The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

January 2003
 

31 January: Authorities in Sierra Leone are still searching for fugitive former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma (pictured left) and seven others they allege were linked to "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country," Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara said on Friday. Kamara, who just returned to Freetown from a five-day tour of the provinces, laughed off allegations made by the pro-government New Vision newspaper that he had helped Koroma to escape during a police raid on his home. "There’s no substance (to the report), because they are alleging that I tipped him off, whilst in fact the people who went there met him on the ground," Kamara said. He added that he had no advance knowledge of the police action. "I am not part of the group that organized the raid," he said. "I never knew until in fact they were there. My whole role in this investigation is to take care of the media." The New Vision suggested that Kamara had helped Koroma to avoid capture based on their common ethnic ties, and because they supposedly came from the same village in northern Sierra Leone. Kamara comes from Madonkani, near Binkolo. Koroma was born in Tombodu in Kono District, but he did not grow up there. Kamara insisted that the junta leader turned parliamentarian also did not grow up in Madonkani. "I was made to understand that Johnny Paul’s father came from a village called Masongbo," he said.

The flow of refugees into Sierra Leone increased slightly in January due to the relaxation of border controls by the Liberian army, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. The UNHCR is continuing to relocate the refugees from border entry points and way stations to more secure refugee camps in Bo and Kenema Districts. Between January 13 and January 26 the WFP distributed 960 tons of relief food to 221,400 vulnerable persons, among them 13,500 refugees at the Jembe and Gerihun camps. Transparency and efficiency of food distribution at the Jembe camp was improved after the introduction of laminated ration cards, the WFP said. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar, pound sterling and Euro, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. € 2100 / 2300. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3150 / 3350. Frandia: [$] 2300 / 2400 [£] 3150 / 3350. € 1900 / 2100. Continental: [$] 2350 / 2500 [£] 3400 / 3800. € 2200 / 2450. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2370 / 2390 [£] 3500 / 3550.

30 January: 17 people died Wednesday night and many more injured when a truck with only one headlight lost control and ran into a crowd of people taking part in a Bondo dance in the northern village of Makorray, the Reuters news service reported. 24 people are being treated for serious injuries in Freetown, the report said. The Awoko newspaper gave the town as Makomray, 18 miles from Kamakwie. It said eight people had been admitted to the Emergency Surgical Centre in Goderich. The paper quoted the centre's medical coordinator as saying that one of the eight, who had been transferred from Connaught Hospital, was in critical condition.

Sierra Leone's legitimate diamond exports totaled $41 million in 2002, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Thursday. The agency quoted Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen as saying that since the introduction of a Certificate of Origin system in late 2000, tremendous progress had been made in combating the flow of illicit diamonds out of the country. Sierra Leone's diamond exports in 2001 were $26 million – more than double the $10 million amount posted for 2000. Legal diamond exports in 1999 totaled just $1.2 million. Deen said the government had set aside over Le 280 million (about $140,000) to be distributed among 35 diamond producing chiefdoms participating in a community development fund.

29 January: Perhaps several hundred people showed up in central Freetown Wednesday for a Civil Society Movement demonstration to protest the government's response to recent events affecting the nation's security. The turnout, according to reporters and civil society sources, was far less than organizers had hoped. The demonstration was originally slated to take place in front of the Sierra Leone Law Courts Building on the busy Siaka Stevens Street, but police moved protestors to the nearby Victoria Park to prevent them from blocking traffic. Wednesday's protest was called to express concern over the nation's security, highlighted this month by an armed attack on a Wellington army warehouse and the subsequent disappearance of former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, and by a cross-border raid by armed men from Liberia on a village in the eastern Kailahun District. Awoko reporter Sylvester Suaray told the Sierra Leone Web that protest organizers called on the government to issue a statement on the security situation in the country and gave the authorities a one-week ultimatum to find Koroma. The Civil Society Movement pledged to send a mission to Kailahun District to assess damage from the border attack, and said the group planned to set up a nationwide intelligence network to help assess the security situation in the country. Some shops were closed and commercial traffic was said to be light in the city centre during the morning, but things had returned to normal by mid-afternoon. One civil society source noted that even most of the public transport vehicle drivers "who had been cajoled to go to the demo by their leader," were instead plying their routes as usual. "An initial view about the demonstrations today was that they were very stage-managed, and was more of a solidarity thing for the government and the police as opposed to calling it as it is," the source said. "It was not very well attended, and the majority of Freetonians went about their daily business uninterrupted."

The United Nations Security Council gave its backing Tuesday to a diamond certification scheme designed to combat the world trade in illicit diamonds, and to stop the gems from being used to fund wars in Africa. "Conflict diamonds," which can be mined from alluvial gravel with little more equipment than a shovel, have been blamed for fuelling civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is the result of more than two years of negotiations between diamond producing and importing countries and diamond industry representatives to set minimum international standards for national certification schemes for the trade in rough diamonds. The result was the "Interlaken Declaration," signed last November in Interlaken, Switzerland by some 45 countries. The plan calls for countries to implement mines-to-market certification systems to exclude illicit and rebel-mined diamonds.  It would penalize companies which refuse to play by the rules, and would eventually bar from the diamond trade countries which refuse to participate in the system. Human rights groups have expressed concern about the lack of an independent monitoring mechanism which they say would allow the flow of illicit gems into world markets to continue.  In a unanimous resolution, the Security Council said it supported the ongoing process to refine and implement the regime, which it called "a valuable contribution against trafficking in conflict diamonds." The Council said it looked forward to the scheme's implementation and strongly encouraged participants to work out the outstanding issues. The resolution stressed that the widest possible participation in the process was essential, and it urged all U.N. member states to join the scheme. Sierra Leone has had its own diamond certification scheme in place since October 2000.

The United Nations Security Council decided Tuesday to re-establish a Panel of Experts to monitor compliance with international sanctions against Liberia. The new Panel is to consist of no more than five persons and must begin its work by February 10. During its three-month mandate, members of the Panel will conduct a follow-up assessment mission to Liberia and neighbouring states to investigate and report on Liberia's compliance with U.N. demands, and to bring any sanctions violations to the Council's attention. The Panel will also be asked to bring any relevant information it collects during the course of the work to the attention of the countries concerned for investigation and corrective action, and to allow them the right of reply. The Security Council first imposed sanctions on Liberia in March 2001 because of that country's alleged backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The measures include an arms embargo, a ban on international travel by senior Liberian officials, and an embargo on the sale of rough Liberian diamonds. Meanwhile, Liberia's Energy Minister announced Wednesday that Liberia had put in place a diamond certification system under which diamonds would be shipped in tamper-proof accompanied by forgery-proof certificates or origin, the Associated Press reported. "Any Liberian diamonds that are not accompanied by the certificate should be banned on the world market," Energy Minister Jenkins Dunbar was quoted as saying. He said he was optimistic that U.N. sanctions would "shortly be lifted" so that Liberia could resume legal diamond exports.

With the end of Sierra Leone's in January 2002, "the nutrition situation of Sierra Leoneans seemed to be under-control," the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition said on Wednesday. It added that the situation of Liberian refugees who arrived in the first half of last year "was precarious as of August 2002."

28 January: Police in Freetown are to launch an internal investigation to find out how former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and seven others escaped arrest when police raided his west Freetown residence ten days ago. "The mandate given to the officers who went to Johnny Paul’s house was to arrest everybody found within that vicinity," assistant police spokesman Khruschev Kargbo told the Sierra Leone Web. "If Johnny Paul was found within that vicinity, why didn’t police arrest him? So now the police have decided a fact-finding investigation team on the officers on that residence on that very fateful day and did not arrest Johnny Paul." The police action followed a January 13th armed attack on a military engineering supply depot in the Freetown suburb of Wellington. 13 of the attackers were captured at the scene, but an unknown number of others escaped. Kargbo said police had received information that some of those implicated in the attack were holding a meeting at Koroma's house. "That mandated the police to storm his residence, wherein some of the people were arrested and even some few fled with Johnny Paul," he said. "And that is why we have eight people now on the run." 57 persons are now in police custody. The authorities have offered ten million leones reward for information leading to Koroma's capture, and a "reasonable amount" for the other seven. Awoko editor Kelvin Lewis reported Tuesday that Koroma had sent his wife and children to Ghana on January 12, one day before the raid on the warehouse, and that they left Accra on a plane bound for either Ivory Coast or Liberia six days later. Kargbo said he couldn't confirm the report. "What I’ve been getting from other people is that his family is still within town," he said. "I’m not sure really they went to Ghana." Kargbo said police were still investigating the motives behind the January 13 attack. "Initially we thought it was armed robbery, but later...there was (evidence) that there was some move to destabilise the state," he said. Kargbo insisted there were no weapons kept at the supply depot, although he acknowledged the attackers might have thought there were. "Nothing absolutely was taken from that warehouse because (the attackers) had to put up with stiff resistance" from police, United Nations troops and military police who went to the scene, Kargbo said. "There are no arms stored in that place. It was just an engineering depot," he added. Kargbo said the raid on Koroma's home was led by three Assistant Superintendents of Police, a military captain, and Inspector Lebbie of the Criminal Investigations Department. He dismissed an allegation made last week by the pro-government New Vision newspaper that the police official in charge of the investigation, Acting Deputy Inspector-General Brima Acha Kamara, had helped Koroma to escape based on their ethnic ties, and because the two men supposedly came from the same village in northern Sierra Leone – Madonkani, near Binkolo. Kamara, Kargbo said, was not even at the scene. "He was just monitoring the investigation," he said, adding: "Police are not working on tribal sentiment."

The Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) has named a Brazilian, Jose Antonio Goldberger Gomes Nogueira, as coach of the Leone Stars, the BBC reported on Monday. SLFA Secretary-General Alimu Bah was quoted as saying that Nogueira was expected to arrive in Freetown this week. He takes over from local coach Obi Sam Metzger, who will now work as Nogueira's assistant. The 37-year old Brazilian will receive a $5,000 monthly salary and an additional $10,000 bonus if he wins a match. Bah said Nogueira had been given a six-month contract, which was renewable based on his performance. This is Nogueira's first time to coach a national team. His last job was as coach for the Brazilian club Sao Paulo in 2001. He has also coached in Ecuador and Japan. Nogueira's first big test will be the Leone Stars' African Nations Cup qualifier against Morocco on March 29. Both Morocco and Sierra Leone are undefeated in Group 7.

