The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

February 2001
 

28 February: Finance Minister Dr. James O. C. Jonah confirmed Tuesday  that he would step down at the end of February, and said he had informed President Kabbah that he would serve in his government for no more than one term. "The president tried desperately that I should not leave," the Concord Times quoted Jonah as saying. "The number of people who have made appeals are unbelievable." But the 67-year old minister said the time had come for him to move on. "I came in 1994, left in 1996 and returned in 1998, Today I am leaving," he said. Jonah headed the Interim National Electoral Commission which organised the 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls. Following President Kabbah's election victory, he was appointed as Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Advisor to the President with cabinet rank. In April 1998 he was named Minister of Finance. Jonah pointed to an improved economy under his tenure, including lower inflation and a reduction in the number of ghost workers. "My report card is the latest IMF (International Monetary Fund) report on Sierra Leone," he said. A source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web that Jonah would return to New York in about a month to write his autobiography. No replacement has yet been named. Meanwhile, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) quoted Kabbah as telling an international donors conference this week that he had ruled out including members of the RUF in a forthcoming new cabinet. In an apparent reference to the RUF's newly-formed political commission, Kabbah said the RUF had appointed representatives to hold discussions with his government on reaching a political settlement to the conflict "in a peaceful way." 

A revised draft resolution circulated in the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday would impose sanctions on Liberia immediately, but delay their implementation by two months to give the Liberian government a chance to show that it is no longer involved in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade, and that it has ceased its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Earlier this month ECOWAS asked the Council to delay consideration of the proposed resolution for two months, but its backers, notably the United States and Britain, refused to go along with the request. Under the compromise draft, the Security Council would impose an embargo on the sale of Liberian diamonds, ban international travel by senior Liberian officials, and broaden a 1992 arms embargo. The sanctions would automatically take effect two months after the resolution is adopted unless Liberia fulfills a number of requirements, such as grounding all Liberian-registered planes until its air registry complies with international civil aviation standards. ECOWAS, however, with the exception of Sierra Leone and Guinea, has argued against the automatic trigger. This week Sierra Leone sent a letter to the Council accusing the Liberian government of using delaying tactics, and calling for the immediate imposition of sanctions. Guinea has denounced the ECOWAS position, and Guinean Ambassador Francois L. Fall told the Council that his government "considers that any attempt by ECOWAS to delay or prevent the adoption of sanctions against Liberia will perpetuate the Sierra Leone conflict and encourage the rebel groups operating in the sub-region." Fall said the current draft resolution would be a means of determining whether the Liberian authorities were willing to end their support for the RUF rebels. "It appears that at the request of Mali and a couple of other ECOWAS members, the Council will await word from the ECOWAS heads of state now attending the OAU summit in Libya," a source told the Sierra Leone Web. He added that the Council is expected to take up the resolution early next week.

Human Rights Watch called on the Guinean military Wednesday to halt indiscriminate attacks on rebel-held areas of northern Sierra Leone, which have resulted in at least 41 civilian deaths since last September, including eleven children, along with the displacement of thousands of civilians, and serious damage to property. The Guinean army has launched a series of cross-border attacks on towns in Kambia, Bombali and Koinadugu Districts since last year in reprisal for alleged RUF involvement in recent fighting in southern Guinea. Human Rights Watch also called on the Sierra Leone government to demand that its civilians be protected, noting that the authorities had yet to condemn the attacks against their own citizens. After interviewing victims and witnesses to twelve attacks, five by helicopter gunship and seven by artillery, in and around the towns of Rokupr, Yeliboya, Makasa, Kakuna, Sabuya, Mambolo, Rokel and Kamakwie, Human Rights Watch concluded that none of the attacks had accurately targeted RUF bases or areas of concentration. "Instead the gunship rockets and artillery shells slammed into neighborhoods, marketplaces, restaurants and boat wharfs," the report said, adding that witnesses could only confirm the death of one RUF combatant in the twelve attacks documented. The Geneva Convention clearly prohibits such indiscriminate attacks, and requires that military forces take precautions to limit the danger of attacks to civilian populations, the group pointed out. Human Rights Watch also strongly condemned RUF attacks against Guinean civilians and refugee camps. The group also decried an attempt by the rebels to prevent civilians on Yeliboya Island from fleeing after a gunship attack.

U.K. Foreign Office Minister Brian Wilson reaffirmed Britain's support for Sierra Leone's government Wednesday in the wake of "barbaric" atrocities which he said had brought the country to its knees. "Our purpose is to reassure people we are not going to abandon them and help them move towards peace," he told Parliament. "It is deeply depressing a country that is so endowed with natural riches is classed as the poorest country in the world." Wilson said Britain was committed to training about 8,500 troops for Sierra Leone's restructured army. In September, responsibility for long-term training will be turned over to an International Military Advisory and Training Team.

The Sierra Leone Web passed its fifth anniversary this week, making it one of oldest continuously-operating news services on the internet. When it went online in late February 1996, the Sierra Leone Web was likely the first site on the internet dedicated to providing news and information on a single country. In the succeeding five years, without staff or outside funding, the Sierra Leone Web has worked to provide comprehensive, accurate and unbiased coverage of events in Sierra Leone during a deeply troubled period in the nation's history. In January 2001 the Sierra Leone Web received its first grant, and began operating as a non-profit corporation.

27 February: President Kabbah opened a two-day meeting of international donors in Freetown on Monday with a briefing on the improved security situation in the country, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Tuesday. Kabbah told delegates that the RUF was anxious to reach a political settlement, and he denied a claim made by Parliament earlier this month that the rebel group was in control of two-thirds of the country. The donors meeting, the first ever to be held in Sierra Leone, was attended by representatives from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, China and Norway.

The first distribution of food in months to Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees stranded in Guinea's volatile border region was due to get underway on Tuesday, with two teams of field workers from the French organisation Premiere Urgence distributing food from makeshift locations at Temessadou, Kamayan and Mongo, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. The food arrived on Monday in the first convoy to reach the refugees since late last year. A second UNHCR convoy of 14 trucks carrying World Food Programme food for 4,000 people set out Tuesday for Tomandou and Koladou, which are located deeper in the so-called "parrot's beak" region. The operation has been hindered by a lack of vehicles, because most of the trucks available to the UNHCR are being used to ferry refugees from the destroyed Katkama camp north of  Gueckedou to safer sites further north. More than 14,000 persons have been evacuated to date, the spokesman said, adding that the transfer of the remaining 9,000 refugees was expected to be accomplished in ten days time. Once the operation is complete, the spokesman said, the UNHCR will be able to quadruple its capacity to bring aid into the "parrot's beak" and eventually will begin moving some of the estimated 135,000 refugees to safe camps further from the border. 

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has transported more than 400 refugees and displaced persons over the past four days from the Nyaedou and Katkama camps in Guinea's volatile southern border area to more secure sites in the Kissidougou area, the IOM said on Tuesday. The agency also transported 108 metric tons of food to the new sites as well as 238 tons of non-food items. Meanwhile, the IOM-chartered ship, the MV Fanta, arrived in Freetown on Tuesday with 481 Sierra Leonean returnees on board. To date, the Fanta and the MV Overbeck have transported more than 11,000 refugees from Conakry to Freetown.

The British Foreign Office has responded to growing instability in Guinea by sending a career diplomat, Patrick O'Brien, as charge d'affaires in Conakry. O'Brien, who is currently Deputy Head of the British Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, will monitor and analyse the situation on the ground, especially as regards the refugee crisis, and will maintain close dialogue with the Guinean authorities and international organisations, a Foreign Office statement said. Britain currently has an honorary consul in Guinea. British diplomats in Dakar are also accredited to Conakry, but Foreign Office Minister Brian Wilson (pictured left) stressed that it was important for Britain to have its own representative in the country. "Britain is committed to helping bring peace and stability to Sierra Leone and the region. That includes helping Guinea deal with the appalling consequences of the conflict," he said. "(O'Brien's presence) will help us ensure that Britain's response to the refugee crisis is effective and well-targeted." The appointment will be on a temporary basis, the Foreign Office statement said. Depending on developments on the ground, it is expected that O'Brien will be replaced after two months by an official from London.

26 February: An 11-truck humanitarian has delivered food to desperate refugees stranded in Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" region for the first time since late last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday. The convoy, which carried 58 tons of food provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), left Kissidougou Monday morning with a Guinean army escort, and arrived in Temessadou at about 1:30 p.m. local time. The food was immediately offloaded by aid workers from France's Première Urgence and Germany's GTZ. The convoy was scheduled to deliver food to two other locations before returning to the UNHCR's regional base at Kissidougou. "Today’s convoy will serve a total of 3,800 beneficiaries tomorrow," said UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie in Conakry. "The first camps available in the ‘parrot’s beak,’ let’s say the closest camps (at Temessadou, Mongo and Kamayan) we can reach tomorrow, and hereafter every day we will try and penetrate a little bit deeper in the ‘parrot’s beak’ so we can in time reach the furthest camps away." In a BBC interview, Marie stressed the difficulty of reaching camps in the border area, some of which were 150 kilometres away. "The conditions are very bad," she said. "We cannot go through Gueckedou town which is still considered a bit of a security hazard, so we have to take this detour road and repair two bridges on the road so they could stand heavy trucks. So it does take a lot of time. Today it took three and a half hours to reach the first point, and then another hour and a half to the other point." In Geneva, a spokesman noted that there were scores of refugee settlements in the "parrot's beak," where the agency estimates some 135,000 refugees, most of them Sierra Leoneans, have for months been cut off from assistance, in danger from armed groups and an increasingly-hostile local population. By the end of the week, the spokesman said, aid agencies hope to deliver 425 metric tons of food to some 30,000 people, including displaced Guineans. The UNHCR said it urgently needs additional trucks in order to increase the frequency of food convoys and the number of people it can reach. With a fleet of 25 trucks, the spokesman said, the whole "parrot's beak" region could receive food within a month. Many of the refugees are believed to be too weak to walk to safety further north, the UNHCR said. Refugees report that Guinean authorities are preventing the them from moving en masse, concerned that large-scale population movements could mask activities by rebel groups. Meanwhile, Medècins sans Frontiéres and Action Contre la Faim have already begun distribution of nutritional supplements to pregnant women and undernourished children in the area.

Attacks by the Guinean army into Sierra Leone's northwestern Kambia District over the past two weeks have caused as many as 40,000 persons to flee their  homes, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday. WFP spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume said many people had walked three or four days in order to reach safety in Lungi. "They do arrive in bad shape, and they are frightened," Berthiaume told the Voice of America. "They don’t want to go back home because of the fighting. What they’re doing right now is building some little shelters with mud, and we’re feeding them and we’re trying to to get ready and to prepare ourselves to maybe having to feed more people." Berthiaume said the new displacement of people was creating an additional burden for the WFP's already overstretched humanitarian operation in Sierra Leone. Since fighting broke out in Guinea late last year, more than 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned to Freetown, and more are continuing to arrive at the rate of 1,000 to 2,000 a week. Berthiaume said 65 percent of the displaced and returnees came from areas under rebel control and were unable to return to their homes. "Those people are in Lungi, in Freetown, in some camps, and we are feeding them and we’re helping them," she said. She added that the agency did not know how it would cope if the number of returnees and displaced persons continued to rise. The WFP is currently feeding some 360,000 people in Sierra Leone. The agency appealed for 48,000 tons of food, Berthiaume said, but it has received less than half that amount.

25 February: Zizi Roberts scored in the 65th minute for Liberia Sunday to lift the Lone Stars to a 1 - 0 World Cup qualifying match victory over the Leone Stars in Monrovia. The win allowed Liberia to claim first place from Nigeria in Group B, while the Super Eagles rested with a bye. Last week Sierra Leone asked that FIFA, football's international governing body, either postpone the match or move it to a neutral venue because of concerns for the security of the Sierra Leonean players and officials, and for the safety of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia. FIFA turned down the request, but heavily-armed Liberian security forces surrounded the stadium and the Sierra Leonean team's hotel to ensure that the match proceeded without incident. Hours before the game, Liberian Sports Minister Francis Massaquoi appealed to Liberians for calm. "Sierra Leoneans are our brothers. Besides, this game has serious political and diplomatic dimensions," he said on state radio. 60,000 spectators watched the match, which was attended by Liberian President Charles Taylor. Sierra Leone has yet to score a goal in three tries, and remains mired in last place in Group B. The Leone Stars next play Sudan on March 10. Other weekend results: South Africa 2, Malawi 1; Cameroon 1, Zambia 0; Tunisia 6, Democratic Republic of Congo 0; Sudan 1, Ghana 0; Zimbabwe 2, Burkina Faso 1; Morocco 0, Senegal 0.

The Guinean army reportedly launched new attacks into Sierra Leone's RUF-held northwestern Kambia District over the weekend, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers said on Sunday. Rogers quoted an aid worker for a local non-governmental organisation, Community Action for Progress, as saying a helicopter gunship shelled Rokel village, killing nine civilians, while Guinean ground troops killed four people in Subuya. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. Rogers said there had been a massive exodus of civilians from the area to safer areas at Barbara and Bailo Wharf. "According to what that aid worker told me, they have now registered around 3,000 new arrivals as a result of this latest air raid in the Kambia District," he said. The aid worker was quoted as saying that most of those wounded in the attack were taken to the hospital at Madina, the headquarters town of Tonko Limba Chiefdom.

24 February: Last week, the Sierra Leone government reluctantly endorsed an ECOWAS recommendation for a two-month delay in proposed United Nations Security Council sanctions against Liberia, after it became clear that the Council was prepared to go along with the regional body's request. Liberia has been accused, most recently by a U.N. panel of experts, of involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade, and of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels —  charges the Liberian authorities deny. But on Saturday, as the Security Council members struggled with a sixth draft of the original sanctions resolution, Sierra Leone backed off from its support for a compromise and called for the immediate imposition of sanctions against the Liberian government. A government statement accused Liberia of still harbouring senior members of the RUF and of continuing to violate a U.N. arms embargo, two weeks after ECOWAS asked the Council to delay action. The Sierra Leonean statement suggested that Charles Taylor's government would continue to employ what it called "delaying tactics" after the the two-month period had expired, in the belief that the United Nations would be incapable of acting against Liberia without the concurrence of ECOWAS. But ECOWAS itself is not united on the issue. This week Guinea, which accuses Liberia of supporting rebel groups on its territory, denounced the delay and said a proposed ECOWAS peacekeeping force would not be allowed to deploy there until sanctions were in place. The Sierra Leone government is said to be concerned about reports that sanctions opponents are actively seeking the support of Non-Aligned Movement member countries at the United Nations to oppose the resolution, the Sierra Leone Web has learned.

