigeria have confirmed that Nigeria has halted its pullout from ECOMOG until the UNAMSIL force is fully deployed. The announcement was originally made in New York Thursday by Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sule Lamido, who said that the Nigerian pullout would be stayed for 90 days. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber said Saturday the troops would remain in place to prevent a dangerous power vacuum in Sierra Leone. "ECOMOG was not meant to stay in Sierra Leone forever. But we will continue until the U.N. peacekeepers are fully deployed," he said. "The extension is for 90 days from January 12 to allow the U.N. time to build its force," a foreign ministry official in Abuja was quoted as saying. Nigeria, which at the height of its commitment to ECOMOG had an estimated 12,000 troops in Sierra Leone, reportedly has about 4,000 soldiers remaining in the country.

RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, accompanied by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber, has visited the Kono District headquarters town of Koidu as part of an effort to sensitise combatants on the disarmament process. BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle, who accompanied the mission, said that as soon as residents learned of Sankoh's arrival, thousands turned out to sing songs and cheer everything he had to say. "General Kpamber himself, the ECOMOG commander, went and shook hands with as many people as he could, wishing them peace and so on. They together, Sankoh and Kpamber, said prayers, both Christian and Muslim prayers together, and it was generally a very nice atmosphere." Sankoh called on his followers to disarm, and also stressed that the illicit diamond mining should cease. Following the meeting, Doyle said, Sankoh stayed in Kono District, an RUF stronghold which has been under total rebel control since late 1998. Doyle described his view of Koidu from the air as "really quite dramatic." "Most of the houses appear to be destroyed and most of the population certainly has fled," he said. "It’s quite a large town, sort of nestling among the Nimini Hills which you fly across before you get there. But it’s very, very empty." Doyle's description of the city's condition differed from that given last week by Washington Post reporter Steve Coll. "Koidu was run-down but it didn't appear to be 'destroyed,' Coll said. "It was pretty much of a ghost town controlled by rebels and with what appeared to be a pretty depleted civilian population."

A Kenyan soldier has become the first casualty in the United Nations peacekeeping force. Yusuf Birik drowned while participating in a water obstacle training course at Magburaka, UNAMSIL Lieutenant-Colonel J.S. Sandhu said on Saturday.

14 January: British Foreign Office Minister for Africa Peter Hain pledged Thursday his country would help fight the illicit trade in Sierra Leonean diamonds which has fueled more than eight years of civil conflict in the country. "I am determined to look for ways to stamp out the theft of Sierra Leone's diamonds, and the way they have been used to fund conflict,'' Hain told parliamentarians and civic leaders in Freetown Thursday night. "Why is it that the government of Sierra Leone derives almost no revenue from diamond sales? And why am I told that the Liberian annual diamond exports are way beyond its annual diamond mining capacity?" Hain's statement followed the release of a report Wednesday by Partnership Africa Canada which documented massive smuggling of Sierra Leonean diamonds, while alleging a lack of accountability in the international diamond trade. The minister said Britain would assist Sierra Leone's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, to be chaired by RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, to assert its control over the country's mineral resources. "The (Lomé Peace Accord) also makes clear that Sierra Leone's natural resources must be used legitimately, to help fund public education, health, compensation for victims of the conflict and national reconstruction," Hain said. "We are ready to help make this happen." Hain also told Parliament that Britain would donate £250,000 ($400,000) "to help set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to help it become a meaningful and successful enterprise." The money would be channeled through the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he said.

Ghana was set to complete its pullout from the ECOMOG force on Friday, according to a Reuters which quoted Ghanaian officers. The last group of Ghanaian soldiers left Freetown by ship on Thursday night, and the officers were due to fly home on Friday, they said.

13 January: Antwerp's High Diamond Council has rejected allegations made on Wednesday by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) that it turns a blind eye to the smuggling of illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone. "We have learnt from our mistakes in the past," the Council said in a statement Thursday. "No other product is controlled more thoroughly than diamonds entering Antwerp." In its report  "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security," PAC pointed to discrepancies between diamond production in West Africa and Antwerp's imports of West African diamonds which indicated diamond smuggling on a massive scale. In 1998, while Sierra Leone's Government Gold and Diamond Office reported exports of only 8,500 carats, the High Diamond Council's own figures showed it imported 770,000 carats of diamonds from Sierra Leone during the same period. The High Diamond Council reported 1998 imports of 5,803,000 carats from Liberia, 533,000 carats from Guinea, and 885,000 carats from Ivory Coast. The United States Geological Survey estimated 1998 production of diamonds in Liberia at 150,000 carats and in Guinea at 205,000 carats. Ivory Coast has no current diamond mining capacity. The difference, PAC alleges, consists of smuggled diamonds, principally from Sierra Leone. "The illegitimate trade of diamonds must come to an end. We could not agree more,'' Thursday's High Diamond Council statement said. "But we need to strike at the roots of the evil and these are not in Antwerp.'' In a subsequent Radio Netherlands report, Peter Meeus, the head of the High Diamond Council, rejected the PAC report's findings. "We're really not pleased with these allegations. We even believe that there are hardly any other businesses with such thorough control as the diamond industry. So we're not only very surprised, we also strongly disagree," he said, adding: "We support all the initiatives which want to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in all these countries, and we are prepared to look together with NGO's and other organisations how we can do that. But the least thing they have to do is to come and talk to us, and to see how the system really works. Not just write papers which are based on false rumours."