The European Union said Tuesday it would give 16 million euros ($17 million) to provide safe drinking water, medicine and shelter for refugees in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The aid for the three West African countries was part of  71 million euro package for humanitarian assistance in Africa, with the bulk of the money going to the Congo and Sudan. It will be distributed by ECHO, the European Union's humanitarian office, and will be spent over the next 12 months.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reunited ten Liberian refugee children in Sierra Leone with their families in what the group described as the first cross-border family reunifications since fighting broke out in Liberia over a year ago. The children had been staying at camps in Jembe, Gerihun, Gondama, Jimmi Bagbo and Bandajuma. On Saturday, an ICRC team drove the children from Kenema to the Mano River Bridge which divides Sierra Leone and Liberia. They were handed over to ICRC Liberia delegates, who accompanied them to Monrovia. Eight of the ten children have already been reunited with their families. The remaining two family reunions are expected to take place over the next few days.

27 January: The election of a paramount chief in Sierra Leone's remote Neya Chiefdom along the country's northern border with Guinea was postponed for a second time Friday after councillors complained they had not been given sufficient notice, National Electoral Commission Secretary-General David Kai-Rogers said on Monday. He said some councillors complained they had only learned about the election on the morning of the poll. As a result, representatives from three sections were not present. Five of the eleven candidates for chief were also in Freetown. The presence of the candidates is not required for the election to take place, Kai-Rogers noted, adding that notice of the election had been given in the newspapers and on the radio. In Koinadugu District's Sengbe Chiefdom, where a second round runoff was interrupted by violence earlier this month, Alie Marah was the winner after Alhaji Fatmata Balasama Marah walked out with his supporters. Alie Marah, who came from the United States to contest, won with 148 votes. Alhaji Fatmata Balasama Marah, who had received the controversial backing of parliamentary leader S.B. Marah, received five votes. In Kalansogoia Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, Bockarie Koroma won a landslide victory in his defeat of Samuel M. Tisseh by 124 votes to two. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's High Court has reportedly dismissed an appeal, clearing the way for elections to proceed in Wara-Wara Yagala Chiefdom, Koinadugu District. 

President Kabbah has begun a tour of the provinces to recognize the country's newly-elected paramount chiefs, National Electoral Commission Secretary-General David Kai-Rogers said on Monday. Elections began last month to choose chiefs for 63 chiefdoms where traditional leaders had died over the past decade. Elections in just three chiefdoms remain on hold over appeals of councillors lists or disputes over whether a candidate has the right to stand for election. The president will be in Kenema on Monday to meet with the newly-elected chiefs from the Eastern Province. Among the number, Kai-Rogers said, will be Joseph Kormeh Braima of Yawei Chiefdom in Kailahun District. The election in Yawei went ahead last month despite a High Court injunction that it be postponed, because news of the court decision did not reach election officials in time. The results had been withheld until now. Kabbah will meet the new chiefs from the Southern Province in Bo on Tuesday. He then travels to Makeni on Wednesday to recognize the chiefs from Bombali, Kambia, Tonkolili and Koinadugu Districts in the Northern Province, and to Port Loko town on Thursday for a separate recognition of the five new chiefs from Port Loko District.

Planning is set to begin next week for Sierra Leone's first local elections in some 30 years, National Electoral Commission Secretary-General David Kai-Rogers told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday. The country's District, Municipal and Town Councils were abolished by former President Siaka Stevens and decision making was centralized in Freetown. Kai-Rogers said some in government were urging that the elections take place in March, but he said it would take about three months to update the voter registration lists. He said they would be sent back to the local registration centers to include those who had reached the legal voting age since the May 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections, and to add persons who had been missed in last year's registration. He said he hoped the elections could be held by May or June. He added that discussion was still going on over whether the elections should be partisan or non-partisan.

26 January: Sierra Leone's cricketers squared off at the Kingtom Cricket Oval Sunday for a two-day match against a visiting English MCC squad. Sunday's game was the third of five scheduled friendly competitions between the two sides with the goal of raising interest in the sport among Sierra Leonean youths. This is the third MCC tour to the West African country. Sierra Leone scored 139 runs all out, led by Allieu John "De Cox" Kamara with 43 runs and team captain Mohamed "Tombo Juice" Kamara with 32. The MCC team is 275 runs for the loss of five wickets. The game continues on Monday. The first two games of the series went to the visitors. Thursday's match against Sierra Leone Colts XI saw MCC score 318 runs for the loss of eight wickets in a limited 50 overs match. The Sierra Leoneans responded with 112 runs all out, losing to MCC by 206 runs. Sierra Leone's A Side suffered a similar fate on Friday. MCC scored 388 runs for the loss of five wickets, while the Sierra Leoneans achieved 125 runs all out. Sierra Leone's cricketers were West African champions in 2000 and 2001. The team's fortunes have suffered since then, however, after several top Sierra Leonean players failed to return home after a competition in England.

25 January: President Kabbah promised to improve conditions for members of Sierra Leone's security forces Friday, at the same time appealing to members of the country's military to support the peace process. Even as Kabbah delivered his annual Myohaung Day address to remember those soldiers who served in World War II, police were continuing in their search for fugitive former military junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and seven other former military men accused of trying to destabilise the country. The president, however, made only a brief reference in his speech to the turbulent events of the past two weeks. "You will no doubt be aware of the recent incidents involving persons who seem to be bent on returning the nation to the horrors of the past, and who seek to undo the efforts and sacrifices of those we now remember," he told the gathered soldiers. In his address, Kabbah pointed to recent strides the security forces had made towards professionalism, and he recounted efforts underway to improve living conditions for those serving in the country's military and police forces. But he also sounded a note of caution as he linked Sierra Leone's economic progress to its hard-won peace which followed a decade of civil war. "What we need above all now is to sustain that peace and security," he said. "I would like to emphasize that without peace and security we cannot create wealth and prosperity for our nation. Without peace and security, there can be no development. Thus we need peace and security to make our country a prosperous nation." Kabbah called for better communication between the government and the security forces, and he expressed his readiness to meet personally with groups of officers or enlisted men to discuss their concerns. "It is my view that there is a lot of virtue in free and frank communication at all levels...as it will prevent misconceptions and protect the forces from being misinformed and manipulated by ill-motivated individuals," he said. One of those misconceptions, he said, was that the Special Court was preparing to prosecute an unlimited number of persons who had any involvement in the country's civil war. "This is utterly false," he said. "The court will concern itself with only that small number of persons who could properly be described as the ringleaders. There will be no prosecution whatsoever for the rank and file and those whom I have often referred to as 'passengers' or 'foot soldiers' in the organizations concerned." 

24 January: Police are offering a ten million leones reward for information leading to the capture of fugitive former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, a senior police official confirmed on Friday. Koroma (pictured left) is being sought for questioning in connection with what authorities allege was "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country." He fled on Saturday during a police raid on his Freetown residence, and is currently in hiding. Asked about the reward, which totals approximately $5,000, Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web that Koroma was "a very important suspect we want to question, and that’s why we put that amount on his head." The police investigation follows an armed attack January 13th on a military supply warehouse in the Freetown suburb of Wellington. Kamara said police had not yet confirmed whether any weapons had been stolen in that raid. The attackers gained entry to the warehouse by blowing a gaping hole in the warehouse's gate. Kamara said an eyewitness told police the damage had been caused by "one grenade." Police recovered a single gun from the 13 people arrested at the scene, but Kamara said he was unable to assess whether those who escaped capture might also have been armed. He disclosed, however, that two other men were later arrested in connection with that attack. One of them led police to two additional guns. Kamara said the total number of people taken into custody through this week now stood at 49. 15, he said, were arrested in connection with the Wellington attack and 20 were detained at Koroma's residence. "The others were picked up on different days," he added. Kamara said police would soon begin releasing some of those in detention. "We intend to sort out those who do not have any strong links," he said. "That will be perhaps within this week." Kamara said most of those arrested so far, as well as eight other sought for questioning, are believed to have connections to the former AFRC military junta. "It’s not something that involves the military per se," he said. "It’s not an organized thing within the military, no. In fact, what I have been told, most of those military men arrested are those who were reintegrated. That’s the pattern we’re having." 

Deputy UNHCR High Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch ended her 11-day mission to West Africa Friday with a visit to see 183 mostly Liberian refugees who were uprooted last September when the authorities razed the shantytowns shantytowns where they lived in the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan. During her trip, Wyrsch spoke to refugees, displaced persons and returnees and met with government and humanitarian officials in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. On Thursday, Wyrsch met with Sierra Leonean refugees at the VOA Camp near the Liberian capital Monrovia, and she encouraged them to go home. According to a UNHCR statement, Wyrsch mentioned the "upbeat spirit" she had witnessed on Monday when she met returnees to Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District. The agency is attempting to find a solution to what it estimates are 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees still in the sub-region – around 17,500 of them in Liberia. Meanwhile, the United States said Friday it would donate an additional $8.4 million in emergency refugee and migration assistance funds to help the UNHCR deal with the urgent needs of refugees in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Angola. $2.1 million of that amount will go to helping Liberians who were forced to flee to neighbouring countries, and $700,000 is earmarked for the return and reintegration of Sierra Leonean refugees. According to the U.S. figures, 210,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have already gone home and another 70,000 are waiting to return.

23 January: A strong team of British cricketers is in Freetown this week on the first leg of their two-nation, eight match tour aimed at increasing interest in the Lisk-Carew postcard, 1911, "Boys' Cricket Match, Freetown, Sierra Leone"sport among young people in West Africa. The Marylebone Cricket Club, better known as simply the MCC, will take on the Sierra Leone Colts XI team Thursday in the first of their five matches at Freetown's Kingtom Oval. Team members met President Kabbah and Youth and Sports Minister Dr. Dennis Bright at a State House function on Tuesday, where they presented the president with a cricket cap. The British Council then hosted a "Meet the Team" party on Tuesday evening where Sierra Leonean and British players were able to mix. The team held a training and coaching session on Wednesday. The British High Commissioner will host an official reception on Saturday for the MCC's local Sierra Leonean fans. The team travels to Nigeria next week for three matches at the Tafewa Balewa Square Cricket Oval before returning to England. [Photo: "Boys' Cricket Match, Freetown, Sierra Leone," from a 1911 Lisk-Carew postcard.]

