28 February: Father Ercole Marcelli, head of the Xaverian brotherhood in Freetown, confirmed Saturday the release of five Catholic missionaries and two Medecins Sans Frontieres on Friday. "They were released yesterday afternoon, after the mediation of the Bishop of Makeni (George Biguzzi)," Marcelli said. "I'm told that they are in good condition, that they are well." Marcelli said that up to 50 church workers, including 20 foreigners, remain remained trapped in Makeni. No significant fighting was taking place there, he said, but armed bands were roaming the streets, making it too dangerous for the church workers to get out. No one appeared to be in control of the city, Marcelli added.
The 67th ordinary session of Council of Ministers on Saturday commended ECOWAS for its role in bringing an end to the crisis in Sierra Leone, and appealed to the international community to provide urgent humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country. The ministers also adopted positions on conflicts in Burundi, Comoros, Somalia, Angola, and Rwanda.
27 February: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced Thursday that he will return to Freetown on March 10. He made the announcement at Abuja Airport, after holding talks with Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha. Despite the daunting challenges his government will face in rebuilding the country, Kabbah said the nation had reason to celebrate. "We hope to make this day our great freedom day," he said. Kabbah expressed gratitude to the ECOMOG force, and said he hoped ECOMOG could play a role in bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone. Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, and possibly several other West African leaders, will accompany President Kabbah on his return to Freetown.
Sierra Leone's military junta devastated Sierra Leone's fragile economy during nine months of military rule, Deputy Finance Minister Momoh Pujeh said Friday. "Checks at the Central Bank have revealed that the revenue base of the country has been destroyed by the military junta," Pujeh said. "The junta raised $5.6 million as revenue and spent $72 million during their nine month illegal hold on power. Since there were no functioning resources, they took the money directly from the Central Bank. Pujeh, who is a member of the Interim Task Force charged with running governmental affairs until the return of President Kabbah, said the inflation rate had reached 40 percent, a figure last seen after the 1992 NPRC coup. "The financial situation is bleak and the country is broke," Pujeh said. "We now owe a total of $1.6 billion as external debt, and our foreign exchange has been depleted by the junta. Let's not expect a miracle to happen, but the government will do everything possible to ensure that the people survive."
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, a member of the Interim Task Force, said Friday that those responsible for the coup in Sierra Leone will be called to account for their actions. "We shall mount an in-depth investigation to bring these people to book and take steps to prevent a recurrence," Berewa said. "There will be no vendetta and we shall try to be as fair as possible. Those who were not active collaborators have nothing to fear, but those who caused the suffering to the people must be accountable for their deeds." Berewa said 145 civilians are now in detention, "together with a large number of prisoners of war."
Kanja Sesay, a member of the Interim Task Force, said Friday that the country faced acute shortages of medical and educational facilities. "Hospital and school infrastructures have been damaged, mattresses looted, as well as food stock and seeds," he said.
Five medical missionaries and two relief workers of French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) held hostage for nearly two weeks by junta troops were released on Friday. Spaniards Jose Luis Garayoa, Fernanado Aguilo, and Antonio Mateu, Italian Gilberto Ugolini, and Austrian Joseph Erhardt were abducted from the hospital at Lunsar on February 15, and were released in the Port Loko region, a spokesman said. MSF workers Frenchman Jean Bertrand and Canadian Milton Tektonidis were also freed. The missionaries are reported to be staying at the Catholic Mission in Port Loko, accompanied by the Bishop of Makeni, Giorgio Biguzzi. The five were among some ten foreigners kidnapped from the hospital at Lunsar. Missionary officials have been informed that the hostages are being held at Camp Charlie, an RUF base some 85 miles east of Freetown.
ECOMOG commander Lieutenant-Colonel Kunle Akinyemi appealed to international organisations on Friday for urgent help to save thousands of people in Bo from starvation. Akinyemi said here was no food in the city, hospitals were not operating, and business was at a standstill. He said ECOMOG was ready to insure the security of aid organisations who brought aid to the city. Aid workers in Freetown pointed to considerable obstacles in supplying aid to Bo. They said the Freetown-Bo highway remained dangerous, with groups of armed looters, mainly associated with the junta. There has also been fighting in Bo itself in recent days. The aid workers said the only way to supply Bo quickly would be by air, but that there were no immediate plans to do so because of security concerns.
ECOMOG commanders said Friday that junta soldiers and RUF fighters have regrouped in towns along the Liberian border. "The combined rebel forces have in recent days been making desperate and futile attempts to retake Kenema," the commanders said in a statement.
Detained officers of Sierra Leone's military junta are being taken from jail to help clear mines they planted to slow the advance of ECOMOG troops, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Friday. "We have taken those officers of the AFRC who planted the mines from the prison, and they are going to remove these mines," Khobe said. "Many of these mines were planted on the roads. So far we have discovered 115 anti-personnel mines and 114 anti-tank mines." Khobe said the mines posed a danger in areas already secured by ECOMOG. "We are warning people to keep to the normal places they visit and not to stray," he said. "Several areas around Freetown were mined by the deposed junta to stop ECOMOG from entering Freetown or the towns and villages close to it." Radio 98.1 reported Friday that British landmine clearing equipment was on its way to Sierra Leone. Khobe told reporters that roads eastward from Freetown to towns held by junta troops had been mined, slowing an advance that had been planned for this week. "We have control of large parts of the east and south of the country and very soon we will move into other parts of the hinterland," Khobe said. "My next move will be to Kabala to the north, as I have learned the junta are based there," he said, adding that he had maps of areas mined by AFRC soldiers in and around Freetown. Military transport planes have stepped up deliveries of logistical equipment in the past few days, and on Thursday night a military convoy arrived by road with three howitzers.
196 Sierra Leonean refugees in Ghana have been moved from the Ringway Estates to the Sanzule Refugee Camp in the west of the country. The Ghana News Agency said Friday that the refugees were among some 700 who arrived five months ago claiming to have won visas in the U.S. Diversity Lottery. A spokesman for the Ghana Refugee Board said the 196 had applied for refugee status because they lacked money to return home. Ghana's National Mobilization Programme carried out the relocation with logistical assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Friday that junta supporters being detained at Pademba Road Prison would be investigated for collaboration. "We are rounding up key personnel and active AFRC junta collaborators," Khobe said. "We have arrested 145 civilians, including a former head of state, retired brigadiers and colonels, and policemen."
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa said Friday that laws made by the junta are being reviewed. "We are working on the repealing of the decrees that the junta passed," he said.
26 February: A curfew restriction imposed on Sierra Leone two weeks ago has been eased, according to SLBS (state radio) and ECOMOG troops quoted by the BBC. The curfew, which formerly started at 8:00 p.m., now runs from midnight to 6:00 a.m.
ECOMOG said Thursday it had foiled had blocked at attempt by junta forces to stage a counter-attack on Bo. ECOMOG said it attacked junta forces that had regrouped in the bush near the city. A large cache of arms and ammunition was seized during the battle, ECOMOG said. 1,000 ECOMOG troop reinforcements have since arrived in the city. Thousands of people have begun to return to Bo, but there's little food and no medicine. A doctor quoted by the BBC said that junta forces had looted the entire supply. 20 persons have died from a lack of food and medicine, he said.
The Kamajor militia has destroyed Camp Lion, the RUF's base in Moyamba District, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Thursday. "The base had been surrounded for over three weeks by militia units and the rebels were receiving most of the food supply and weapons at night by helicopters," a local aid worker said. Reports that 50 rebels died in the attack could not be confirmed. The fall of Camp Lion means that the RUF's main base, Camp Burkina at Giema in Kailahun District, is next in line for attack, the AFP noted. Camp Burkina is reportedly commanded by the RUF's second-in-command, RUF Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie.
Junta forces have continued their "campaign of terror" in Tonkolili District, according to reports reaching Freetown late Wednesday. A Methodist pastor said rebels attacked the town of Mathoi, near Makeni, firing indiscriminately and burning down at least 15 hours. The rebels then attacked Masanga, where they threatened the staff at the Masanga Leprosy Hospital and looted or destroyed all drugs. "About 50 leprosy and tuberculosis patients are in the bush," Staff Nurse Adeline Kamara said. "Some of the patients had just undergone surgical operations and others were confined to wheelchairs when the rebels struck." In Bumbuna, junta forces abducted over 20 civilians, one witness said. More than 10 junta colonels were said to be ensconced in Kamakwie, Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent Rod MacJohnson reported.
The United Nations Security Council Thursday welcomed the end of military rule in Sierra Leone, and stressed the need for the immediate restoration of the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. In a statement read out by Council President Denis Dangue Rewaka of Gabon, the Council called for an urgent end to the continued violence in Sierra Leone, and expressed its "deep regret at the violence, loss of life and property, and immense suffering" undergone by the Sierra Leonean people. The Council expressed its readiness to terminate economic sanctions imposed on the country as soon as the conditions imposed by Resolution 1132 were met, the statement said, and reiterated its view that the peace agreements signed in Abidjan and Conakry "provide important elements for a framework for peace, stability and national reconciliation in Sierra Leone." The Council expressed its support for the Secretary-General's intention to reopen the United Nations liaison office in Freetown, and to assist with national reconciliation and political dialogue. "(The Security Council) remains deeply concerned about the serious and fragile humanitarian situation in the country, and calls upon all States and international organizations to provide further urgent assistance to Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries affected by the crisis," the statement said. The Council expressed concern about the safety of humanitarian personnel in Sierra Leone, and called for the immediate release of all international personnel and others being held hostage by members of the deposed military junta.
OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim convened the annual meeting of African foreign ministers in Ethiopia on Thursday, and paid tribute to ECOMOG for ousting Sierra Leone's military junta and paving the way for the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Salim urged Kabbah to work towards national unity and reconciliation once he returns to the presidency.
25 February: ECOMOG troops have recaptured Bo from RUF rebels and remnants of junta troops, who left the town in ruins and its streets littered with bodies. "The destruction is massive, it's hard to describe it by word of mouth," said Roman Catholic brother Chris Teh by telephone from Bo on Wednesday. "The death toll here as far as I know would be 80 to 100 since Saturday. The hospital is desperate. They are just managing to patch wounds. The situation is very bad. The bodies picked up by the International Red Cross have been buried in a mass grave." Teh said ECOMOG units held key positions in the city, backed up by Kamajor militiamen. ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abdul One-Mohammed said his troops had moved in from Kenema, and had taken over Bo after heavy fighting during an offensive on Monday. "We have full control of Bo," One-Mohammed said in Monrovia, adding that ECOMOG had encountered resistance from junta soldiers and RUF rebels. "They later fled and we have had control of Bo since the day before yesterday," he said. "Our next plan is to start moving into the hinterland. Before the end of the month we should reopen all routes around Bo so that people who fled can come back." Bo residents were reported to be returning to the city on Wednesday. 15 Catholic missionaries who had been trapped by the fighting were reported to be safe, church officials said Wednesday.
Liberian authorities have sent troops to the Sierra Leone border in response to reports that RUF fighters are crossing the frontier near the Lofa County border town of Vahun, a Defence Department spokesman said Wednesday. "Although the ministry has not received any confirmed reports about a spill-over into Liberia by retreating RUF rebels, the ministry has sent enough manpower to the border as a precautionary measure," the spokesman said, adding that the AFL troops heading for Lofa, Cape Mount and Bomi Counties were "equipped to the teeth to prevent any situation." Some Sierra Leonean refugees have complained of being harassed and robbed by Liberian security forces, including the Special Security Service, President Taylor's bodyguard, made up mostly of ex-NPFL fighters.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates have begun visiting persons arrested during and after the fighting which led to the junta's ouster by ECOMOG forces earlier in the month. The ICRC team, consisting of a doctor and a nurse, visited Pademba Road Prison where several hundred detainees — junta soldiers, RUF fighters, and civilians — are being held. "During such visits, delegates register the detainees, give them a medical examination and inspect their conditions of detention," and ICRC statement said, adding that the authorization to visit all persons held on Sierra Leonean territory controlled by ECOMOG came February 19, and was signed by ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe.
British Deputy High Commissioner Colin Glass returned to Freetown Wednesday to assess the security situation in Sierra Leone. Glass said he had come alone to determine whether it was safe for High Commissioner Peter Penfold and other staff to return. "I have to look at the security situation," Glass said. The British High Commission compound was reportedly untouched by looters.
Pope John Paul II expressed concern over the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone on Wednesday, and about the fate of a number of priests abducted in recent days. "The Holy See keeps receiving worrying news from several African regions, especially from Sierra Leone, where opposing factions fight against each other, causing great pain to those cherished populations," the Pontiff said. "My thoughts are with the 5 kidnapped missionaries: they are deserving members of the Fatebenefratelli and Augustinian missions. I am equally worried about the tens of priests and nuns of the dioceses of Makeni, under the pastoral care of Xaverian bishop Msgr. Biguzzi. To them, as to the population of Sierra Leone, I assure my total solidarity, together with that of the entire Church."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Wednesday it is trying to establish contact with those who have abducted a number of Catholic priests. The ICRC said it would offer its services as a neutral intermediary to bring about a "positive outcome," and expressed concern about the hostages.