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata appealed to the international community Thursday to come up with concrete measures and faster solutions to ease the plight of millions of African refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). "The pattern of refugee crises has undergone significant changes in recent years, especially in Africa," she said, adding that UNHCR was now caring for some six million people on the African continent. Ogata noted the "grave imbalance" in aid to Africa as compared to the rest of the world. Assistance provided to African refugees, including food and other items for basic survival, was far less than provided elsewhere, a situation she said was unacceptable. Ogata said humanitarian aid alone could not solve the problems leading to forced displacement, nor could it substitute for government and the U.N. Security Council in areas for which they had a clear responsibility. "The Security Council has an essential role to play in preventing, containing and resolving conflicts, and hence refugee problems, in Africa," she said.

The Nigerian government has decided to maintain its troops in ECOMOG for an additional 90 days following appeals from the Sierra Leone government, Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sule Lamido said in New York on Thursday. Nigeria had previously announced that the withdrawal of its forces from Sierra Leone would be completed by the end of February.

260 child combatants impressed into rebel ranks were released at Kabala last week, Makeni Bishop Giorgio "George" Biguzzi told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) on Thursday. Biguzzi appealed for "immediate assistance" for the children, who are being housed at the Caritas centres at Lungi and Port Loko. "We need funds to guarantee these young victims freedom from an existence of horror and sure death," he said, adding that funding was needed "to meet the immediate needs of the children, such as proper food so they do not run away, psychological and social assistance, and tracing their families." Biguzzi said a truck loaded with food supplies would leave Freetown for Magburaka on Saturday. "For the moment the situation is tranquil and life seems to be back to normal," he said. "The liberation of the child soldiers will undoubtedly boost the peace process in Sierra Leone and give hope for a better future."

12 January: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday the peace in Sierra Leone remained very fragile, and called for the rapid expansion of the UNAMSIL from its current authorised strength of 6,000 to 11,100. "It is obvious that, despite the progress made, the peace established in Sierra Leone is still very fragile. Tension and mistrust among the parties to the conflict continue, while the disarmament process has achieved only modest progress," Annan said in his report to the U.N. Security Council, adding: "In addition, unruly members of some armed groups continue to attack, rob and rape civilians in parts of the country, while humanitarian workers are denied access to large part of the population." Annan said the situation in Sierra Leone remained difficult, and that progress in implementing the Lomé Peace Accord had been slow. "There can be no justification for non-compliance or delays in the implementation of the Lomé Agreement, for the continuing human rights abuses or for not allowing humanitarian aid to reach those in need," Annan stressed. Under the secretary-general's recommendation, the UNAMSIL force would be expanded to include 260 military observers, 12 infantry battalions, force and sector headquarters personnel, two companies of military engineers, medical personnel and faculties, communications and transportation units, a helicopter and aviation unit, and other military support. "The rapid expansion of UNAMSIL will be indispensable in maintaining the necessary security conditions for the implementation of the Lomé Agreement, in particular the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, the extension of state administration throughout the provinces and, in due course, the holding of elections in Sierra Leone," Annan said. He stressed that the responsibility for implementing the peace process was ultimately the responsibility of the people of Sierra Leone. It was therefore crucial, Annan said, that the Sierra Leone government take the lead in developing a plan for the restructuring of the military and the police so they would be able to safeguard the stability and security of the country once the UNAMSIL force began to withdraw following elections scheduled for next year. Britain's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said his delegation had drafted a resolution to implement Annan's recommendations, and that the issue would be brought up for further discussion. "We must keep this process going and make sure that the Lomé Accord, the agreement on Sierra Leone, is brought to a final conclusion,'' he said.

British Foreign Office Minister of State Peter Hain called Wednesday for continuing international aid to help Sierra Leone rebuild after more than eight years of civil war. "Sierra Leone is building peace after years of devastating savagery and war so our aim as the British government is to give practical support," Hain told reporters upon his arrival in Freetown. "Britain and the international community must do all they can to support Sierra Leone...You people have at last secured a peace agreement. It means tough choices, including the need to make peace with brutal former enemies." The Kenyan-born minister is midway through a six-day visit to Africa which has thus far taken him to Nigeria and Sierra Leone. He is also due to visit Ghana before returning to London.