23 February: A delegation representing the Royal Nepalese Army is in Sierra Leone this week to see first hand the situation in the country prior to making a recommendation to their government on whether Nepal should contribute a contingent to the U.N. peacekeeping force, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said.

United Nations peacekeepers conducted patrols this week in the four sectors of the country in which they are deployed, as well as into RUF-held areas of the Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL said on Friday. In Sector 1, Nigerian troops from NIBATT-7 patrolled from Rogberi to Lunsar and Makeni on Tuesday, and on Wednesday a NIBATT-8 patrol visited Kotonge and Petifu in Malal Chiefdom, Tonkolili District. In Sector 2, NIBATT-5 reached Masere and Magbese. During the patrol they searched a commercial vehicle carrying 20 persons from Freetown and captured an assortment of arms and ammunition. In Sector 3, Zambian troops of ZAMBATT-2 carried out a patrol to Bendu Junction, observing along the way two RUF checkpoints on the road between Mano Junction and Bendu Junction. In Bo, U.N. military observers passed through Monghere on Tuesday, where they met with CDF officials. The patrol established that about 750 CDF militiamen were undergoing training at the camp there. In Sector 4, Bangladeshi peacekeepers from BANBATT-2 patrolled from Mile 91 to Magburaka and Makeni, where they linked up with NIBATT-7 and met with the UNAMSIL force commander and the Military Advisor of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The patrol slept at Makeni Teachers College before returning to Mile 91 on Wednesday.

An operation to transport aid to tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees caught in Guinea's "parrot's beak" region is tentatively due to begin on Sunday, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva. Food supplied by the U.N. World Food Programme, along with UNHCR relief supplies, will be distributed by the French non-governmental organisation Première Urgence. The initial results of a sample malnutrition survey carried out in the "parrot's beak" last week indicated a malnutrition rate of 24 percent among children under the age of five, the spokesman said. On the return trip, the trucks may pick up vulnerable refugees and transport them to safer areas in central Guinea. Because of the limited transport capacity, the UNHCR is looking into setting up way stations along the route to assist refugees who decide to walk to safety. Meanwhile, the UNHCR and the WFP have continued to move stockpiled food from a warehouse in Gueckedou to a new camp inside Guinea. Aid agencies are also continuing to relocate refugees away from the Gueckedou area, and have underscored the need to accomplish this before the rainy season begins in two months time. Convoys continue to move refugees from the Katkama camp north of Gueckedou to the new site in Albadaria Prefecture further north. A "security incident" temporarily interrupted the transfer on Thursday, the spokesman said. He did not elaborate. So far, 11,000 refugees have been transferred to Albadaria.

Nearly 11,000 Sierra Leonean nationals, most of them refugees, have been repatriated from Conakry by sea since late last year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Friday. The IOM took over responsibility for repatriating the refugees in January, and currently operates two chartered vessels, the MV Overbeck and the MV Fanta, which are plying the route between the Sierra Leonean and Guinean capitals. The IOM is also responsible for transporting refugees from the endangered Nyaedou and Katkama camps Guinea's Gueckedou Prefecture to new sites in the Kissidougou area. As of Sunday, the IOM will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the German aid group GTZ to distribute food to an estimated 140,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees trapped in Guinea's "parrot's beak" region.

Health workers reported a massive turnout of under-five children in RUF-held areas last week to receive polio vaccinations, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Friday. The vaccinations, part of a global campaign by United Nations agencies to eradicate the disease, was conducted jointly by the United Nations Children's Fund and Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health and Sanitation. "This has been the first time (the RUF) fully participated, by going into villages that were not motorable to bring out children, under-fives children, to be vaccinated or be immunised against the polio myelitis disease," Rogers said. He added, however, that many of the children from behind rebel lines appeared to have been suffering from malnutrition and worm infestations. A second round of polio vaccinations is scheduled for mid-March.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 1950 [£] 2300 / 2700. Commercial Bank: [$] 1675 / 1950. [£] 2430 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1850 / 2050 [£] 2550 / 2900.

22 February: Guinea will not allow the deployment of a 1,696-member ECOWAS peacekeeping force along its borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone until proposed United Nations sanctions are enforced against Liberia, Guinean Foreign Minister Mahawa Bangoura told reporters and diplomats on Wednesday. "Guinea demands the immediate and unconditional enforcement of sanctions decided by the U.N. Security Council before the deployment of ECOWAS troops," Bangoura said. According to Reuters, Bangoura said his country did not want a mere interposition force, but "a force which would impose peace." Earlier this month, ECOWAS asked the Security Council to postpone for two months consideration of a U.S.-sponsored resolution which would impose sanctions on Liberia for its alleged involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade and its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Guinea expressed anger over the delay, and accused ECOWAS of conspiring with the Liberian government, which it blames for supporting rebel forces fighting in the south of the country. 

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande met in Makeni on Tuesday with the RUF interim leader, General Issa Sesay, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Wednesday. Opande (pictured right) was joined by Major-General Tim Ford, the Military Advisor to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai, who were in Makeni to meet two UNAMSIL patrols sent from Port Loko and Mile 91. The two sides discussed the recovery of UNAMSIL vehicles left behind in Kabala, as well as the exhumation of the remains of a Nigerian soldier who was buried at Lunsar. They also discussed the future deployment of UNAMSIL into RUF-held areas. Following the meeting, Opande was shown the gravesite in Makama of Kenyan peacekeeper Corporal Robert Wanyama, who died at the Makeni Hospital last May. The UNHCR's representative in Sierra Leone, Arnold Akodjenou, also met with Sesay to discuss the issue of safe passage and the establishment of a "humanitarian corridor" for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, the spokesperson said.

Sunday's World Cup qualifying match between the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone and Liberia's Lone Stars is set to go ahead in Monrovia after FIFA, football's ruling body, turned down a last-minute Sierra Leonean request to have the game postponed or moved to a neutral venue. On Wednesday, Sierra Leone's Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Dr. Alpha T. Wurie, asked the Sierra Leone Football Association to make the request to FIFA for what he said were security reasons. FIFA said it had taken note of Sierra Leone's concerns, but ruled that Monrovia was stable. According to the BBC, Sierra Leonean international Mohammed Kallon is expected to fly in from Italy for the match. Liberia currently leads Group B, which includes such soccer powerhouses as Nigeria and Ghana, while Sierra Leone is mired in last place with no wins against two losses in which their opponents outscored the Leone Stars seven goals to zero.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will soon begin operating an aircraft to facilitate its operations in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the organisation said on Thursday. The main purpose of the plane will be to speed up the reunification of unaccompanied Sierra Leonean refugee children in Guinea and Liberia with their families, but it will also be used to support humanitarian activities in the three countries. The ICRC said it had received the required authorisation from all three governments to operate the plane in their respective countries.

21 February: The Sierra Leone Football Association has asked FIFA, football's international governing body, to move Sunday's scheduled World Cup qualifying match between Sierra Leone's Leone Stars and Liberia's Lone Stars from Monrovia to a neutral venue, or to have it rescheduled. According to the BBC, the Association reached the decision late Tuesday after receiving reports from the government that the security situation in Liberia was not conducive to Sierra Leone playing in that country. "The government has requested the FA (football association) to write to FIFA to highlight concern about the security situation," said Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Dr. Alpha T. Wurie (pictured left) . "The government has not told SLFA not to play. It’s a question of playing at a place that they will feel a bit more secured." Wurie told the BBC that both Sierra Leone's embassy in Monrovia and the security advisory committee in Freetown had expressed concern over the potential for an incident involving their players and officials. "There is also a major concern with regards to the refugees in camps, what will be the outcome irrespective of the result of the match," he said. "And if the advice we are getting is saying that their lives could be threatened, then we should raise that with the FA." Meanwhile, some of Sierra Leone's foreign-based players have already arrived in Freetown in advance of the match, including Alphajor Bah from China and Lansana Alpha from Bosnia, the BBC said.

The Russian Federation Council's Committee for Security and Defence is due to meet Wednesday to discuss funding of Russian peacekeeping missions abroad, Itar-Tass reported. The meeting follows a question raised in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's Parliament, of delayed payments to peacekeepers after their missions were extended in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and on the Georgian -  Abkhazian border, respectively. The committee, made up of representatives of the defence, finance and foreign ministries, will discuss the issue and determine whether it should be raised again in Parliament.

Health care workers struggling to assist large numbers of displaced persons and retuning refugees in Sierra Leone are "sorely in need of extra support," the U.N. World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday. "Health workers in Sierra Leone are struggling to cope with not just one, but several challenging situations," the statement said. "While Sierra Leonean refugees are being repatriated by boat from Guinea at a rate of 2,000-2,500 a week, in Sierra Leone itself their compatriots are fleeing Kambia, which is controlled by the Revolutionary United Front and under almost daily airborne attacks from Guinea's forces." Meanwhile, the agency said, aid workers have been able to take advantage of areas of relative peace in order to deliver health care to populations long cut off, such as the nearly 17,000 returnees who have moved into Loko Masama Chiefdom in the Port Loko District.

303 of every 1,000 children born in Kenema District last year died before their first birthday, the International Rescue Committee said on Wednesday. The findings were based on a study produced by the IRC in conjunction with Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The report found that most of the deaths were caused by easily treatable diseases, such as malaria and diarrhea. "This study is one more demonstration that war-related casualties do not end when the fighting stops," said Dr. Les Roberts of the IRC, one of the study's authors. "While few of the reported deaths were from violence or trauma, the damage to public health continues." Roberts said the families of most of those who died had sought help at government health clinics, but "with inadequate drugs and staff and no ability to refer or transport patients, the health system remains dysfunctional." The infant mortality rate in Sierra Leone has long been among the highest in the world. According to World Bank estimates, 190 of every 1,000 Sierra Leonean children born in 1980 died before the age of one —  second only to Cambodia, with an infant mortality rate of 201. In 1998, that statistic had improved slightly, to 169, but Sierra Leone's ranking had fallen to last. 336 of every 1,000 children died before age five in 1980, compared to 283 deaths per 1,000 in 1998.

An Inter-Tropic Airlines plane crashed-landed in Bo this week after three of its tires exploded on takeoff, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. There were no fatalities. The plane was carrying about 18 passengers, most of them Americans who were in Bo to attend a week-long conference of the United Methodist Church. Margao said the plane's engine caught fire and the pilot landed the aircraft at the edge of the bush. A Guinean UNAMSIL soldier reportedly forced open the doors to help the passengers escape the burning plane. "The engines and the wings were completely dismantled and destroyed beyond repair," Margao said.

20 February: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to resume aid by the weekend to an estimated 140,000 persons stranded amid warring factions in Guinea's southeastern "parrot's beak" region, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva. Redmond said the agency would take advantage of a lull in the fighting, and would build on efforts by UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers, who last week sought support from regional leaders and the RUF for the creation of a "humanitarian corridor" to access and evacuate the mostly Sierra Leonean refugees. "UNHCR and its partners are moving quickly to build on the momentum generated by Mr. Lubber's mission," he said. In Conakry, UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said the agency could begin trucking food and supplies to the area as early as Saturday, one the German aid agency GTZ had repaired bridges on safe roads out of the area. "They are going to repair the bridges this week, as Gueckedou has been quite calm for the last few days," she said, adding that aid workers would bypass the town of Gueckedou itself, which was still regarded as insecure. Returning trucks will be used to evacuate the most vulnerable refugees to safer areas of the country. Marie said the operation did not represent the establishment of a secure humanitarian corridor, although she said the Guinean army might escort aid convoys to the "parrot's beak." "This is not really a security corridor —  this is more our own initiative," she said. Aid workers who reached the area in recent days report an increase in malnutrition and numerous deaths, particularly among children, Redmond told reporters. On Monday the UNHCR relocated 1,020 refugees from the Nyaedou camp near Gueckedou to a new site some 200 km. to the north, bringing to 9,300 the number evacuated since the operation began on February 6. But up to 500 new arrivals reach Nyaedou daily, fleeing the endangered border camps in the "parrot's beak." 

Ten heads of state from West and Central Africa held a second day of discussions in Bamako Tuesday with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Horst Kohler, and the head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn. The leaders, including President Kabbah, were expected to discuss the effects of conflict and bad government on African economies, the problem of AIDS, and debt. Following Tuesday's session, Wolfensohn told reporters he had come away with a "certain optimism" for Africa's economic future. "He felt that the presidents themselves had really come up and spoken frankly to them and that they had been appointed, let’s say, lawyers on behalf of African heads of state to go back to Western countries and the rich world and to look for financing for what they want, which is money for infrastructure, health, education and transport, BBC correspondent Joan Baxter reported. She said Wolfensohn and Kohler stressed "good governance," with Kohler saying he thought the heads of state showed they had a vision of what was necessary for them to do to attract foreign investment. Baxter said Wolfensohn and Kohler had hinted at responsibility by their institutions for past failures. "Mr. Koehler was quite straightforward when he said that the problem was on both sides, that the debt had accumulated because it had not been well-managed to generate more money, it had just accumulated," she said. "But on the side of the people who were dispensing the loans there were also problems...What they’re doing is accepting sort of co-responsibility for the problem, which I think is quite new."

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande was due to meet Tuesday with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay in Makeni, in what UNAMSIL described as a continuation of their last meeting on February 12. UNAMSIL also indicated that several non-governmental organisations, including Medècins sans Frontiéres, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Code of Conduct Committee, would travel to Makeni for a separate meeting with Sesay. On Friday, United Nations military observers and Nigerian UNAMSIL officers met with an RUF delegation at Lunsar to discuss the progress of road repair work at Kumrabai and the crater in the Rogberi Junction - Lunsar stretch of highway. According to a UNAMSIL spokesperson, the RUF said it had enough manpower to start the work at any time. UNAMSIL's Senior Sector Team Leader noted that some non-governmental organisations had offered to provide food-for-work for the project, and suggested that representatives of these NGOs attend the next meeting on February 26. The two sides also discussed repair of the Lunsar - Kambia road and the possibility of UNAMSIL deployment in the Lunsar area. Meanwhile, Nigerian peacekeepers from NIBATT-7 were due to patrol to Lunsar and Makeni on Tuesday, while Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops from BAMBATT-2 were to patrol between Mile 91 and the towns of Magburaka and Makeni as confidence-building measures between UNAMSIL and the RUF.

