The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

March 1997
 

31 March: Seven senior RUF officials, including two commissioners to the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), and Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea were abducted Saturday, apparently by a faction within the Revolutionary United Front loyal to Foday Sankoh. The two commissioners were on an official mission to hold consultations with RUF members in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast; They were kidnapped as soon as they arrived in RUF-controlled territory at Nongowa, in Kailahun District. In a statement released Sunday, the CCP said it "considers the abduction of Messrs Fayia Musa and Ibrahim Deen Jalloh totally unacceptable and detrimental to the peace process...The abductors were misguided elements from within the RUF and the CCP appeals to them to release the peace envoys immediately." Agnes Jalloh, the wife of Ibrahim Deen Jalloh, said that the RUF field commanders had tricked the officials into crossing into Sierra Leone from Guinea. "The RUF delegation had been warned not to cross over to Sierra Leone but the RUF field commanders deceived them... assuring them of their security and of their desire to replace Sankoh," she said. On March 15, RUF leaders in Ivory Coast announced that Foday Sankoh had been ousted as leader after intensive consultations with RUF officials in Sierra Leone. The Nigerian High Commission in Freetown subsequently reported that Sankoh was being held under house arrest in Lagos after being arrested in Nigeria for weapons violations. In an interview over the weekend, Sankoh denied that he is being detained or that he had been replaced as RUF leader. "I am a free man in Lagos. I can go wherever I want and I'm in full control of the RUF," he said. "Ibrahim Deen Jalloh and Philip Palmer and Fayia Musa are traitors," he added. "They've betrayed the RUF." Events on the ground appear to indicate that the pro-Sankoh faction has the upper hand. Attacks carried out last week in northern Sierra Leone appear to be the work of Sankoh loyalists. In one attack, the group killed three civilians and burned a fuel tanker. Survivors said the rebels were intensifying their attacks in retribution for Sankoh's detention in Nigeria. There have also been doubts in Freetown about the representativeness of the dissident group, as no leader has yet been chosen to replace Sankoh.

27 March: Sierra Leone has not asked the Nigerian government to extradite deposed RUF leader Foday Sankoh, according to Attorney General Solomon Berewa. "The Sierra Leone government has not considered the extradition option as yet," he said. There have been calls from legal institutions to try Sankoh for war crimes. Under the terms of the peace agreement, he could not be tried for crimes committed before November 30. Sankoh is still being held by the Nigerian government.

25 March: At least 20 people have died in a battle between soldiers and Kamajors, apparently over diamonds. The fighting broke out at Tongo Field on Sunday and continued on Monday, causing thousands of people to flee the town. The trouble reportedly started when soldiers began digging in a gravel pit where diamonds have often been found. "The Kamajors told the soldiers they had no right to dig for diamonds on their lands. The soldiers refused and this sparked off the fighting," a resident said. Relief workers in Kenema said that 15 injured people had arrived there, along with thousands of civilians from the Tongo area.

24 March: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has protested the arrest of three Expo Times journalists for "writing an article which undermines Sierra Leone's friendly relationship with Nigeria." In a strongly worded letter to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the CPJ described the arrests as "grave attacks on press freedom and a blatant violation of their right to hold and express opinions and ideas." The letter referred to the rights of journalists guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, to which Sierra Leone is a signatory. "We strongly urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that Koroma, Davis, and Seaga Shaw are immediately and unconditionally released. In light of the escalation of harassment of journalists since your administration assumed office, we also urge you to guarantee the protection of the media's right to practice its profession freely and safely," the letter said. The CPJ is a nonpartisan group of journalists dedicated to the promotion of press freedom worldwide.

22 March: Three journalists from independent newspaper Expo Times were arrested Wednesday and have been charged with spying. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, editor and publisher-in-chief, Abayomi Charles Roberts, editor, and Gibril Koroma, general editor, pleaded not guilty before a magistrates court on Friday and were remanded to Pademba Road Prison after their application for bail was denied. The prosecutor said that between January and March this year the three journalists "obtained secret official documents or extracts containing secret military information which might be used directly or indirectly by an enemy for use against the state." The arrest followed an article by Koroma entitled "Abacha's Wild West Gangsterism," which accused the Nigerian government of detaining Foday Sankoh in Lagos to force his ouster as leader of the RUF—a charge later denied by the Nigerian High Commission. In its Friday issue, the paper gave details of the arrests, saying that eight detectives who went to the newspaper's office in central Freetown "carried a warrant empowering them to search the premises for subversive documents." The paper also published an editorial under the heading "No Ill Feeling Meant," saying that the article "was not an editorial but an opinion...Therefore the article should not be seen as sending bad signals in our cemented diplomatic relations with Nigeria, a country that has really committed its military personnel just for the sake of sustaining peace in the sub-region...We believe Nigeria has the right to maintain its internal policies by arresting a criminal like Foday Sankoh who they perceive to have breached the law of the land." According to SLBS (state radio), the three journalists will be brought to court again on Monday.