Colombia's Chief Prosecutor's office said Wednesday that it had charged four former Israeli Defence Force officers with training Colombian paramilitary groups in the late 1980's. The four, led by former Israeli Colonel Yair Klein, were hired as mercenaries by the Medellin drug cartel. Klein is currently believed to be training rebels in Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to diplomatic sources quoted by Reuters.
24 February: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah arrived in Nigeria Monday for a visit with Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, Nigerian state radio said on Tuesday. "Already, arrangements have reached an advanced stage for the return of President Kabbah (to Sierra Leone)," the radio said.
Aid workers reported renewed fighting in Kenema Tuesday between ECOMOG troops who control the city and junta forces. "There was heavy shelling in Kenema. The junta is attacking ECOMOG," one aid worker said in Freetown. "Our contact had to drop the phone and run."
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Paul Stromberg said Tuesday that more than 1,000 people a day are fleeing to Liberia to escape the fighting in Sierra Leone. 14,000 people, mostly women and children, have arrived in Liberia since early February, he said, adding that most of them appeared to be in good condition. An additional 114,000 persons in the countryside are said to face catastrophic food shortages.
Renegade AFRC soldiers and RUF fighters are holding at least 25 Western hostages, church officials said Tuesday. Father Ercole Marcelli, a Catholic official who is coordinating reports of missing missionaries, said one group held in Makeni since February 14 include ten Italians, three Irish, one Australian, a German, a Spaniard and six sisters with the late Mother Theresa's Sisters of Mercy order. Three other medical missionaries of the Order of St. John of God have also been abducted from the hospital in Lunsar. About 20 local seminarians were also reported to have been captured, but their number was unclear, Marcelli said. Catholic Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi, who knows some of the rebels, is trying to secure the missionaries' release, Marcelli added. "He is trying to establish contact with the RUF, with the collaboration and protection of Guinean troops," Marcelli said. "I am also in contact with the Apostolic Nuncio in Conakry so they can contact embassies."
Junta troops and RUF fighters looted and burned the hospital at Lunsar over the weekend, according to the Baptist Convention's administrative assistant, Michael Kamara. Kamara said the mission had suffered over one billion leones in losses. Every structure of the Convention was looted and set on fire, Kamara said, and Lunsar Eye Hospital and the Conference Center were razed to the ground. "Drugs for eye patients which were not looted were destroyed by the rebels," Kamara added. A witness said over 100 AFRC/RUF rebels had attacked the town, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles, and carrying containers of petrol. The rebels reportedly raped several female patients at the hospital, and shot dead two Lunsar youths who pleaded with them to stop.
In Port Loko District, up to 500 junta soldiers are reported to have surrendered their arms and ammunition to police at Kassiri, Kambia, Masiaka, and Port Loko towns. Police Chief Francis Ali said RUF rebels would like to surrender as well, but are afraid of public reprisals. The commander of the Guinean contingent at Port Loko, Mamadou Diallo, addressed AFRC/RUF rebels at Gbere Junction over the weekend, urging them to stop the killing and surrender in exchange for amnesty.
Fighting in Bo has begun to subside as ECOMOG troops and Kamajors gained ground against junta forces holding the western side of town, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday. Late Monday, junta troops looted three commercial banks, destroyed the telephone center, and damaged the Bo-Kenema power center, which serves Eastern Province. Civilians have fled the city for Kamajor-controlled areas.
The Kamajor militia is now in control of Kono District, BBC reporter Lansana Fofana said Monday. "We are hearing that Kono in the east is pretty much safe, because the Civil Defence Forces captured the town from the RUF and AFRC combined forces last week," Fofana said. He cited reports that Makeni "has been completely vandalised by rebels who, I understand, have fled." Fofana said Makeni was empty of civilians. "There are calls from neighbouring towns around Makeni for ECOMOG to enter the north, and in particular Makeni, which is now vulnerable and at the mercy of marauding robbers," Fofana added.
Armed RUF fighters are entering Liberian border towns in Lofa County, according to the Director of the Liberian government's Commission for Repatriation and Resettlement, Alexander Kulue. Kulue stressed the need to move the refugees inland, observing that the farther they are from the border, the safer they will be. He said about 20,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have entered Liberia, 15,000 by way of Vahun and 15,000 through Foya.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi warned ECOWAS countries on Tuesday not to assist fleeing junta leaders. "None of our countries should have any one of these people," Ikimi said in Freetown. "If they do so, they would be in breach of the covenant of ECOWAS, they would be in breach of the embargo and the restrictions that have been placed on those people, and they too, perhaps, will have to answer to ECOWAS or answer to the United Nations Security Council." Lagos NTA Television Network reported that about 350 of those who "participated actively in Sierra Leone's military government have so far been detained. "Those who participated in the illegal government of Major Johnny Paul Koroma in Sierra Leone will be punished in line with their level of involvement in the rebellion," the report said.
In response to speculation that AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma might try to take refuge in Liberia, President Charles Taylor has ordered that security be increased at entry points. At a meeting with ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, Taylor pledged his preparedness to cooperate with other ECOWAS states in tracking down fleeing members of Sierra Leone's military junta.
ECOMOG has reopened Lungi International Airport to commercial flights, ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abdul One-Mohammed said in Monrovia Tuesday. "Lungi is now opened to commercial flights. ECOMOG has kicked out the militias and so there is no risk," One-Mohammed said. Airplanes will be allowed to fly in an out of Freetown between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Airlines wishing to use the airport outside these hours will be required to give ECOMOG 24 hours notice. ECOMOG lifted its ban on commercial shipping on Monday. One-Mohammed said that while the sea and air embargoes were being eased, ECOMOG would not permit weapons to enter the country. Aid agencies welcomed the reopening of the port. "This is very positive news," said World Food Programme Regional Coordinator Paul Ares. "With ships again bringing food to Freetown shops, the overall situation will be alleviated and we can begin to focus on getting food and vital supplies to the interior of the country."
Police in Freetown have been empowered to search for and recover looted goods, to seize boats transporting them, and to prosecute the owners, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday. A special committee which was set up to process looted property discovered a large dockside area which had been used to take the looted goods out of the country.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has begun distributing the 760 tons of food which arrived by ship from Monrovia last week. A WFP spokesman said the agency will bring in two more vessels loaded with food next month from Guinea.
The European Union (EU) expressed concern Monday about the continued instability in Sierra Leone, and about the civilian casualties in Freetown in particular. "Following the recent fighting, the need now is for targeted humanitarian operations to start as soon as possible to relieve the suffering of the people. We urge the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group to cooperate with the United Nations, European Community Humanitarian Office and other aid agencies to facilitate this process, to ensure that international humanitarian law is upheld and to assure the security of those engaged in providing such relief," the statement said. The European Union urged those involved in the Sierra Leone conflict to respect the rights of EU citizens, and demanded the immediate release of all hostages from EU member states. "The European Union believes that the peaceful future of Sierra Leone can only be assured by a process of reconciliation, as was envisaged under the Abidjan Peace Accord and the Conakry Agreement. We urge all parties to work to this end. The swift return of the democratic Government of President Kabbah is an important first step," the statement concluded.
A Dutch freelance journalist and photographer has been reported missing in Guinea or Sierra Leone. Teun Voeten, who was working for the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland and the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, arrived in Conakry on February 9 and was planning to travel to Freetown. Nothing has been heard from him since the February 14, when he failed to contact his base. Voeten is a member of the Dutch Journalists Association (NVJ) and holds an international press card.
23 February: Distribution of emergency food aid for starving people in Freetown will not begin until Thursday for logistical reasons, aid officials said on Monday. The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had completed unloading 760 tons of food from the ship which arrived from Monrovia on Thursday. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will begin handing out food only after those in need had been identified and registered, according to WFP spokesman Wagdi Othman. "We are not doing general distribution. The ICRC is registering people. They have to re-establish contact with people who were getting food aid previously and verify those in need," Othman said. "The next target will be families that have lost everything during the fighting," he added. The WFP expects that the food, which has been moved to ICRC storehouses in Freetown, will feed 70,000 persons for one month. About 8,000 of those fall into the top priority category.
ECOMOG has lifted the ban on commercial ships entering Sierra Leone, according to a BBC report. The commander of the ECOMOG force said an embargo on shipments of weapons will remain in place for the time being.
The entire population of Makeni fled their homes as junta forces and RUF fighters laid waste to the city, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Monday.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted "unconfirmed reports" Monday that the RUF had taken a number of western hostages on foot to a rebel base at Mount Charlie in the Malal Hills, about 90 miles from Freetown, and from there to their heavily fortified base in Kailahun District.
The Sierra Leone crisis is expected to be on the agenda when the OAU Council of Ministers meets in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday. The ministers generally devotes most of their time to budget and administrative matters, but are expected to discuss recent developments in Burundi, Comoros, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Angola. The delegates will also discuss initiatives to help Africa carry out peace missions, as well as implementation of the United Nations convention on the elimination of land mines.
The United States would be prepared to assist in the airlifting of troops from West African countries willing to contribute soldiers to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria on Monday which quoted U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria William Twaddell. A request would have to be made to the U.S. and approved by Congress, Twaddell was quoted as saying. He said the U.S. had set a precedent in Liberia, where it contributed $90 million and assisted in the airlifting of troops from ECOWAS member countries for the peacekeeping operation.
22 February: ECOMOG has brought reinforcements into Sierra Leone to pursue junta troops and RUF fighters, military sources said Sunday. Some flew into Freetown from Monrovia, while others crossed the Liberian border in an armoured convoy, headed for Zimmi.
ECOMOG troops entered the eastern side of Bo Sunday, and are said to be moving toward the center of the city. The BBC reported fighting in the western part of town, which has been under the control of pro-junta troops and the Revolutionary United Front. ECOMOG is reportedly testing heavy weapons, including artillery, on beaches near Monrovia in preparation for a full-scale attack on Bo. The test firing started Saturday, and will continue until February 28. An ECOMOG press released warned ships and planes to avoid the area. The statement called on the public not to panic, saying the exercise was "normal."
Junta forces and RUF fighters in control of Makeni are engaging in "indiscriminate shooting and theft," according to a BBC report on Sunday. Refugees reaching Freetown said most of the civilian population had left the city, and were trying to reach safety through the bush. A Xinhua report Sunday said fighting in Makeni was heavy, and that junta soldiers had shot at an ECOMOG fighter jet as it flew overhead. The Xinhua report also suggested that AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma "is reportedly based" in Makeni. There has been no independent confirmation of the report.
The Chairman of the Port Loko branch of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, K.F. Kamara, expressed concern about the large number of refugees fleeing into the countryside, Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported Sunday. Kamara said more than 4,000 persons, most of them from Makeni, Lunsar, and surrounding villages, are believed to have entered Port Loko in the past two weeks. He said the people were desperate, malnourished, and that many had suffered wounds. First aid was being provided by the Community Health Care Program, Kamara said, adding that there was a problem of food and shelter, especially for children under five and pregnant women.
A spokesman for the Catholic Christian Brothers in Sierra Leone has appealed to ECOMOG and to the Irish government to help 15 Catholic missionaries have been stranded by the fighting in Bo. "There is no way we can communicate with them in their mission," Harry Harrington in Freetown. "We are worried and concerned about their lives." Most United Nations agencies have withdrawn their staffs to Freetown because of the security situation in the city, according to U.N. security officer Graeme Membrey.
21 February: A World Food Programme (WFP) food shipment which arrived by ship from Monrovia Thursday is stuck at port because harbour facilities were looted or vandalised by the junta, aid and port officials said. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman said it would be unable to unable to get the food out of the port until early next week. "Food will start reaching people next week — from Monday or Tuesday," the spokesman said, adding that it was still not known how much of the cargo had been damaged when the vessel shipped water during the voyage from Monrovia. "We hope there is not too much damage. Luckily the vegetable oil is at the bottom, but some of the wheat might be damaged." The ICRC began unloading food, mostly rice, on Friday, using a single crane attached to the side of the ship. Workers have been able to transfer no more than 150 tons of food a day to the port's storage facility, aid officials said. Divers have been trying to trace the source of a leak on the side of the vessel, but their work has been impeded by fears that the port was mined by retreating junta troops. Aid officials said they had no idea when food might reach the countryside. "Security is the main obstacle to our work. We know nothing about the situation in the interior," WFP spokesman Wagdi Othman said. Once the food is out of the port, the ICRC intends to deliver it primarily to institutions. "It will go to high risk areas with low or no income and the highest rate of malnutrition," he said. "It will also go to houses that have been completely burned or bombed. We expect other aid organisations to come in, including WFP. Until they come in we will be responsible for Freetown."
The Nigerian newspaper Thisday reported "intelligence information" that Liberian President Charles Taylor sent 2,500 members of his "private army" to shore up the military junta in Sierra Leone.
20 February: Eleven people were killed in Rokupr Thursday and dozens more wounded when RUF rebels armed with rifles, grenade launchers and machetes attacked the town, according to local journalists. "Several others were drowned as they tried to escape by dugout canoes or tried to swim from the area," one journalist said. ECOMOG forces were deployed to the area, where some 500 RUF fighters were reported to be massing for an attack. "Houses have been looted and burnt by the rebels. The hardcore junta and rebel leaders are apparently trying to set up a base in the area," a radio journalist said. Guinean ECOMOG troops found a large cache of arms under a bridge in the area, according to one report.
AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma is believed to have escaped to Masiaka, For di People reporter Kwame Yankson told the BBC Friday. Yankson said Koroma escaped by boat to Tumbo on February 16, accompanied by his wife Makuta, their two children, and his chief security officer, Staff Sergeant "Rambo" Marah. Koroma paid a boatman Le 3 million to take them across the river, Yankson said. "He left a large cache of arms and ammunition by the shore," Yankson told the BBC. "The boatman later came to transport Rambo and seven bags of money in both local and foreign currency." Yankson quoted a witness who said Koroma addressed a group of soldiers a few days ago, telling them "that they should surrender to ECOMOG." Koroma is currently "around Masiaka town, in one of the villages," Yankson said. "He is in hiding in the bush and they say sometimes he comes out during the day and at night he would go back to the bush to sleep." There have been a number of conflicting reports as to Koroma's whereabouts since the AFRC military government was ousted by ECOMOG earlier this month. None has been independently substantiated.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed Friday on the situation in Sierra Leone. Members spoke of the urgent need for President Kabbah to return to Sierra, diplomatic sources said Friday. Kabbah's presence would reassure people that the country's democratically-elected government had been restored, and would remove any semblance of a political vacuum in the country, the members were reported as saying. Security Council members expressed their concern about instability in major provincial towns and reports of hostage taking. The Council authorised its President to issue a press statement reflecting these concerns, and expressed the hope that the United Nations would soon take appropriate steps to assist Sierra Leone, based on the Secretary-General's assessment of the situation. A source close to the Kabbah government on Friday called President Kabbah's return "overdue," and said they the Kabbah government is now aiming for a date of Sunday, March 1 for the President's return.
Revolutionary United Front spokesman Lieutenant Eldred Collins confirmed Friday that the RUF is seizing foreign hostages in order to force the release of their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, from detention in Nigeria. "We want our leader," Collins told the BBC. "(Until Sankoh's return) I don't think the international community will see any peace." The RUF is holding two foreign workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and five Catholic missionaries, according to MSF and the Red Cross.
ECOMOG troops continued to cross the Mano River Bridge from Liberia Friday, heading for Kenema. ECOMOG "remains firmly in control of Kenema, undertaking mopping-up operations after remnants of the junta and rebels made hasty flights from the town late Wednesday," a local administrator said.
Bo remained tense Friday, with junta forces in control of the western part of the city, while the Kamajors controlled the east and north. "There are confirmed reports of persistent lootings and indiscriminate killings conducted by junta forces," said a resident quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP). "There is also a shortage of food and lack of medicines to treat the wounded. Civilians have not welcomed the junta presence in the west of the city and are staying indoors to protest." Thousands of residents are reportedly fleeing the city, taking refuge in territory controlled by the Kamajors.
Aid agencies reported continued fighting in Waterloo on Friday, according to a Reuters report, which added that taxi drivers are refusing to go to the area.
Former President Joseph Momoh was arrested in Freetown Thursday as he tried to slip through an ECOMOG checkpoint disguised as a woman, an ECOMOG officer said Friday. "We arrested the former Sierra Leone president Joseph Saidu Momoh yesterday on Wilkinson road in the Westend of Freetown," the officer said. "He was identified by vigilantes along Wilkinson road disguised as a woman trying to walk through an ECOMOG checkpoint."
The Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) Friday called on its members to return to work as "the security situation has improved" in Freetown. The SLLC also called on "remnants of the junta and RUF rebels to lay down their arms and surrender to ECOMOG so that the disarmament process will be effected without any confrontation."
Around 1,000 persons have been detained following last week's ousted of Sierra Leone's military government, Radio 98.1 reported Friday. Some 600 are being detained at Pademba Road Prison, according to the report, which was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
A contingent of 400 Nigerian soldiers left Kano, Nigeria Thursday evening to reinforce the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, the Nigerian newspaper Punch reported Friday. The Nigerian government has not confirmed the report.
Nigerian Rear-Admiral Mike Akhigbe said Friday that Nigeria has no territorial ambitions in Sierra Leone. "We do not have any territorial ambition or any desire to dominate any country within the sub-region," said Akhigbe, who was representing Defence Staff Chief Major-General Abdulsalam Abubakar at a "Thank You" rally held by dozens of Sierra Leoneans in Lagos. "We play the role God has designed for us to help all other African countries, particularly West African countries, to seek the path of development through peaceful and democratic accepted norms," he added.
About 900 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned from Guinea since Wednesday, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson. Some 5,000 refugees fled to Guinea by boat after fighting broke out between ECOMOG and junta soldiers on February 5.
Reaction: Commonwealth Secretary-General General Chief Emeka Anyaoku: "It had become clear that international condemnation and sanctions were not going to compel the military junta to honour the agreement it signed last October with ECOWAS. This would have opened the way for the reinstatement of the democratically elected government of President Kabbah, thereby ending the needless suffering of Sierra Leone and its people. Instead, the region had to act and, while the unavoidable casualties in terms of loss of life and property are to be regretted, ECOWAS should be congratulated for acting so decisively and successfully in bringing to an end the rule of the illegal military government. I now look forward to the earliest possible reinstatement of President Tejan Kabbah's government and I call on the Commonwealth and the wider international community to render every possible humanitarian assistance to the civil population of the country, especially those who have been displaced from their homes since the pillaging that followed the military coup d'etat in May last year."
19 February: A ship chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP) docked in Freetown Thursday, loaded with 850 tons of relief food. The vessel, the Hollgan Star, took on water during the voyage from Monrovia, port officials said. The WFP said it had no immediate assessment of damage to the cargo. "Tomorrow we're scheduled to unload the ship. At this moment we don't know how much damage there is to the food," a WFP spokeswoman said in Rome.
The Kamajor militia ambushed six looted vehicles filled with junta troops at Brahima Town, on the Bo-Kenema highway Thursday, according to a BBC report. "During a 20 minute gun battle, 35 junta troops were killed, while the others fled, leaving behind their looted property which included arms and ammunition," the BBC said. According to the Kamajor operations commander, junta troops occupying the western part of Bo are now trapped at Saracus Construction Site, five miles from the city, along with their looted property and vehicles. Hundreds of Kamajors have blocked the highway to prevent junta forces from reaching their base. Aid agencies reported heavy fighting in Bo Thursday between pro-junta soldiers and the Kamajor militia, with one report quoted by Reuters giving the junta troops the upper hand. The French charity International Action Against Hunger has described the situation in Bo as alarming, saying that the city is now facing food shortages and other problems. Five prominent Lebanese businessmen from Bo, accused of being junta collaborators, were apprehended by Kamajors in Moyamba District were saved from being killed when Civil Defence Unit leader Sam Hinga Norman ordered them to be turned over to security personnel to be handed over to ECOMOG.
Nigerian ECOMOG troops entered Kenema Thursday, putting pro-junta forces to flight, the BBC reported. "ECOMOG drove into Kenema peacefully. There's another large contingent on the way," local priest Johannes George said, adding that hundreds of civilians who had fled the fighting followed the troops into town. George said the ECOMOG soldiers entered Kenema from the south, suggesting that they had come overland, either from their main base in Liberia, or from Guinea. Another source indicated that the ECOMOG troops were based at Zimmi, and only took action after a committee of Kenema residents pleaded with them to save the town from destruction.
The Kamajor militia captured Bonthe Wednesday after a two hour battle with junta forces, Kamajor Commander Morie Jusu Kamara said Thursday.
ECOWAS has agreed to raise ECOMOG troop levels in Sierra Leone to 15,000, Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi said in Freetown Thursday. He said 10 battalions of troops were needed for the Sierra Leone operation. Two battalions would soon arrive from Guinea, he said, while other countries, including Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mali, would provide support. Ikimi called on the United Nations to send its observer force to Sierra Leone now, so that it could be deployed in the country at the same time as ECOMOG troops. Ikimi met with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in Conakry Wednesday night, saying afterward that Kabbah should be returning to Freetown soon. "It will not be long before Tejan Kabbah returns home to Sierra Leone," Ikimi said Thursday.
AFRC Army Chief of Staff Colonel Samuel Williams, Secretary of State for Works Colonel Sabah Kamara, and a Lieutenant Panda were arrested at the Guinea border of town of Pamelap on Tuesday and are "awaiting repatriation to Freetown," according to a radio report on Thursday. Two other officials, former Minister of Tourism and Culture Colonel (Rtd.) Max Kanga, and a landmine expert, Major Hamid Bangura, have also been arrested in Freetown the radio said, which was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
An Italian priest, Father Bruno Guzzonato, said he and six other church workers eluded junta troops who attacked near the Catholic Mission in Lunsar, where the men worked. "They were trying to capture us. It was clear they wanted white hostages," Guzzonato said. "They have completely destroyed the Catholic mission." Guzzonato five of the six who escaped with him Italian Fathers Mario Zaranotelo and Gianni Zanni, Spanish Father Joseph Cardenas, and Brothers Eric Karebo and Thomas Basangue, from Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau, respectively.
Police have found 140 decomposed bodies in the sea north of Freetown, SLBS (state radio) reported Thursday. The dead were refugees from Freetown who were trying to escape to Guinea when their boats capsized.
Liberian opposition have issued a statement calling on Liberian President Charles Taylor to refuse asylum to junta members, according to a report by Liberian Star Radio. The minority parties believe that to grant asylum would violate United Nations and ECOWAS sanctions.
Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Abdulsalam Abubakar urged United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan Wednesday to use his good offices to draw attention to the peace process in Sierra Leone. Abubakar briefed Annan on the situation in Sierra Leone and the efforts to rebuild the country following the ouster of the country's military junta.
18 February: United Nations Special Envoy Francis Okelo arrived in Freetown Wednesday, and said President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah could return to Sierra Leone within two weeks. "The final touches for security arrangements are being made and when they are finished he should be on his way. I am told that within two weeks they will probably have finished the arrangements," Okelo said. Okelo is in Sierra Leone to assess relief needs. "This is a humanitarian mission," he said. "We hope security will be reestablished around the country."
Junta troops and RUF fighters have recaptured Bo from the Kamajor militia, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday. The attack was described by the BBC on Tuesday: "People dressed in Kamajor uniforms started firing on Kamajor positions at Bo this morning. There was confusion after the attack, and the Kamajors withdrew to the police barracks on the eastern edge of the town," the report said, adding that the troops, believed to be mostly RUF fighters, were holding most of the western side of town, and were looting and killing. "Rebels armed with heavy machine guns have been driving around the town, spraying buildings with bullets," the BBC said. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that Bo was quiet after being "partly recaptured yesterday by junta forces after heavy fighting," although armed gangs were still roaming the streets and commandeering vehicles.
Hundreds of junta soldiers handed their weapons over the Guinean troops based in Port Loko on Wednesday. The Guineans are reportedly not part of the ECOMOG force, but are there under the auspices of the Mano River Union. The decision by the Sierra Leonean troops to surrender was taken at a well-attended meeting with Port Loko residents. Police in Port Loko are believed to have taken an inventory of the arms and ammunition that are being turned in.
An ECOWAS Committee of Five delegation led by Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi met with ECOMOG commanders in Freetown Wednesday. The meeting was described as a fact-finding mission to assess the security situation in the capital, in order to brief President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah prior to his return to Sierra Leone. Ikimi paid tribute to the ECOMOG commanders for the excellent job they have done so far, and noted that normalcy has returned to Freetown. Ikimi told reporters it would not be long before Kabbah was back in Sierra Leone. He said he planned to meet with Kabbah Wednesday night, and carry the message, as reported by BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, "that Freetown is safe and that Freetown is waiting to welcome him back as their president." Earlier, Kabbah said he would return to Sierra Leone next week.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah met with members of his cabinet and parliament-in-exile in Conakry Wednesday and, according to a BBC report, responded to rumours that members of parliament plan to impeach him upon his return. Kabbah cited the relevant articles of the constitution which deal with the impeachment of a head of state and declared, "I do not fall within that category." The SLPP's parliamentary leader, S.B. Marah, assured Kabbah that parliament had no such intention. Kabbah then proceeded to outline steps his government will take upon its reinstallment in Sierra Leone. The cabinet will be downsized and the bureaucracy streamlined, Kabbah said. A policy advisory council will be set up to review cabinet documents and the implementation of cabinet decisions, supervise public enterprises, and evaluate the performances of government ministries. The only way forward for Sierra Leone is by avoiding the politics of confrontation, destruction, suspicion, and the notorious pulling-down syndrome, Kabbah said, all of which will not help the country's development stride.
An additional 1,200 ECOMOG soldiers arrived at Lungi International Airport on two Boeing 747's Wednesday to help fight remaining junta soldiers and RUF fighters in the provinces. There are now reported to be about 11,200 ECOMOG soldiers in Sierra Leone, most of them Nigerian. Radio Kudirat International reported Tuesday that 150 Nigerian soldiers arrived in Lagos Saturday for urgent medical attention. The Nigerian government has not disclosed casualty figures, and there was no independent confirmation of the report. The radio cited "unofficial" sources which reported that since Nigerian forces intervened in Sierra Leone last May, 300 soldiers have been reported missing in action, 450 deserted, 500 were seriously wounded, and 300 were killed. The Nigerian government said the reports are not accurate.