One of nine persons sought by police in connection with an alleged "conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country" has been arrested, according to the Awoko newspaper. Alhaji Kamanda, alias "Gunboat," described as a former AFRC operative, was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon when he showed up at CID to inquire about others who had been arrested earlier in the week, according to the newspaper and other sources contacted in Freetown.

22 January: Nine persons being sought by police for questioning over what the authorities have described as "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country," include PLP parliamentarian and former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and, according to the Awoko newspaper, Rev. George Bai Marrow, who was an unsuccessful PLP candidate in Port Loko District; former lance corporal and AFRC member Hector Bob Lahai, former warrant officer second class and AFRC member Samuel Kargbo, Fayia Kennedy, Sidique Jah, former captain and AFRC military advisor Abdulai Y.K. Mansaray, alias "Rambo"; Alhaji Kamanda, alias "Gunboat," and army Corporal Sesay, alias "Ranger." Among those in detention are said to be 13 currently serving military personnel including a captain, six former soldiers, three RUF ex-combatants, and 29 civilians including three women.

21 January: 48 persons are in detention, including 19 current or former soldiers and 29 civilians who were allegedly involved in what police have described as "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country," Nine other persons, including parliamentarian and former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, are still being sought. Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara told reporters that the arrests were related to last week's armed raid on a military warehouse in Wellington. 13 persons were arrested during that attack. Koroma fled during the police sweep and remains in hiding. In calls to several news services on Sunday, Koroma protested his innocence and alleged that the police action was part of a plot against his life. But Kamara said that Koroma would not be harmed if he surrendered to police. "The police have respect for the rule of law and individual human rights. Therefore we call on the member of parliament Johnny Paul Koroma and the others to hand themselves in," he said. "Although these people are on the run, the police are still on top of the situation and therefore we call on the general public to remain calm and go about their normal business."

Three days after police raided his home in Freetown, Johnny Paul Koroma was still managing to elude the authorities, Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara acknowledged on Tuesday. "We’re still on the search," Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web by telephone. Kamara said the former junta leader had not been in touch with police since his flight on Saturday. But he said that despite Koroma's claim in a Sunday BBC interview that he was "beyond Lungi," police believed he was still in the capital. "I don’t think (he's left Freetown)," Kamara said. "I believe he’s around." Kamara said it was still not clear how Koroma managed to escape Saturday's police raid on his residence, but he disclosed that he did not leave in his vehicle. Koroma told news services he fled in fear of his life after police fired shots outside his house. Kamara said he believed that only a single shot was fired by a policeman during a scuffle. The raid, he added, was conducted by the Sierra Leone Police Criminal Investigations Division, backed by the Operational Support Division. 18 people were arrested in the sweep of Koroma's house, including two ex-AFRC officers: "Brig. 55" and "Brig. Gullit," who were reportedly implicated in last week's armed attack on a military supply depot in Wellington. The pair had been detained by police the previous week for questioning at an unfinished house where they were "squatting." The house belonged to former Sierra Leonean President Joseph Saidu Momoh. The two subsequently sought shelter with Koroma. Kamara said "Gullit" and "55" were currently being interrogated police, but that it was "too early to say" whether they would implicate Koroma in any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, he said, the number of persons wanted in connection with the Wellington attack has grown to nine.

Haja Miatta Sogual Koroma was the winner of Monday's chieftaincy election in Peje Chiefdom, Pujehun District, defeating Madam Kadie Malikie Koroma in the second round by 96 votes to 62. In Bonthe District's Sittia Chiefdom, Gibrilla Ansumana Fai scored a runoff victory over Samuel Joe Nglalo Brandon, 84 votes to 48. In Friday's results, Mohamed Kailondo Banya won a second-round victory in Kailahun District's Luawa Chiefdom. Banya, the brother of the former foreign minister, polled 1,060 votes in his win over Lamin Vonjo Ngobeh, who had 583. In two elections Friday in Bo District, Foday Raka Mahoi defeated Mohamed Cole by 184 votes to 84 for the chieftaincy of Ribbi Chiefdom, while Valunia Chiefdom's chieftaincy went to James Bobor Vonjoe over Abdulrahman Kamara Vonjoe in the second round by 214 votes to 192. The results for Kwamabai Krim in Bonthe District were not available on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the postponed election in Koinadugu District's Neya Chiefdom is set to go ahead on Wednesday, with a new Declaration of Right and the vote to be held on the same day. 

Deputy UNHCR High Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch was in Freetown Tuesday as part of her 11-day tour of the agency's operations in West Africa. During her two-day stopover, Wyrsch toured Liberian refugee camps in Jimmi Bagbo and Largo. She also visited Kenema and Nyandehu village to view successful reintegration programmes for Sierra Leonean returnees. She was scheduled to meet with President Kabbah later Tuesday. According to the UNHCR, there are still some 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees "scattered around the region" – 73,000 of them in neighbouring Guinea. Wyrsch has already visited Guinea on her current tour. She leaves for Liberia on Wednesday and will arrive in the Ivory Coast on Thursday.

20 January: Security forces are still searching for fugitive former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who fled his Juba Hill residence on Saturday when security forces showed up to search his house. He is still in hiding. Police have alleged that the junta-leader-turned-parliamentarian was involved in "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country," but they have given few details. Koroma, by telephone, has denied the charges. On Sunday, Koroma called the BBC and claimed he was "beyond Lungi...trying to head north." A police source on Monday dismissed that claim and suggested that Koroma was still in the capital. "It's a lie," he said, adding: "We'll get him." Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday that the ex-junta leader had been linked to last week's armed raid on a military supply depot through his association with persons implicated in that attack who were said to be staying with him. They are reported to be two ex-AFRC "honourables" – former Staff Sergeant Alex Tamba Brima, alias "Brigadier Gullit," and former Sergeant Santigie Kanu, alias "Brigadier 55." Brima and Kanu were among more than a dozen "squatters" who were briefly detained by police earlier this month at an unfinished house belonging to former President Joseph Saidu Momoh. They were questioned and released. The pair then reportedly sought shelter with Koroma. Koroma told the BBC that when police showed up at his house on Saturday they told him they were looking for "Gullit and 55." Brima and Kanu were among 18 persons taken into custody. The official Sierra Leone news agency reported Monday that two other former AFRC members, Sammy Kargbo and Hector Bob Lahai, were also being sought by police. Koroma told news services he was on the run because of plots against his life. A police official dismissed his claim. Meanwhile, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported that Freetown was calm Monday and that security checkpoints which had been set up around the city over the weekend had been dismantled.

In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Monday, Deputy Defence Minister Joe Blell stressed that the military was not involved in the investigation into last week's armed attack on a military supply depot. "That’s a civil matter," he said. "We just decided that, look, let the police (handle it). You see, particularly the president is trying to establish police primacy in civil matters." But Blell did tell the BBC that if fugitive former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma was not guilty of anything as he has claimed, then he should turn himself in to the authorities. "Koroma is a citizen of this country and he is called for questioning and that’s about it," Blell said. "He should give himself up the police." Blell said he wasn't sure if Koroma would be detained, saying that was a matter for the police to decide. But he dismissed Koroma's claims that his life was in danger. "I don’t see any reason why he should be afraid of his safety or his life," he said. "A lot of people have been called in for questioning, and they are all alive. I strongly believe, and so does the government of the day, in democratic principles." Blell denied there was any attempt by the government to frame Koroma, who is now an opposition member in parliament. "I can tell you from the government’s point of view nobody is trying to set anybody up," he said. "He is the one creating unnecessary problems for himself."

Sierra Leone is one of 13 United Nations member states which have not yet submitted a report on their efforts to combat terrorism, British U.N. Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said on Monday. According to the Associated Press, the United Nations Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution calling on all nations to ratify and implement a dozen anti-terrorism treaties and protocols, especially a 1999 treaty designed to crack down on those who finance terrorism. Greenstock, who chairs a Security Council committee which monitors what governments are doing to fight terrorism, said two of the countries – Liberia and East Timor – "have not yet even picked up the telephone." The other 11, he said, were working on reports. They include Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, the Marshall Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. "After March 31 it must be clear that any non-reporting state will be held to be non-compliant" with a Security Council resolution demanding information on anti-terrorism efforts from member states, Greenstock said.

Sierra Leone's national football team in rated 35th among 51 African teams in the latest CAF (Confederation of African Football) rankings, according to the Gambian newspaper, the Independent. The first five places were taken by Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Morocco. At the other end were the Seychelles, Somalia, Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea and Djibouti. The Lone Stars of Liberia took the 19th position, and Guinea was ranked 28th.

A seven-member delegation from the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has arrived in Freetown to consult with Sierra Leonean health officials on the status of HIV/AIDS and Lassa Fever, the U.S. Embassy in Freetown said on Monday. The team will focus on the preparation of a national assessment of HIV/AIDS, including care for victims of the disease and ways to prevent its spread. The experts will also review the status of Sierra Leone's efforts to control Lassa Fever. "For 21 years, from 1976 to 1997, CDC was engaged in Lassa Fever research in eastern Sierra Leone, including measures to care for Lassa Fever patients and to reduce the incidence of the disease through public health education. The war forced a halt to CDC's efforts before they could complete their research to develop an effective vaccine," the statement said.

19 January: Police are searching for opposition parliamentarian and former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma because some of those sought in connection with last week's armed attack on a military supply depot were alleged to be living at his house, acting police Deputy Inspector-General Brima Acha Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web. "We would like to question (Koroma) but he ran away," Kamara said. "The investigation (into) this attack on the 13th, we have certain names. We are trying to find these people, and we got information that they are all in his house. You see now the link." Kamara added that Monday's attack was not a military-led operation. "It was a mixture of people," he said. The Deputy Inspector-General said he could not confirm reports that some of Koroma's family members were among those arrested, and he said it was too early to release the names of those in detention. The BBC, however, quoted Kamara as telling an independent radio station that two of those taken into custody were ex-AFRC commanders "Brigadier 55" and "Brigadier Gullit" – two of the reputed leaders of the bloody January 1999 attack on Freetown. Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web he did not know how Koroma escaped, but he insisted the former junta leader was aware that police were searching for him. "He knew," Kamara said. "Up to now he has not surfaced." Meanwhile, police are continuing to mount roadblocks and to search vehicles throughout the capital, Radio France International reported.