Former RUF spokesman Omrie Golley said Tuesday he had received the written security assurances he sought from Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa which would allow him to return to Sierra Leone and chair an RUF political commission charged with moving the peace process forward. Last week Golley said he had accepted an offer by the RUF military command to chair the commission, providing he received formal assurances from the Sierra Leone government. He told the Sierra Leone Web he now expects to arrive in Freetown at the end of next week.

France has donated three million French francs ($416,000) to help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) relocate Sierra Leonean refugees in southern Guinea away from the dangerous border area, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau was quoted as saying. Rivasseau noted that the present location of camps along the Sierra Leone border left the refugees vulnerable to attacks by armed groups. He said France hoped the relocation of the refugees to safer areas in Guinea would only be temporary, until they could be voluntarily repatriated to Sierra Leone. 

19 February: On the final leg of his five-nation West African tour, United Nations High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers has met in Bamako with Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman, to discuss ways to alleviate the refugee crisis in Guinea. Lubbers said he discussed with Konare how ECOWAS troops might be used to help secure safe corridors for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees stranded amid warring groups in southern Guinea. The High Commissioner also met with the visiting heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Horst Kohler and James Wolfensohn, to discuss aid projects aimed at those affected by the Guinean crisis before leaving Mali late Sunday. 

18 February: An RUF political council to be chaired by former rebel spokesman Omrie Golley will comprise two combatants, two elders, two "political members," and a woman who heads the RUF's "Organisation for the Survival of Mankind," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told Radio France International on Sunday. Massaquoi said Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa had promised to Golley he would provide security assurances by Monday "so that he will have no hesitation in meeting them and at the same time meeting with other members of the civil society so that we can push the peace process forward." But Massaquoi suggested that "some elements within the very government" were working to undermine the peace process, and he accused government soldiers at Mile 91 and Masiaka of harassing civilians and seizing goods bound for rebel-held areas in violation of the Abuja ceasefire agreement. "So we are a bit hesitant to their proposals assuring us that they will make sure they will sit down with us to discuss the way forward," he said. "But we are appealing to them to stop this kind of issue, for them to warn their soldiers. We have even made this known to the UNAMSIL force commander." Massaquoi acknowledged a lack of progress by the United Nations peacekeeping force in deploying into rebel-held areas, but he insisted that wasn't the RUF's fault. "I think you know, you are aware that UNAMSIL too has some constraints of getting troops," he said. "A month ago we had a meeting with the UNAMSIL force commander, and we proposed as confidence building for them to have their first deployment in Kambia District, because they were saying that there are intelligence reports that we are training dissident forces in Kambia District for Guinea. And we told them that this is not correct."

17 February: Sierra Leone, which has been pushing hard for the enactment of United Nations sanctions against Liberia, said Saturday it would back a proposed compromise between the drafters of the U.N. resolution and ECOWAS which would postpone any sanctions by two months. The delay was requested on Monday by an ECOWAS ministerial delegation which met with the U.N. Security Council in New York. ECOWAS said it was not opposed to the sanctions as a matter of principle, but wanted first to exhaust other means of bringing Liberia into compliance with U.N. resolutions. The Liberian government has been accused of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and of involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade —  charges it denies. "The credibility of the Security Council is at stake, and so is the credibility of ECOWAS," Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs at the United Nations, Ambassador Sylvester Rowe, told the Sierra Leone Web. "Should the Council decide to adopt a resolution imposing sanctions that would take effect 60 days or two months after its adoption, Sierra Leone would be prepared to support it. We believe that the two months delay in implementation should satisfy the ECOWAS request for no action on the matter for a period of two months during which Liberia would be expected to comply with certain pledges made to ECOWAS." Guinea, which accuses Liberia of backing rebels fighting on Guinean territory, has reportedly expressed anger about the proposed delay in the sanctions. According to Reuters, Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman, got a cold reception in Conakry when he met with Guinean President Lansana Conte to explain the basis for the regional body's decision. No official statement was issued, but Reuters quoted a diplomatic source as saying the meeting between the two was tense, with Conte accusing ECOWAS of taking part in a "conspiracy against Guinea."

ECOWAS said Friday it was awaiting a "strong mandate" from the United Nations before deploying a proposed 1,696-member peacekeeping force along Guinea's troubled borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. The announcement came in a statement released after a meeting in Abuja between ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate and Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Vice Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi. ECOWAS is also waiting for Guinea and Liberia to sign a Status of Forces Agreement before deploying the troops, the statement said.

President Kabbah will lead a delegation to Bamako, Mali on Sunday for two days of meetings this week between a number of West African leaders and the heads of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The meeting, which will be similar to meetings held previously in Dakar, Libreville and Kampala, will involve an informal exchange of views between the heads of state and the representatives of the two Bretton Woods institutions on such topics as private investment in Africa, financing for development, and "reform efforts for the timely mobilisation of support from the World Bank and the IMF." President Kabbah will speak on "Governance and Conflicts," as an introduction to the discussion of the first topic on the agenda. Dr. James O. C. Jonah, the Minister of Finance, and Kadi Sesay, the Minister of Development and Economic Planning, will accompany Kabbah to the summit. 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers briefed Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo Saturday on the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees trapped by fighting along Guinea's southern border, a UNHCR spokesman said. The two reportedly discussed prospects for the deployment of an ECOWAS peacekeeping force to help stabilise the border region. Lubbers also stressed that the refugees should not be blamed for an arms buildup in the region, saying the refugees were an effect of the buildup and not its cause. This past week Lubbers met with the presidents of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to seek their support for a "humanitarian corridor" to evacuate the endangered refugees, and on Saturday he told reporters what he said to Liberian President Charles Taylor. "I said simply to him, 'although you have no real trouble today with violence and things going on in the territory of Liberia, you were part and parcel of a process of ten years which has produced in a way hundred thousands of refugees in the region so you have to be partner in this...if you preach democracy, if you preach human rights, you better respect also the [right to life] of people, refugees, which are without a government to call upon about human rights. And...if you want to base the world on law, you better invest in protection by the law, and by multilateral institutions like UNHCR'."

Former parliamentarian and Minister of State for the Interior S.S. (Sahr Sampson) Allieu died in Freetown on Thursday. He had reportedly been ill for some time. Allieu spent his career in Sierra Leone's Ministry of Agriculture, rising to the position of Agriculture Officer for Kono District. In 1980 he organised the first Kono agricultural show. Allieu successfully challenged incumbent S.R. Fillie-Faboe in the 1982 parliamentary elections, and was later named Minister of State. He will be buried on Thursday at the Circular Road Cemetery until such time as his body can be reinterred in his native Kono.

16 February: Aid workers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plan to return as early as next week to the area of southeastern Guinea known as the "parrot's beak," where an estimated 150,000 - 200,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced Guineans remain stranded amid warring groups, UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers said in Abidjan on Friday. Lubbers made the announcement after receiving commitments this week from the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and from the rebel Revolutionary United Front, to cooperate in establishing a "humanitarian corridor" for aid workers to access obtain safe access to the refugees and to evacuate them to safety. Lubbers is on the fourth leg of a five-nation West African tour which took him this week to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in search of a solution to the refugee crisis in Guinea, which his agency has called the worst in the world. He is due to meet on Saturday with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo before continuing on to Mali on Sunday, where he will attend an ECOWAS summit and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the regional body.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has endorsed a UNHCR initiative which would set up a "humanitarian corridor" to provide safe access and passage for tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees stranded between warring groups in southeastern Guinea, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva on Friday. Taylor met with UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers in Monrovia on Thursday. A joint UNHCR-Liberian statement said Taylor and Lubbers had agreed on three major principles to help alleviate the refugee crisis in the border region. This included safe access to and safe passage for the refugees, and condemnation of "any acts that would obstruct or hinder these principles."  "President Taylor agrees on the absolute priority of safe access to and safe passage for refugees, as well as condemning strongly all acts that hinder or hamper safe passage or access," Lubbers was quoted as saying. The Liberian president confirmed this in a statement to reporters after the meeting. "We condemn any group or individual that is opposed to free access or movement of refugees. And I believe and agree that we ought to give refugees, or the problems of refugees, very serious priority," he said. Lubbers said strong condemnation by regional leaders of harassment of refugees could have a major influence on armed factions operating in the border areas, build trust in the region, and help convince the international community to contribute to the development of war-torn states in the sub-region. Taylor offered to open the Liberian border to evacuate between 150,000 and 200,000 refugees trapped in Guinea's so-called "parrot's beak" region. Lubbers said, however, that the UNHCR prefers to provide humanitarian access and safe passage within Guinea itself. Lubbers said he had not asked for Taylor's assistance as a go-between with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Instead, Lubbers said, the agency preferred to deal directly with the RUF through an already-established UNAMSIL contact group.  The UNHCR is seeking assurances from the rebel group on the establishment of a safe corridor for the refugees, and on Thursday an RUF spokesman endorsed the plan.

Sierra Leonean Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Friday the government welcomed a commitment by the RUF to allow safe passage for hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees trapped in southern Guinea, but he said he hoped the rebel group would not prevent returnees from moving out of areas under their control. It has been widely reported that RUF rebels are involved in the current fighting in southern Guinea, a charge the RUF has denied. Spencer told the BBC that he was skeptical about whether the RUF would keep its word. "We have every reason to doubt the sincerity of the RUF," he said. "Their history and the way they’ve been behaving has proved that they can’t be really trusted. Every single agreement that has been reached with them in the past, they have reneged on it. They have not kept their side of any bargain. So we really have no reason to trust them." The minister acknowledged that despite his reservations, efforts by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers to negotiate safe passage for the refugees were necessary given their current plight. "I think it’s something that has to be done for the sake of those refugees who are caught up in a situation not of their making, and are suffering," he said. "One has to try virtually anything and everything to get them out of the situation they are in, and I believe that is the spirit under which Mr. Lubbers is trying to talk to the RUF to get them to cooperate." Spencer said he hoped that refugees might begin to return to Sierra Leone shortly. "It depends on how quickly the UNHCR can move, and how quickly we can get cooperation on all those involved," he said. "I can’t quite say, but one would hope that in the next few days we should be able to see some action."

UNAMSIL military observers and Nigerian peacekeepers (NIBATT-8) at Port Loko met with RUF commanders Tuesday to discuss filling in craters at the Mange Bridge. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the RUF stated that it had an almost unlimited supply of labour ready to help repair the roads, but needed equipment, stores, and a date to be determined to start the work. Most senior commanders of the RUF's 3rd Brigade attended the meeting, except for the commander, Colonel Bai Bureh, who was said to be on business at Kamakwie. Deputy 3rd Brigade commander Colonel Emmanuel headed the RUF delegation. The two sides agreed to meet again on February 27 for further discussions. On Thursday, Bangladeshi peacekeepers (BANBATT-2) and military observers from Mile 91 escorted a polio vaccination team from Mile 91 to the RUF-held towns of Magburaka, Makeni, Lunsar, Rogberi Junction, and back to Mile 91. The patrol passed through 16 RUF checkpoints along the way, and although they had to negotiate their way through some of them, none of the RUF combatants they encountered showed particular hostility. The patrol reported that the condition of the roads in the area were generally good.

The British destroyer HMS Glasgow is due to arrive in Freetown on Monday for a three-day visit, the U.K. Joint Task Force in Sierra Leone announced on Friday. The Glasgow, a type 42 destroyer, is equipped with sophisticated communications and sensor equipment, and is armed with 114 mm. guns, the Mk-8 4.5 inch guns, anti-submarine torpedo tubes, Sea Dart missiles, the multi-barrel Phalanx rapid-firing gun system, and Lynx anti-submarine helicopters. This is the Glasgow's first visit to Freetown. The last type 42 destroyer to visit the Sierra Leonean capital was the HMS Liverpool, in December last year.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 1950 [£] 2300 / 2700. Commercial Bank: [$] 1675 / 1950. [£] 2430 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2800.

15 February: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is making progress on the relocation of tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees from camps around the embattled town of Gueckedou in southeastern Guinea, UNHCR spokeswoman Delphine Marie said late Wednesday. "Today we moved 791 refugees from Nyaedou and Katkama camps, the two closest camps to the conflict zone, further north to Albadaria Prefecture, to a brand new site which is set up there. The site has already received 5,500 people since last week," Marie told the BBC. She added that the agency was looking to accelerate the operation, as there were still about 15,500 people at Katkama and some 1,000 to 2,000 at the Nyaedou camp. Marie noted that there were still an estimated 140,000 refugees and displaced Guineans stranded in the so-called "parrot's beak" region of Guinea, but said that in the past few weeks the agency had been seeing new arrivals at Nyaedou of people who had managed to flee refugee camps in that volatile border area. Marie told the BBC the Guinean military authorities had been "very cooperative" in assisting the UNHCR to evacuate the refugees. "At the moment they are cooperating on the convoys with escorts. They are helping on our request to search the luggages so that we are sure that there’s no weapons or no rebels among the people who are transported," she said. Meanwhile, an RUF spokesman said Thursday the rebel group had given assurances to UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers that it would cooperate in setting up a "humanitarian corridor" from Guinea's Forecariah Prefecture to the RUF-controlled Kambia District of Sierra Leone.