Nigeria has said it is sending a contingent of policemen to Sierra Leone to train local police officers and to help maintain law and order. The policemen had originally prepared to work in Liberia, but the project was abandoned because of a disagreement between the two countries.
AFRC Under Secretary of State for Information Allieu Kamara, now in "protective custody" at the ECOMOG base at Jui, tried Wednesday to disassociate himself from Sierra Leone's military regime. "I was only a mouthpiece. I should not be held responsible for any action of the junta," Kamara said, adding that now he could tell the truth. "What I am trying to tell Sierra Leoneans is that it is high time to turn this country peacefully to constitutional rule." Kamara praised ECOMOG as "an effective and professional force," and urged junta members "to refrain from mounting any military expedition in the country, and to give peace a chance."
RUF Lieutenant Eldred Collins reportedly addressed his followers in the Port Loko area on Sunday, and told them that the war must continue. He said the RUF should do everything in its power to capture Freetown, according to a BBC report on Wednesday. On Wednesday, the RUF ambushed two vehicles in the area, and reportedly now controls the area between Port Loko and Ferry Junction.
Nord Resources, a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile Ltd., said Wednesday it is "optimistic" that recent events in Sierra Leone could lead to a resumption of operations at its titanium dioxide mine. Mining operations have been dormant since RUF fighters attacked Sierra Rutile Ltd. in January 1995. In a press release, Nord Resources said resumption of production will be contingent on a stable government, satisfactory security provisions, completion of financing arrangements, and formal agreement with the government of Sierra Leone.
17 February: ECOMOG has set up a eleven member ad hoc administrative body "to supervise affairs of the Sierra Leone government for the next few days until the return of Kabbah." The body includes ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe and Vice President Albert Demby. "The task force is the only body authorised by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to act on behalf of the government until his return," SLBS (state radio) said Tuesday.
Two Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers were kidnapped by pro-junta forces on Tuesday as they were driving on the highway between Port Loko and Lunsar. The two were identified as French logistics expert Jean Bernard and Canadian doctor Milton Tectonidio. Five European missionaries abducted on Sunday from a hospital in Lunsar are also still missing.
A church delegation led by Catholic Archbishop Josef Ganda to ECOMOG commanders Tuesday to help restore order up-country. "The north is in the hands of no one," priest Francis Tommy said, citing radio reports of shooting and looting in Makeni. In Bo, Kenema, and Makeni, pro-junta soldiers and RUF fighters began firing at Civil Defence Unit positions on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Residents were forces to flee as junta troops entered some towns, shooting at people at random and looting shops, homes, and NGO offices. Local priests confirmed Tuesday that retreating soldiers had attacked Bo and Kenema. Both attacks were repulsed by the Kamajors, the said. "When the junta troops came last night, they opened fire randomly on people trying to flee," Johannes George, a Kenema priest, told the BBC. "This morning the Kamajors were going from house to house looking for remnants of the junta forces," he added. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said his troops "are on their way" to assist. "The ECOMOG will fight them as quickly as possible in these areas," Shelpidi said during a visit to Freetown on Monday. "We will continue to expand outside Freetown to try to see where the junta has moved to in the hinterlands. Where they refuse to hand over their weapons, we will ensure that they do so by force." Regarding operations in Bo and Kenema, Shelpidi said ECOMOG was waiting for troops from other contributing countries to ECOMOG. "The other countries have responded to ECOMOG, but their problems are mainly logistical," he said.
A World Food Programme (WFP) chartered ship carrying 850 metric tons of emergency food, together with medical and other emergency supplies, left Monrovia for Freetown on Tuesday. "With Freetown cut off from the rest of the country by fighting, some 500,000 people face serious food shortages," the the WFP said in a statement, adding that the agency has been receiving desperate requests for food from humanitarian agencies in Freetown. The ship is expected to arrive in Freetown on Wednesday. The WFP also plans to dispatch a second vessel from Conakry, and is exploring the possibility of transporting food by road from Guinea. The WFP said it had a regional stockpile of 3,200 tons of emergency food supplies in Guinea, which would be dispatched immediately to other parts of Sierra Leone as soon as the situation allows. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers in Freetown are compiling a list of people most in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1,000 persons left homeless in last week's fighting. Until the WFP ship arrives, "It is not possible to distribute food and assistance to everybody, only to the most vulnerable people," ICRC Relief Coordinator Thorkesson Diego said.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi will lead a delegation of the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone to meet with ECOMOG officials in Freetown on Wednesday. Nigerian Director of Defence Information Major Godwin Ugbo said in Lagos that the Committee will decide on the date for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's return. Ugbo denied a report that a Nigerian army officer is acting as interim head of state in Sierra Leone. An ECOWAS statement issued in Abuja Tuesday called upon the international community and humanitarian agencies to resume immediately the delivery of humanitarian aid. The statement also confirmed ECOWAS' commitment to the reinstatement of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
AFRC Secretary-General A.K. Sesay, Freetown Mayor Dr. Wiltshire Johnson, and a number of naval officers and their families are reported to have been found aboard a Sierra Leonean gunboat in Guinean waters, and detained by Guinean authorities. The vessel is being returned to Sierra Leone.
Civil servants in Freetown began to return to work Tuesday in large numbers, and some businesses were reported open for the first time since the May 25 coup. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers reported continued revenge killings in the capital, but said the number of wounded being admitted to hospital was down. Aid workers reported attacks on Lebanese traders, but said that shops have begun to reopen. Reuters reported "thuds of distant heavy artillery shelling outside Freetown" for about ten minutes Tuesday night. No details were available.
16 February: ECOMOG announced Monday night that it was in firm control of the Freetown peninsula after three days of mopping up. The ECOMOG force is continuing to disarm soldiers, policemen, and armed civilians, and has already captured thousands of guns, ammunition, and military uniforms, thanks to residents who have been identifying persons with residents. "Disarmament of all combatants has started," ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said. "All those in possession of arms, ammunition, and explosives are instructed to submit such items to a nearby ECOMOG post by February 22, after which ECOMOG will begin a house-to-house search and anyone found in possession of arms will be arrested and prosecuted," Khobe said. Relief agencies said Monday that the emphasis must shift to helping residents get food and medical help, while holding in check angry crowds bent on settling scores with the ousted military junta. An Associated Press report Monday said Freetown "faces roaming vigilante gangs, widespread hunger and the threat of disease spread by exposed and rotting corpses." Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, now under ECOMOG control, has called on government employees and other public officials to return to their jobs. "All civil servants and staff of parastatals are to resume normal duties with immediate effect," the radio said. "All businesses, including banks, should resume normal operations as soon as possible." Deputy Inspector-General of Police Kande Bangura said that between 3,000 and 4,000 policemen have been posted around Freetown to undertake civil duties. "We are now enforcing law and order, and our men have now undertaken both foot and vehicle patrol to combat crimes," Bangura said.
BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported Monday that junta soldiers in Makeni had indicated they were ready to surrender. "The latest information we have now is that Makeni has more or less fallen, in the sense that soldiers who were stationed there have said they are not going to put up any resistance at all," Fofanah said. "They have mounted a white flag, indicating that they are ready for peace, and that they will simply hand themselves over to ECOMOG, and this is significant because Makeni has a very large contingent, in fact a battalion of soldiers of the AFRC."
Traditional authorities in Koidu have appealed to ECOMOG to intervene in order to prevent a bloodbath, Lebanese refugees in Conakry told Reuters on Monday. The refugees, who had contacted relatives in Koidu by radio, said pro-junta forces were looting the town and fighting against "local vigilante groups." One said he had been told of bodies lying in the streets, and that he feared the situation was "out of control."
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has announced the establishment of a task force which will travel to Sierra Leone shortly to prepare the groundwork for a resumption of democratic governmental functions. According to a statement issued by the Office of the President, the Task Force will also assess the damage done to key administrative structures, work out short-term remedies, and make necessary preparations for the resumption of educational activities. Kabbah emphasized that programmes can quickly be developed to address the problem of youth unemployment, a problem which he described as "one of the causes of instability and violence in the country."
ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Monday his troops were ready to move from the capital to the provinces to pursue the remnants of junta forces.
ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Monday he did not envisage ECOMOG's deployment in Sierra Leone would last "more than three or four months, because it will be too much for us."
Some 60 AFRC supporters, including some child fighters, drowned Sunday when the boat in which they were trying to escape stuck a rock and capsized, villagers said.
The leone has recovered against the dollar, and now trades at Le 1,300 to $1,00, versus some Le 2,300 a few days ago.
Liberian Foreign Minister Joe Mulbah has appealed for international assistance for the more than 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees he said have crossed the Liberian border to escape fighting in Sierra Leone. Mulbah warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, saying many of the Sierra Leoneans were sick and hungry and were in urgent need of help. He said Liberia had sent food and medicine to the border, but the country could not cope on its own since more refugees were arriving every day.
15 February: ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Sunday that ECOMOG's focus would now shift to restoring law and order to Freetown. "With immediate effect, acts of vandalism, revenge killings, and looting must stop," Khobe warned. "Anyone caught will be shot on sight." More than 390 junta soldiers had surrendered to ECOMOG, Khobe said. As the ECOMOG force tightened its grip on Freetown Sunday, residents reported looting and terrorising of civilians by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in areas not yet under ECOMOG control. A number of residents of Goderich Village, to the west of the capital, fled their homes Saturday night to seek shelter nearer the city center. "They are cutting people's hands and burning houses," said a hotel manager quoted by Reuters. Nigerian troops later moved into Goderich and restored calm. "We have met little or no resistance," a Nigerian officer said. BBC correspondent Mark Doyle described looting on Saturday night by "angry armed men" in Aberdeen. "Last night I was ambushed by a group of RUF, although they may have been Liberians, I'm not sure. But militia of some sort attacked the car I was in and we were lucky to get away with our lives," he said. A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Freetown was "totally calm" on Sunday, with no significant signs of the fighting remaining. Residents ventured out onto the streets after a week of chaos, and church services in much of the city were reported to be packed. Some markets were beginning to reopen, although they had little food to sell. A bag of rice in Freetown now costs Le 100,000.
ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Sunday that his troops were still rounding up junta officials, and will bring them back to Freetown to await the return from exile of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "Victor King (detained in Liberia) and others will be flown back to Freetown as soon as we complete compiling our investigation report, in line with the U.N. and ECOWAS mandate," Shelpidi said. Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted "well-placed sources" Sunday who said 250 senior junta officials had given themselves up to ECOMOG, and that 100 were on their way to Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. Shelpidi said his troops would continue to pursue junta leaders. "The war has just begun because we are going to go after the junta leadership into the hinterland," he said. "Most of them are now fleeing into the bushes, but we will chase them to anywhere they go." ECOMOG sources said about 15 additional junta officials had been apprehended in Conakry, and that some had already been shipped back to Freetown. Lebanese officials on Sunday denied ECOMOG "intelligence reports" that AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma was seeking asylum at the Lebanese Embassy in Conakry. "The Lebanese Charge d'Affaires Nasir Baz in Conakry assured me that the news that Koroma was seeking to take asylum in the Lebanese embassy there is totally untrue," said Lebanese Consul Ibrahim Assaf, who is currently in Beirut. ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe expressed his belief Sunday that Koroma had left for Liberia by boat. On Saturday, Koroma contacted the BBC by satellite telephone, claiming to be in the hills around Freetown.
The cities of Bo and Kenema have been captured by the Kamajor militia, the BBC reported Sunday. "Over 10,000 well-armed Kamajor militiamen entered Bo town from three points, singing war songs and looking for soldiers of the ousted junta," a BBC correspondent in Bo reported, adding that the militiamen "were welcomed by jubilant crowds." Later, the Kamajors arrested eight junta soldiers "suspected of planning sabotage" and handed them over to a mob of youths for execution. The youths also set fire to the homes of suspected AFRC supporters, the BBC reported. Reprisal killings have been reported in Kenema as well. A former soldier who tried to lob two hand grenades into a crowd of demonstrators was caught hiding. Another, accused of setting fire to a hotel on Saturday, was identified by an angry crowd. "All were tried in public and later burned alive," the BBC correspondent said. A Kamajor spokesman, quoting Civil Defence Forces (CDF) leader Captain Sam Hinga Norman on Sunday, said the Kamajors captured Pujehun on Friday and Koribundu on Saturday.
The military barracks in Makeni was bombed by an ECOMOG Alpha fighter jet, according to a report issued Sunday by the World Mission News Weekly Update. A Kamajor spokesman said Sunday that Civil Defence Unit troops are heading for Makeni and Daru.
Exiled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, in a radio broadcast from Conakry late Friday night, said he would ask all members of his government to tender their resignations to enable him to set up a slimmed-down government. Kabbah said his government had waited patiently for the crisis "created by the military government" to be resolved peacefully, but in vain. He suggested that in light of the AFRC's refusal to hand over power, the provision of the Conakry Peace Accord granting amnesty to junta members might be re-evaluated. "Since the beneficiaries of these two elements (the RUF, in the case of the Abidjan Accord, and the so-called 'AFRC' in the case of the Conakry Peace Plan) have refused to yield to every peaceful overture to cooperate in the implementation of the terms of both documents, it would have to be determined whether or not and to what extent the immunities to be accorded them under those agreements may have been forfeited," Kabbah said. He added that all the junta's promotions and nominations would be cancelled. Kabbah thanked Nigeria, Guinea, the ECOWAS Committee of Five, the United States, Britain, and the Commonwealth for their support during the crisis. A close aide said Saturday that Kabbah could return to Freetown next week.