The National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) has called on the leadership of all factions to give "a simultaneous command for disarmament" following last week's sensitisation tour "by the major stake holders in the disarmament process" to Bo, Kenema and Tongo. In a press release issued on Wednesday, NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai said that since December 15, the deadline by which the disarmament process was to have been completed, the committee had been taking "certain significant steps" to address factors which had contributed to delays in implementing the peace agreement. "For example, UNAMSIL has now been deployed in the Makeni/Magburaka axis, as well as in Daru, Kenema, Port Loko Complex and in Lungi," Kai-Kai said. He added that the discharge from DDR centres at Lungi and Port Loko of ex-combatants who had gone through the demobilisation process "is making way for combatants coming forward for disarmament and demobilisation." Kai-Kai said some of the discharged ex-combatants were now participating in various community sensitisation programmes, while the NCDDR secretariat was involved with putting together reintegration programmes in collaboration with various NGOs, U.N. agencies, parastatals, and government institutions. As of 11 January, a total of 11,906 former combatants had been disarmed. 4,542 weapons had been collected, along with 56,636 rounds of ammunition. 

A new study documenting the effect of both the legal and the illicit diamond trade on Sierra Leone's development, and as a cause of the country’s long civil conflict, has called for sweeping reforms in the diamond industry. "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security," published by Partnership Africa Canada on Wednesday, examines such factors as the lack of accountability in the "medieval" diamond trade in Antwerp, the roles of De Beers and the "junior" diamond mining companies which replaced it in Sierra Leone, the effects of corruption and smuggling, the involvement of organised crime, and the rise of private security companies and "privatised violence." While acknowledging that "no single recommendation on its own will solve the problems of Sierra Leone's diamond industry," the report's authors -- development consultant and former CUSO director Ian Smillie, researcher and former investigative journalist Lansana Gberie, and political economist Ralph Hazleton -- focus on the need for security, transparency and the rule of law throughout the country, including the use of force "in a timely fashion to halt a resurgence of the violence." The report also pointed to a need to establish fair prices for small legal diamond miners, along with "effective and honest monitoring and inspection systems." The authors call also on the Sierra Leone government to raise its standards for foreign firms investing in the diamond industry, and to insist on full corporate transparency. The study calls for reforms in the Belgian-centered diamond industry, which it calls "irresponsible, secretive and seriously under-regulated (with) a demonstrated attraction for new forms of organized crime, and...complicit in fueling African wars." It also recommends a United Nations embargo on the purchase of diamonds originating in Liberia and Ivory Coast, two countries which have little or no current diamond mining capacity, but which export large numbers of rough stones annually, most of them smuggled from Sierra Leone. The report envisages further development of diamond "fingerprinting", designed to identify the source of smuggled diamonds and slow the illicit diamond trade, and an international consumer campaign to back demands for reform. Underscoring the need for regulation of the diamond industry, the authors conclude: "At the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index and wracked by almost a decade of war, Sierra Leone could not possibly be in worse condition today than if it never had any diamonds. Diamonds have, in fact, been a curse, not a blessing."

President Kabbah has disputed estimates of the number of former combatants in Sierra Leone, arguing that the 45,000 figure used by the United Nations was over-estimated. According to Liberia's Star Radio, Kabbah said the correction was necessary because of concerns about the slow pace of the disarmament process. Under the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord, all parties were to furnish "information regarding the strength and locations of all combatants." This information has not yet been provided.

Javad Roshan-Zamir, Iran's ambassador to Guinea, has been appointed that country's accredited ambassador to Sierra Leone, according to Iran's foreign ministry.

The United States government has provided $200,000 to the government of Sierra Leone to document human rights abuses committed since the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord on July 7, according to Liberia's Star Radio.

11 January: Donor response to the recent United Nations Inter-Agency Emergency Appeals has fallen short of emergency needs, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Tuesday. Of the $2.4 billion requested to help maintain the U.N.'s emergency operations worldwide, only $1.7 billion -- or 69 percent -- had been received by the end of the year. Preliminary figures show that southeastern Europe received 80 percent of the contributions requested, while Africa received 72 percent. Some African countries in urgent need of assistance, such as Uganda and the Republic of the Congo, were well below the 20 percent threshold, OCHA said.

British Chancellor Gordon Brown said Tuesday his country would stop underwriting arms loans to an additional 22 countries, bringing the total to 63, including Sierra Leone. "Britain's export credits will only support productive investment that assists social and economic development and thus reduces poverty," Brown said at a Tuesday night function organized by Oxfam. "I urge all countries to ban export credits for unproductive expenditure in the 63...countries and join us in banishing forever the specter of unproductive unpayable debt." The British government has refused for the past two years to underwrite arms loans to the world's 41 most heavily indebted countries. Brown announced last month that Britain would write off their outstanding loans once they had set up internationally agreed-upon programmes to eradicate poverty.