Liberian President Charles Taylor pledged his country's cooperation Thursday to assist the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in creating a "humanitarian corridor" to evacuate hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees trapped by fighting in Guinea's volatile southeastern border region. "We will make the entire land mass of this country open to the United Nations force in Sierra Leone. We will cooperate fully with the U.N. and the international community," Taylor said following a meeting in Monrovia with UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers. Lubbers also visited Guinea and Sierra Leone this week in his efforts to gain support for his agency's efforts to move the refugees. On Wednesday, Lubbers said he had received indications that Sierra Leone's RUF rebels were willing to cooperate in creating the corridor, and on Thursday rebel spokesman Gibril Massaquoi confirmed that the RUF would support the plan. "We have had initial discussions with Mr. Lubbers for the refugee situation in Guinea," Massaquoi (pictured right) told the BBC. "And we hope to have further discussions subsequently, though we made it known to him that the Guineans were bombing our border towns in the Kambia and Kailahun District regularly, killing innocent civilians. But in principle we have agreed. We only need finalization. After his tour from Liberia he will make another contact." Massaquoi said the repatriation exercise would require the cooperation of both the RUF and the Guinean authorities. He expressed concern about the danger to the returning refugees of possible bombardments by Guinean forces. Massaquoi also gave assurance that the returnees, many of whom fled their homes for fear of the rebels, would not face harassment by the RUF. "We are not going to pursue anybody," he said. "Some already have started crossing two months ago, and they are already resettling in our controlled areas. If some want to get to Freetown, or if some want to get to any part of Sierra Leone, as we are talking of peace now I think they will be allowed by RUF." Massaquoi said the RUF would hold final discussions with Lubbers on Friday, and expected to meet with him face-to-face within the next few days to work out the principles under which the repatriation of refugees would take place.

President Kabbah rejected opposition calls for an interim government of national unity Thursday, arguing that it was not possible to "end the war and bring peace by merely playing a game of simple addition and subtraction in the allocation of ministerial positions." In an address marking the launch of the Peace and Development Initiative Project, Kabbah called his cabinet the most inclusive in the history of Sierra Leone since independence. "Peace today depends not on the composition of the cabinet, but on the will of the RUF to implement fully its obligations under the ceasefire agreement we signed in Abuja last November," he said. "My government regards scrupulous implementation of the ceasefire agreement by the RUF as the most effective confidence-building measure necessary for advancing the peace process."

The United States and Britain, which have been pushing for U.N. sanctions against Liberia for its alleged involvement in diamond smuggling and arms trafficking and its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, have proposed a compromise which could delay the start of some of the sanctions by two months. On Monday, an ECOWAS ministerial delegation asked the Security Council for a two-month delay in adopting the U.S.-sponsored draft resolution, in order to allow Liberia the opportunity to come into compliance with commitments it made to the regional body. ECOWAS would prefer that the resolution itself be delayed, but has stated it is not opposed to the sanctions as a matter of principle. "We have issued an appeal saying that ECOWAS has pledged that at the end of two months, Liberia must change its behavior in the region," said Malian Ambassador Moctar Ouane. "Any action that does does not take account of the ECOWAS appeal would be counter-productive. It would ruin ECOWAS efforts and would be a great disaster for the situation." Mali currently holds the rotating chairmanship of ECOWAS as well as a seat on the Security Council. "What we are trying to do is find a way that is most supportive of the countries in the region that are trying on their own to get President Taylor to do the right things and then how to construct a resolution," said U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham. "It will take a little time."

Former RUF spokesman Omrie Golley said Thursday he had accepted an offer from the RUF military command to chair an eight-member RUF Political Council charged with finding what he called "a viable way forward" in the peace process. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web that the council would include RUF combatants and members of civil society drawn from organisations behind rebel lines, such as women's groups and religious associations. He said the council, which he envisaged as operating in Freetown, would move to initiate discussions with the government for a resumption of peace talks based on the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, or on a renegotiated version of that agreement —  a "Lome II," as he termed it. "The idea would be obviously to revisit and find a way to move the process forward and more expeditiously," he said. Golley related that his decision to accept the post followed several months of discussions with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay who, he said, asked him "to come back to the movement." Shortly after the signing of the peace accord, Golley broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, and last year registered his own political party in Freetown. Three weeks ago, he met with Sesay in Monrovia, where the rebel leader asked him to chair the council. Golley stressed that he was not a member of the RUF, and insisted Sesay's offer was made on the basis of what the RUF leadership perceived as his commitment to the peace process, and because of his previous contributions as the RUF's spokesman and legal representative during the Lomé talks. He told the Sierra Leone Web he had also received "encouragement" from Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, from the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, from ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, and from OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim. Golley said he hoped to return to Freetown next week, but that he was first seeking written assurances from Berewa for his security. After that, he said, he would hasten to familiarise himself with the current situation in Sierra Leone, and to ensure that the council was "properly seated" in Freetown. "We must get back to that table and we must start that process again," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Thursday it had distributed non-food relief items to about 12,000 internally displaced persons who recently fled fighting in Kambia District. More than 2,000 displaced families staying in various villages on the Lungi Peninsula received shelter material, blankets, sleeping mats, buckets, kitchen sets and soap. The ICRC and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society also registered 128 persons who will receive fishing materials to enable them to generate an income, the ICRC statement said. The two organisations also carried out an assessment to determine whether to assist some of the displaced with seeds and tools. The agency said it would now consult with Sierra Leone's Ministry of Agriculture, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the NGO Community Action for Progress to determine how best to address the issue.

14 February: Parliament voted unanimously on Tuesday to postpone by six months presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for February and March, respectively. "Elections cannot be held at this point in time because of insecurity in the country. Two-thirds of the country is under the control of Revolutionary United Front rebels," the motion said. President Kabbah requested the delay last month after receiving a letter from the head of the National Electoral Commission which said the elections would be impossible because of the current security climate. The commission also noted financial and logistical constraints. Under the constitution, the president may request that Parliament delay elections by up to six months at a time if Sierra Leone is at war in which the country's physical territory is threatened. 

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer rejected on Wednesday a call by the rebel RUF to set up an interim government, and blamed the rebel group for the government's decision to ask for a six-month postponement of this year's presidential and parliamentary elections. "The fact that the government has had to ask for an extension and Parliament has approved an extension of the life of government and of parliament is simply because the RUF has refused to abide by the agreements reached," Spencer told the BBC. "They are the ones that have caused government to have to ask for an extension. And for them now to start talking about an interim government, it’s just a smoke screen. They are taking us right back to where we were before Lomé (the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord)." Spencer accused the RUF of failing to live up to commitments it made in last November's Abuja ceasefire agreement, apart from the opening of a number of roads into rebel-held territory. "They have opened a few roads, but that is so they can get supplies," he said. "Government officials can’t go there. They are not allowing government officials to go there and establish government authority. They are not allowing our own forces to move there. They can come into government-held areas. But what have they done apart from that? Handed over a few carcasses of armoured vehicles which they seized from the UN, and a few rifles? They have much more to hand over; they have not done that." Spencer called on the international community to put increased pressure on the RUF. "They need to be made to understand that they cannot continue doing this kind of thing," he said. "They cannot continue holding the people of Sierra Leone to ransom. See what is happening in Guinea. They are involved in that as well, and they’re causing more problems for other countries, escalating the conflict, spreading it throughout the region. We will continue to exercise patience, but that patience is not infinite. There will come a time when we may not be able to exercise patience. There is a lot of pressure on the government by the public. The ordinary people are saying that government should take military action. We have refused to do that because we believe that we want a peaceful solution to the crisis."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday it had delivered food to thousands of stranded Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees around the southeastern Guinean town of Gueckedou for the first time since fighting forced aid groups to suspend their activities in the area in November. WFP spokesman Ramin Rafirasme told Reuters that seven WFP trucks carrying food rations for 6,000 people arrived in the Gueckedou area on Wednesday. "The trucks were escorted...by Guinean troops, but we've been able to deliver," Rafirasme said. He add that this was a pilot exercise, and that more food would be delivered as long as security could be guaranteed. The WFP spokesman confirmed Guinean government claims that the army had recaptured Gueckedou from rebel forces who seized it last week. "It's a ghost town, basically, all the civilians have left. But the town is controlled by the army," he said. 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers met for a second day with Sierra Leonean officials and refugees to explain his proposal for a "humanitarian corridor" for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees stranded in southeastern Guinea.  According to a UNHCR statement, Lubbers said the agency had received indications Sierra Leone's RUF rebels were willing to cooperate in establishing such a humanitarian corridor —  possibly a safe return route from Forecariah in southwestern Guinea to Sierra Leone's Kambia District. "We will have to confirm this but it would be a positive development," he said, adding: "We would also urge the RUF to apply the principle of humanitarian safety as broadly as possible, especially in the tri-state area where Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia meet. This is UNHCR's most urgent priority because we have an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 refugees and internally displaced trapped by fighting in the so-called Parrot's Beak region of southwest Guinea. Humanitarian agencies need access to these people and the refugees need to be relocated to a safer area." Lubbers said he was enlisting the support of governments in the sub-region and of the RUF to help the UNHCR open a humanitarian corridor from the so-called "parrot's beak" region along the Sierra Leone border north into central Guinea. He said this would allow aid agencies to supply food and other aid to the area from stockpiles in the country, and would enable the refugees to move to safer camps in Guinea's Faranah region. Once there, the refugees could decide whether they wished to be repatriated to Sierra Leone. One eventual route of return by land could be from Forecariah through Kambia District, Lubbers said. "I have so far been able to enlist the support of the presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone for establishment of humanitarian passage and possible safe return routes, " Lubbers said. "But this will also need the cooperation of others, including the RUF and Liberia, where I will travel tomorrow." The UNHCR estimates there are currently some 418,000 refugees remaining in Guinea —  down from about 450,000 after an estimated 30,000 persons returned to Sierra Leone and Liberia since fighting broke out in the region last year.

Following talks on Tuesday with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, President Kabbah proposed the establishment of a "humanitarian corridor" which would allow refugees in southern Guinea to return to Sierra Leone. According to the Voice of America, the corridor would extend from southeastern Guinea to northeastern Sierra Leone —  an area controlled by the RUF. Kabbah's proposal goes further than current plans by the UNHCR, which is pushing for a humanitarian corridor that would allow aid agencies to evacuate the refugees north, away from the volatile border area to safer areas of Guinea. Kabbah also said a proposed 1,696-member ECOMOG force to be deployed in the border area "should be available to escort these refugees who are here, just a few miles away from their country." But on Wednesday an official of the force said the planned deployment had been put on hold while the ECOWAS Secretariat awaits the signing by Guinea and Liberia of a Status of Forces Agreement. Colonel Dixon [Dikuo] of Nigeria said ECOWAS' plans were to deploy the force on both sides of the Guinea - Liberia border, near the towns of Macenta, Voinjama and Zorzor. "The general mission is to stabilise the situation along the borders, to create the environment for political negotiations and mediation to take place," he said, adding: "Part of the mission is to guarantee free passage and protect the refugees within the area of operations."

The Indian peacekeeping contingent has completed its withdrawal from UNAMSIL, the BBC reported on Wednesday. India first announced it planned to withdraw its troops last September, after friction developed between the then-UNAMSIL force commander, Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley of India, and Nigerian U.N. officials. In the memo, Jetley accused the Nigerians of collaborating with the RUF and involvement in illicit diamond mining —  charges which Nigeria has denied. At the time, the Indian contingent was the largest, best equipped and arguably the most experienced within the U.N. peacekeeping force. BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana noted that the Indians would be missed for non-military reasons as well. "Indian engineers were instrumental in the rehabilitation of broken bridges and badly-damaged roads in the countryside," he said. In a report filed from Freetown, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle quoted U.N. officials as saying that the pullout of the Indian and Jordanian peacekeeping contingents since late last year had reduced the combat-ready capacity of the U.N. peacekeeping force by over 60 percent. 

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast briefed the Security Council on the situation in Sierra Leone Wednesday on the recent high-level meeting between the United Nations and regional organisations, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Afterwards, the Council received a briefing from Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. Following the closed-door Council meeting, Adeniji told reporters UNAMSIL was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for peace in the country. "We are constantly in discussion with the RUF, constantly trying to encourage them to really recognize that perhaps now henceforth there is no alternative for them but to commit themselves to a peaceful resolution of the conflict," he said. "It's in their interest, it's in their major interest to do that as things stand now." Adeniji said the U.N. had still not received offers of troops to replace the departed Indian and Jordanian contingents, leaving the force short of troops to deploy. "We are trying to refine our own operational plan so that we would able to start deploying into the RUF-held territory shortly," he said. "The Abuja ceasefire agreement calls for that, and we are quite conscious of the fact that we are required to do it." Adeniji expressed the hope that if the ceasefire continued to hold, and if additional progress could to be made on implementing parts of the ceasefire agreement, that it might encourage more countries to offer troops to UNAMSIL. "In terms of the military situation...there has been no violation in terms of attack of one group," he said. "Neither the troops of the Government of Sierra Leone, not the RUF, nor even the other group called the CDF, has undertaken any aggressive moves against any other group. And so the situation militarily is quiet. But of course there are other facts which have to be in place before we can be absolutely certain that we are on the road to a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan said Wednesday his country would have to "deal with the concerns of the international community" if it were to escape proposed United Nations sanctions. Liberia has been accused, most recently by a U.N. panel of experts, of violating U.N. sanctions by trafficking in arms and illicit diamonds in the sub-region, and of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. This week, an ECOWAS ministerial-level delegation asked the U.N. Security Council for a two-month delay in imposing the sanctions, during which time ECOWAS proposed to implement a number of measures designed to pressure Liberia into living up to its commitments. "We have our credibility at stake, because we have made commitments to ECOWAS," Captan told the Voice of America. "President Taylor has been very specific in the commitments he has made to his peers, and he has some time now to try to fulfill those commitments. If there’s a failure on the part of our government to fulfill those commitments, then I think we would lose credibility in the eyes of our peers in the West African community and in the international community as a whole." One of the commitments required by ECOWAS was that the exiled former RUF field commander, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, be turned over to the regional body. Bockarie had lived in Monrovia since he broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999. Last week, Liberia announced that Bockarie had left the country, but on Wednesday Captan declined to say where he had gone. "All I can confirm to you is that he has been expelled from Liberia," he said. "Our concern was not where he went, who he went to, but the fact that he was out of Liberia." The minister rejected speculation that Bockarie might still be in Monrovia. "There are attempts now where Liberia is working towards ensuring that some verification of his absence from Liberia can be ascertained and confirmed," he said.

UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki lashed out Tuesday at the Resident Minister of Eastern Province, Sahr Randolph Fillie-Faboe, for remarks he made about the U.N. peacekeeping force over the weekend. Novicki called the minister's remarks, made at a civil society movement consultative forum in Kenema, "misleading and unhelpful to the peace process." She refused to relate to reporters what the minister said, saying only that his speech was "not complimentary to the role UNAMSIL is taking in this country." A civil society source told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday that Fillie-Faboe noted UNAMSIL was controlling checkpoints into RUF-held areas and allowing the free movement of people and goods, and suggested there was a high possibility that diamonds were being smuggled in. Fillie-Faboe complained that U.N. peacekeepers were allowed to travel by themselves into RUF-held areas for "confidence-building" meetings, yet they refused to deploy their forces there, the source said. The minister reportedly also complained that UNAMSIL had been given houses and other facilities free of charge to facilitate its work, but had produced to results and had merely wasted government resources. If UNAMSIL were unable to deploy its forces, Fillie-Faboe was quoted as saying, the peacekeepers should "pack their bags and leave the country."  "UNAMSIL is here to provide support to the peace process and in its impartial capacity, has contacts with all parties to the conflict," Novicki said. "It has deployed in four sectors of the country and will deploy further once it has the requisite troop strength. In the meantime, it will continue to conduct robust patrolling. Statements intended to inflame public opinion against UNAMSIL are neither useful nor in keeping with the spirit of the search for peace." This is not the first time Fillie-Faboe has run up against U.N. peacekeepers. Last week, even as UNAMSIL was pressuring the RUF to reopen roads leading into rebel-held territory, Fillie-Faboe ordered security forces to prevent the transportation of all goods into RUF areas. He accused the the rebels of failing to live up to their commitments made under the Abuja ceasefire agreement, and told the BBC they would now be starved into compliance.

13 February: An ECOWAS ministerial-level delegation has asked the United Nations Security Council for a two-month delay in imposing proposed sanctions against Liberia. The ECOWAS delegation, comprised of the foreign ministers of Mali, Nigeria, Togo and Liberia, and U.N. ambassadors from Guinea and Gambia, met with the Council in closed session on Monday. Following the release late last year of a U.N. panel of experts' report which accused Liberia of violating U.N. sanctions by trafficking in arms and illicit diamonds and backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, the United States circulated a draft resolution which would place United Nations embargoes on Liberian rough diamonds and timber, strengthen the existing U.N. arms embargo, ground Liberian-registered aircraft, and impose an international travel ban on senior Liberian officials. In its statement, excerpts of which have been obtained by the Sierra Leone Web, ECOWAS said it was not opposed in principle to the imposition of sanctions, but that it wanted to first exhaust other avenues to pressure the Liberian government into living up to its commitments. To that end, ECOWAS proposed "a regime of pressure in the form of the threat of sanctions, on the basis of specific commitments given to it and to the international community by the Government of Liberia, accompanied by a timetable and a monitoring and follow-up mechanism." The regime would include an arms embargo, the monitoring of aircraft, strict monitoring of diamonds, monitoring of bank accounts, the breaking of all ties with the RUF, stabilisation of the situation on Liberia's border with Guinea, internal political discussion within Liberia and continuation of investigations proposed in the U.S.-sponsored draft resolution. Specifically, principal commitments would be to ground and register all aircraft, to strengthen the arms embargo and to monitor Liberia's ports and airports, to establish tight controls over diamonds, to ensure that Liberia not "serve as a rearguard or transit point for irregular armed groups," and that Liberia break all ties with the RUF and expel those RUF elements present in its territory. The Liberian government would be required to hand over former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie to ECOWAS, to allow the monitoring of bank accounts belonging to Liberian President Charles Taylor, and to "initiate a dialogue among the different currents of political opinion in Liberia." Liberia would be given two months to comply with these commitments. "If it does not do so, ECOWAS will take the necessary measures at its level and request the Security Council to adopt and apply an appropriate sanctions regime," the statement said. "Implementation of these commitments could, as already indicated, be supervised by joint U.N./ECOWAS machinery. Details of the functioning of such machinery could be determined at subsequent U.N./ECOWAS meetings." Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan, who has actively lobbied against the U.N. sanctions, said he hoped the Security Council would adopt the ECOWAS regime. "We heard a clear message from the Council, which is something that we’re not surprised at. This is what we expected," he told reporters following the meeting. "But we are hopeful that the Council will take ECOWAS in a serious manner and give serious consideration to their proposal." But Britain's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said the U.N. needed to see "very urgent action from Liberia to show they have cut off support to the RUF." Greenstock said there was evidence that Liberia had sold arms to the RUF in exchange for diamonds as recently as January.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers arrived in Freetown on Tuesday, on the second leg of his regional tour aimed at finding a solution to the current refugee crisis in Guinea —  a crisis described by his agency as the worst in the world. Fighting between armed groups in southeastern Guinea has endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced Guineans, and left an estimated quarter of a million people stranded out of the reach of aid agencies in the country's so-called "parrot's beak" region —  a strip of Guinean territory which juts into Sierra Leone. Lubbers met Monday with Guinean President Lansana Conte, and said the Guinean leader had given him security guarantees for humanitarian workers, who have faced harassment by Guinean soldiers as they worked to relocate refugees to safer areas of the country. Lubbers also suggested that the international community had not done enough to help the refugees, and he appealed for more assistance. "I do think that international support for our operations is too minimal. It just is not enough. We have to do more," he told reporters in Conakry. In the Sierra Leonean capital, Lubbers was due to meet with President Kabbah and with UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande in an effort to assess whether the country could accept returning refugees at a faster rate. Over the weekend, he told reporters he planned to talk to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels about ensuring a "safe corridor" for aid workers to evacuate the refugees from areas of conflict. Upon his arrival in Freetown, Lubbers told the BBC what that meant. "What we ask from RUF is not so much negotiations but a signal, a political signal, that they are going to respect the safe passage," he said. "This is needed because the roads which have to be used is on Guinean territory, but it’s only about fifteen miles from the border. So it’s so nearby that such a safe passage is really safe only when RUF respects the movement there." Lubbers said the issue should be brought up with the rebel group as part of "the already ongoing discussions to stabilise the country" in Sierra Leone. "It’s also parts of a number of visits to presidents (in the sub-region)," he said. "And I started with the president in Guinea; then we have the president in Sierra Leone, and then I’ll travel to President Charles Taylor (of Liberia) to ask his support as well for these." Meanwhile, as the High Commissioner prepared for talks with the Sierra Leonean authorities, Sierra Leonean Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer (pictured right) stressed that his government's capacity to help the refugees was limited. "We are not able to do much, because first of all the refugees are in Guinea," he told the BBC. "We have been talking with the Guinean government and with UNHCR to find a way to extricate the refugees from the dangerous area where they’re now located. And prior even to the worsening of the situation we had put in our meagre resources to try to repatriate the refugees back home. We made arrangements for those who could get to Conakry to be brought back to Freetown where they’re being taken care of. But our resources are extremely limited and there isn’t much we can do." Spencer said the government lacked the funds to house and feed large numbers of returning refugees, and he said he hoped the international community would provide assistance, either through the Sierra Leone government or the UNHCR. The minister said the creation of a safe corridor to evacuate the refugees should be possible "provided all the parties agree to cooperate," adding that the government was looking to UNAMSIL to bring the matter up with the RUF. "If UNAMSIL were to deploy troops in that area, it should make it even easier. And that is something we’ve been urging for awhile," he said.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told Radio France International Tuesday that the rebel group welcomed the request by UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers for RUF cooperation in establishing a safe corridor for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of endangered Sierra Leonean refugees from southeastern Guinea. "We welcome that very much, because in fact besides he talking to us already, some refugees are started crossing into Kailahun District and Kono District, and we welcome them," Massaquoi said. "The only difficult situation we are in now is because the government has decided to close some of the roads to our territories, and the NGOs are finding it difficult to come down to them to assist them." Massaquoi said the RUF had met Monday with Kingsley Amaning, the United Nations Development Programme representative for Sierra Leone. "We welcomed the idea of him and his team coming on assessment and start urgent delivery to these refugees," he said. "The UNHCR commissioner is welcome to talk to us, to sit down with us and discuss."

UNAMSIL and the RUF held a high-level closed-door meeting in Makeni on Monday, with UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande leading the U.N. delegation and the RUF's interim leader, General Issa Sesay, heading the rebel side. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Opande raised the issue of the return of weapons seized from U.N. peacekeepers last May. The RUF delegation, for its part, called for the formation of an interim government, and for the simultaneous disarmament of all parties to the conflict. The RUF also requested that non-governmental organisations provide assistance to people behind rebel lines, and promised to provide the necessary security. After the meeting, the RUF handed over 56 weapons, communications equipment, and nine vehicles seized from UNAMSIL. According to the U.N., the arms included Kalashnikov assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and other heavy weapons. Sesay also indicated that six additional UNAMSIL armed personnel carriers were ready to be collected at Lunsar and Kailahun. "Last time had our meeting which I promised them to return the [words indistinct] and equipment, and also with vehicles. And I’ve started doing that today," Sesay told reporters. "I’ve turned some weapons together with six APCs and some vehicles to General Opande, and also I’ve called General Opande’s attention [?he has our permission] to come and deploy in Makeni, Bombali District, you know, so that they can able forward their [words indistinct] and they will be able to monitor the ceasefire agreement." Opande called Sesay's invitation to deploy "positive," but he declined to commit himself as to the timing. "I won’t tell you how soon, but we are going to deploy," he said. In New York, a U.N. spokesman said the weapons turned over by the RUF were in "reasonable" condition, but that the armoured personnel carriers had been "trashed and cannibalized," like others returned to UNAMSIL last year. The number of weapons returned to UNAMSIL Monday was also far fewer than the number taken from U.N. peacekeepers last May, and RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi explained that the rebel group was having trouble rounding them all up. "We are facing some constraints in especially the rifles, because of the disarmament —  our men may want to keep them to get their money in turn on disarmament day," he said. "We are also working modalities with General Opande to put some machinery in place on the day of disarmament to try and get rid of these weapons in case we are not able to get all. But we are still trying to get the balance." After the meeting the two delegations visited the Makeni Hospital, where it was confirmed that a Kenyan peacekeeper, Corporal Robert Wanyama, had died of gunshot wounds in May. They then travelled to Magburaka, where UNAMSIL was shown the makeshift graves of two Kenyan soldiers who died when their armoured personnel carrier fell off a bridge during the May crisis. The RUF delegation included Gibril Massaquoi, Brigadier Morris Kallon, Colonel Augustine Gbao, Lieutenant-Colonel Sylvester Benda, and Major Abdul Razak. The UNAMSIL delegation included Chief Military Observer Brigadier-General Isa Chisuzi and members of his civilian staff.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday it plans to vaccinate nearly 330,000 children this week in RUF-controlled areas of Sierra Leone. Children under the age of five will be given an oral polio vaccine and vitamin A capsules to boost their immune systems to prevent blindness and measles, a UNICEF spokesman said in Geneva. "It is the first time since last April that a vaccination campaign is being organised in this part of Sierra Leonean territory," the spokesman said. The operation will be carried out Friday and Saturday in seven of the country's twelve districts. A second round of vaccinations will be held in mid-March. Since the ceasefire agreed last year is holding, no special "days of tranquility" have been requested. About 800,000 children were vaccinated last year in government-held areas of Sierra Leone.

Germany will donate one million marks ($470,000) to help the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deal with the refugee crisis in Guinea, the German foreign ministry announced on Tuesday. The announcement comes one day after UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers called on the international community to provide more assistance to alleviate what the agency has called the worst refugee crisis in the world. The foreign ministry also said Germany was examining a plan to provide assistance to ECOWAS to transport the refugees by air. This year Germany's foreign and development ministries have budgeted some 18 million marks ($8.47 million) to aid in the resettlement of Sierra Leonean refugees.

12 February: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers was due to meet with Guinean officials in Conakry on Monday to press for better security for hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees endangered by fighting in southeastern Guinea. "I will check with them what they really need and maybe call on the international community to provide more support, to (aid agencies) as well as to the Guinean government in order to make it possible for them to guarantee... secure transit of people," Lubbers said as he toured a transit camp in Conakry for refugees waiting to be repatriated to Sierra Leone. On Sunday, Lubbers called on Guinea to provide a safe corridor for refugees and humanitarian workers. Some 250,000 refugees and displaced Guineans remain stranded in the "parrot's beak" area along the Sierra Leone border, caught between warring groups and without food or medicine since late last year. Lubbers has made it clear that the Guinean government is responsible for ensuring the safety of refugees within its borders, and said he would request better cooperation from the Guinean army, which has been accused of harassing refugees and of obstructing the work of humanitarian workers. "Although we had a number of problems, it is remarkable at the same time the way (the Guinean authorities) are cooperating," Lubbers said. "It is improving now —  we are seeing more respect for our work." UNHCR staff told Reuters Monday that the military was still holding several of the agency's vehicles, which were commandeered by soldiers. Lubbers is due to meet with Prime Minister Lamine Sidime and with Guinea's foreign and security ministers. On Thursday, the High Commissioner will meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor on the third leg of his five-nation tour of the sub-region, and he promised to deliver a strong message: "strong in terms of threats, strong in terms of the possibilities for him of a positive outcome." The Liberian government faces the threat of United Nations sanctions over allegations of diamond and arms smuggling, and support for the Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Lubbers urged the international community to enact the sanctions on Liberia for its part in the crisis. "We are already now in the process of the boycott (on Liberia)...and I do not hesitate to make a judgment to the international community to be even tougher on that," he said. Over the weekend, Lubbers said he would talk to any groups necessary in order to ensure safety for the refugees, including Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, who are reported to be fighting on the side of the dissidents. But in a BBC interview broadcast on Monday, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi denied involvement by the rebel movement, although he acknowledged that individual RUF combatants might be fighting in Guinea. "The people putting blame on the RUF, which is not correct," he said. "I am not denying that if any RUF who may have gone into this disarmament process, left the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) camp, go and say he’s going to join the dissidents in Guinea or wheresoever. I have not been denying that fact. But the RUF in Sierra Leone is involved in defending our own territory, and not in Guinea."

The United States has backed a call by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubber to establish a "safe corridor" for hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees cut off by fighting in southeastern Guinea. "We would urge everybody involved there to respect international humanitarian principles and therefore allow all the safe passage of all noncombatants to secure areas where they can obtain assistance," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday, adding: "We don't have the details yet on the safe corridor proposal. We'll continue to work with the government of Guinea, the regional leaders and to support the work of humanitarian agencies to provide emergency relief and ensure the safety of the refugees." On Monday, Lubbers told reporters in Conakry that he hoped the international community would contribute "more in military support, in terms of logistics." Boucher agreed that action was urgent, but said he was not aware of any concrete proposal for the United States to provide military aid to help rescue the refugees. 