Three missionary doctors from a Catholic-run hospital in Lunsar at about 12:00 p.m. Sunday, according to statements issued by the Foreign Ministries of Spain and Italy, the Catholic Diocese in Makeni and the World Mission News Weekly Update. One account identified the abductors as "former members of the army," while another blamed the Revolutionary United Front. The doctors were identified as hospital director Rev. Fernando Aguilo from Spain, who has worked in Sierra Leone for more than a decade, Rev. Joseph Erhard from Austria, and Rev. Gilberto Ugolini from Italy. Various reports have indicated that from one to three religious brothers of the Order of St. John of God were kidnapped as well. The abductors also looted the Catholic parish and a Catholic technical school run by the Josephite Fathers. 14 missionary priests and nuns of various nationalities escaped and hid in the bush. Pro-junta soldiers in Makeni looted the church's pastoral center on Sunday, as well as the mission compound, St. Paul's Major Seminary, the Minor Seminary, and the Sisters of Mother Theresa mission compound, the World Mission News Weekly Update said.
RUF fighters are reportedly surrendering to Liberian security forces along the Sierra Leonean border, Liberian Star Radio reported Sunday. The RUF fighters were reportedly escaping clashes at Zimmi between junta forces and a joint force of Kamajor militiamen and ECOMOG troops. One of the surrendered fighters said in Dambala that many of his colleagues were still hiding in Sierra Leone. They were willing to give themselves up, he said, but were being prevented from crossing the Liberian border by the Kamajors. The Liberian Immigration Commander at Dambala, Captain Mohammed Kromah, said Liberia will receive all surrendered soldiers.
14 February: ECOMOG brought more areas of Freetown under its control Saturday, but the situation in the capital remained tense. Sporadic shooting could be heard on the east end of the city and along the coast as ECOMOG troops pursued junta soldiers and RUF fighters. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) spokeswoman Martha Carey said some small-scale fighting was still going on. "There are still pockets of fighting, but we don't know where it is taking place," she said. MSF staff travelling to Connaught Hospital from the west of town on Friday had observed large scale looting, Carey added. Witnesses in Freetown report widespread reprisal killings by mobs targeting junta soldiers, RUF fighters, and suspected collaborators. "Our commanders on the ground are calling for calm," said ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. "We've asked that the city's police force return to work to help restore order and help prevent lynchings. The major task now is to create a safe haven zone in Freetown, where relief agencies can carry out their work to help the civilians."
ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Saturday his troops had arrested more members of Sierra Leone's military junta. "We've arrested a good number, all senior officials of the junta," Shelpidi said. "Some of them voluntarily reported themselves to ECOMOG soldiers in the streets of Freetown. Some were attempting to flee." He declined to identify those arrested, but said he still did not know the whereabouts of AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma. Reuters cited unconfirmed reports Saturday that 15 AFRC members, including 10 Secretaries of State, had been arrested in Guinea.
AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma told the BBC Saturday that he was "on top of one of the hills of Freetown, the mountains" and would fight back against "foreign aggression" by ECOMOG troops. His location could not be independently confirmed. Koroma denied ECOMOG claims to have captured a number of senior AFRC officials. "Nobody was arrested. They are all in town. (ECOMOG troops) are just victimising innocent civilians," he said. He denied that Nigerian ECOMOG troops had been welcomed by the population, and insisted it was incorrect to call them ECOMOG. "They are not ECOMOG. I want to say Nigerians," Koroma said, noting that while ECOWAS consists of 16 countries, only Nigerian troops were involved in the fighting. "We are still going to fight back, we have to liberate our land," he said.
At least 118 persons have now been reported killed in several days of fighting in Freetown. Doctors at Connaught Hospital said at least 500 people, mostly civilians, were treated for gunshot and shrapnel wounds. Decomposing bodies were piled up at the main entrance to the city morgue. Parts of Freetown are said to have been devastated, with artillery shells and mortars having hit residential areas. The few medical clinics able to continue functioning were overwhelmed. A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Friday that 3,000 Sierra Leonean refugees had arrived by boat in Conakry.
Exiled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said Saturday he would soon return to Sierra Leone. "Very soon my government will once again be in full and effective control of the affairs of the country to exercise its legitimate and constitutional function," Kabbah said in a broadcast over Radio 98.1. He gave no specific date, but Radio 98.1 reported that Kabbah was expected to return to the country within two weeks. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said ECOMOG would bring Kabbah back "as soon as we are able to create a safe haven in Freetown." He added that this should happen "as quickly as possible."
The United Nations Security Council called Friday for security and "full unrestricted access" for aid workers in Sierra Leone, even as international agencies predicted an impending humanitarian crisis in the country. Up to 500,000 people who had been trapped by the latest fighting were in desperate need of food, the aid agencies said. "I told the Security Council the need for us to be given the means, as promised, to enter the country from across the border, but also use the airport and harbour to attend to immediate and pressing needs," said U.N. Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Viera de Mello. Food stocks in Freetown have been either depleted or looted, and U.N. officials have warned of a catastrophe in the making. World Food Programme (WFP) regional manager Paul Ares said the WFP is loading 580 tons of food onto a ship, which should reach Freetown by Wednesday. "We cannot wait any longer to bring urgently needed food aid to hundreds of thousands of desperately hungry people in Freetown," Ares said. "The vessel is being loaded in Monrovia and we are sailing to Freetown." ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi confirmed Saturday that the WFP ship had been given permission to dock in Freetown. He said two planes carrying food had also been cleared to land at Lungi International Airport, and were expected to arrive later on Saturday. Two more ships were expected to dock in Freetown Sunday, one bringing relief supplies; the other the British warship HMS Monmouth bringing medication for the sick and wounded. The Monmouth will assist humanitarian operations in Freetown and support the British High Commissioner for Sierra Leone. Shelpidi faulted aid agencies for being slow to respond to the crisis. "The aid agencies have been slow in getting food to the needy. We have assured them many times (this week) that Lungi is safe," he said.
Liberian President Charles Taylor on Saturday accused the ECOMOG force of "an act of provocation", after ECOMOG warplanes repeatedly buzzed the Executive Mansion and his official convoy on Friday. Taylor said the planes flew over his office and car nine times, coming as close as 500 feet, after he chaired an emergency cabinet meeting on the capture of AFRC officials by ECOMOG troops. A diplomatic source said Friday the ECOMOG action was taken after Taylor threatened "drastic action" if the detainees were not turned over to Liberia by a 2:00 p.m. deadline. Publicly, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi told reporters that the pilots were involved in flight training. Witnesses said Nigerian Alpha fighter jets flew low over the city, while ECOMOG tanks and armored vehicles took to the streets of Monrovia. ECOMOG tanks were also reported to be blocking the runways at Roberts International Airport and the James Spriggs Payne airfield. Taylor accused Nigeria of violating Liberia's sovereignty. "It is alarming that the territory and integrity of Liberia has been violated in this manner," he said.
13 February: Nigerian ECOMOG troops controlled most of Freetown Friday, although sporadic gunfire continued in the western part of the city. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said his troops now controlled about 95% of the city, but were still encountering sporadic resistance. The junta no longer appeared to be functioning, Shelpidi said, although some junta officials may still be commanding troops. Numerous houses and buildings were sent on fire overnight by desperate junta troops, residents said, while a number of junta supporters were burned or beaten to death in reprisal killings. "Civilians, mostly youth, are actually going out looking for soldiers, RUF rebels, and other sympathizers of the AFRC, and in most cases actually killing them on the spot," BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported. Authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and broadcast appeals to residents to surrender their arms and to refrain from retaliatory attacks on junta members. In Kissy, advancing ECOMOG troops discovered large caches of arms belonging to soldiers and junta supporters, Ojukutu-Macaulay said.
25 members of Sierra Leone's military junta were detained by ECOMOG troops Friday, after an ECOMOG warplane intercepted the two helicopter gunships in which they were travelling and forced them to land at Monrovia's Spriggs Payne Airport at about 9:00 a.m. local time. "We intercepted the helicopter, which had no clearance to land on Liberian soil, and forced it to land at Spriggs Payne Airport where the 25 men on board, including the crew, were arrested," ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi told reporters in Monrovia. Witnesses at the airport said 51 persons were on board the helicopters, which were quickly surrounded on the tarmac by ECOMOG troops. Shelpidi confirmed that the passengers were junta members. "There are 25 Sierra Leonean officials. There are also the Ukrainian and Russian crew members and technicians," he said. "We do not know their full identities yet, but we are investigating." One of those detained was identified as Secretary of State, Office of the Chairman Major Victor King. Shelpidi said the Liberian government had demanded that the arrested men be turned over to its security forces, but that they were still being investigated. "All we are doing is to enforce the U.N./ECOWAS embargo, which prohibits junta members or their families from traveling to a U.N. member country," he said. Following an emergency cabinet meeting at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia Friday afternoon, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan said Liberia has protested the ECOMOG action. "This is an infringement on our territory," Captan said, adding that Liberia has recalled its ambassador to Nigeria for consultations. AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma was not among those detained, Shelpidi said. An unconfirmed report Friday said Koroma had left Sierra Leone by boat. The Pan African News Agency (PANA), quoting "foreign media" sources, reported that Koroma had applied to Liberian President Charles Taylor for asylum. A source close to the AFRC said early Friday morning that Koroma was still in Freetown, but that his wife Makuta had fled to the interior.
A diplomatic source said ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi placed his forces in Monrovia on high alert Friday after Liberian President Charles Taylor threatened "drastic action" if the detained junta leaders were not turned over to Liberian authorities by a 2:00 p.m. deadline. As the deadline drew near, ECOMOG tanks and armored vehicles took to the streets and Alpha fighter jets made low passes over the capital and the Executive Mansion, the source said. In reply to a journalist's question on why the warplanes had been "terrorizing Monrovia", Shelpidi replied that the pilots were doing flight training.
AFRC Under Secretary of State for Information Allieu Kamara denied Friday that the junta had been defeated. "We are in control, and we are avoiding catastrophe, which will lead to total demolition of Freetown," Kamara told the BBC. "So, what we are actually trying to do is retreat, and make sure that the guys that are coming in, that is, the Kamajors and the Nigerians, will be killed and definitely be captured. So, we are trying to avoid property damages." Kamara said the junta would continue to offer resistance, in order to "defend the territorial integrity" of the country. "We are not going to give ourselves up. This is just the beginning of the battle. Sierra Leone is ours. If Nigeria feels they can come in and dominate, they are missing the point," Kamara said. "We have forces in Kenema, we have forces in Bo, we have forces in Daru, we have forces in Makeni. This is just the beginning of the battle. We are talking about Sierra Leone, not Freetown. If they feel they can take Freetown and tell the world that they have succeeded, this is just the beginning of the battle because our men are determined to defend the sovereignty of this country."
Thousands of Kenema residents have taken refuge in nearby villages following a threat by junta troops "to burn the town and create mayhem" if ECOMOG troops approached the town. BBC correspondent Prince Brimah said Friday that an ECOMOG contingent which crossed the Mano River Bridge into Sierra Leone over the weekend has made only slow progress on its 106 mile journey to Kenema because of the logs left across roads during the Kamajor militia's "Black December" operation. The ECOMOG troops are equipped with five tanks fitted with mine detectors, Brimah reported. An ECOMOG official said Kamajor militiamen were helping to clear the roads, and that he was optimistic that Kenema would be captured Friday evening. A ECOMOG fighter jet reportedly bombed the AFRC's Kenema headquarters on Wednesday, killing several AFRC troops. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) said Friday it had received reports from Kenema that soldiers and RUF fighters, joined by Liberian fighters, were searching house-to-house for suspected opponents. "People perceived as supporters of the ousted government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah face a serious risk of being arrested, tortured, ill-treated, or executed," the report said, adding that Amnesty International had received information that unarmed civilians were being tortured and killed by both sides. "Several prominent members of the community in Kenema, including the chairman of the town council, B.S. Massaquoi — who are accused of supporting the Kamajors — have been arrested and remain in detention; many of them have been tortured," AI said. "On Sunday, 8 February, at least 300 soldiers and RUF forces entered the town of Kenema, posing as Kamajors, and called for civilians to join them; those who came out into the street were killed."
Kamajor militiamen in control of Tongo, say they have surrounded the junta's military garrison at Daru, and the city of Bo. Aid workers quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) Friday confirmed that fighting was taking place in Bo. Fighting between Kamajors and junta forces at the army's 36th Battalion headquarters in Koribundu, which started Monday, is still continuing. Casualty figures are unavailable, but a number of persons have been reported killed during during four days of fighting. Kamajor forces have reportedly blocked roads in the south and east of the country to prevent AFRC officials from escaping to Liberia.
The government-in-exile of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah appealed Friday for humanitarian aid to "halt the famine." Up to half a million civilians in Freetown who had been cut off from food aid during the fighting were in jeopardy, the World Food Programme (WFP) said. The Sierra Leone Committee on Food Aid, comprising the World Food Programme, CARE, Concern Universal, Catholic Relief Services, and World Vision, said that recent events in Sierra Leone have "accelerated the downward spiral of humanitarian conditions found throughout the whole nation." The Committee said that people were starving in some areas, and expressed particular concern for children.