The international medial relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) called on the international community Tuesday to devote more resources for the treatment of mental trauma in Sierra Leone. In a report issued on Tuesday, "Assessing Trauma in Sierra Leone," MSF said it had found extremely high levels of trauma among a representative sample of civilians 240 surveyed in Freetown during the first two weeks of May 1999. According to MSF, 99% of those surveyed had suffered some degree of starvation, 90% witnessed others being wounded or killed, and at least 50% had lost someone close to them. 65% had endured shelling, 63% the burning of their property, and 73% the destruction of their homes. 7% had suffered an amputation, 16% were tortured, 33% had been held hostage and 39% said they had been maltreated. "Mental trauma does not disappear with the cease-fire," MSF mental healdh advisor Dr. Kaz de Jong said in the statement. "The war may continue in people’s minds for years, decades, perhaps even generations. To address only the material restoration and physical needs of the population is not enough. The psychological devastation of the war will not repair itself on its own." Médecins Sans Frontières currently operates mental health, medical and nutritional projects in Freetown, Makeni, Bo, Kambia and elsewhere.

United Development International announced Tuesday that it had acquired "various diamond assets" from Global Exploration Inc., including four diamond mining concessions in Sierra Leone and the right to acquire two concessions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. United Development International purchases rough gemstones which are cut and polished under contract and sold through the company's facilities in southern California in the United States. The company is quoted on the NQB Pink Sheet under the symbol "UDVE". A company whose shares are traded on the "pink sheets" is commonly one which does not meet the minimal criteria for capitalization and number of shareholders required to be listed by most stock exchanges. 

10 January: More than 4,500 United Nations peacekeeping troops have already been deployed in Sierra Leone, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Monday. Of the six battalions scheduled to form the military component of UNAMSIL, five -- two from Nigeria and one each from Kenya, Ghana and India -- have been inducted into the mission area. The remaining battalion, from Guinea, is expected to arrive shortly, Eckhard said. India is also providing administration, medical, transportation and engineering teams, as well as an aviation refueling unit. In addition to military troops, there are also 215 unarmed military observers to monitor the ceasefire and report on violations.

Sierra Leone ranks third from last in the world in terms of its economic freedom, according to the annual Economic Freedom of the World report issued on Monday. The study, published by the Cato Institute and Canada's Fraser Institute, put Sierra Leone as 121st among economies surveyed, trailed only by Myanmar (formerly Burma) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). At the top of the list were Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Government of Sierra Leone and China's Beijing Urban Construction Group have signed a 25-year lease for the Bintumani Hotel, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. AFRC Minister of Tourism and Culture A.B.S. Jumu Jalloh signed the agreement at a Cape Sierra Hotel ceremony Thursday on behalf of the Sierra Leone government. Last week a U.S. daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, reported that plans were underway to renovate the Bintumani and the Mammy Yoko, with a view to reducing the shortage of hotel accommodations in Freetown. Mammy Yoko owner Roger Crooks said he was planning to reopen the first floor of the hotel by the end of January. "There’s going to be substantial demand," Crooks was quoted as saying. "The demand is here. And this is peaceful compared to how it was." The hotel was badly damaged in fighting between AFRC/RUF troops and ECOMOG soldiers shortly after the May 1997 military coup. Beijing Urban Construction Group and the Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning and the Environment, Peter Borbor Vandi, have also signed a letter of intent for a $2.5 million grant from the Chinese government to provide low-cost housing for displaced persons and refugees, SLENA reported. 70 percent of the grant would be used to provide housing units, with the balance going toward the purchase of building materials and equipment from China. The construction would be undertaken through a new joint venture company, to be called SALHOC Joint Venture Company Ltd., formed by the Beijing Urban Construction Group and the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation. According to SLENA, there is also a plan to restore damaged government buildings and to set up factories which would manufacture a range of building products in Sierra Leone. The Chinese government has also donated a consignment of 2,850 bags of rice to the government of Sierra Leone, SLENA said. In handing over the rice at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay, Chinese Ambassador Yu Wuzhen said the shipment was made following an exchange of letters between representatives of the two governments last year. The Minister of Development and Economic Planning, Dr. Kadi Sesay, said the rice would be sold through a process of competitive bidding, with the proceeds going to the establishment of a social security scheme. Sesay added that the scheme would provide assistance to the most vulnerable members of society, including the aged, orphans, amputees, and the very poor. The minister said Sierra Leone had received financial aid of nearly $10 million, which would fund agricultural development to address the problem of food security.