20 March: Police say that illegal gem buyers, mostly from Zaire, have "invaded" the diamond mining areas. "They are here to desperately buy large quantities of gem stones to illegally smuggle to Antwerp," a police spokesman said. Diamond dealers in Kono said the new merchants are mainly Lebanese, French, and Belgian. A central bank spokesman said the flood of counterfeit dollars associated with their activities was responsible for the unexplained fall of the dollar against the leone recently, although there has been no turnaround in the Sierra Leonean economy.

19 March: The Nigerian High Commission in Freetown has released a written statement on the arrest last week in Lagos of former RUF leader Foday Sankoh. The statement said Sankoh was arrested "after he arrived in Lagos with some of his aides carrying arms and ammunition in clear contravention of international laws...The Nigerian government then embarked on consultations with Abidjan and Freetown only to be told that Sankoh left Abidjan without the knowledge nor with the expressed permission of his Ivorian host...Nigeria was not involved nor was it even aware of any international conspiracy to terminate Sankoh's leadership of the RUF."

Foday Sankoh may have decided to seek asylum in Nigeria after being ousted as leader by the Revolutionary United Front, according to the Nigerian newspaper Daily Champion.

The World Health Organization regional office for Africa in Brazzaville has launched a 20-year plan to eliminate female circumcision in Africa, which reportedly affects some 100 million women on the continent. WHO Regional Director for Africa, Ebrahim Malick Samba, said his office was committed to assuming a leading coordinating role, as "WHO's campaign against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) cannot be compromised." A news release referred to a 50 page regional plan which will seek to boost country activities for the prevention and elimination of FGM and other harmful traditional practices which affect the health of women and children in Africa. 27 of the 46 countries covered by the regional office practice female circumcision: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zaire, and Zimbabwe.

16 March: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has offered to work with the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front following the rebel group's firing of its leader, Foday Sankoh, on Saturday. "The reasons given for Foday Sankoh's removal show that the RUF leadership is interested in lasting peace in Sierra Leone...The government is prepared to cooperate with the new leadership for sustainable peace while awaiting further details on the affair," Kabbah said.

15 March: A senior member of the Revolutionary United Front announced Saturday that the RUF high command has sacked its leader, Foday Sankoh, for blocking a peace agreement to end the war. Capt. Philip Palmer, military representative on the RUF's external delegation, said the decision was unanimous, and was made Friday night after intensive radio contacts with rebel leaders and others in Sierra Leone. Palmer, a founding member of the RUF, confirmed a report from the Nigerian ambassador in Sierra Leone that Sankoh was effectively under house arrest in Lagos, Nigeria. "With a view to promoting the spirit of healing and reconciliation and a rapid return to normalcy in Sierra Leone, the RUF High Command declares with immediate effect, the leadership role of Cpl. Foday Sankoh terminated," Palmer said in a written statement dated Saturday. The statement, which was released in Ivory Coast, referred to Sankoh's "unyielding determination to thwart the peace process and prolong the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone." It referred to his refusal to meet with U.N. officials and members of a peace delegation about the implementation of the peace process, and of refusing to nominate members to joint monitoring and demobilizing committees. "For now we are trying to restructure the leadership to fill the vacuum," Palmer said.

14 March: Heavily armed riot police attacked a meeting of over 2,000 students who had gathered in an open park "to discuss burning national issues and to sensitize the public about the mismanagement of state funds." The meeting was called by the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) to plan a wave of protests against the government's decision to give retirement benefits to former President Joseph Momoh. Violence started just before NUSS Secretary-General Abdulai Bayraytay was to address the crowd, when 50 riot police stormed the meeting to arrest him and other student leaders. When students attempted to prevent the leaders' arrests, the police opened fire with tear gas and attempted to disperse the crowd with batons. "More than 15 students were injured by police batons and in the commotion that followed the firing of tear-gas canisters," Bayraytay said. "Already I understand a number of injured students are undergoing treatment in various hospitals and clinics across the capital, while several more are still being detained by the police." A government statement said police had been ordered "to take appropriate but reasonable action to prevent a student group meeting anywhere throughout Sierra Leone." The statement warned that "Any violators will be prosecuted whether they are students or not." The statement urged students "not to be used as pawns by ill motivated groups to disrupt the peace and good order in the nation." It said that the students could hold meetings on any of the campuses in the country, but not in any area outside the university. A senior Education Ministry official said, "We explained to (the students) that the climate wasn't too conducive for the convening of a meeting of over 2,000 students in the open park...We knew unruly ones and street thugs would cash in on the situation and cause chaos in the city." Bayraytay said "the government has back-tracked from a previous commitment to allow the meeting to go ahead."