A diplomatic source disclosed Friday that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is sending personnel from Conakry to test the water at Guma Valley Reservoir, following an unsubstantiated report that the water supply had been poisoned Thursday night by retreating junta troops.
More than 3,000 refugees from the fighting in Freetown have arrived in Guinea in motorised canoes (pampas), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Judith Kumin said Friday. She said refugees Thursday reported that at least 20 more boatloads of people had set out on the ten to twelve hour journey. "We are preparing for a large influx (of refugees), depending on what happens in Freetown," Kumin said in Geneva. "The flow has been quite limited so far, because the roads have been blocked and there has also been firing on the dock area, where people would leave, by vessels offshore. The question is, when the fighting stops completely, whether people stay put or panic, which often happens." The UNHCR has prepared a refugee center east of Conakry, with a capacity of 15,000 to 20,000 persons.
Reaction: U.S. State Department Spokesman James Rubin: "We urge all forces to exercise restraint, avoid civilian casualties, and respect the human rights of all parties. The leadership of the junta has fled the country. We hope the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah will quickly return to Freetown and that calm will soon be restored. The United States will be working with the Kabbah Government and the international community to address the pressing needs of the civilian population." Zimbabwean President and OAU Chairman Robert Mugabe: "ECOMOG will remain in Sierra Leone until they are certain that all resistance is gone. It may take time but all the same we want to say well done to them." Mugabe praised ECOWAS for restoring democracy in Sierra Leone, and said the OAU will ensure that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is returned to power. Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs and African Integration: "The government wishes to congratulate the ECOMOG Chief of Staff and troops for the steps taken to provide protection and security for the civilian population, and exhorts them to keep it up. The government is happy about the imminent restoration of the legitimate government of Tejan Kabbah, and the new prospects of peace, harmony, and progress which open for Sierra Leone."
12 February: ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi told news services Thursday evening that his troops had fought their way into Freetown and are now in control of State House and the parliament building. "There was very little resistance as (junta leaders) were trying to find their way out," Shelpidi said from ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia. "(The AFRC) have packed their bags and baggage and are retreating outside the peninsula." He said the troops, led by ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe, captured State House at about 6:30 p.m. local time. Shelpidi said ECOMOG's immediate task would be to set up safe havens for civilians displaced by the fighting. Reuters, quoting a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, reported that AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma and other junta leaders had taken refuge at "a run-down beach hotel outside the city," (elsewhere identified as the Cape Sierra Hotel), where Koroma "was thought to be plotting an escape, possibly to Liberia." The reports were denied by AFRC spokesman Amidu Bailor Bah. "I want to assure all our well-wishers that we are intact and we are still in full control," Bah said in a statement issued just after midnight local time. He added that Koroma and his family remained at their Spur Road residence in Freetown. Diplomatic sources were quoted as saying Thursday evening that "at least a dozen" AFRC members had been arrested in Conakry by the Guinean authorities. Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday that AFRC Secretary of State for Transport and Communications Cecil Osho-Williams was arrested in Conakry on Wednesday morning. A spokesman for exiled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah confirmed the arrest of Osho-Williams and two other junta sympathizers.
Freetown was rocked by the sound of artillery and gunfire Thursday afternoon as ECOMOG troops entered the city. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay described the sound of "heavy shelling" as ECOMOG forces apparently neared the city center. Ojukutu-Macaulay said junta forces had been seen running from the east toward the Cotton Tree, in the center of town, and were advising people to leave the area. "Several people have just telephoned us from (the east) side of town, telling us that several houses were on fire and that ECOMOG is actually up the road," he reported. Ojukutu-Macaulay said a number of houses on Kissy Road and Fourah Bay Road had burned overnight. "Fourah Bay College was on fire last night and it is still on fire," he added. Agence France-Presse (AFP) cited reports that junta forces were firing from State House at ECOMOG positions on the Fourah Bay College campus. "People in military uniforms have gone on a looting spree," the AFP quoted one resident as saying. "They are now looting homes, stores, and aid agency warehouses." Some witnesses told the AFP that RUF fighters had given up the battle and were trying to flee the city. Reuters, quoting Freetown residents, said many soldiers and RUF fighters had thrown away their uniforms as the army's command and control broke down. Reuters reported that many people were beheaded by groups of pro-junta youths armed with machetes, knives, and sticks with nails, who manned roadblocks throughout the city to search for "enemies" among the fleeing civilian population. AFRC spokesman Amidu Bailor Bah denied reports that ECOMOG had entered the capital. "There is not a single ECOMOG soldier on the ground in Freetown," Bah said in a statement issued Thursday. "They are encamped in the bushes of the hills around Fourah Bay College, from where they are shelling indiscriminately into the city center." Bah also denied earlier reports that ECOMOG had captured the Queen Elizabeth II Quay and the Kissy Ferry Terminal. "I have just come from Kissy Ferry Terminal. My house is next door to the terminal and no ECOMOG soldier is even within hearing distance of the Ferry Terminal," Bah said. In a BBC interview Thursday afternoon, Bah said that the junta would not surrender. "There is no other solution but to fight back, and we will keep on fighting as long as we continue to live," he said. "We have no concession to make. We will never negotiate the sovereignty of our country. We will not mortgage the loyalty of this country to anybody." Bah said the AFRC was determined "to fulfill our mission to liberate Sierra Leone once and for all."
International aid agencies in Freetown have put the death toll in the last two days of fighting at several hundred, Reuters reported on Thursday. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said at least 250 people have been killed and about 5,000 have fled the city. "The humanitarian situation is worsening by the hour as boats, dangerously overcrowded with civilians fleeing the fighting, leave Freetown harbour headed for safe havens up the coast," the ICG said in a statement issued in Brussels. Health workers at Connaught Hospital said more than 200 persons had been admitted with serious injuries, and that there were 30 bodies, mostly of civilians, in the hospital mortuary. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said its surgical team had treated 122 wounded people at Connaught Hospital since the shelling intensified on Wednesday night. 12 had since died. Residents said some of the dead had been buried by their families, while many more unclaimed bodies were lying all over the city. MSF spokesman Milton Tectonidis said at least 20,000 civilians had fled Freetown to villages farther away from the fighting. Another 10,000 civilians from Freetown and points along the coast had fled by foot and boat to Mambolo and Rokupr, about 60 miles northwest of Freetown, Tectonidis said. Inside Freetown, thousands of people were believed trapped between the warring forces. Some 5,000 civilians who fled earlier fighting in the eastern suburbs were gathered in the National Stadium, while another 400 sought refuge in the ICRC (Red Cross) compound. No reports on military casualties were released by either side on Thursday.
ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe predicted early Thursday that his troops would overthrow Sierra Leone's military junta within the next three days. Witnesses reported that ECOMOG troops had advanced to within about three miles of Freetown's city center. A Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) report Thursday said junta solders were using death threats to force youths to erect barricades and to take up arms against the advancing ECOMOG troops. The report was branded "a blatant lie" by AFRC Supreme Council of State Youth Representative Haroun Sankoh in a statement issued later in the day. "No one is forcing any of them to man the checkpoints and check for terrorists," Sankoh said. "It is their initiative, it is their right, and it is the only way they now see fit to defend themselves."
Sierra Leonean refugees in Conakry staged a demonstration on Wednesday to call for support for ECOMOG in its drive to oust the military junta, Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday.
11 February: ECOMOG troops fought their way into Freetown late Wednesday, capturing the Queen Elizabeth II Quay, the city's main seaport, and the Kissy Ferry Terminal. ECOMOG troops also occupied Fourah Bay College campus on Mount Aureol, according to ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. "We took control of the Fourah Bay mountain, the surrounding villages, and the Fourah Bay College. This is very important for us," Shelpidi said. Troop reinforcements have begun arriving from the ECOMOG base at Lungi International Airport, to help secure the area. "We will continue to push deeper into town and we have closed all of the outlets from town," Shelpidi said. Earlier in the day, Shelpidi said his troops had made more progress in their offensive against Sierra Leone's military junta, which has now been cut off from its forces in the rest of the country. "We have made appreciable gains. We are at the door-steps of Freetown," Shelpidi said from ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia. Early reports said that heavy artillery fire, which had been pounding Freetown intermittently, resumed as junta soldiers fired at ECOMOG troops entrenched on a small mountain at the east end of the city. Nigerian Alpha fighter planes patrolled the skies above Freetown, shooting at junta ground forces who fired back with anti-aircraft guns.
Freetown residents said Wednesday that the latest fighting has pushed the city to the verge of anarchy. Thousands of civilians from the embattled East End have been forced from their homes, moving to the west carrying their belongings on their heads. More than 2,500 civilians sought refuge in the Red Cross compound, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials said, adding that 68 had been injured and one had died of his wounds. Bands of pro-junta youths, including former Liberian guerrillas backing the military government, commandeered cars, raided aid agency warehouses, and set up roadblocks throughout the city to search for Nigerian infiltrators and suspected Kamajors. Drugged and undisciplined AFRC soldiers terrorized motorists and commandeered their vehicles, aid workers said. A report by Reuters that Catholic Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda and another priest had been abducted from Freetown's Sacred Heart Cathedral on Tuesday has been denied by a Xaverian missionary source. The Archbishop was confronted at his residence and robbed, the source said. The report, which Reuters attributed to a priest in Freetown, did not appear in updates later in the day.
About 1,400 more Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived in Guinea since the fighting started last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Paul Stromberg said in Geneva on Wednesday. Stromberg noted that the number of refugees arriving was still relatively small, because checkpoints erected in Sierra Leone have prevented travel by road. Most of the refugees have been escaping by sea and are arriving in Guinea in boatloads of 20 to 30. "Many more people are trying to leave, but apparently the fleet is very small," Stromberg said. "The boats that these people are able to get their hands on are small. And so it will largely depend on how many of the people waiting in Freetown will get the transport they want to seek safety in a neighboring country." Stromberg said the UNHCR is preparing for a mass influx of refugees from Sierra Leone. The agency already has a site outside Conakry which can accommodate 15,000 to 20,000 people. "We have already water set up in the camp and there are enough blankets, plastic sheeting for these people. And the World Food Programme says they have enough food in the country to accommodate a large number of arrivals," Stromberg said. Up to 50 people died off Kambia District Tuesday night when the motorised canoe in which they were travelling struck a rock and overturned in bad weather. Other boats rushed to help retrieve the survivors, but it was unclear how many people had been rescued. Boat owners said Wednesday that the canoe, which was headed for Guinea, was overloaded with more than 100 refugees when it capsized.
Nigerian Defence Department Spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo said Wednesday that ECOMOG is prepared to call a truce with Sierra Leone's military junta and negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict. "ECOMOG believes peaceful negotiations can restore the government of Kabbah and stop these current hostilities, Ugbo said, adding that the junta would have to agree to step down and to restore the Kabbah government. In Conakry, exiled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said he hoped to return to Freetown soon. "The ECOMOG commander announced on the radio that the Freetown operation will soon be over. I do not think we'll wait much longer to get back home," Kabbah told the BBC Wednesday. Kabbah expressed concern over the possibility of civilian casualties. "I am very, very much concerned about this because they are my people, my relatives, some of them," he said. He said he was "absolutely convinced" that ECOMOG was attempting minimize loss of life. Kabbah denounced as "a wicked lie" an AFRC accusation that he had insisted that ECOMOG carry out the attack despite being briefed on the probable number of civilian casualties. "This is purely a military matter, and I am not an officer in any of the ECOMOG forces," he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called Wednesday for an end to the fighting in Sierra Leone, saying that he shared the concern of Security Council members who had said the fighting should stop immediately. "I call on both sides urgently to spare civilians and to ensure the protection of humanitarian personnel," Annan said in a statement. Several Security Council members accused the ECOWAS Committee of Five of misleading them in a briefing on the situation in Sierra Leone on Friday. Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi, asked about the apparent military escalation, described them as "skirmishes." On Monday, ECOMOG announced it was mounting an all-out offensive against the junta. "It was obvious that while they were white-washing in New York, they were planning to topple the junta by military means," one ambassador said. "They have no authority to do this from the Security Council." He added that the Council had endorsed ECOMOG's economic embargo of Sierra Leone, but not a full-scale attack. In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has 15 expatriate delegates in Sierra Leone, called on the warring parties to protect civilians. "The ICRC calls on parties to the conflict, as well as all other entities and people who have taken up arms, to respect international humanitarian laws," the ICRC said in a statement released by its regional office in Abidjan. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi blamed civilian casualties on the junta. "They are holding thousands of civilians as human shields. They have mounted all the big guns at their disposal and are firing at our positions. So we fire back, who do you blame?" he asked.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) alleged Wednesday that unarmed Sierra Leonean civilians are being tortured and killed by both pro-junta forces and the Kamajor militia in southern and eastern Sierra Leone. "Amnesty International has received information that unarmed civilians are being tortured and killed by both sides," an AI statement said.