Johnny Paul Koroma told the Reuters news agency Sunday that he was on the run because police had attacked his home in the west Freetown suburb of Juba Hill. "I am alive and safe. I escaped because they opened fire on my residence," he said. "I did not have anything to do with the armed attack on the military installation at Wellington...I am just an innocent man." In an interview with the BBC, Koroma said he made a statement to police, but had already returned home when a joint team of police officers and soldiers turned up at his residence. "They were surprised when I came out. They thought I was not in the house," he said. "When I came out I asked them what happened, what is wrong for them to come and just attack my house like that? So they said they are looking for (former AFRC commanders) Gullit and 55. I said okay, if they are looking for them, fine, but that’s not the way to just come and attack my house like that." Koroma said the security forces detained a number of people they found at his residence. "There were some visitors, they took them away," he said. "There were some security personnel, they took them away, and some came to seek refuge because they raided their house and they came to my place." A different version was reported by Kelvin Lewis for the Voice of America. "Johnny Paul explained that he had spoken to the first set of policemen who went to conduct a search at his house," Lewis said. "He said a second group arrived who opened fire, and that was when he escaped. He refused to elaborate on how he escaped." Koroma told the BBC he was now "beyond Lungi... trying to head north, further north." The former junta leader, who claimed a seat in parliament last year in Freetown's West-West constituency, claimed Saturday's raid on his home was part of a government plan to assassinate him. "I’m sure they are looking at me as a political (threat), particularly when I formed a new party, and I happened to make it to parliament," he said. "They are not happy with that. They want to find a way of getting me out of the scene, just because after the elections I carried the security votes. And because of that, any time there is an incident concerning security, they will point fingers at me. Even if it doesn’t concern me, they will find a way of manipulating it so that it will seem as if I am [in] the picture." According to Lewis, Koroma said he knew of several plots to kill him, including a "plan to inject him with lethal poison after he’s indicted for the Special Court." Koroma called the accusations against him "a witch hunt," and he said he wanted the United Nations and the British authorities to intervene "because they know exactly what is going on." Said Koroma: "They’ve witnessed some of these things. They knew that some time back they attempted to [hit] me. Some time back they attempted to assassinate me using my security. They knew exactly what is going on. So it’s time for them to interfere because we want this process to hold. We’ve worked very, very hard for this peace to hold, so we have to consolidate it. By doing these kinds of things it will be difficult to consolidate the peace."

Former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma has escaped arrest and is on the run from police, news services reported on Sunday. According to the Associated Press, Police Deputy Inspector-General Brima Acha Kamara told an independent radio station Sunday that Koroma was now a wanted man. "Johnny Paul Koroma escaped arrest," he said. He called on Koroma "wherever he is, to give himself up." Kamara said Saturday that an investigation into last Monday's armed attack on a military supply depot in Wellington had linked Koroma to what he called a "conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country." The Reuters news agency quoted prisons officials as saying that 18 people, including soldiers and former combatants, were detained Saturday in a raid on Koroma's residence. A UNAMSIL source told Reuters that Koroma got away. "Following his escape, a heavy search has been carried out along the Freetown peninsula, but there is no sign of him," the source said. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, security was stepped up in the capital Saturday night "with roadblocks mounted by U.N. troops, especially in the western part of town."

President Kabbah called for calm Saturday as he confirmed that "a number of people have been arrested for activities which are not in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone." Kabbah made his remarks at a farewell reception for the commander of the International Military Assistance and Training Team (IMATT), British Army Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston, who is leaving after a year of helping to train and restructure Sierra Leone's army. "The details of the offences and the names of the people involved will be announced later," Kabbah said. "In the meantime, I would advise all Sierra Leoneans to go about their business peacefully and calmly, sleep and stop worrying about their security and safety. They are in very good hands."

18 January: At least fourteen persons, reportedly including former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, have been arrested at Koroma's Juba Hill residence, news services reported. The arrests were part of a sweep by security forces in connection with last Monday's attack on a military supply depot in the Freetown suburb of Wellington. Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara told reporters the raid came after an investigation into the January 13 attack uncovered "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country," the Associated Press said in its report. The Reuters news agency quoted a "senior diplomat" as saying that Koroma and some family members, together with some serving soldiers and ex-combatants, had been taken into custody. Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis put the number of persons detained at 17, and he said the arrests came after a search of Koroma's house turned up two rifles and military camouflage uniforms. Freetown is a weapons-free zone. Lewis quoted police as saying no explanation had been received from Koroma regarding the weapons because the operation was still going on. "They are still searching his place, and they are still searching other places for arms and ammunition and wherever the evidence has led them," he said. Johnny Paul Koroma sought the presidency in last May's elections, but he finished a distant third in a field of ten candidates. He did manage, however, to secure a parliamentary seat to represent his Peace and Liberation Party from Freetown's West-West constituency. Koroma is a former military officer, and much of his electoral support was thought to have come from the soldiers who live at military barracks in the western part of the city. Meanwhile, a security sweep which began late Friday is continuing, and the U.S. Embassy has now advised American nationals to stay indoors during the evening hours throughout this weekend.

17 January: A security operation was underway in Freetown Friday evening in connection with this week's armed attack on a military supply depot in Wellington, a U.S. diplomat told the Sierra Leone Web. He said American citizens in Freetown had been informed about the operation and advised to stay indoors. "The situation is calm as far as the Americans are concerned and they understand why they need to stay in," the diplomat said.

An explosion shook Sierra Leone's capital early Friday afternoon, creating among some residents and causing many traders to close their shops. In Wellington, where people are still jittery after thieves attempted to shoot their way into a military supply depot earlier in the week, some people gathered a few belongings and fled their homes. One Freetown resident told the Sierra Leone Web he thought he heard "bombs or heavy machine guns," while another spoke of an explosion which rocked the neighbourhood. Police put out a statement later in the day explaining that the Sierra Leonean military and IMATT, the International Military Assistance Training Team, had blown up unused military ordinance at Hastings, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana told the Sierra Leone Web. This was subsequently confirmed by presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy, who added that the exercise would continue until February 15, along with live firing exercises. Fofana said the army had not made any advance announcement of the operation, nor had they coordinated with the police afterwards to explain the cause of the explosion. Daramy said radio stations had aired the announcement as a public notice. "I understand people who had not heard the announcement on radio became confused, but radio stations were quick to repeat the announcement and put out statements in order to allay any fear on people’s minds," he said.

Al-Ameen Mustapha Kanneh won the chieftaincy election in Koya Chiefdom, Kenema District Thursday, more than a month after the vote had been originally scheduled. Kanneh outpolled Mohamed Vandi Sellu by 206 votes to 63. The election was originally supposed to have taken place on December 13.

Sierra Leone's Special Court has begun relocating to its new, still unfinished site in the Freetown suburb of New England, since the war crimes tribunal is at the point of outgrowing its temporary offices at the Bank of Sierra Leone complex. The  court, which is mandated to bring to justice those who are deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, will expand in coming months from 70 employees to over 200. "We are going to be operating in a construction site for the next six months," said Court Registrar Robin Vincent (pictured right). "But we are on our way to becoming an international criminal court on schedule to complete our mandate." The offices are being built on 11.5 acres of land provided by the Sierra Leone government. A local company was contracted to clear the land, which was rocky and covered with thick undergrowth, and also had a number of abandoned buildings on it. The company erected a perimeter fence and renovated two cell blocks which remained from a former Prisons Department training school. 188 prefabricated container-sized structures arrived from Slovenia in December, and a team of Slovenian technicians arrived in Freetown to help assemble them into fifteen office blocks. So far only the Registry – the court's administrative division – has moved into the new offices.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3150 / 3350. Frandia: [$] 2300 / 2400 [£] 3150 / 3350. Continental: [$] 2350 / 2480 [£] 3250 / 3700. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2380 / 2400 [£] 3400 / 3500.

16 January: Patrick Jaia Modibor Kaikai is the new paramount chief in Pujehun District's Kpanga Kagonde Chiefdom. He defeated Christiana Salimatu Mikailu Jah, the sister of the former Minister of Works, by 336 votes to 209 in the second round of voting. Kpanga Kagonde includes the major southern town of Pujehun. In Kissi Kama Chiefdom, Kailahun District, it was a straight contest between Tamba Okeke Jabba and Amara Mbayo Tengbe which was won by Jabba 160 votes to 117. In Bo District's Wunde Chiefdom Mohamed Tshombe Kargoi won over Sidique Brima Dabor by 92 votes to 78 in a runoff election. Meanwhile, the postponed election for Koya Chiefdom was set to take place on Thursday. The postponed vote in Lalansongoia Chiefdom will now take place on January 24, as will the second round runoff for Koinadugu Chiefdom's Sengbe Chiefdom. That election was interrupted by violence last week, with supporters of one candidate alleging bias on the part of the electoral commissioner. The runoff will now be conducted by the Provincial Secretary for the South and the electoral commissioner responsible for the Southern Province. Two other chiefdom elections, Dodo in Kenema District and Kalansogoia in Tonkolili District, are on hold pending appeals to the High Court.

Some of the most horrific atrocities committed against civilians during Sierra Leone's decade of violence were the crimes which targeted women and girls, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released on Thursday. The 75-page report, "We'll Kill You If You Cry: Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict," is based on hundreds of interviews with victims, witnesses and officials. It relates in horrifying detail the murder, rape, mutilation, abduction and degradation suffered by thousands of women and girls from all over Sierra Leone, of all ages, and from every socio-economic group. Most of the atrocities detailed in the report were committed by the country's various rebel forces: the RUF, the rebel solders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and the AFRC splinter group known as the West Side Boys. Most, that is, but not all. Human Rights Watch also looks at gender violence committed by members of pro-government forces and militias, and even by international peacekeepers. And while a war crimes tribunal and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission have been set up to address the issue of impunity for such crimes, to date, no one has been held accountable for crimes against women or for any other human rights abuses committed during the war in Sierra Leone. "The war in Sierra Leone became infamous for the amputation of hands and arms," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. "Rape may not be visible in the same way, but it is every bit as devastating." It may also be among the hardest crimes for the victims to report. With limited resources, and with inadequate attention given to the victims of sexual violence, women and girls may not get the help they need to put their  own personal horrors from the war behind them. "The lack of attention to conflict-related sexual violence means that few assistance programs have been established for women and girls who were subjected to sexual violence, including sexual slavery," the report said. "Survivors not only live with the severe physical and mental health consequences of the abuses suffered, but also fear ongoing non-conflict-related sexual violence, largely perpetrated with impunity." [Accompanying photo is of girls from the Grafton War Wounded Camp who were victims of non-sexually related violence.]