9 January: A truckload of Nigerian UNAMSIL troops received a hostile reception Sunday morning when they visited a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Lungi, which houses over 1,000 former soldiers. "When the Nigerian major went to the camp this morning, on alighting from the vehicle the ex-combatants rushed on him and grabbed his (insignia of) rank, tore it off and then chased him all over the place," BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers told the Focus on Africa programme. "They manhandled him seriously, and then pelted the other rank and files with stones and sticks." Rogers quoted a spokesman as saying the ex-combatants considered the Nigerians to be their "arch-enemies" because the had "participated fully" in Sierra Leone's civil war. One of the Nigerians, however, claimed that people had incited the ex-combatants against them. Rogers said the Nigerian UNAMSIL troops had reacted with restraint, and added that calm had returned after Ghanaian troops were redeployed to the camp in the afternoon.

A tour of the south and east by the leaders of hostile factions in a bid to advance the disarmament process has met with only limited success. Despite assurances by RUFP/RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman and ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber, only 100 members of the pro-government Kamajor militia and 80 RUF fighters handed in their weapons during the trip. "Chairman Sankoh, I am sure, is committed to the peace and is ready to disarm, likewise other ex-combatant leaders, but the major problem that is causing the delay is mistrust among the leaderships," Kpamber said at a press conference. The group visited Bo, Kenema and Tongofield, but was unable to reach Kono District due to bad roads. Sankoh reiterated his commitment to the ceasefire and the peace process, but told reporters disarmament would only speed up if the Kamajors gave up their weapons at the same time as the RUF, which was not happening. So far, only about 11,300 of an estimated 45,000 combatants have been disarmed. 

Italian police in Syracuse, Sicily have intercepted a large fishing boat carrying 50 illegal immigrants, allegedly from Sierra Leone, Italian television reported on Sunday. The immigrants, all men, were hidden below deck and concern has been expressed about the state of their health. Three crew members were arrested. 

8 January: RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, accompanied by Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman and ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber, visited Kenema Saturday as part of a tour aimed at building confidence for the disarmament process in areas long a stronghold of the pro-government Kamajor militia. "If we have assured our people that peace has definitely come, we should demonstrate our commitment to disarming ourselves," Sankoh told a large crowd. "The disarmament programme will move speedily when ex-combatants stop fearing any imminent attack against them." Sankoh was next expected to visit the diamond mining town of Tongo.

7 January: RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh addressed a large crowd at Bo Town Hall on Thursday evening, where he told listeners he had taken up arms "to fight against tribalism, nepotism, corruption and injustice." According to BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima, Sankoh described himself as "a man of peace and a prince of peace," and urged people to forgive the RUF "in the interests of peace." The rebel leader was flanked by the Deputy Defence Minister, Sam Hinga Norman, who referred to Sankoh as "his brother," but added that they fought against one another for ideological reasons. Sankoh arrived in Bo Thursday afternoon at the head of a long convoy, and under heavy security by ECOMOG troops.

DiamondWorks Ltd., which holds a concession to mine diamonds in Koidu, said Friday it was "actively involved" in negotiations with a third party which could lead to a material change in the near future. No details were provided. "Although the company is optimistic, there can be no assurances that a transaction will be concluded," the company said in a statement. In December the Canadian-based company announced sweeping management changes and acknowledged that if it were unable to secure additional funds, "it is unlikely that it will be able to continue with its existing mining operations."

Police in Freetown have re-arrested two suspects, Ya-ir Klein, alias Galklein, an Israeli, and Klyachakov, a Russian, who escaped from Pademba Road Prison last Thursday. The two were apprehended some 15 miles west of the capital while trying to escape by boat, according to Liberia's Star Radio. Eleven prison guards who were on duty at the time are facing investigation in connection with the escape. Reportedly, the two were found in possession of a prison key. Klein, a lieutenant-colonel in Israel's Reserve Army, was arrested in January 1999 and charged with supplying arms to the RUF. In 1989, the Colombian government indicted Klein in absentia for providing armaments and training to death squads associated with the country's Medellin drug cartel. He was found guilty by an Israeli court in 1991 of supplying weapons to Colombia without a license.