10 February: ECOMOG troops reached the outer edge of Freetown on Tuesday, reportedly advancing towards the junta's headquarters at Cockerill Military Barracks on the west of town, and towards the ferry terminal in the east. ECOMOG artillery pounded both areas on throughout the day, and junta troops returned fire from their heavy gun placements atop Mount Aureol on the Fourah Bay College campus. Residents confirmed that the fighting had reached the city's western districts. Thousands of panicking civilians attempted to take refuge in the city center as battles raged on the edge of town. Roads out of the city were cut off by ECOMOG. "We are moving with full force and we're not joking," ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said in Monrovia. "I can tell you if we are going to take (Freetown) we will take it when we want to." In an interview with the pro-democracy Radio 98.1, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said his soldiers were purging Sierra Leone of "rebels" (junta troops). "We are leaving no stone unturned," Khobe said. "We will clear everywhere there are rebels and afterwards meet them in the countryside and then deal squarely with them." Khobe said the junta would be defeated in the next few days, after which food, medicine, and supplies would be brought in. Junta officials claimed Tuesday to have repelled Nigerian troops, and to have regained control of Regent and Wellington. There was no independent confirmation of the claims. An AFRC press release issued Tuesday accused "Nigerian soldiers and Kamajors" of attacking civilian targets, "especially on the eastern part of Freetown." On Tuesday evening, two Special Forces officers claimed that a newly-created AFRC Special Anti-Nigeria Force (SANFORCE) had inflicted heavy casualties on Nigerian ECOMOG troops, according to a source close to the AFRC. Major Reginald Harleston and Captain Abdul Akim said the Nigerians were "pleading for a ceasefire" after SANFORCE launched a surprise attack led by RUF Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie. There has been no confirmation of the claim.
At least a dozen civilians were killed by artillery shells Tuesday, according to residents fleeing the fighting. Reuters news service, citing reports by hospitals, military sources, and residents, put the death toll since Thursday at "not less than 50" on the Sierra Leone side. An official at Connaught Hospital said 91 wounded had been admitted since the fighting began. "There are still staff at the hospital and they are coping with the situation with drugs from the ICRC," he said. Reporters said Tuesday that taxis carrying wounded civilians were arriving at the hospital every few minutes. Military casualties are generally taken to Wilberforce Army Hospital.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Judith Kumin has cited unconfirmed reports on that as many as 7,000 persons might be fleeing Sierra Leone by sea so as to avoid checkpoints on the roads. "UNHCR staff in Guinea on Sunday registered 800 refugees fleeing the fighting that has intensified in and near the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown," she said in Geneva. "We are readying ourselves in Guinea for a larger influx." United Nations Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director Paul Ares issued a warning Monday about the effect of the fighting "on hundreds of thousands of people already facing a serious food situation." Some 200,000 Sierra Leoneans and 14,000 Liberians have been left destitute by the Sierra Leone conflict since the May 25 coup, Ares said in a statement issued in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
The BBC reported heavy fighting between the Kamajor militia and the Sierra Leone Army's 35th Battalion at Koribundu Tuesday, after the Kamajors launched an attack on the town on Monday night. The latest clashes began over the weekend when the Kamajors dislodged junta troops from the town of Gondama, according to the report. Junta attempts to send reinforcements from Bo were unsuccessful, because the Kamajors had cut off the Bo-Koribundu highway. The militiamen have now reportedly surrounded Bo.
Hundreds of ECOMOG troops crossed over the Mano River Bridge from Liberia into Sierra Leone over the weekend headed for Kenema with armored tanks, according to a BBC report on Tuesday. The report cited sources in Monrovia who said that 2,500 fighters of Liberian President Charles Taylor's disbanded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia crossed into Sierra Leone through Lofa County last weekend to reinforce junta forces at the military garrison at Daru. Two more truckloads of NPFL fighters entered the country through Koindu on Monday to reinforce the junta at Kenema, the report said. Liberian Secretary of State for Defence Daniel Chea, while acknowledging "a possibility" that Liberians were fighting in Sierra Leone, dismissed any inference of Liberian government involvement. "We are against using force as a means of bringing (the Kabbah government) back to power," he said. "Secondly, we are against the usage of our territory to launch an incursion into Sierra Leone."
Sierra Leone's Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, James Jonah, denied news reports Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council had called for an immediate end to the fighting in Sierra Leone. "The Security Council normally takes decisions or makes recommendations by adopting formally resolutions of the Council," Jonah said in a statement. "(That) is also the practice that when the Council adopts a Presidential Statement, which is approved in formal meetings by the Security Council in the same manner as it does in the adoption of resolutions. What happened today falls short of normal procedures for Security Council decisions." A diplomatic source said there was no official Presidential Statement after the meeting. "What was attributed to the President (for February), Ambassador Rewaka of Gabon, was his own assessment, made outside the Council at the stake-out microphone," the source said.
Reaction: Liberian Information Minister (government spokesman) Joe Mulbah: "We think (the ECOMOG intervention) is pathetic, especially so as the deadline is approaching for the return to power of ousted President Tejan Kabbah under the Conakry Accord. (The Nigerian military action) will only escalate the situation (and even if they capture Freetown) that may not be the end as the junta could take to the bush and begin to cause havoc for civilians. This is why we are of the opinion that no military might will solve the situation in Sierra Leone. Only peaceful discussion involving all parties under the Conakry Accord is in the right direction." Mulbah called for an extraordinary meeting of ECOWAS to discuss the latest situation in Sierra Leone. Burkinabe Foreign Minister Ablasse Ouedraogo: "It should be pointed out that Burkina Faso, a member state of the Economic Community of West African States, is advocating a peaceful solution of the Sierra Leone crisis through the restoration of power to the government of elected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, ousted by the military junta last May."
9 February: Pro-junta forces and ECOMOG battled on at least two fronts to the south and east of Freetown Monday, while ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abdul-Ome Mohammed vowed "utter retaliation" in response to what he termed an "unprovoked attack" on his troops on Thursday. "They initiated the attack and we'll carry it to the logical conclusion to ensure vantage positions where our soldiers would not be attacked," he said. Mohammed said the clashes started Thursday after an ECOMOG patrol vehicle hit a landmine in Kissy, then came under "concentrated fire" from junta soldiers and RUF fighters. "We can't tolerate this unprovoked attack or unnecessary killing of Nigerians," Mohammed told reporters in Lagos, adding that ECOMOG has mounted an all-out offensive to overthrow Sierra Leone's military government. "As I am talking to you our troops are moving. We are not far away from the city center," Mohammed said. "We're tired of this and want to finish it, as it's an opportunity to bring some sanity into the system and implement the Conakry Accord. Our troops have advanced to Wellington, Calaba, Waterloo, and Benguema Training Center. These are strategic areas on the outskirts of Freetown. We are now working hard to capture Kissy, which is the base from which the junta gets its supplies." A junta spokesman said ECOMOG troops were meeting stiff opposition in their attempts to enter the capital. "We have received military intelligence via their radio that they are to enter Freetown today," the spokesman said. "There is no end in sight to the fighting, as both sides are determined to come on top." By late Sunday, ECOMOG troops were reported to have reached Grassfields, about five miles from the city center. Junta military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Milton acknowledged that property damage had been considerable, especially in the satellite towns of Wellington, Kissy, Regent, Rokell, Waterloo, and Devil Hole. Milton denied a claim by the opposition pro-democracy Radio 98.1, which reported an ECOMOG advance on Freetown from three fronts. BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported Monday that the Nigerians are approaching the city from the east and the south, with the key battles being fought to control the road leading out of Freetown and the hills behind it. "If the Nigerians succeed in cutting the main roads out of Freetown, they will effectively trap the military government and half a million people in the Freetown peninsula," Doyle said. After a morning lull in the fighting, Nigerian ECOMOG troops resumed long-range artillery bombardments from their base at Lungi International Airport. Nigerian Alpha jet fighters bombed targets in Freetown, including Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service's transmitter on Leicester Peak. Staff were evacuated, and there was no immediate word on casualties or damage. SLBS radio and television have not been broadcasting since Sunday night. Radio 98.1 reported Sunday that junta soldiers were massing at Fourah Bay College in preparation for an attack on Gloucester and Regent, as well as Leicester Peak, all of which are reportedly now under ECOMOG control.
In the first official announcement of casualties for the Sierra Leone side, Director of Military Health Services Brigadier James Kanu said Monday that 13 soldiers had died since the fighting started on Thursday, and that 109 people had received shrapnel wounds. "The civilian casualty continues to increase because of the bombardment by Nigerian ECOMOG Alpha jets," he added. "The civilian casualties have been very high, especially in the areas which have been hit by heavy bombardment," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Milton told reporters. He gave no figures, but hospital sources say scores of people have been killed since Thursday. Medical ward officer Sillah Dumbuya said more than 80 wounded were admitted to Freetown's Wilberforce Military Hospital, while medical officials said that over 100 others, many of them civilians, have been admitted to Connaught Hospital. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said there were heavy casualties on the Sierra Leonean side, but put the blame on the junta. "They are not only losing in terms of men and territory, they are now arming school children," he said. He accused the junta of killing people whom they accused of taking sides with ECOMOG. ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abdul-Ome Mohammed acknowledged casualties on the ECOMOG side, but gave no numbers. "There is no doubt that in a war zone there must be casualties," he said. "There are some wounded and some killed, but I don't have the numbers yet." The BBC reported Monday that Freetown has become a "dead city." Schools and shops are closed, food is scarce, and prices have increased drastically.
ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi on Monday denied claims by the junta to have shot down a Nigerian Alpha fighter plane on Sunday. "All of my planes and pilots are accounted for," he said.
8 February: Heavy artillery fire was heard at the edge of Freetown Sunday afternoon as pro-junta forces battled Nigerian ECOMOG troops on the outskirts of the capital. The streets of Freetown were largely empty except for truckloads of junta soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Radio 98.1 reported that ECOMOG was moving toward Freetown from Portee, about six miles from the city center. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi denied that his troops were going on the offensive. "We are only defending ourselves," Shelpidi said from ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia. "If they use small arms, we use small arms; if they use artillery, we use artillery." Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Milton said ECOMOG appeared determined to overthrow Sierra Leone's military government. "We have intercepted ECOMOG military intelligence with orders to start military intervention to drive the AFRC from power," Milton said. There were unconfirmed reports Sunday evening that ECOMOG troops had advanced as far as Kissy. An AFRC press release Sunday, citing "reports monitored from the fighting front" claimed that ECOMOG troops had been "dislodged from their bases at Jui" and routed. Casualty reports were sketchy, but medical workers at Connaught Hospital said seven bodies and 30 wounded were brought in Sunday by health teams, who reported more bodies lying in the streets. The hospital received 52 wounded on Saturday, 49 of them soldiers, and has run out of beds and basic supplies, staff members said.
Sierra Leone's military junta said Sunday its gunners shot down a Nigerian Alpha jet as it flew over Freetown. "We are searching for the main body of the plane," a military officer said, adding that it may have crashed in mangrove swamps east of the capital. Reuters, which in its initial report described hundreds of people dancing in the street brandishing what they said were plane parts, later said the plane fired on a tank mounted with an anti-aircraft gun near the center of the city, killing six persons and wounding others. "Soldiers who had fired on the jet with their rifles danced in jubilation as they picked up fragments of metal they said had fallen from the plane," the report said, adding that the warplane flew off, apparently unscathed. According to a diplomatic source, ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia has dismissed the AFRC claim as "a complete fabrication." An AFRC press release issued Sunday claimed the plane was hit as it flew over Calaba Town and crashed in Kissy, killing the pilot and co-pilot. Their bodies were tied to a vehicle and driven across the city, accompanied by crowds chanting slogans in support of AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, the press release said. A source close to the AFRC, quoting SLBS sources, said that the wreckage of the plane was photographed by an SLBS film crew and reportedly shown on SLBS television. The plane was said to have crashed into the sea near Old Wharf, with its nose up. The source quoted AFRC Secretary-General A.K. Sesay as saying four persons were killed in Kissy when the plane's wing fell on their car. Shortly after the junta reported downing the jet, another Nigerian warplane bombed the area around Wilberforce Army Barracks.
The Kamajor militia attacked Kenema on Sunday, forcing thousands of civilians to flee the city. Aid workers were quoted as saying the approximately 1,000 soldiers and RUF fighters were having difficulty containing the attack. "Our staff have locked themselves indoors and are watching from their windows at the exodus of people," one aid worker at Kenema Government Hospital said. "Our hospital is shut and we cannot go outside because of the intensity of the fighting." An AFRC official, quoted by a source close to Sierra Leone's military junta, said the attack on Kenema was repelled with heavy Kamajor casualties. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim.
7 February: Fighting between junta troops and the ECOMOG force continued near Jui Saturday, with church workers reporting "ground skirmishes" between the two sides. Artillery explosions rattled houses in the center of Freetown, causing residents to take refuge in their homes in fear that the fighting might reach the city itself. Roads out of Freetown were blocked by soldiers from both sides. Reuters, quoting area residents, said Nigerian troops backed by tanks and fighter aircraft had broken through army defences and had reached the eastern outskirts of the capital. The residents reported sporadic gunfire overnight and shelling on Saturday. A report by the pro-democracy Radio 98.1 said ECOMOG troops were advancing toward Freetown, and had captured Waterloo and the Benguema Military Training Centre in the opposite direction. The claim was denied by military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Milton. "Waterloo is still in our hands," Milton said. The AFRC Saturday imposed a 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew for all of Sierra Leone, and has called for reinforcements from all over the country. In a broadcast over SLBS (state radio) Friday, AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma accused ECOMOG of starting the fighting just as the United Nations was preparing to review the Sierra Leone crisis. "Nigerian ECOMOG troops have again started to bombard the city of Freetown, hoping to kill more civilians," Koroma said. "At the same time, concerted and co-ordinated splinter groups of Kamajor militiamen with foreign military aid started attacking major and strategic towns and villages, particularly in the southern and eastern part of the country." In an interview on Radio 98.1, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe called on junta members to flee. "Those of you who are gentlemen of honour, please just take your boots and find your way to other countries," he said.