There is no way to know for sure how many Sierra Leonean women and girls have been the victims of war-related sexual violence, except that the numbers are huge, a Human Rights Watch spokesperson said on Thursday. "It’s impossible to give any accurate statistics, but we’re certainly talking about thousands of women and possibly tens of thousands of women," Bronwen Manby told the BBC. "Over the course of the entire decade, there is a survey by Physicians for Human Rights which thinks that it may even be hundreds of thousands of women who were subjected to sexual violence in the course of the Sierra Leone conflict." That violence was often extreme, including murder, rape, mutilation, abduction and sex slavery at the hands of combatants. "We’re documenting hundreds of cases of sexual violence committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone including rape, which means sexual assault," she said. "The standard definition of assault is raping women, but also with foreign objects, in some cases with bayonets, with knives. Also we have horrific cases of rebel soldiers for example betting on the sex of a fetus in a pregnant women, cutting the woman open to see what the sex of the fetus was, and the woman of course, both woman and fetus, then dying. We have many cases also of women being abducted to be the ‘wives’ of rebel soldiers and kept with them for months if not years." Manby said the Human Rights Watch report released on Thursday was a compilation of research the group had conducted since it first opened an office in Freetown shortly after the January 1999 rebel attack on the city. "What we’re hoping is that at this point we’ll feed into the justice mechanisms that have been established in Sierra Leone," she said. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is expected to prosecute no more than a handful of the ringleaders it deems to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in the country. Manby said it was important for those indictments to include information on sexual violence, so that "those who are prosecuted be held to account for sexual violence as for the other violations that took place in Sierra Leone such as amputations, not to mention murder." 

15 January: Sierra Leonean refugee children in Liberia are allegedly being forcibly recruited by pro-government forces to fight against LURD rebels, the BBC reported on Wednesday. According to correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, authorities at the VOA Camp, located at the site of the old Voice of America relay station in a suburb of the capital Monrovia, confirmed that seven refugee boys had been abducted. Other reports suggest that the actual number may be higher. Paye-Layleh said twin brothers were abducted several days ago by armed men who arrived at the camp in a pickup truck at sunset. "They are alleged to have grabbed the two boys and forced them into the back of the pickup after tearing off their clothes and assaulting them in the presence of the police," he said. "The two boys were driven to the highway towards the region where the government forces and LURD rebels are currently fighting. They were forced to take up arms, but one of them fled into the bush with a rifle and he is still missing." Another youth said he showed his captors his refugee school identification card in the hope that they would release him. "Instead the men told me I had learnt enough from books and carried me away to learn the use of the RPG (rocket-propelled grenade)," the boy was quoted as saying.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report Tuesday naming 23 groups in five countries which violate international standards for the protection of war affected children. The five nations, all of them already on the U.N.'s watch list, were Liberia, Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. But Annan said the report also names countries not on the Security Council's agenda, including Sierra Leone, Colombia, Nepal, Sudan, Angola and Kosovo. "By exposing those who violate standards for the protection of children to the light of public scrutiny, we are serving notice that the international community is finally willing to back expressions of concern with action," Annan said. In a day-long debate on children and armed conflict in which more than 45 speakers participated, Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs, Ambassador Sylvester Rowe (pictured left), suggested that the problem of former child combatants could be addressed through the establishment of an oversight institution for the welfare of children in a post-conflict situation. Rowe was quoted as saying that Sierra Leone, as a country which had just emerged from a brutal conflict in which children were both perpetrators and victims, knew that urgent action must be taken to put an end to such practices through the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of ex-combatants. 

14 January: Kakua Chiefdom, which includes Sierra Leone's Southern Provincial headquarters of Bo, has chosen Rashid Kamanda Bongay as its new paramount chief in a tense marathon election. Polling officials were quoted as saying that the voting which began on Monday only ended at 5:00 Tuesday morning. Bongay picked up enough support in a second-round runoff to defeat Boima Prince Lappia by 445 votes to 303. In contrast, the election in Kono District's Gbense Chiefdom where trouble had been anticipated passed off smoothly, with Sahr Fengai Kaimachende winning by an overwhelming margin over two rivals. Kaimachende received 1,093 votes in his win over Komba Bona Morgbunbesi with 130 and Fania Mark Sahr-Tholie with 63. In Briama Chiefdom in Kambia District, Yiki Arafan Dumbuya defeated Foday Sulaiman Dumbuya by 96 votes to 52 in a runoff between the two leading candidates from the the first round of voting.

For fifteen days in December some 70 statement-takers from Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) fanned out the country, visiting 34 chiefdoms to take statements from both the victims and the perpetrators in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. The result, said TRC commissioner William Schabas, was at last some good news for the oft-beleaguered commission. "Already, preliminary analysis of the 1,320 valid statements that were taken begins to provide a portrait of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law from the beginning of the conflict in 1991 until the present day," Schabas wrote the Sierra Leone Web. "After the pilot phase, which took place in December, statement-taking resumed on 11 January and will continue full time until the end of March." The reports given to the TRC to date include information on approximately 3,000 victims who suffered about 4,000 human rights violations, including abductions, amputations, killing, torture, rape and sexual abuse, and looting, Schabas said. More than one third of the deponents were women, as were almost one third of the victims. The data includes more than 200 cases of rape and sexual violence, and information on 1,000 killings. Approximately 10 percent of the cases deal with child perpetrators. The TRC was first agreed to in the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, and was established in law two years later with a view to creating an impartial record of the human rights violations which took place during Sierra Leone's ten years of civil war. It will also strive to address impunity, to promote healing and reconciliation, and to prevent a recurrence of the abuses. Schabas said the quality of the statements received so far was excellent, and he suggested that the commission was at last on course. "This shows that the TRC approach will work, and that although we have been struggling with various management and funding issues for many months, the objective conditions are extremely favourable to our work," he said. "The stories in the statements are extremely gripping. To our surprise but also our satisfaction, we are finding a quite significant number of perpetrators among the statements."

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has expelled one of its members, Rokel Times Managing Editor Desmond Conteh, for attempting to extort money from the management of the Cape Sierra Hotel, SLAJ president Ibrahim El-Tayyib Bah confirmed on Tuesday. According to Bah, Conteh and another reporter threatened to publish a story accusing the hotel management of smuggling cocaine, but offered to suppress it for $500. The extortion attempt was caught on video tape and handed over to SLAJ. "I set up a committee to review the contents of the video and then I also instructed the committee to summon Mr. Conteh," Bah said. "Mr. Conteh came and said everything in the video was correct. He (admitted he had) made a blunder by making those demands, and those sort of things. We said 'okay, if you have no argument to put, can you put this thing in writing?' He did, and we reviewed the matter. We thought it was very, very serious misconduct for him to have demanded money to suppress a story." Bah said the image of  journalists in Sierra Leone "is so tattered" that the organization had to take steps in order to restore credibility to the profession. An attempt to contact Conteh for this story was unsuccessful. Conteh also worked as a stringer for Sierra Leone's government-owned radio station, Radio 98.1 – but no longer, according to acting station manager Beresford Taylor. "We don’t think it will be good for the image of the station or for the profession to have him working here, because it’s all over the place that he did something very wrong," Taylor said. "As a journalist you cannot do a thing like that. It’s unacceptable." Also implicated in the extortion attempt was Malik Sesay, a reporter for The Executive. Bah said Sesay was not a SLAJ member, but that he would call the paper's editor by Wednesday "to see how best we can handle that case." In theory, such cases would ordinarily be handled by Sierra Leone's Independent Media Commission (IMC), but Bah said SLAJ was forced to act because the IMC was "in tatters."  "At the moment there are about 11 members," he said. "More than half of those have resigned because their term of office has expired, and they have made no effort to inform us, because we should be taking part in the appointment of members. The leadership of the IMC is non-functional – they have no initiative to address the sorry situation of the media in this country."

Ivory Coast's Consul-General to Liberia has accused former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie of involvement in his country's five month old civil war, news services reported on Tuesday. In a letter to the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Monrovia, Ivorian envoy Prosper Kotchi claimed Bockarie was fighting as part of a rebel group in the west of Ivory Coast. According to the BBC, the Kotchi alleged that Bockarie had gone on a looting spree, bringing his looted property to the border with Liberia for sale. He added that the purpose of his letter was to inform the Secretary-General about developments, so that the U.N. could declare Bockarie to be a wanted man. He provided no evidence to back his claim, and there has been no independent confirmation of Bockarie's whereabouts. The former rebel commander broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999 and fled with some of his followers into Liberian exile. In February 2001, in response to United Nations demands to expel him, the Liberian authorities announced he had left their country, but they declined to say where he had gone. "Our concern was not where he went, who he went to, but the fact that he was out of Liberia," Liberia's foreign minister said at the time. In the past two years, varying unconfirmed and so far unverifiable sightings have placed Bockarie in Liberia, Libya, Burkina Faso, Ghana and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Deputy UNHCR High Commissioner Mary Ann Wyrsch leaves for a four nation eleven-day mission to West Africa, during which she will look at efforts to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees, the agency said in a statement. Wyrsch will also meet with Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia and with recent returnees in Sierra Leone.

 

13 persons, including two active duty military personnel, are in custody and police are still searching for others involved in an early morning attack Monday on an army supply depot in eastern Freetown, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Tuesday. "Senior officers of the Sierra Leonean Police last night they told me that the dragnet is very open and they are not sure who and who were involved in this attack on the Army Engineering Unit at the Aureol Tobacco Company in Wellington, and that they would try and apprehend as many people as possible who are connected to that arrest," Fofana said, adding: "But I am very certain now from my investigations that at least two army officers were arrested among the 13 so far named to have been involved in the attack. But we don’t know exactly what their motivation was and who the people were, apart from the two soldiers." A slightly different version of events was provided by Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis, who said that a group of about 25 men including two soldiers, some of whom arrived in two taxis, "overpowered the two guards at the gate whose guns did not have any bullets and forced them to show them the ammunition store."  "By then the other soldiers in the compound had radioed the military headquarters for reinforcements," Lewis said. "14 of the attackers, including the two serving soldiers, have been arrested." 