6 January: United Nations peacekeeping troops have now been deployed at strategic locations throughout Sierra Leone, according to a UNAMSIL press release issued in Freetown. Local RUF commanders had initially opposed the deployment of Kenyan troops at Makeni, but their objections were "not serious," UNAMSIL said. The Kenyan battalion reached Makeni by road on Wednesday, where they have now encamped and are patrolling the area. The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Fred Eckhard, said the peacekeeping troops would next move to Magburaka, while additional troops will follow the first deployment to Makeni. Nigerian peacekeeping troops are now stationed at Port Loko and Lungi, while Ghanaian troops have been deployed at Daru. More Ghanaian soldiers are on their way from Freetown, Bo and Kenema, while U.N. military observers from nearly 30 countries are also patrolling the country, UNAMSIL said. More than 4,000 of the 6,000 peacekeeping troops authorised by the United Nations Security Council have now been deployed, including 800 from Kenya, 1,560 from Nigeria, 1,200 from India and 780 from Ghana. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have issued a joint appeal to countries where polio still exists to give full cooperation to global efforts to eradicate the disease by the end of the year. "We are on the verge of an historic public health victory: the eradication of poliomyelitis, a disease that has caused untold suffering to millions of children," WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a letter sent to the heads of state of 30 countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa -- including Sierra Leone. The letter urged the countries to provide leadership for extra immunization activities, to allocate resources for national immunization days, and to enable truces in areas of conflict. Since the launch of the polio eradication initiative in 1988, the number of cases has dropped from an estimated 350,000 to 5,200 reported cases in 1999. The proportion of the world's children living in polio-affected areas has dropped from 90 percent to less than half, and the disease has been eradicated from North and South America, Europe, the Western Pacific, much of the Middle East, and most of northern and southern Africa.

33 journalists, including 10 in Sierra Leone, were killed during 1999 because of their work, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Thursday. The CPJ said most of the journalists who died in Sierra Leone were killed by rebels who conducted house-to-house searches for reporters whose writing was deemed "anti-rebel." "We see a clear policy, particularly in Sierra Leone, Colombia and East Timor, of armed factions seeking to banish or even exterminate journalists in order to hide the truth,'' said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "Whether it's the Indonesian army or Sierra Leone rebels, the goal is obvious: get rid of witnesses whose reporting can inform the world about atrocities, corruption or killings."

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley has played down a confrontation between RUF fighters and U.N. peacekeeping troops which led to a one-day delay in the deployment of the Kenyan UNAMSIL battalion to Makeni. "I would have been very surprised if something like this had not happened because this country's been through a nine years' war, and there are a lot of teething problems for this accord," Jetley told the BBC. "Now, there are people on the ground who are misguided or, you know, they don't really have enough knowledge to take decisions, and they have an attitude which is obstructionist, but the matter was resolved amicably; and the troops are there in Makeni. They got there last night." He attributed the standoff to a problem with the RUF's command structure. "The force commander who was supposed to be there, a brigadier by the name of Issa [Issa Sesay], wasn't around and his troops were [word indistinct] take orders from him, despite the fact that their chairman had given the orders and instructions in writing. Now, this does show a little bit of problem in the command and control structure of the RUFP, and that's for them to resolve." Jetley denied a report that RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh was to have accompanied the UNAMSIL force to Makeni. "No, he was not supposed to accompany. I invited him to accompany because I was going there myself, I invited him to accompany me, but he had some other programs on his mind like going to some other parts of the country, where he's gone now." 

A former RUF fighter who allegedly shot and wounded RUFP Minister of Trade and Industry Mike Lamin at his Cape Sierra Hotel residence in November has been indicted on four counts of attempted murder. Gabriel Foday was charged in Freetown Magistrates Court No. 1 with trying to kill Mike Lamin, his wife May Mayilla Lamin, his Personal Assistant, Joseph Ansumana, and an ECOMOG bodyguard.

Four of twelve Bishops created by Pope John Paul II on Thursday will be sent as papal nuncios (envoys) to Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea and Liberia and to Bolivia, Panama and Honduras. No details were available.

5 January: UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley travelled to Makeni on Wednesday to ensure that UNAMSIL's Kenya Battalion is deployed without restriction. The battalion was blocked a by RUF combatants at a bridge approximately 18 km. from Makeni, according to U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. "General Jetley returned to Freetown in the evening and reports that the problem with the deployment has been resolved," Eckhard said. He added that the Kenya Battalion was now on its way to Makeni. RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh had been due to travel with Jetley, but "at the last minute" decided not to go, Eckhard said. Earlier, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers, who travelled north with the UNAMSIL convoy, described how rebel fighters had prevented the Kenyans from deploying. "When we arrived at a village called [Yankassa], which is about 20 miles to Makeni, we were prevented by this former rebel alliance of RUF and AFRC not to enter Makeni," Rogers told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "As they put it, they said we should first of all produce clearance from the High Command. According to (Kenyan) Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Musumbu, he tried to explain to them that their coming or their going to Makeni has already been communicated with the RUF people, so that they thought they were in the know. But the rebels could not listen to their explanation. " The BBC correspondent said the situation became "a little tense," especially after a rebel officer, Colonel Kalor, arrived with reinforcements from the village of [Makor]. Rogers described the Kenyan officers as "very diplomatic," adding: "Although at some point there was some kind of accidental fire by a 14-year old rebel, the Kenyans never stopped the negotiations; they tried to prevail on the rebels to understand their position that they were neutral." Eventually the peacekeepers were forced to return to Lunsar where they spent the night. According to Rogers, one rebel officer told him that if the UNAMSIL contingent had been made up of Nigerian peacekeeping troops "they were going to open fire on them without asking questions."