The United Nations Security Council and a visiting delegation of foreign ministers from ECOWAS were due to meet in closed session Monday afternoon to discuss the volatile situation along the border Sierra Leone - Liberia - Guinea border. The foreign ministers of Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the ambassadors from Guinea and Gambia were expected to be present, along ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate. A U.N. spokesman said Secretary-General Kofi Annan would address the meeting. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) commended Sierra Leone Monday for implementing economic stabilisation policies which, the agency said, led to a modest economic recovery in the country last year after years of economic decline. The IMF described Sierra Leone's economic performance as "generally satisfactory," noting an estimated 3.8 percent rise in GDP and a decrease in inflation from 37 percent in December 1999 to two percent by the end of November last year. Better exchange rate management reduced market segmentation and narrowed the difference between the official exchange rate and the black market rate from 31 percent in February 2000 to six percent in November. The agency cited improved fiscal management as the key to this improved economic performance. An increase in imports, improved tax administration, and tightened expenditure controls resulted in government revenues which significantly exceeded expectations. The overall budget deficit rose to an estimated 21 percent of GDP (as compared to 15 percent in 1999), however, net bank financing of the deficit was reduced from 7.4 percent of GDP in 1999 to 1.6 percent in 2000. Largely as a result of this, the growth in the money supply decreased from 41 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2000. Sierra Leone's external current account, excluding transfers, rose last year to 17 percent of GDP, from eight percent in 1999. This increase reflected Sierra Leone's substantial increase in imports and the weak performance of the export sector which has not yet recovered from a decade of civil conflict. IMF directors noted, however, because of the delay in implementing the peace process, the benefits of economic recovery had been largely limited to areas of the country under government control. They also noted that Sierra Leone faces difficult challenges over the medium term, particularly "the desperate poverty situation, the large resource requirements for rehabilitation and reconstruction, the weakness of the export sector and the heavy domestic and external debt service burden." The directors welcomed efforts undertaken by the government for a comprehensive medium-term programme, the initiation of work on a medium-term expenditure framework, and the elaboration of sectoral and structural reforms. They pointed out that achievement of the government's 2001 fiscal targets would require continued tight control of expenditures and sustained efforts to improve tax administration and collection. The IMF directors stressed the risk of potential budget overruns, especially in the areas of defence expenditures and administrative costs in formerly RUF-controlled territory, and they encouraged the government to implement "firm expenditure controls" and resist pressure for a general wage and salary increase until a plan for civil service reform was clearly mapped out, and until prospects for government revenue and external financing could be more firmly established. The IMF directors said Sierra Leone's near-term external prospects "remain particularly difficult," because exports are expected to recover only slowly while imports are likely to increase as a result of envisaged rehabilitation and reconstruction activity. They advised the authorities to maintain a liberal trade and payments system and a flexible exchange rate policy. They also expressed concern about the problem of illegal diamond exports, and called for improved certification procedures. The directors noted that, in the case that progress on security and rebuilding capacities is delayed, Sierra Leone would likely be eligible for additional post-conflict assistance from the IMF. 

11 February: The new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, visited the Massakoundou refugee camp in southeastern Guinea on Sunday, where he was greeted by women and children clamouring to be repatriated to their home countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, Reuters reported. After listening to the refugees, some of whom fled the Nyaedou camp on Friday following a new outbreak of fighting at the nearby town of Gueckedou, Lubbers promised to do what he could to help resolve what his agency has called the world's most serious refugee crisis. "It's all about security," Lubbers said. "We need a corridor of security and safety for refugees and humanitarian workers." He said he was prepared to talk to all parties to the conflict in order to establish such a corridor, including the RUF if necessary. But Lubbers said ending the fighting was a matter for governments and the international community. Guinean officials have privately acknowledged that fighting for Gueckedou is continuing, and refugees who fled the area on Sunday told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle they had heard the sound of what they took to be artillery fire and bombardment by helicopter gunships. Doyle, who was among the journalists who accompanied Lubbers to the region, said the last of the 35,000 refugees had left the Nyaedou camp and had arrived at the abandoned Katkama refugee camp some 20 kilometres further north. "From there, some of the most vulnerable ones are being transported  north to a refugee camp. But what they really want is not to be moved to a refugee camp, but to return to Sierra Leone," he said. "This is the message that I got drummed home to me throughout the day: They want to go home to Liberia and Sierra Leone." Doyle said Lubbers was envisaging a three-point plan to alleviate the crisis: first, to accelerate the movement of refugees to safer areas where possible; second, to negotiate safer conditions for them, principally with the Guinean government; and third, to get the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia together to resolve their differences. "Clearly, this whole mess is caused by governments in the sub-region supporting the rebels opposed to their neighbours," Doyle said. "And in Lubbers’ view there has to be a political solution to this if the dreadful situation for these refugees is to see some sort of end."

The ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council met in Bamako, Mali over the weekend to reach a decision on whether they would support proposed United Nations sanctions against Liberia, accused of diamond smuggling and arms trafficking, and of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. An ECOWAS ministerial delegation is due to meet with the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday. Delegates were tight-lipped following the ECOWAS meeting, and although they indicated they had reached a decision, they refused to reveal what it was. A communiqué issued following the meeting said only that the discussion had been "frank" —  a diplomatic term generally used to indicate strong disagreements —  and that delegates had reached a consensus that ECOWAS should take the lead in restoring peace to the region. In response to a questions as to whether the presence of a Liberian delegation had made the discussions awkward, Ghana's new foreign minister, Owusu Agyeman, said no. "I think it was good that they were there, so that they are part of the decision we have reached, so they cannot renege on that," he told the BBC. Dr. Sama Banya, Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who attended the talks as an observer, hinted that ECOWAS would go along with the sanctions if the United Nations took the lead. "The United Nations Security Council has proposed sanctions on the matter of Liberian diamonds, on the matter of travel by Liberian officials, trade, things that will not hurt the ordinary Liberians," he said. "And I don’t think ECOWAS has very strong reservations of that. You know, what they may want to know is the timing of the sanctions and so forth, but that subject will compromise."

10 February: Aerial photographs taken of Koidu this week reveal a city virtually destroyed by neglect, decay, and the ravages of war, and disfigured by mining sites scattered among roofless buildings. (Click on the picture at left to view photographs.) Koidu, in the diamond-rich Kono District, was first attacked by the rebel Revolutionary United Front in 1992, and over the next few years changed hands several times. ECOMOG maintained a foothold in the city until late 1998, when it was driven out in the wake of the rebel offensive which culminated in the bloody January 1999 attack on Freetown.

Aid workers struggled Saturday to rescue tens of thousands of terrified Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who fled the Nyaedou refugee camp on Friday after new fighting broke out at the nearby town of Gueckedou, Reuters correspondent Matthew Bigg reported. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that about 5,000 people were still walking to Kissidougou, where UNHCR operations are based, negotiating their way with Guinean troops through heavily-guarded checkpoints. Another 15,000 to 20,000 refugees managed to reach the abandoned camp of Katkama overnight, while an unspecified number was still unaccounted for. "It seems that the rest have dispersed into the forest," said Renata Dubini, UNHCR head of station in Kissidougou. On Friday, Reuters reporters estimated that the majority of Nyaedou camp's more than 30,000 inhabitants had fled the site. There were no reports of new fighting on Saturday, although Guinean troops were seen heading south to reinforce government soldiers deployed in defensive positions near Gueckedou. Meanwhile, aid agencies mounted an operation on Saturday to evacuate as many refugees as possible from Katkama to a safer location north of Kissidougou. "This morning...there was a stampede to reach the trucks," said Alphonse Munyaneze, a UNHCR official at the Katkama camp. "My intention is to load as many as possible, but you don't want to send people like Coca-Cola bottles."

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi called Saturday for the formation of an interim government of national unity, echoing calls by some opposition political parties and civil society groups which followed the government's announcement last month that it would seek a six-month delay in presidential and parliamentary elections due to the security situation in the country. "What we wanted to pull across is that we are joining the other political leaders telling the government to step aside in the interests of peace since their tenure in office is over," Massaquoi told the BBC. "So we are joining other political leaders to ask them for a government of national unity, an interim government, so that we push the peace process faster, because they have been fighting the RUF for the past five years and they could not give peace to the people of Sierra Leone. So we are asking a government of national unity wherein all political parties are included. Civil society would participate including the RUF political party, fully, so that peace would reign in our country." Massaquoi argued that under a neutral interim government, disarmament could be accomplished in time for the elections. "But if the government in Freetown is in power demanding only the RUF to disarm, forgetting that the Lomé Agreement says that all parties to the conflict should disarm, we don’t think genuine peace will come the way the people need it," he said. Massaquoi insisted that the government would have to release RUF detainees as the basis for building trust in the peace process. "You cannot be holding our brothers in prison, then you ask us to go to Freetown for confidence-building. It cannot work," he said.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Saturday that the government was holding discussions with both the Guinean authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in an effort to open a safe corridor so that hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees caught between warring groups in Guinea could return home. "We have made space available to UNHCR to construct a temporary reception centre. After that they would be relocated to wherever they want to go," he told Radio France International. In areas under government control, Spencer said, conditions were beginning to improve. "Just today I went up to Mile 91, and it is quite clear that people are rebuilding their houses," he said. "People have started preparing land for farming and so on...The government has been able to provide some assistance. Certain international organisations, NGOs, are providing assistance for people to resettle in their the areas. So in the areas controlled by the government, life is returning to normal." On the question of economic prospects in government-held areas, Spencer said the outlook was generally good. "We have been able to attract some assistance from the international community," he said. "In addition, the government has been managing the economy quite well and so the economy is improving. The leone is appreciating against the dollar. We expect that that will inspire confidence in the business community. And when business picks up employment will open up." Spencer acknowledged, however, that the continuing instability in the country had a negative impact on prospects for recovery. "As long as there is the threat of violence and the RUF is still holding on to certain parts of the country, there is obviously a negative effect," he said. "But it is quite clear that there is much more confidence now than there was, say, six or eight months ago. The confidence is based I guess on the fact that there is a realisation that it should be impossible for the RUF to carry out the kind of acts that they were doing in the past and get away with it."

9 February: Renewed fighting near the Guinean border town of Gueckedou on Friday caused panic among the thousands of refugees at the nearby Nyaedou camp, just 17 kilometres to the north, according to a report by Reuters correspondent Matthew Bigg. Reuters reporters at the scene estimated that the majority of the camp's 30,000 inhabitants left on foot, following a UNHCR convoy which was carrying some 1,000 refugees to a new site at Albadaria, some 200 kilometres to the north. The trip to the new site takes about six hours, some of it over what a UNHCR spokesman described as "very bad roads and difficult river crossings." Guinean troops screen the refugees and inspect their belongings to ensure that there are no armed elements among them. The refugees' exodus was swollen by up to 4,000 refugees who fled the nearby Kamayan camp on Thursday, after it was torched by Guinean villagers who accuse the refugees of supporting the insurgents. The Associated Press suggested that the frightened refugees were hoping to reach the new camp at Albadaria by foot, adding that It was unclear whether they would be permitted to pass through a major army checkpoint along the road. The BBC, however, reported that the refugees were bound for the town of Kissidougou. The latest fighting at Gueckedou began on Thursday, two days after the Guinean government said it had recaptured the town from rebel forces, and just one day after the army announced it was safe for civilians to return. Voice of America reporter Ivan Watson, who visited Gueckedou on Wednesday, described a town which had been almost entirely destroyed.  Reuters quoted military sources as saying that government troops in Gueckedou had fallen back to defend a strategic bridge separating the town from their barracks. "The rebels are pressing toward the bridge in the direction of the military barracks. The army is in defensive positions, and have called for reinforcements," one source was quoted as saying. A Guinean army officer, Amadou Bah, told Watson that the most recent fighting was against the former Liberian ULIMO militia, which has been encamped in the area since the end of Liberia's civil war. "ULIMO counter-attacked against the Guinean army," Bah said. "There’s proof that ULIMO fought against our army." Bah told Watson that ULIMO had originally been armed and trained by the Guinean government —  a charge frequently made by the Liberian government, but denied by Guinean President Lansana Conte. Earlier, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said that Guinean troops turned back a convoy of trucks headed for Nyaedou on Thursday on the grounds that heavy fighting near Gueckedou made the relocation exercise too dangerous. Later that day, after the fighting had subsided, a small UNHCR team reached Nyaedou, where they found about 1,000 newly-arrived refugees. The refugees said they had come from the Kamyan camp, five kilometres northwest of Gueckedou. They reported that the camp had been burned down by local Guinean villagers. "Kamayan was one of many mid-sized camps in Gueckedou Prefecture and was holding 3,600 refugees," Redmond said. "The whereabouts of the other refugees are unknown, along with tens of thousands of others we have been unable to reach in scores of camps in the southwest (of the prefecture)."

The United  Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced it is suspending food distribution to Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in southeastern Guinea due to the security situation, Radio France International reported on Friday.

Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya urged the United Nations Security Council Thursday to impose sanctions on the Liberian government, which he accused of supporting RUF rebels and of trafficking in illicit Sierra Leonean rough diamonds. Last month, in a move to head off threatened U.N. sanctions, Liberian President Charles Taylor said his country was "disengaging" from the peace process in Sierra Leone, and announced that he had ended his government's contacts with the rebel movement. But Banya, speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, said his government was skeptical. "We do not trust President Taylor to carry out all the assurances he has given," he said. "I have heard it before." Banya insisted the proposed sanctions, which include a ban on Liberian diamonds and timber, and a ban on international travel by senior Liberian officials, would have no effect on ordinary Liberians. "It is only the government functionaries who are going to be affected," he said. "(Ordinary people) have not benefited from all this diamond trade. You visit Liberia, after this, and you’ll find no social services in place. So what further suffering are they going to have?" This week the Sierra Leone government forwarded its 90-day review of the diamond Certificate of Origin regime to the Security Council's Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone. The programme was established late last year in an effort to prevent so-called "conflict diamonds" mined in rebel-held areas from reaching the international market. Banya hailed the programme as a success, although he acknowledged that it was far from perfect. "Because of the certification, there is a definite slowdown in the efforts of those who want to divert diamonds through any other channel because of the hassle that they have to go through," he said. He noted that diamonds, even those originating in rebel-held areas, were now being traded through the Government Diamond Office. "I am sure that the money from that is not going immediately towards getting arms," he said. "When (the RUF) sent the diamonds through Liberia, they had no control over the proceeds. This time the proceeds are coming right into their pockets, and so I don’t think they are going to cross the border and hand it over to just anybody." Banya also expressed his government's frustration over the slowness of U.N. peacekeepers to deploy throughout the country, especially in rebel-held areas. "What is dangerous is that even as we wait, although there is no shooting between the RUF and the Sierra Leone Army or the Civil Defence Forces, (the rebels) are mining," he said. "They are in the diamond mining area of Kono, and the diamond mining area of Tongo. That’s what is going on, and we really cannot accept that especially in view of the history of these diamonds and their effect on the conflict situation in Sierra Leone." The minister also accused RUF leaders of so far failing to live up to commitments they made under last year's Abuja ceasefire agreement. "Times have come when the people of Sierra Leone have said our government must stop talking to the RUF," he said. "I think that is because of the patience, the tolerance that we have made ourselves accessible at all times. So perhaps now the international community has a better understanding of who is prolonging this exercise."