Sierra Leonean soldiers repelled a cross-border raid by Liberian gunmen Friday on the eastern village of Manduvulahun in Kailahun District, according to a Ministry of Defence statement. The gunmen reportedly fired their weapons and looted the village. Residents were forced to carry goods for the attackers, but eventually escaped. "In the ensuing attack, there was an exchange of fire with troops of the Republic of Sierra Leone armed forces, sending the attackers away," the statement said. The ministry said there was only minor destruction of property and no injuries. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana quoted a military source as saying a number of houses had been burnt down in Manduvulahun, but that the situation had been brought under control. The Associated Press quoted UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Galadima Shekari as saying the army "reacted promptly and precisely." Said Shekari: "They were sending signals to the perpetrators that the next time you do it, this is what will happen to you." 

13 January: Armed men attempted to force their way into a military supply depot in eastern Freetown early Monday, resulting in a brief exchange of gunfire between soldiers and intruders, and the capture of 13 members of the gang by army engineers, Police Inspector-General Keith Biddle told the Sierra Leone Web late Monday. The reason for the attack was not immediately clear, but news sources quoted police officials as saying they did not believe it was politically motivated. Biddle said the depot, which is located in the old Aureol Tobacco Company warehouse on the main highway to Krootown towards Waterloo, is a military storehouse for uniforms, boots and other logistics. He said he was unaware whether weapons were stored in the depot, but he suggested that if there were it was likely not many. "There’s obviously armed soldiers there with weapons, so there will be some weapons there," he said. "But I know it’s not the main ammunition dump and arms dump." The Associated Press reported that armed gunmen, including two soldiers, overwhelmed unarmed guards at the "armory" shortly after 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. The news service said police and U.N. peacekeepers responded to the sound of the gunfire and apprehended some of the attackers, while others escaped into the night. But Biddle said it appeared only one of the intruders was actually armed. The man reportedly fired his gun at the soldiers, resulting in a short two-to-three minute exchange of fire. It was the soldiers guarding the warehouse who made the arrests, Biddle said, adding that police and U.N. peacekeepers came along later to control the scene. Three or four of the attackers managed to have escape over the wall, and police are still searching for them. Soldiers interrupted the attempted robbery, and nothing was taken in the attack. 

The civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, which has sent observers to monitor the country's chieftaincy elections, said in a letter last week that the manner in which electoral officials have disqualified individual candidates or indeed ruling houses "does not appear to follow any pattern but is left largely to their discretion." In some chiefdoms, the group said, when chiefdom officials produced Amalgamation Agreements they were accepted, but in other cases they have not. There have also been various complaints about interference from Freetown, and in some cases CGG field officers said petitions had been ignored or had not been addressed adequately. "Whether some of these claims and allegations are right or not, the issue remains that groups of people in various chiefdoms feel that they have not been dealt with in a just manner as far as these elections are concerned, and have expressed a willingness to resort to violence if they continue to be marginalized," the letter said. "This, of course would only prove disastrous in the event that any thing of this nature occurs."

As Sierra Leone seeks to elect paramount chiefs for 63 chiefdoms where traditional rulers have died during the country's decade of civil war, allegations have surfaced of government interference in some of the chieftaincy elections. Even before the elections began in December, President Kabbah warned his ministers and members of parliament about interfering in the election of traditional chiefs, his spokesman noted on Monday. "He advised all government officials not to interfere with the process...(except for) officials who by virtue of their role would have to be involved in conducting the whole election," spokesman Kanji Daramy (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web. "I think what he meant to say was that people should not interfere, because one of the causes of the rebel war has been categorized to be politicization of the institution of the chieftaincy." But the issue has not been an easy one for some politicians whose family ties – and their bases of support – are in the rural towns and villages. One of these is Dr. Prince Harding, and he spoke to the Sierra Leone Web late Monday. Harding (lower left) is Sierra Leone's Minister of Transport and Communications, and the Secretary-General of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. He is also a member of a ruling house in Bo District's Baoma Chiefdom. "I think it’s good for government as a policy to come out that government hasn’t got a candidate," he said. "This thing, as we said, government hasn’t got a candidate, and it’s good that that message went round." But Harding said this policy had been misinterpreted by some to mean that cabinet ministers and parliamentarians should avoid their home towns completely during the election period – a period which coincided with the Christmas holiday, when people traditionally come together with their families. He pointed out, too, that some government officials were also chiefdom councillors, entitled to cast a vote in their chieftaincy election. Harding is himself a councillor and he is also a member of the Chiefdom Committee which organizes and implements local policy. "I don’t see any problems going there quietly and voting and come out, if you are a councillor," he said. "We should not make rules set for one group of people, because I don’t think it’s right to disenfranchise a minister or a parliamentarian." And Harding went still further: A government official as an individual should be able to back a candidate for chieftaincy, he said, but he should avoid giving the impression that his backing amounted to government support. "If your uncle is contesting, you can go there quietly perhaps, talk to him, and give him your support and come back," he said. "But do not go from village to village to campaign, because it will not differentiate you from your role as a member of the family and also as government functionary." Harding's cousin was an ultimately unsuccessful candidate in Baoma Chiefdom. The minister observed that when the candidate is a family member, it presents the government official with a difficult dilemma. "Our own situation is like this," he said. "Your people, they see you as their protector. In terms of situations like this, they expect you to come there and to fight for them, because you are going to fight for your own house. So it’s a difficult thing. How do you do it? If you don’t do it, they say you have abandoned them in the times of need, and whenever you go there for their help, they will not support you. And this is the problem with a lot of us: When you explain to them they do not understand. But at least I feel you can go there and talk to them and let them understand. Whatever help you have financially you can give them and come back quietly. But if you go and begin to campaign from village to village, town to town, then definitely you are going to send a signal, a wrong signal that this is a government candidate." Harding drove himself to his chiefdom, cast his vote, and returned to Freetown the following day. Harding said if he had politicized the campaign, his cousin likely would have won, but he insisted it would have been the wrong thing to do. "I was very happy," he said. "Not that I wanted him to lose, but at least it sent a message that not because he’s my cousin he should win. But the answer to that question is that it’s wrong if you politicize it, but I’m telling you (the government) will not do it, because it will not be in the interests of the chieftaincy." And, he said, that message seemed to be getting through. In every case where a candidate was alleged to have government backing, Harding said, that candidate lost. Spokesman Kanji Daramy stressed that in general, there had been few problems with meddling by lawmakers. "With the exception of maybe one or two, the vast majority of the chieftaincy elections have been conducted without much interference," he said. He acknowledged, however, that "there’s a very thin line between chieftaincy matters and politics, one way or the other."

12 January: The vote to elect a new paramount chief for Koinadugu District's Neya Chiefdom was postponed Friday because of a challenge to the Declaration of Right and a dispute over the councillors list, National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers told the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday. Meanwhile, he said, elections in the south and east went on as scheduled. In Gallines Perri Chiefdom, Pujehun District, Issa Bimba Kamara, the brother of businessman and former cabinet minister Lawrence Kamara, easily outpolled Wokie Jonjo Massaquoi in the second round, winning by 278 votes to 171. In Kailahun District, Syril Foray Gondor defeated Mohamed Jajua Kutubu for the Upper Bambara chieftaincy by 540 votes to 177. Last Wednesday's election in Mongo Chiefdom, Koinadugu District, was won by Foday Saio Marah, who outpolled Major Ben Kekura Marah 212 votes to 161. 

Electoral officials who departed from Freetown Sunday to oversee the chieftaincy election in Kono District's diamond-rich Gbense Chiefdom will pick up additional security in Makeni, National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers said. Gbense includes Sierra Leone's second largest city of Koidu. The situation has reportedly been tense in the chiefdom due to the disqualification of one popular candidate, Rev. Sahr Emmanuel Bona, in a second Declaration of Right. His supporters are contesting the decision.

President Kabbah will recognize the country's newly-elected paramount chiefs in ceremonies to be held around the country at the end of the month. A ceremony will be held in Kenema for the chiefs from the eastern region on January 27 and in Bo for the chiefs from southern region on January 28. A ceremony for all of the new northern chiefs except for those from Port Loko District will be held in Makeni on the 29th. The five new Port Loko District chiefs will be recognized in a separate ceremony at Port Loko town on January 30th.

10 January: Members of the United Nations Security Council expressed concern Friday over the slow pace of the Sierra Leone government's efforts to re-establish its authority over some areas of the country, including the diamond-producing areas. In a press statement released by Security Council President Jean-Marc de La Sablière of France, Council members urged the government to make rapid progress in taking control of the country. This, the statement said, should include the adoption of a policy for the diamond sector. Members of the 15-member council welcomed progress made by the U.N. peacekeeping force in restructuring and downsizing, and encouraged this to continue. But with the phased withdrawal of the U.N. force, members stressed the importance of the Government of Sierra Leone in continuing to strengthen its army and the police force, including the provision of adequate logistical and infrastructural support, so that Sierra Leone could soon assume full responsibility for its own security. Fighting in neighbouring Liberia and nearby Ivory Coast has threatened to spill across the borders of those two countries, and members said they were concerned about the security implications for the sub-region. Council members therefore stressed the importance of relaunching political dialogue between the the Mano River Union countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, while at the same time they expressed their willingness to visit Sierra Leone as part of the next Security Council mission to the region.

The Junior Leone Stars' first-leg return football match against Burkina Faso has been moved from this weekend to Thursday to avoid a scheduling conflict with the Under-20 Nations Cup, the BBC said on Friday. The two teams played to a 0-0 draw in Freetown last month. The winners in the first round of competition will play one another for the opportunity to compete in the Under-17 Championship in Swaziland in May.