British Foreign Office Minister of State Peter Hain pledged Wednesday that his country would support reform in Africa, and said Britain intended to back "African success stories." "We will back good government, rooting out of corruption and economic modernisation,'' Hain said. "We will not back leaders...who siphon off profits into their own pockets.'' The Kenyan-born minister leaves at the weekend for a six-day African trip which will take him to Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana. Hain said he was encouraged by talks at the United Nations and by U.S. officials who demonstrated "renewed determination to deal with Africa's problems." Other European former colonial powers, especially France and Italy, were now also coordinating their African policies more closely with Britain, he added. Hain said he would pressure the Sierra Leone government and rebels to implement the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord, and would keep up pressure on the United Nations to deliver a peacekeeping force to help implement the agreement. "Sierra Leone escaped the nightmare of the most bestial atrocities imaginable to a peace settlement which is extremely fragile but must work," he said.

In an interview published by the BBC on Wednesday, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber denied that his troops had been defeated by Sierra Leone's rebels. "It's just like somebody saying the Americans lost in in Vietnam. But they had to pull back really because of public opinion in the United States. It does not mean that they were defeated. They didn't lose the war," said Kpamber in an interview originally broadcast on December 31."In our case, we've been fighting a counter - revolutionary war," And ECOMOG being a professional force, has been trying to avoid collateral casualties. The rebels fight using human shields, using child combatants, and we had to observe our targets, we had to make sure we avoided civilian casualties to some extent, and that is why it appeared to some people that we really lost. We didn't lose the war." Meanwhile, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle described RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh as acting like a "campaigning politician" who is treated with "a mixture of fear and respect" by rural Sierra Leoneans. "I think we will succeed in laying a strong, good foundation for us to practise democracy," Sankoh said. He denied that the RUF rebellion had destroyed democracy. "In any democratic liberation war you have to experience some destruction of lives and property," Sankoh insisted.

United States Vice President Al Gore will president over the year's first public meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, according to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke. The United States holds the rotating chairmanship of the Council for January, and has designated it as the "Month of Africa." Holbrooke has scheduled debates on crises in Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the AIDS epidemic and the plight of refugees.

4 January: RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins has accused Kamajor militiamen and ECOMOG soldiers of firing on former RUF combatants Monday as they were on their way to UNAMSIL headquarters for their money. "Two of our men was wounded very seriously," Collins told the BBC. "It is stated in the (Lomé Peace Accord) that all the factions, either RUF, SLA, the CDF, supposed to be disarmed. But this CDF, they are not disarmed, they are right now in Port Loko. They are in the Bai Bureh’s [hold] where they have their arms and ammunition. What is being done about them. We want to really know." Collins said the attack had been carried out by "the Kamajors and some of the ECOMOG friends of theirs," and denied any provocation on the part of the RUF troops. "Our men are not threatening anyone. Our men did not have arms. We have disarmed. Our men are in the disarmament camps," he said. Collins told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that ECOMOG had airlifted the wounded men to Freetown, where they were undergoing medical treatment, but still placed the blame for the incident on the ECOMOG force. "It was ECOMOG that started firing, few shots, before the CDF took over," he said. "It is left with ECOMOG to see that they are here for peacekeeping. After the signing (of the Lomé Peace Accord), we don’t expect ECOMOG to fire any shots in Sierra Leone again. They’re supposed to be having the blue caps (of the United Nations peacekeepers).

In a BBC interview broadcast on Tuesday, the Acting Executive Director of the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), Dr. Francis Kaikai, blamed delays in the disarmament process on people outside the DDR camps who were waiting for UNAMSIL to deploy. "This deployment is going on as I speak to you now," he said. "So immediately following this we will have our civilian teams going in to do our various reconnaissance visits to the areas to see where we have the next set of demobilisation centres." Kaikai downplayed fears of a security vacuum in the wake of an ECOMOG pullout. "If ECOMOG is leaving and UNAMSIL is not deploying, clearly there will be a vacuum created," he said. "But in fact what has happened is there is now some kind of synchronization going on, and to make sure ECOMOG does not leave their bases until UNAMSIL has deployed." Kaikai also dismissed reports of recent insecurity in the country. "The insecurity, really, I don’t know what areas you have in mind when you talk about insecurity," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. "For all I know in the Port Loko area we have some skirmishes there because of a misunderstanding about money. And some people wanting to receive some cash, they want to leave the (DDR) centres now. Those kinds of troubles we have had, I mean, recently. And also we have cases of people in Lungi saying ‘oh, we don’t want the Ghanaians to leave here, we don’t want the UNAMSIL people to come in.' We’ve had all these kinds of complaints, but they will not constitute anything like insecurity the way I understand it." Kaikai said the DDR programme was being "very well coordinated" by the NCDDR which, he said, met weekly and more frequently when the need arose. Kaikai said be believed all parties to the peace agreement were committed to the DDR process. "I know from all their utterances, from all they have said, and from all the commitments they have made to this process, --I don’t have any doubt that they would want any kind of setback to this peace process," he said. "I mean everybody is looking forward to progress now."