A source close to the Kabbah government-in-exile cited reports Saturday that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has suspended operations in Freetown after junta soldiers commandeered two vehicles from the ICRC facility at Riverside Drive. There has been no independent confirmation of the report.
6 February: At least 10 persons were killed and about 80 wounded near Freetown Friday in a clash between the army and ECOMOG troops. Reuters news service quoted witnesses who said the four of the victims — a police sergeant and three civilians — were caught in cross-fire when Nigerian ECOMOG troops shelled junta positions from Lungi. The latest fighting began on Thursday evening at Kossoh Town and continued Friday morning at Jui, where ECOMOG has a base. The sound of artillery fire could be heard from the outskirts of the capital Friday, creating panic and as hundreds of civilians fled Wellington and other small towns for the city centre. Freetown was reported tense as soldiers fired at ECOMOG Alpha jet fighters that constantly flew overhead, while heavily-armed army troops moved through the city. Casualties have been reported in the fighting, but no figures were immediately available. Aid workers said the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Sierra Leone Red Cross have sent officials to the area to try to assist the wounded. Local aid workers feared that exploding landmines might have caused further casualties. "We know that both sides have planted mines to safeguard their positions, and some of these mines have been triggered off, so there is certain to be casualties on both sides," a Sierra Leonean Red Cross official said. A military commander in Allen Town alleged that the fighting was started by ECOMOG shelling. "We had no alternative but to shell Nigerian troops at Jui, and the fighting has now spread to three places," he said. ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe, speaking Friday over Radio 98.1, said junta forces attacked ECOMOG at Kossoh Town on Thursday, and that his troops returned the fire. ECOMOG troops were now "flushing out" soldiers in the Western Region, including Freetown, Khobe said, and would then move against soldiers in the rest of the country, "to ensure that peace returns to Sierra Leone." Khobe called on soldiers "who do not wish to fight to surrender." He said that those who refused "do so at their own peril." A press release issued Friday by Nigerian Deputy Defence Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Sa Tella said the junta "resumed the use of land mines, helicopter gunships, and gunboats to prosecute hostilities on ECOMOG and all law abiding citizens of Sierra Leone at about 17:00 p.m. Thursday," adding that the ECOMOG force would "vigorously defend its positions." Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel John Milton said the junta had "intercepted a secret message being given to all Nigerian commanders in ECOMOG" for an all-out attack on Freetown. "All Sierra Leone troops were then put on alert so we were able to stop them carrying out their assignment," Milton said. "The Nigerians at the International Airport at Lungi were firing heavy mortars which were landing on seaside areas on the Freetown mainland of Wellington and Calaba Town." AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma addressed the nation on SLBS (state radio), warning that "any attempt to impose Tejan Kabbah on Sierra Leone before April 22 would be catastrophic. It would have the making of another Bosnia in Africa." Radio 98.1 advised "all civilians in the capital so stay indoors because ECOMOG had decided to get rid of the junta for good." The announcer said ECOMOG troops had captured the towns of Calaba and Waterloo. A source close to Sierra Leone's military government quoted Koroma and AFRC Secretary-General A.K. Sesay Friday as denying a claim, said to have been broadcast on Radio 98.1, that ECOMOG troops had captured Regent, Wellington and Waterloo. Reuters noted that it was unclear whether either side had gained territory since the fighting started. Witnesses said Nigerian tanks and heavy artillery occupied a long stretch of the Freetown-Waterloo Highway, which was closed to civilian traffic on Friday.
Local journalists, quoted by the AFP on Friday, reported that the Kamajor militia launched an all-out attack on junta positions in Kono on Thursday from two flanks along the main highway. Many civilians were seen fleeing, and the main mining area in Koidu was reported to be deserted.
The United Nations Security Council reaffirmed its support for the Conakry Peace Accord Friday after Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi briefed a closed session of the Council on the situation in Sierra Leone. Council members reportedly expressed frustration with Sierra Leone's military junta which, they observed, had stalled implementation of the Peace Plan. Council members individually called on the international community to comply with U.N. sanctions against the junta, and to support ECOWAS efforts to restore the civilian government by providing logistic support to ECOMOG. Some members called for the establishment of a trust fund to support peace efforts in the country. Speaking for the ECOWAS Committee of Five, Ikimi reportedly told the Council that the Conakry Peace Plan remains the best means of resolving the crisis peacefully. Any deviation from the April 22 deadline would give comfort to the junta, Ikimi said. He requested that the Council issue a statement endorsing the deadline, as this would leave the junta no alternative but to comply. ECOWAS wants the deadline to be met, Ikimi said, noting that some effort was needed so there would be no further delay in the process. He recalled that ECOWAS had proposed a peacekeeping force of 15,000. If ECOMOG were to be fully deployed, he said, it would need logistic support. Ikimi said he was encouraged by the overwhelming support given to ECOWAS. What was needed now, he said, was cohesion, and the "harmonization of initiatives" that had emerged from many quarters. Ikimi called for the deployment of a U.N. observer mission, adding that ECOMOG is already deployed in some areas of Sierra Leone, and that the United Nations should follow this lead.
A United Nations team will leave for Sierra Leone in the next few days to assess the humanitarian situation in the country, and the effect of U.N. Security Council sanctions and the ECOWAS embargo on the civilian population's access to basic food and health-care services, population displacement, basic economic conditions, and activities of humanitarian organizations. The mission will be headed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which includes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The mission will report to the Emergency Relief Coordinator upon its return to Headquarters on practical steps to monitor the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, and to facilitate the provision of humanitarian goods and supplies in Sierra Leone.
ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said the movement of troops from Liberia to Sierra Leone is in preparation for disarmament, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday. He said the troop movement is also meant to facilitate the easy flow of humanitarian relief to Sierra Leone. Shelpidi dismissed claims by a junta spokesman that ECOMOG troops have been asked to leave Liberia by President Charles Taylor. ECOMOG and the Liberian government have a cordial working relationship, and they are currently discussing what role ECOMOG would play in a post-war Liberia, he said. Shelpidi warned the junta to "stop the negative propaganda and seek a negotiated settlement of the conflict," Star Radio said.
5 February: Nigerian ECOMOG troops showed the BBC's West Africa correspondent a new group of 70 soldiers and policemen Thursday, who they say had surrendered to ECOMOG. The correspondent said the defectors appeared genuine, and quoted the senior officer among them as saying he was opposed to the military regime. ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe told the BBC on January 26 that over 800 soldiers, policemen, and RUF fighters had given themselves up since last December.
Foreign ministers of the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone briefed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday on the situation in Sierra Leone, prior to a briefing of the Security Council. Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi told Annan that Sierra Leone's military junta had refused to implement the Conakry Peace Accord by setting conditions which included re-composition of the ECOMOG force and the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. In addition, the junta had indicated the April 22 would not be met, Ikimi said. He stated that ECOWAS was not ready to yield to the junta's demands, and asked that the Security Council and the international community "send a clear message" that the deadline is still valid. Ikimi said ECOMOG had been unable to deploy its troops "because of the intransigence of the junta." The lack of a U.N. observer mission to support ECOWAS efforts had also placed the sub-region in a "dilemma," Ikimi noted. Annan pledged United Nations assistance in implementing the Peace Agreement, and promised to recommend to the Security Council that an observer mission be sent to Sierra Leone.
AFRC Chief Secretary Lieutenant-Colonel Solomon "SAJ" Musa and AFRC Secretary-General Colonel A.K. Sesay were among those detained by Nigerian ECOMOG troops at Jui last week, according to an article published in Freetown's pro-junta Pool newspaper on Thursday. The newspaper said the two, who were dressed in Muslim gowns, were bound for Mali and were carrying $186 million [quoted as heard] which they intended to deposit in accounts there. The Pool article was rebutted Thursday in a press release issued by AFRC spokesman Amidu Bailor Bah. "Colonel Sesay and Lt.-Colonel S.A.J. Musa went to Jui to enquire about the missing personnel," Bah said. "The commandant at Jui initially stated that no abduction took place. On leaving the Jui compound, our smart officers espied the vehicle that had been carrying Mr. Bangura and the Guinean delegation parked nearby. The Nigerian soldiers were again asked why was the vehicle parked there, at which the Nigerians told them that they had no knowledge about how the vehicle entered their premises." Bah added that the Pool had retracted its story. Guinean President Lansana Conte has sent a fact-finding mission to Freetown to inquire about the delegation's whereabouts, Bah said, adding that intelligence reports indicate the abductees are being held at Lungi.
The ECOWAS Committee of Five foreign ministers on Sierra Leone has arrived in New York to brief the United Nations Security Council on progress made so far on ending the Sierra Leone crisis. The Committee, which will be joined in New York by representatives of the OAU and the ECOWAS Secretariat, is expected to discuss the need for the deployment of a U.N. observer mission to facilitate the disarmament of combatants under the Conakry Peace Accord. A Nigerian Foreign Ministry statement on Wednesday said the discussions will also focus on strategies for harmonizing the efforts of members of the international community which have pledged to cooperate with ECOWAS in restoring constitutional order in Sierra Leone.
Former President Joseph S. Momoh was remarried Thursday morning at Samarial Church on Big Waterloo Street, according to an observer in Freetown.
Sierra Leone's military government has reportedly begun arresting soldiers who failed to report to their posts after the junta declared a state of "red alert" on Friday evening.
Government buses, which had been providing service to a limited number of cities in the north, ceased operating Thursday due to a lack of fuel, a transit official was reported as saying.
4 February: Army troops and the Kamajor militia battled for control of Mano Junction Wednesday as soldiers attempted to wrest the town from Kamajor control. "Fighting is still going on. We will take Mano Junction at any cost," said one military officer in Bo. Mano Junction, which is considered to be the third most important diamond town after Koidu and Tongo, is six miles east of Kenema and halfway to Tongo. Aid workers quoted by Reuters said the latest fighting cast doubt on the junta's claim to have recaptured Tongo from the Kamajors two weeks ago.
Indian-born Thai banker Rakesh Saxena, allegedly a key player in a deal with the exiled Kabbah government to finance a counter-coup attempt, was arrested in Vancouver, Canada last week after Canadian authorities discovered he was carrying a Yugoslav passport issued in the name of a dead man. According to a U.S. News & World Report article [Issue Date: February 9, 1998], Saxena was to provide funds to hire the British military security consulting firm Sandline International, which would provide equipment, logistics, and intelligence for the coup attempt. Saxena was to receive commercial concessions in Sierra Leone in return. The first payment of $1.5 million was apparently made recently, the report said, noting that Sandline logistics teams are currently operating in Sierra Leone and Guinea. The firm reportedly had arranged to fly in guns and supplies from Bulgaria through Nigeria. The second payment of $3.5 million for helicopters and heavy weaponry was delayed last week because of Saxena's arrest. Saxena now faces extradition to Thailand, where he is wanted on charges of embezzling as much as $2 billion from a Bangkok bank.
2 February: A four-member United Nations team visited Makeni and other northern towns Monday to assess the humanitarian needs of civilians affected by the United Nations Security Council and ECOWAS economic embargo. U.N. Special Envoy Francis Okelo, however, ruled out any large-scale assistance until peacekeepers are deployed in the country. "Full relief operations can only start when ECOMOG and U.N. troops are deployed," Okelo said in a Radio 98.1 broadcast. Aid officials said the U.N. team, which crossed into Sierra Leone from Guinea, will not visit the south and east of the country because of renewed fighting between the army and the Kamajor militia. The team is expected to return to Conakry Tuesday evening.
A meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Five which was scheduled for Monday at the Nigerian Mission in New York did not take place when the ministers failed to arrive.
1 February: ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe on Sunday denied accusations by Sierra Leone's military junta that ECOMOG troops at Jui had abducted members of a Guinean fact-finding mission. "That is a complete lie," Khobe told the BBC. "The delegates that have come here, they have gone. Not any delegate that has come here we abducted, and we are not abducting any of their soldiers. We have not done it at all. They should tell the world where they have carried the people to, instead of turning round to blame us for something that is not existing." Khobe denied that ECOMOG troops had been placed on a higher state of readiness in response to the junta's declaration of a "red alert" Friday in the Western Region Friday. "Our readiness, our state of alertness, is always preserved," he said. "They cannot take us by surprise. We are always at alert."
The AFRC on Sunday called for "the immediate release of six people believed to have been kidnapped by Nigerian forces in Jui and Lungi." A Department of Information press release said those abducted included a Guinean, an Ivorian, a Niger national, and three Sierra Leoneans, including William Bangura, the Foreign Department's Director of Political Affairs. On Saturday, junta spokesman Amidu Bailor Bah identified the six as members of a Guinean fact-finding team abducted by Nigerian ECOMOG troops.