Hundreds of Liberians rallied at Monrovia's Tubman Stadium Friday to protest United States policy towards their country, news services reported. The BBC put the number of demonstrators at between 1,500 and 2,000, describing them as residents of Liberia's Bomi Country, which has been badly affected in recent months by fighting between Liberian government forces and LURD rebels. The Voice of America (VOA) said the demonstrators numbered in the "hundreds" and were principally youths and market women. "Many of the women told reporters that government officials had threatened to fine them the equivalent of $15 if they did not attend the rally," VOA correspondent Luis Ramirez said, adding: "The demonstration was carried out amid tight security with heavily-armed police posted throughout the city." Friday's demonstration followed a call by President Charles Taylor for a day of protest against U.S. policy toward his country. Taylor did not specify a date for the action, but the U.S. Embassy closed its consular section at mid week in anticipation of trouble. The United States imposed bilateral sanctions against the Taylor government in October 2000, and has backed United Nations sanctions against Liberia because of that government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its failure to comply with U.N. demands. Relations between the two countries has continued to deteriorate in recent weeks. The United States has criticized the Liberian government for clamping down on its political opponents, and last week warned Liberia that the U.S. would not recognize the outcome of next October's elections if they were not seen to be free and fair. Liberia has countered by accusing the United State of tacitly backing the LURD rebels – a claim American officials deny. According to BBC correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, demonstrators Friday carried placards with messages such as "America, we are your children. Please lift the sanctions and stop the terrorist war" and "America, change your policies towards Liberia and let us live in peace." Bomi County Supervisor Alfred Anderson read a statement to the crowed calling for the United States to take a strong stand in Liberia, as Britain did in Sierra Leone and France is doing in the Ivory Coast, "to condemn the activities of LURD and their overseas backers, and to remind LURD that violence as a means of changing government is a thing of the past." A ten-member delegation then presented the petition to the U.S. Embassy's Director of Public Affairs, who promised to forward it to the appropriate authorities. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1900 / 2300. [£] 2910 / 3365. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3150 / 3350. Frandia: [$] 2250 / 2350 [£] 3150 / 3350. Continental: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 3200 / 3600. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2350 / 2400 [£] 3300 / 3500.

9 January: Mohamed Kama Gbao is the new paramount chief of Bo District's Jaiama Bongor Chiefdom. He defeated his main rival, Sheku Mustapha Lahai Gbao, by 341 votes to 253 in a second-round runoff. Mohamed Kama Gbao takes over from Regent Chief Sam Hinga Norman, Sierra Leone's Interior Minister. During the country's civil war, Norman served as Deputy Defence Minister and led the loyalist Kamajor militia. In Malama Chiefdom, Kailahun District, Joseph Lamin Ngevao won over Haja Freda Mabinty Kangoma Bambu by 357 votes to 211, also in a runoff election. Results were not yet available Thursday from Koinadugu District's Mongo Chiefdom, but National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers confirmed that the election did go ahead with security provided by United Nations peacekeepers. The second-round election in nearby Sengbe Chiefdom had to be put on hold last week due to election violence. The January 6 election in Kono District's Lei Chiefdom was won by Tamba Fengai Mani, who polled 217 votes to defeat Tamba Alpha Koagbanba Mani with 103.

8 January: Sierra Leone's Office of the President unveiled its own website Wednesday, seeking to use the internet to reach out to its constituencies inside the country and abroad. Presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy, in an interview with the Sierra Leone Web, said the website would be used as a "public information tool" aimed at "all Sierra Leoneans, all development partners, and other stakeholders together with whom we normally collaborate in moving this country forward." Said Daramy: "It’s a move, too, which we can make the public aware of what the president is doing. To be able to win consensus among people, citizens and others alike, who also play a very important role in how government really works with us, they should be informed of what we are doing." Daramy pointed out that some 60 percent of Sierra Leone's budget is donor-driven, and he noted that donors constituted "a very critical, very important constituency outside the borders of this country" which needed to be kept informed about government policies. He observed too that leaders of countries from Britain's Tony Blair to Gambia's Yahya Jammeh now had their own websites. "There’s a value in it, otherwise we would not have a proliferation of these websites owned by presidents," he said. "It’s basically a means through which they can get their views, their policies, what they think, to the outside world." The website invites feedback, and Daramy promised his office would respond to questions – even those from, say, Sierra Leonean students studying abroad or from school children representing Sierra Leone in their countries' Model United Nations. "We are going to have a dedicated person for that," he said. "Of course, when it comes to sending out responses, that will be a publicity issue and of course we’ll respond conforming with what our policies are."

Three accused '419' scam artists, Nigerians Raphael Ajukwara and Richard Ekechukwu and Ghanaian Charles Doe, appeared in Magistrate's Court Wednesday, and were freed after posting Le 2 million bail each (about $1,000), Awoko reporter Odilia French told the Sierra Leone Web. Ajukwara and Ekechukwu were arrested last December in a police sting set up after their scheme to use the internet to defraud a businessman in the Dominican Republic went awry. Doe was taken into custody shortly afterward when he showed up with a fraudulent document at the home of a Sierra Leonean banking official, claiming to be the son of a past Ghanaian finance minister. Two other Nigerian nationals were initially arrested during a search of Ajukwara's residence, but were later freed for lack of evidence. The three defendants face four charges, including two counts of conspiracy to defraud, attempting to obtain money by false pretense, and obtaining money by false pretense.

Police in Freetown briefly detained some 15 persons Sunday, including students, workers, ex-combatants and two low-ranking soldiers, in a raid on an unfinished house belonging to former President Joseph Saidu Momoh. The police action has sparked a flurry of press reports on the streets of Sierra Leone's capital suggesting that those arrested had been plotting a military coup. Police Superintendent Foday Daboh, who personally led the team of CID investigators which searched the premises, denied there was any suspicion that those living in the house were planning to overthrow the government. "A lot of people are there. We do not know their mission, we do not know their whereabouts, we do not know their positions in the country," Daboh told the Sierra Leone Web by telephone from Bo. He added that police had received reports that some ex-combatants living in the house might have arms. "Some schoolboys, some small boys were there among them, and some workers," he said. "It was never a coup." No arms were found and no illegal activity was uncovered. The occupants of the house were taken to police headquarters to give statements and then released. Daboh said the people were squatters who had taken up residence in the former president's unfinished house because they had no other place to live. "Housing in Freetown is difficult because of the effect of January 6 (the 1999 rebel invasion)," Daboh said. "These are squatters. They only went there because a lack of accommodation elsewhere."

The United States government will provide funding to assist Sierra Leonean refugees wishing to return to their homes, the U.S. Embassy in Freetown said on Wednesday. On Tuesday, President George W. Bush authorised the U.S. Emergency and Migration Assistance Fund to help refugees from four African countries to migrate or to otherwise provide for their security needs. "It is important to the national interest that up to $11 million be made available to address unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs arising from the crises in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Liberia, and from the return of refugees to Sierra Leone and Angola," Bush said in signing the order. The funds may be used to provide contributions to international, governmental and non-governmental organisations working with refugees.

A group of Sierra Leonean refugees in the Guinean capital Conakry has formed a self-help cooperative, known as Aria, which is aimed at helping refugee parents to educate their children and to provide young people with vocational skills to keep them out of trouble, BBC correspondent Al-Hassan Sylla reported. El-Haj Conteh, who head's Aria's tailoring component, teaches youths to sew clothes on rickety sewing machines. "Here in this tailoring shop we are assisting refugees, because we have some of our brothers who cannot afford money to afford themselves," he said. "We teach them how to do tailoring in order for them, in returning home again, they can have some skills. And indeed we already have about 30 boys and girls who are doing this tailoring with me here." Aria also has a gara dying component, where Sara Massaquoi trains women to dye cloth. The group's aim is to enable single refugee mothers to feed their children and to pay their school fees. But Aria's most ambitious project to date, Sylla said, is its co-sponsorship of a 350-student school which offers classes from Primary 1 to Senior Secondary School 3. The school's director told the BBC that poverty had forced many of the Sierra Leonean refugee children to seek a living on the streets. Now, he said, the school was trying to turn that around. "These students we have really have been got out of the mere idea that they are street children," he said. Some have become prostitutes. It’s now we are trying to re-mold them, so that they can become once more useful beings in the society."

Two Sierra Leoneans accused of distributing counterfeit currency have appeared in Magistrate's Court in Freetown, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Wednesday. Malikie Bayoh and Alhaji Kabba were each charged with five counts, including including conspiracy to commit felony and forgery. The two were allegedly found in possession of six million leones ($3,000) in counterfeit five thousand leone notes when apprehended by police in central Freetown. A search of Bayoh's residence turned up an additional 3,825,000 leones of fake currency. The pair were denied bail pending their next court appearance on January 14.

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, contemplated adopting a Sierra Leonean children during her visit to the country last year, the Press Association News reported on Wednesday. Ferguson was in Sierra Leone in October 2002 on behalf of her London-based charity Children in Crisis. During her four-day stopover, the duchess visited Freetown, Makeni and Port Loko, and toured schools in the Sierra Leonean capital including the Milton Margai School for the Blind. Ferguson has two daughters from her marriage with Prince Andrew.

7 January: Three "419" scam artists apprehended in Freetown last month are due to make their appearance in Magistrate's Court Wednesday morning on fraud charges. Two Nigerians, Raphael Ajukwara and Richard Ekechukwu, were arrested in a police sting last month after a Dominican businessman notified the Sierra Leone Web that the pair, posing as a former Sierra Leone government minister and his (non-existent) nephew, wanted him to send them money and documents which they claimed they would use to set up a front company for smuggling diamonds out of the country. Two other Nigerians, Frank Uche and Uche Okafor, were initially arrested at Ajukwara's home, but were later released for lack of evidence. A search of documents in Ajukwara's computer, however, led investigators to a third man, Ghanaian Charles Doe, who was attempting to defraud a former Sierra Leonean banking official by posing as the son of a one time Ghanaian finance minister. Doe was lured to the banker's home, where he was taken into custody after he presented the banker with a typed "mutual agreement" for a fictitious $1.5 million transaction in the presence of undercover officers. Police Superintendent Foday Daboh, the Director of the Sierra Leone Police Criminal Investigations Division, told the Sierra Leone Web Tuesday that the three had each been charged with four counts of fraud, including two counts of conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to obtain money by false pretence, and obtaining money by false pretence.