The British-based charity Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN) said Tuesday it is providing nutritional feeding to over 150 malnourished children in Kenema District, where thousands have been made homeless by over eight years of civil conflict. In a press release outlining its current aid efforts worldwide, MERLIN said it is running a paediatric ward in a clinic, an emergency cholera unit, mobile daily health clinics, and is establishing a permanent health centre to provide basic health care in Freetown. In addition, MERLIN is re-establishing and restocking a hospital, three clinics and 15 health centres with drugs and equipment to provide medical care and health education to mothers and young children in Kenema and Bo Districts. MERLIN is also overseeing an emergency malaria control programme, which includes bed net distribution, insecticide spraying and community education in Kenema. In addition to Sierra Leone, MERLIN currently operates programmes in East Timor, Kenya, Liberia, Russia, Albania, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tajikistan.

1 January: Freetown residents spent New Year's Eve without electricity and confined to their homes by a dusk-to-dawn curfew, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Saturday. Traditional parades were banned by police, and only a five-minute fusillade fired by ECOMOG soldiers at midnight marked the passing of the year. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana spoke of "considerable panic in the west central part of town" as soldiers sporadically fired gunshots into the air.

Nigerian soldiers of the 27th ECOMOG battalion, who had been deployed at the strategic military garrison at Daru, boarded trucks in Kenema on Friday morning, bound for Freetown on their way back to Nigeria. BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima described "an emotional scene as hundreds of women, predominantly teenage girls, wept bitterly" as the soldiers boarded the vehicles, waving white handkerchiefs and singing victory songs. "The massive withdrawal of ECOMOG troops from southern and eastern Sierra Leone started on Christmas Day, when ECOMOG soldiers deployed in Bo and the surrounding areas pulled out," Brima said. On Friday evening, a Ghanaian contingent of United Nations peacekeeping troops was airlifted to Daru to replace the Nigerians. Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) quoted ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber as denying that ECOMOG was totally pulling out of Sierra Leone. Kpamber reportedly told a delegation from Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council that the Lomé Peace Accord had given ECOMOG a new mandate, which included the maintenance of peace and security, protection of the international community, and the disarming of former combatants in cooperation with UNAMSIL. According to SLENA, Kpamber called the withdrawal of Nigerian troops a "routine exercise" to evacuate Nigerian troops that had overstayed in mission areas. On December 21, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Nigeria "could not accept" two peacekeeping forces in the same country, and that Nigeria would withdraw its troops from the ECOMOG force by the end of February. Ghana and Guinea were also preparing to withdraw their troops from ECOMOG, Annan said in a letter to the Security Council. To avoid what the Council called a "dangerous security vacuum" in Lungi and Freetown, Annan recommended that the authorised strength of UNAMSIL be increased from 6,000 to 10,000, along with an expansion of UNAMSIL's mandate, to assume the security functions currently performed by ECOMOG.

Thousands of people, including RUF commanders, attended a ceremony to reopen major roads to Kono and Kailahun Districts, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Saturday. The roads, which had been under RUF control, were reopened by Vice President Albert Joe Demby. "An RUF brigade commander now in charge of Kailahun, Brigadier Dennis Lansana, in his remarks at the opening ceremony observed that any commander who can’t cope with the implementation of the Lomé peace process will be dismissed from the RUF," Brima said.

The U.S.-based international relief and development organisation CARE will be the lead food distribution partner in Guinea's forested region of Gueckedou, where there are some 250,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in 55 camps, CARE announced on Saturday. "Nearly 90 percent of refugees live in Gueckedou and nearby Nzerekoré," Kateri Clement, CARE's team leader in Guinea, was quoted as saying. "Because of the civil war in Sierra Leone, most of the refugees who flocked to Guinea have been living in limbo for more than a year. Despite the July 7, 1999 signing of the Lomé Peace Accords in Sierra Leone, these people are still afraid to go home." In addition to expanding its role in food distribution, CARE will assist with programmes in health, education and agriculture. During the past year, 200 CARE workers have been distributing food to 47 Gueckedou camps. "These people are relying heavily upon international relief agencies like CARE to assist in some return to normalcy," Clement said in a press release. "Hopefully, the peace process will continue to progress and these hundreds of thousands of people can go home."