Deployment of a proposed ECOWAS force to monitor Guinea's volatile border region with Sierra Leone and Liberia may be delayed until it is fully prepared and has a clear, strong mandate, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue of Nigeria said on Friday. Uwechue, who is President Olusegun Obasanjo's Special Envoy on Conflict Resolution, told the Reuters news agency that the force might not be deployed by its target date of February 15. "Any date projected is essentially an estimate," Uwechue said in from Abuja. "If there is a need to prepare better for any reason then that date will not be enforced...But that does not mean that we are any less resolved to follow this plan through." Uwechue headed the ECOWAS fact-finding mission which visited Guinea last November and recommended the creation of the force. Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has approved the military's nominee to head the proposed ECOWAS force which will monitor Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, Defence Spokesman Brigadier-General Godwin Ugbo said on Friday. "The government has approved the appointment of Brigadier-General Stephen Guar as the Commander of the ECOMOG force for the Guinea border," Ugbo told the Reuters. The appointment is subject to confirmation by ECOWAS Heads of State and Government. 

Guinea is continuing to launch attacks against suspected rebel bases on Sierra Leonean territory, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Friday after returning from the border region. "I went to Barbara, and I was hearing heavy sounds of bombardment coming from Guinean helicopter gunships," Rogers said. "And this was confirmed by ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) officials, that the Guineans have started again their indiscriminate bombing of towns like Kassirie, Mombolo, and Yelibuya. Last month, Guinea's ambassador to Sierra Leone apologised for civilian casualties caused by a gunship attack on Sierra Leone's Yelibuya Island, and the Sierra Leone government announced that the two sides would set up a military contact group to prevent civilians from being killed in such reprisal raids. But Rogers said the attacks had not abated. "There’s been persistent air raids in Kambia District, and as a result the Guineans are saying they suspect that most of the attacks is coming from Kambia into their territory," he said. "So they are bombarding those areas to keep the rebels out of their territory." Rogers said local residents were fleeing so safer areas, like Barbara and Bailo Wharf, where they were being looked after by agencies such as the ICRC and the International Islamic Youth League.

Danish press photographer Jan Dago has taken second place in the 2000 World Press Photo contest's "People in the News Stories" category with a photograph entitled "Sierra Leone," the Associated Press reported on Friday. Seamus Murphy of Ireland won second place in the "Sport Stories" category with a photo entitled "Sierra Leone Olympic Hopefuls in Training."

The new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, begins a nine-day five-nation tour of West Africa on Saturday. Lubbers' first stop will be Guinea, where the UNHCR faces what he has described as the greatest humanitarian crisis facing his agency. On Sunday morning he will visit the town of Kissidougou to see the UNHCR's field operations first-hand. The High Commissioner will also visit Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Mali, where he will attend a ECOWAS summit and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the regional organisation.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1670 / 1920 [£] 2499 / 2799. Commercial Bank: [$] 1650 / 1850. [£] 2400 / 2850. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1800 / 2000 [£] 2500 / 2900.

8 February: The Nigerian military has announced its choice of Brigadier-General Stephen P. Guar as head of a proposed 1,696-member ECOWAS force to monitor Guinea's volatile border region with Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Pan African News Agency reported on Thursday, quoting Nigerian military sources. The appointment is subject to ratification by ECOWAS Heads of State and Government. Guar formerly served in the ECOMOG force. Initially, ECOWAS announced it would deploy troops in Guinea by the end of January, in response to fighting which has endangered hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees, and forced tens of thousands of Guineans to flee their homes. In mid-January, ECOWAS said it would send an advance team to the area by January 27, with the rest of the force to be deployed within a month. The advance team has yet to arrive, and on Thursday ECOWAS Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate told Radio France International that the regional body wanted United Nations backing before it deployed its troops. "The troops are ready in Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Mali, but there are prerequisites, the first being the agreement of the Security Council to deploy the troops," Kouyate said. Last week Mali, which currently holds the chairmanship of ECOWAS and a seat on the Security Council, circulated a resolution which would give the force authority under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter to impose peace in the region. The resolution was introduced, the Sierra Leone Web has learned, without the knowledge of the three affected countries: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Kouyate also said the governments of Guinea and Liberia would have to sign a "status of forces agreement" before the troops could be deployed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun visiting detainees in Sierra Leone, following an agreement between the government and the organisation signed in December 2000, the ICRC said on Thursday. At the end of January, a five-member delegation which included a medical doctor, carried out an initial three-day visit to at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. Among those held at the prison are RUF civilian and military officials who were detained after the breakdown of the peace process last May. In its statement, he ICRC stressed that its visits to places of detention are purely humanitarian in nature and focus on the conditions of detention. Its findings are kept confidential and are communicated exclusively to the authorities responsible. 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya was scheduled to give a press conference Thursday at United Nations headquarters in New York. Banya is due to leave Friday for the meeting in Bamako of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council.

Efforts by humanitarian organisations to assist more than 400,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in southern Guinea will fail if aid workers do not receive protection from armed groups operating in the area, Assistant United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Soren Jessen-Petersen warned on Thursday. "Without a secure environment, this humanitarian operation is in danger of collapsing," said Jessen-Petersen (pictured right). "Without humanitarian organisations around, without access to people in need, without access to food and medicines, the consequences could be very catastrophic." As if to underscore his point, the UNHCR announced it had temporarily suspended an operation to relocate some 30,000 refugees from the Nyaedou camp to a safer site further north after new fighting between Guinean government forces and rebels was reported Thursday morning at the nearby town of Gueckedou. About 675 refugees have been relocated to the new site at Albadaria since the operation began on Tuesday. The UNHCR plans to resume the evacuation on Friday. Jessen-Petersen stressed that refugees and displaced persons had been subjected to attacks by rebel groups. "They have chased the refugees through the rain forest," he said. "The refugee drama in West Africa today is the most serious in the world." The new High Commissioner for Refugees, former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, is heading to the region on Saturday, and Jessen-Petersen said he would be seeking cooperation and assurances from local officials that aid workers would be safe. Jessen-Petersen also urged U.N. backing for a proposed 1,696-member ECOWAS force which, he said, could be effective despite its small size if it could concentrate on key border crossings. "The regional organisation has taken an initiative. It needs support," he said.

Armed militias have apparently pulled out of refugee camps in southern Guinea, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Delphine Marie said on Thursday. Aid workers reported the presence of armed fighters at two camps in the Gueckedou Prefecture last month, and in at least one case armed men were seen leaving the camp with food meant for Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees. In an interview from Conakry with Radio France International, Marie stressed that there were a number of armed militias operating in the area, most of them backing the Guinean military. "They are rebels from every side," she said. "You know, basically it’s an anarchic situation where you have rebels and militias. There is a presence of ULIMO (United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy) fighters, which is well known to the Guinean population for a few years back already. They have been taking refuge in the Guinea Forest Region, more or less allied to the Guinean army. Guinea has repeatedly accused the Liberians of supporting the dissident incursions unto their territory. This has not been verified, especially that the attackers do not really claim the attacks." Marie defended the agency for its decision to locate refugee camps in the border area, which has left the refugees vulnerable to attacks. "UNHCR as a rule does not usually place camps too close to the border, and it’s been in the past year at least that we have pleaded with the international community to support plans to move away these camps from the border," she said. "However, up to now we didn’t get the necessary support. You must understand as well that sometimes have to be established in an emergency situation. When we had the influx of Sierra Leonean refugees and Liberians, camps were established wherever it could be established, even if it’s close to the border." Meanwhile, the United States announced it would donate an additional $5 million to assist organisations working for refugees and displaced persons along Guinea's border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to a statement issued by the State Department, the emergency assistance will be given to the UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The U.S. said it was gravely concerned about the humanitarian aspect of the instability in the border region, and called on regional leaders to take action to halt the conflict. The $5 million donation is in addition to more than $11 million the United States provided for relief programmes in fiscal 2000.

Refugees who have fled to RUF-held areas of Sierra Leone to escape instability in Guinea are reporting heavy fighting between Guinean government forces and insurgents, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers said Thursday after visiting the border region. Rogers said over 4,000 Sierra Leoneans, accompanied by Guinean nationals, had crossed the border. Those interviewed told him there had been heavy bombardment of the town of Yende, forcing the evacuation of a nearby refugee camp. One returnee alleged that Sierra Leoneans had been specifically targeted by the Guinean security forces, who believed they were supporting dissidents fighting against the government. 

7 February: Liberia announced Wednesday that the former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, who had lived in Monrovia since breaking publicly with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999, had left the country. The RUF's liaison office in Monrovia was also said to have been closed. A government statement did not reveal where Bockarie had gone, but the Associated Press quoted immigration officials as saying the former rebel commander crossed into Ivory Coast on Saturday en route to Burkina Faso. Early last month Bockarie announced he was leaving Liberia to rejoin the RUF in Sierra Leone. Then, the Liberian government announced his departure, he changed his mind and said he was determined to remain in Monrovia. While the Liberian government worked through ECOWAS to identify a third country willing to accept Bockarie, the Sierra Leone government announced it had requested his extradition to Freetown. "Under the 1986 Mano River Union Mutual Non-Aggression & Security Treaty, members of the Union are required to take all necessary measures to surrender to his or her country anyone who is considered a threat to the security of a member state," a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web last week in explaining the legal basis for the extradition request. "So, we want Liberia to comply with its treaty obligation and surrender Maskita and his RUF associates to the Government of Sierra Leone."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern over the brief detention Monday of Pios Foray, editor of the Freetown newspaper, the Democrat. Foray was picked up by members of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the newspaper's offices searched in connection with a January 5 article which ran under the headline "Kabbah Afraid: Security Shakeup at the Lodge." According to the CPJ, the article alleged that President Kabbah had grown apprehensive after the assassination of Congolese President Laurent Kabila, and because of his government's decision to seek a delay in the elections. As a result, the newspaper claimed, Kabbah reshuffled his security and fired one of his guards, allegedly because he was a relative of former President Joseph Momoh's wife. According to the CPJ account, Foray was then driven to police headquarters where he was interrogated by Police Inspector-General. "Biddle pressured the editor to reveal his sources for the article, but Foray refused on professional grounds. Foray was released four hours later," the CPJ wrote. Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer, confirmed that Foray had been called in for questioning in by the CID "because the story he published was false and was likely to create disaffection among members of the president's bodyguard." He denied, however, that Foray had been detained. A number of other sources in Freetown also suggested that disputed details of the report. "The IGP (Inspector-General of Police) asked him to reveal his source, which the journalist refused to do," one journalist told the Sierra Leone Web. The journalist noted that Foray had been accompanied to police headquarters by Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) President Ibrahim Tayyib Bah and former SLAJ President Frank Kposowa. "The IGP then took the pains to explain why actually there had been the usual movement around of presidential guards with special reference to one particular soldier accused of insubordination. He's been sent back to his usual regiment at Army Headquarters, Cockrill...The whole incident took less than 30 minutes and he was asked to go." "Pios Foray was actually picked after he published a story about a Kabila-like plan for Kabbah at his Hill Station Lodge," said another journalist. "His offices were searched where they found the manuscripts for the story. He was then taken to meet with the IGP who admonished him to be more responsible. Foray on his part said he merely wanted to draw attention to some security lapses at the lodge. He was allowed to go though." The CPJ also claimed that the Sierra Leone government issued a press release last week announcing a ban on a political discourse in the media —  an allegation that media, civil society and governmental sources contacted by the Sierra Leone Web all took pains to deny. "It is totally untrue that any press release was issued banning discussion on anything," Spencer said. "Indeed, it would be impossible for government to do that even if there was any such desire."

The relocation of about 30,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees from the endangered Nyaedou camp to a safer location 200 kilometres to the north could take as long as a month, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said late Tuesday. "It depends on security," UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told the BBC. "The fighting in the area has kept aid agencies from getting into most of the camps, including this one, Nyaedou, on many occasions. Last week there was an evacuation over several days once again because of continuing security problems in the area." On the first day of the evacuation, Kessler said, the agency succeeded in moving about 380 refugees in twelve trucks under escort by the Guinean military. "The new location should be much safer, but that’s only for 60,000 refugees," he said. "It’s like moving a city, and it does take some time to put together all the facilities." Kessler expressed concern about an estimated quarter of a million refugees and displaced Guineans still stranded in Guinea's so-called "parrot's beak" region on the border with Sierra Leone. "They haven’t received any food supplies, many of them, since September," he said. "So we’ve been trying to send in food and will be sending in some food later this week with a Catholic father who has a network there, and will try to start some distribution. Nevertheless the rebels are still reportedly operating in at least part of the area. There are also Guinean military operations underway, and there are reports that many of the refugees and some 70,000 local people have had to flee from some areas. So it’s a mixed up situation with a lot of armed groups running around."