The Freetown newspaper Awoko launched an internet edition Tuesday, making it for now the only Sierra Leone-based paper with its own website. While select articles from several Sierra Leonean newspapers do make it onto the internet through organisations such as Allafrica.com, the Awoko site fills a long-time void left when newspapers such as the Concord Times and the Pool abandoned their brief internet presence. "Awoko has been covering a lot of stories locally which have not had any international audience, so we wanted to have an international audience so that a lot more people will know what is happening in Sierra Leone," Awoko Editor Kelvin Lewis told the Sierra Leone Web late Monday. "Presently, no other newspaper is online. So we’re experimenting. We’re looking at how best we can move forward in that area so that we can spread the word to a lot more people."  Lewis said his target audience was mainly "Sierra Leoneans who are in the diaspora, who want to know what is exactly happening in Freetown." The Awoko has appeared on the streets of Freetown since 1998, but Lewis has been a fixture in the Sierra Leone media for more than a decade. In 1991 he founded the New Tablet newspaper together with Gibril Foday Musa, only to see it closed as the result of the NPRC military regime's "draconian regulations" two years later. In 1994 he started stringing for the Voice of America and Radio Deutsche Welle, and the following year for Radio France International. Lewis suggested Monday that one result of his newspaper's online presence could be to help raise the reputation of the press in Sierra Leone. "A lot of people have been criticizing us, saying we are not publishing newspapers – we are publishing rag sheets and that sort of thing," he said. "Our aim in Awoko is to ensure that we have a proper newspaper and to ensure that we give the people news, and we also educate them on a couple of things which are happening. So it’s in that light that we are looking at this whole venture."

6 January: Election violence in the northern town of Kabala Saturday caused polling officials to flee the town and forced a premature end to Sengbe Chiefdom's efforts to crown a new paramount chief. After the first round of voting, polling officials said, no candidate had received the requisite 55 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. But, according to several reports, the supporters of Alie Marah claimed their candidate had won a first round victory and demanded that the staff be handed over immediately. Supporters of Ali Marah stoned the home of parliamentary leader S.B. Marah, whom they accused of supporting Alhaji Balasama Marah, Alie Marah's principal opponent. Window glass was broken, but S.B. Marah was not injured. The mob also attempted to attack electoral commissioner Mohamed Fasalie Marah, a brother of S.B. Marah, forcing him to flee for his life. S.B. Marah, reached at his home in Freetown, acknowledged his backing for Alhaji Balasama Marah, but he insisted it was a private matter on behalf of a man who had supported him throughout his more than forty years of political life. "I am supporting my brother who was supporting me all my political career," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "Everybody knows that. I have been supporting somebody who has been good to me. I want to repay him in his own coin. Is that a crime?" S.B. Marah decried the political violence directed against him because of his support for another candidate. "That doesn’t mean that they will go and stone my house...Is that a democracy?" he asked. National Electoral Commissioner David Kai-Rogers said the second round runoff election, with additional security, would be rescheduled for January 24 – outside the original election window which was to have ended on January 20. Three other chieftaincy elections have been postponed by Sierra Leone's High Court: Dodo Chiefdom in Kenema District, Lalansongoia Chiefdom in Tonkolili District, and Wara-Wara Yagala in Koinadugu District, which had been scheduled for January 6. Kai-Rogers said election officials would seek heightened security for Wednesday's election in Mongo Chiefdom, which is also in Koinadugu District.

Tommy Mualayllay Gombla won the paramount chieftaincy in Moyamba District's Upper Banta Chiefdom, winning over five other candidates handily in first round balloting. Gombla won 75 votes, defeating Sylvester Odens Kar Dendeh with 35, Elizabeth Kona Korgbai with 7, Alhaji Abu Kailie and Francis Jombla with one vote each, and Josephus Steven Bibi with zero votes. 

Sierra Leone in recent years has become known in press circles as of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists. Between 1997 and 2000, 15 local and international reporters were killed while reporting on the country's civil war – some of them reported targeted by rebel forces who stormed Freetown in January 1999. Others were injured, arrested or intimidated while going about their work. A few were forced into exile. With the end of the war officially in January 2002, Sierra Leone no longer heads the "most dangerous" but, according to the 2002 Annual Report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 2001 was still a difficult year for journalists. "For the first time since 1996 (sic.), no journalists were killed in Sierra Leone during the year," the report said. "Yet the political and economic context in which the independent press is managing to survive is still very difficult." In recent months, RSF has been critical of Sierra Leone's Independent Media Commission and has expressed concern over the arrest of For di People editor Paul Kamara, who was sentenced to a prison term last November on criminal libel charges.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Monday that the ongoing tension in Liberia and the emergence of a new conflict in Ivory Coast with the reported involvement of Sierra Leonean and Liberian combatants have complicated the situation as the United Nations begins what he called "the most challenging operation undertaken by (UNAMSIL) since the disarmament process" – the phased withdrawal of U.N. forces from Sierra Leone. "This worrisome development gives added urgency to the need for a comprehensive regional approach," Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council, adding that he was "greatly encouraged" by the Council's proposal to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the situation in Liberia, and its decision to send an assessment team to the region early this year. The U.N. is set to reduce its troop strength from a height of about 17,500 soldiers to 13,000 by this May. The first phase of the withdrawal was completed on November 8 with the departure of 600 Nigerian and Bangladeshi troops. Annan acknowledged that difficulties might arise during the withdrawal period, but nothing that U.N. peacekeepers couldn't handle. He noted, however, that the downsizing would be a complex task which requires "meticulous management of the risks involved in transferring security responsibilities to the Government of Sierra Leone" and coordination between UNAMSIL's military, political and logistical components, government agencies, and development partners whose work would be vital in consolidating peace in the country. 

5 January: Joseph Nabieu Demby has been declared the winner in Saturday's chieftaincy election in Baoma Chiefdom, Bo District. Demby defeated Joseph Maada Kondoh by 382 votes to 322 in a second-round runoff between the two candidates. The vote went ahead after election officials said they found no evidence to substantiate a complaint by supporters of Demby, a relative of former Vice President Albert Joe Demby, that Transport and Communications Minister Dr. Prince Harding had engaged in the illegal practice of "camping" councillors on behalf of Demby's opponent. Lower Bambara Chiefdom in Kenema District saw a race between four candidates which was won decisively in the first round by Alimamy Farma. Farma received 1,733 votes, defeating Arthur Andrew Quee with 221, Dauda Morie Farma with 103, and James Quee Nyagua with 59. The results from the election in Koinadugu District's Sengbe Chiefdom were not available as of Sunday. Three more chieftaincy elections are scheduled for Monday: Upper Banta in Moyamba District and Lei in Kono District.

3 January: Bai Forki Sonkoi defeated four other candidates on Thursday to win the chieftaincy in Port Loko District's Maforki Chiefdom. Sonkoi received 463 votes against 309 for Alhaji Abdulai Bundu Kamara, 10 for Alpha Amadu Kamara, eight for Santigie Kamara and two for Sorie Ballie Kanu. In Barri Chiefdom in Pujehun District, Vandi Kong Magona Jr. was the winner, defeating Mohamed Nasiru Deen Magona in a second-round runoff 196 votes to 158. In the east, Augustine Ansumana Gibao Gaima was the sole candidate for the chieftaincy in Kailahun District's Dea Chiefdom. He polled 337 votes.

2 January: A team of officials from the Ministry of Local Government and the National Electoral Commission (NEC) travelled to Baoma Chiefdom in Bo District Thursday to investigate allegations that an unnamed government minister had "camped" councillors on behalf of a candidate for paramount chief. Baoma's chieftaincy election is scheduled for Saturday. "Camping" is the practice of housing and paying expenses for chiefdom councillors in exchange for their vote – an election offence. NEC Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers said that if the allegations proved true, the offending candidate could well be disqualified. He added that President Kabbah had warned his ministers to maintain a hands-off posture toward the election of traditional rulers. Charges of camping were also raised in last week's election in Sanda Tenraren Chiefdom in Bombali District. Three candidates – Abdul K. Munu, Amadu Munu and Hassan Munu – withdrew from the poll in protest after electoral officials failed to uphold their complaint, citing a lack of evidence. Their supporters stoned the court barrie, but failed to stop the election. Election officials were later escorted from the chiefdom by United Nations peacekeepers.

With a payment of $13,500, Sierra Leone is one of ten nations to have paid their annual 2003 United Nations dues in full, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday. The others are Armenia ($27,000), Bangladesh ($135,000), Belarus ($256,000), Congo ($13,500), Honduras ($67,500), Latvia ($135,000), Mali ($11,800), Senegal ($67,500) and Ukraine ($715,500). 

A spokesman for Liberian President Charles Taylor acknowledged Thursday that terrorists from the al-Qaeda Network "could have filtered into Liberia, but without our knowledge (and) acquiescence." Press Secretary Vaani Passawe rejected allegations, however, that Taylor had protected two senior al-Qaeda operatives, both before and after the group launched its September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The charges were made this week by the U.S. newspaper, the Washington Post, which alleged Taylor had accepted $1 million to host the pair as they sought to hide the group's assets by buying some $20 million worth of diamonds, many of them originating from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Passawe told Radio France International it wasn't true. "We, like many other nations of the world, declared anti-terrorism and that we supported the United States in its combat against global terrorism," he said. "We also made it clear then that we were about to pass a law which is now in force against terrorism, and that we are willing to arrest and turn over any terrorist, especially of the calibre of al-Qaeda that filters into our country. At the same time we are very aware of our incapacity to track down sophisticated as terrorists as al-Qaeda." Passawe insisted Liberia would expel any terrorists found in its territory. "We are committed against global terrorism, but our capacity to know that this element is an al-Qaeda element is something that is beyond our immediate capacity," he said. "You could know that they could filter here, but once we get hold of them we will be throwing them out."

1 January: Liberia's Information Minister has denied allegations raised this week by the Washington Post that his government harbored two senior operatives of the al-Qaeda Network two months after the group carried out the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. According to the report, which drew on European intelligence sources, the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso had hosted the pair as they oversaw a $20 million diamond buying spree, with many of those gems coming from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The purchases, at a premium price, allegedly allowed al-Qaeda to hide its assets in the easily-concealable gemstones and to effectively corner the market on the regions diamonds. "To say that we are furious is an understatement," Information Minister Reginald Goodridge (pictured right) told the BBC. "This is a categorical lie. As a matter of fact we are indeed right now our own war on terrorism with the LURD incursion." Goodridge insisted that Liberia "did not want Liberia to be used as a base for any type of terrorism against the Americans" because, he said, Liberia had long been allied with the West. Liberia is currently subject to United Nations sanctions because of its support for the RUF, and for its involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Some of those diamonds, it has been alleged, came from rebel-controlled areas of Sierra Leone and found their way into the hands of terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda Network. Goodridge, however, suggested the Post reporter was trying to "destroy the image of Liberia."  "We believe that he has motives for trying to destroy the Liberian government right now," the minister said.