6 February: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun relocating some 30,000 frightened Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees from Guinea's Nyaedou camp, only 17 kilometres north of the embattled town of Gueckedou, UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told reporters in Conakry. A convoy of twelve trucks under Guinean army escort picked up 370 refugees and their belongings at Nyaedou on Tuesday. The refugees will be taken to the newly-established Albadaria site near Faranah, 200 kilometres north of Gueckedou, where the UNHCR has prepared two camps designed to accommodate up to 60,000 people. In an interview with Radio France International, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said the agency hoped to add more trucks in order to complete the transfer of refugees "in a matter of a couple weeks or so."  "The area around Gueckedou is extremely volatile," he said. "We sent trucks down there last Friday to pick up some food and supplies that were left there, and our colleagues who were picking up the supplies could hear gunfire and rocket fire beyond the edge of the town. This whole area has been the scene of attacks for quite some time, and there’s also all kinds of militias operating in the area, and a million reasons why these refugees should not be there." Using 20 UNHCR trucks escorted by the Guinean military, the agency moved the recovered food and supplies to the relatively-safe base at Kissidougou, from where they will be distributed to refugees at the new Albadaria site and to some 30,000 refugees at the nearby Massakoundou camp. Earlier, Janowski told reporters in Geneva that the UNHCR's plans to relocate some 180,000 refugees and 70,000 displaced Guineans stranded in the "parrot's beak" region southwest of Gueckedou still remained on hold, due to military activity in the area which has left them stranded with no significant aid in months. Meanwhile, state radio said Tuesday Guinean government forces had wrested control of Gueckedou, from rebel forces, BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla reported. Sources indicated there had been casualties on both sides, but no figures were available. "One thing that has been confirmed by sources, including aid workers, is that the government forces overcame the rebels due to their superior firepower, which included long-range artillery and helicopter gunships," Sylla said. "Large-scale destruction of the town has also been reported."

The Resident Minister of Eastern Province, Sahr Randolph Fillie-Faboe, has ordered security forces to prevent the movement of goods from Kenema into RUF-held areas, BBC correspondent Saffa Moriba reported on Tuesday. Fillie-Faboe was quoted as accusing the rebels of dragging their feet on implementing commitments they made in the Abuja ceasefire agreement, and said the ban would remain in place until the RUF disarmed to UNAMSIL. Fillie-Faboe told Moriba that the rebels would be starved into complying with the terms of the agreement, but added that if RUF members appeared in person and handed over their weapons, they could buy all the supplies they needed. Three lorries carrying goods to rebel-held areas were intercepted outside of Kenema and are currently being held at the main police station, Moriba said. The minister's action comes less than a month after the RUF, under pressure from UNAMSIL, announced the reopening of roads to Daru and Pendembu in the east, and to the diamond mining town of Tongo Field. Meanwhile, Fillie-Faboe said, a new market had been established at the Mano River Bridge on the Sierra Leone - Liberia border. He said the market was full of relief supplies which had been meant for displaced persons. The minister alleged that the market had been set up to ease anticipated United Nations sanctions on Liberia, and he warned that those trading with the rebels would be prosecuted. 

The ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council will hold an extraordinary meeting in Bamako, Mali on Saturday, the Malian foreign ministry announced on Tuesday. The Council is expected to examine the relationship between the diamond trade and arms trafficking in West Africa. The Mediation and Security Council comprises Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. In New York, a United Nations spokesman said the U.N. Security Council would take up the situation along the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia when an ECOWAS delegation arrives this week or early next.

UNAMSIL, in conjunction with the Sierra Leone Army's 5th Brigade and the Sierra Leone Police, conducted a joint cordon-and-search operation in Port Loko on Monday opposite the Port Loko provincial hospital, UNAMSIL said in a statement. Six persons were arrested and a number of weapons seized, along with 399 rounds of ammunition. One of those detained identified himself as a member of the CDF. Meanwhile, 15 RUF fighters surrendered to Bangladeshi peacekeepers (BANBATT-2) on Sunday for disarmament. According to UNAMSIL, they included one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, four majors, two captains, two lieutenants, four sergeants and a civilian. One combatant from the RUF's 5th Brigade at Tongo surrendered to Zambian peacekeepers, while three RUF combatants were disarmed by UNAMSIL military observers at Port Loko. A UNAMSIL patrol which visited Barlo Wharf and Barbara received two disarmed RUF fighters. Three AFRC combatants also surrendered their weapons, while ten CDF militiamen were disarmed by Nigerian peacekeepers of NIBATT-6.

The new United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr. Ruud Lubbers, has proposed the establishment of a Guinean task force to facilitate creation of a safe corridor to move hundreds of thousands of stranded Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees to a camp in Nyaedou, UNAMSIL said on Tuesday. The task force would include representatives from the Guinean government, the military, the World Food Programme, the UNHCR, and other non-governmental organisations operating in the region. The former Dutch prime minister will visit Guinea on February 11 as part of a regional tour which will also take him to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Mali.

5 February: Germany will contribute $250,000 in logistical support for the deployment of an ECOWAS military force along Guinea's volatile border with Sierra Leone and Liberia, ECOWAS said on Monday. "The donation will help in the transportation of some 1,700 troops," the regional body said in a statement. 

15 British soldiers who were deployed in Sierra Leone last year are suing the U.K.'s Ministry of Defence for failing to issue anti-malarial suppressants early enough, their lawyer told the Reuters news service on Monday. The litigants, members of the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, were sent to Freetown on short notice to help evacuate British citizens and other foreign nationals after Sierra Leone's peace process broke down in May. The soldiers alleged that they had not been given proper medication prior to departure, a claim the ministry disputed in denying all but one of the claims. "They all received the drug within 24 hours of being sent out and that is plenty of time," a ministry spokeswoman said. "In fact, it is considered safe if you receive the drug 24 hours after you arrive in a risk area because it has a curative affect if you have been bitten. Most members of the public get their jabs a few weeks in advance but this is only to let the side-effects subside before they go on holiday." The soldiers' lawyer, Jeremy Wolff, argued however that the drugs needed to be taken 24 hours prior to exposure to be effective, and said the ministry had known about the deployment two days in advance. "These men are career soldiers who wanted a life of action and challenges. They believe their careers have been blighted by this as malaria stays in the body for life and can flare up at any time," Wolff said. "No one is going to risk using them in a highly dangerous situation and they've already been put on light duties."

4 February: Mali has circulated a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council which would authorise deployment under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter an ECOWAS Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) along the borders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The resolution, a copy of which was obtained by the Sierra Leone Web, would permit the force to monitor the three countries' borders, to neutralize irregular armed groups, to ensure the free movement of persons, goods and services, and to establish a conducive environment for humanitarian assistance. It would also authorise ECOMOG to ensure the security and freedom of circulation of its personnel in the discharge of its mandate. Mali, which holds the current chairmanship of ECOWAS and a seat on the Security Council, urges U.N. member states to provide financial, technical and logistical support for the force on a voluntary basis, and requests that the secretary-general to that end to establish a special fund to support the ECOMOG mission. 

3 February: President Kabbah has addressed a crowd estimated at 7,000 in the town of Yele, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported on Saturday. Yele is one of the few government-held towns in Northern Province, and is only six miles from an RUF base. It is also home to some 20,000 internally displaced persons. Flanked by diplomats and cabinet ministers at a school compound, Kabbah said his government's patience was running out, and he urged the RUF to implement the terms of the ceasefire agreement they signed last November in Abuja. "If anyone takes our patience for granted, we will react and the international community will not blame us," Kabbah warned. He said the Sierra Leone Army, the Special Security Division and the police had made "a dramatic impact on the security situation in the country," and that the government was now strong enough to take the war to the RUF, but had chosen the path of peace. Amid heightened security, Kabbah presented the displaced persons with 500 bags of rice, along with cooking oil and medicines, Margao said. 

2 February: Dr. Sama Banya, Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, is due in New York next week in connection with a proposed meeting between an ECOWAS ministerial delegation and members of the United Nations Security Council, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. The source said Banya's presence at the meeting was meant to underscore Sierra Leone's concern "about the potentially dangerous situation in the Mano River Union triangle." Meanwhile, the 90-day review of Sierra Leone's new certificate of origin regime, devised to curb the illicit trade in rough Sierra Leonean diamonds, will be submitted next week to the Security Council's Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for an international force to be deployed in southeastern Guinea to protect hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced Guineans trapped by a recent upsurge in fighting between armed groups, the BBC reported. The Guinean military has declared the region a no-go area, and the UNHCR's representative in Guinea was quoted as saying that it was no longer possible for aid workers to reach refugee camps. He said there was a danger that refugees might start fleeing the area on their own, and be mistaken for rebels. A small ECOWAS force made up of soldiers from Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Niger is due to be sent to the area later this month. Meanwhile, Guinean state radio claimed late Thursday its forces had killed 130 rebels in clashes near the country's border with Liberia. According to the BBC, about 60 rebels were said to have been killed in the area of Tanangue Zezou, and the rest in separate clashes at four villages in the Macenta prefecture. Guinean radio also said the villages had been completely destroyed during the fighting. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. The instability has forced aid agencies to abandon an emergency supply mission that was to have begun on Thursday for some 250,000 refugees and displaced persons stranded in Guinea's "parrot's beak" region, along the Sierra Leone border.

A second meeting of the UNAMSIL - RUF Core Contact Group took place in Makeni on Wednesday, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. The UNAMSIL delegation was led by Gebremedhin Hagoss, Chief of the Policy and Planning Section, while the RUF side was led by Colonel Edward Sembeh. The two sides discussed a request of UNAMSIL deployment at Mange Bureh and issues arising from alleged attacks on RUF positions in Kambia District by Guinean helicopter gunships, including an attack on Yelibuya Island, which the RUF said was a violation of the ceasefire. The UNAMSIL delegation said it had no knowledge of involvement in the attacks by pro-government forces, but was aware of reports of shelling by Guinean forces while in pursuit of dissident forces they suspected of receiving RUF support. Hagoss also called on the RUF to cooperate in facilitating the return of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. The RUF, for its part, pledged cooperation in repairing the Mange bridge and adjacent roads. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL said RUF combatants were present at Kukoni Island, the main RUF base commanded by Colonel Bai Bureh; at Tumbu, where RUF fighters were seen with arms, at Yelibuya Island, where RUF members were said to be preventing civilians from leaving, and at Kassiri/Kychom where a small number of RUF combatants were reported to be located. UNAMSIL also announced that a joint patrol by U.N. military observers and Ghanaian peacekeepers from their base at Daru to the RUF stronghold of Pendembu which had been planned for Friday has now been postponed until February 10 at the earliest. 

A draft resolution was introduced in the United Nations Security Council on Friday relating to the deployment of ECOWAS peacekeepers along the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, a U.N. spokesman said in New York.

Fighting in Guinea's Gueckedou Prefecture has forced the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to temporarily suspend efforts to assist Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced Guineans in the country's forest region, the agency said on Friday. The fighting has resulted in the closure of all public institutions in Gueckedou town, including the dispensary, the hospital, schools, and the police station. Two thirds of the town's residents are reported to have fled. In Kissidougou Prefecture, the Guinean army carried out air attacks on January 27 and 28. UNHCR security officers, who evacuated some of their staff from Kissidougou to Kankan in Upper Guinea, have declared the area inaccessible. Food distribution in the "languette," or "parrot's beak" region of Guinea along the Sierra Leone border was due to begin on Wednesday, but has been postponed for security reasons, the WFP said. The WFP, UNHCR and former CARE workers succeeded in distributing food to 17,465 refugees at the Nyaedou camp north of Gueckedou, and food distribution to 15,000 refugees located between Kissidougou and Faranah is planned for next week. The number of Sierra Leonean refugees staying at a transit camp in Conakry is currently reported at 3,042, with an average of 300 new refugees arriving each day and an average of 350 leaving daily for Freetown by boat. Since the end of December, a total of 6,500 refugees have left Conakry for Sierra Leone via the transit camp. A budget revision for the West Africa Coastal Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) of about ten percent has been prepared to reflect the additional caseload of refugees in need of food assistance in  Guinea, the WFP said. Following the joint UNHCR/WFP rapid assessment on Wednesday, it is estimated that 250,000 refugees in the country are in need of assistance, of whom 130,000 are fully reliant on food aid.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 1950 [£] 2300 / 2700. Commercial Bank: [$] 1650 / 1850. [£] 2500 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1700 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1700 / 2000 [£] 2450 / 2900.

1 February: Guinea has begun deploying helicopter gunships in an along its southern border where an estimated 250,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and displaced Guineans are trapped between armed groups, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported. Aid workers say that attempts to reach the refugees, who are stranded without food or medicine, is almost impossible because of military activity. Neither the pro-government forces in the north nor the rebels in the south are willing to allow the refugees safe passage, for fear that a mass-movement could conceal enemy military maneuvers. "Local residents in southern Guinea said the government held town of Kissidougou was abuzz with military activity as the gunships, painted in camouflage colours, refuelled and rearmed there," Doyle said. Aid workers have been told that the refugee camps they want to supply with food are off-limits for the time being. An analyst familiar with military forces in the sub-region told the Sierra Leone Web that the Guineans possess both Russian-built Mi-24 Hinds and Hughes 500-D helicopters, flown by local and Ukrainian pilots.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Thursday his country would provide "sophisticated assistance" to Sierra Leone's restructured army. During his two-day visit to Sierra Leone this week, Hoon met with British forces training Sierra Leonean soldiers at the Benguema Military Training Centre, and visited Sierra Leonean soldiers deployed at Masiaka. He also held talks with President Kabbah, who on Wednesday indicated he would seek a six-month delay of presidential elections due next month, and of parliamentary elections due to be held in March. Hoon expressed support for the decision, which he said was made necessary by the security situation in the country. "President Tejan Kabbah assured me that it was a decision he took reluctantly," Hoon said. He noted the "difficulty in organising democratic elections across the country," substantial parts of which are still not under government control. Hoon also expressed concern over cross-border fighting along the Sierra Leone - Guinea - Liberia border, which has placed at risk hundreds of thousands of refugees and threatens to plunge the sub-region into further instability. "It is important we work with other members of the international community to bring pressure where we can to limit the damage to Sierra Leone and Guinea," he said.

The deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops outside of government-held areas is a prerequisite for the holding of elections in Sierra Leone, according to Ambassador Oluyemi Ademiji,  the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. "There is no question of (UNAMSIL) troops not being in the country when elections are held," he told reporters. Adeniji said Wednesday's decision by President Kabbah to request a six-month delay of presidential and parliamentary elections was, in his opinion, based on a "realistic assessment" of the security situation. "I think (the delay) would have the consensus of practically all Sierra Leoneans," he said. "It is a question of facing the realities of the situation."