The Koidu Government Hospital will be restored as part of the government's decentralisation plan, Minister of Health & Sanitation Dr. Mohamed K. Turay said Friday.

Sierra Leone's representative to the United Nations, in debate on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, has said that while Israel must live within secure borders among its neighbours, it could not continue to take actions that would create difficulties in the achievement of peace. Sierra Leone supports the peace process, as well as the process of direct negotiations. However, it opposes any efforts by one side to pre-empt the outcome of negotiations, he said.

13 March: The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) has approved financial aid to Sierra Leone.

12 March: The Nigerian Ambassador to Sierra Leone said Wednesday that RUF leader Cpl. Foday Sankoh was detained in Nigeria for being in possession of a pistol and ammunition. Alhaji Mohamed Abubakar said that Sankoh was under house arrest in Lagos, where he was taken after 15 hours of questioning by security forces. "Corporal Foday Sankoh was held in Nigeria by security forces for entering into the country with a pistol and ammunition," the ambassador said. "He was taken to Lagos where he is now under house arrest...While in house arrest, Sankoh is not allowed to talk politics and has no privilege to telephone or any other means of communication." Officials in Lagos had previously denied that Sankoh was arrested. They said he had arrived in Nigeria on March 2 for a private visit. Ivorian officials, who are brokering the peace process, confirmed some details of the ambassador's statement, and said that Sankoh had not informed them of his trip to Nigeria. Ambassador Abubakar expressed confidence that the peace process would proceed. "Nigeria is in no doubt that the peace accord in Sierra Leone has come to stay and there is no way RUF intransigence will take Sierra Leone back from peace."

The Namibian government has announced that it intends to establish extradition treaties with 28 countries, including Sierra Leone. The designated countries include Australia, Botswana, Canada, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

11 March: Nigeria has confirmed the presence in that country of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, but has denied that he is being held in detention. Acting Director of Defence Information Col. Godwin Ugbo said that Sankoh had passed through the international airport without incident, but that the presidency, when informed of Sankoh's presence in the country, directed that the RUF leader as an international figure be handed over to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Ugbo noted that since Sankoh has recognized the government of Sierra Leone, he can no longer be regarded as a rebel leader. "He's not in detention and he's not a threat to our security," Ugbo said. He added that Sankoh is at a federal government guest house.

Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesting students at the parade grounds - football field in Freetown Monday. The police banned the meeting because security was not guaranteed, and suggested that the students meet instead on the campus of various colleges, but the suggestion was rejected. Students Union Secretary-General Abdulai Bayraytay said the meeting was called to discuss national issues, including the pension scheme for President Joseph Momoh. Education Minister Dr. Alpha T. Wurie said that he and other education officials had met with student leaders for three hours on Monday, but the students insisted that the meeting must go ahead.

The bi-weekly newspaper Expo Times has claimed that Liberian ULIMO-K leader Alhaji Kromah is aiding the RUF and has concealed arms in Sierra Leone border towns. The paper accused ULIMO-K of gun running and weapons concealment, and said the group is "helping the Revolutionary United Front to regroup and launch fresh attacks on government positions." It quoted a rebel escapee caught by government troops in Bo last week as saying that Alhaji Kromah had "offered 240 ULIMO fighters and a large consignment of arms including G3 weapons to the RUF." West African diplomatic sources said that ULIMO-K also has strong times to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's government, which supplied the faction with arms to help fight rebels in Sierra Leone during the height of the civil war. 2,000 RUF fighters surrendered to ULIMO-K fighters in January after crossing into Liberia, and have declined to return to Sierra Leone under an amnesty.

9 March: Sierra Leone has raised fuel prices effective immediately, in line with a demand by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) aimed at reducing the country's $6 million budget deficit. A government statement said the pump price of premium grade petrol would go to Le 3,000 ($3.33) per litre from Le 2,500. The price of kerosene has been raised 20%, to Le 2,000 from Le 1,700, and a litre of diesel will go to Le 2,600 from Le 2,000. "The IMF made it clear that if the government failed to meet its demand immediately it would withdraw its assistance to the country," Finance Ministry Financial Secretary Samuel Kamara said. He also stated that failure to raise fuel prices would have compromised Sierra Leone's case at a March 20 donors conference in Paris on international assistance for reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes. Earlier, Sierra Leone had refused to comply with the IMF demand, citing financial hardships on the people. On Saturday officials said Sierra Leone had agreed to raise fuel prices but had managed to persuade the IMF to drop a demand that it also increase kerosene tariffs. There was no immediate explanation for the inclusion of kerosene. An IMF and World Bank team will reportedly visit Sierra Leone on March 27 to discuss future funding.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah will leave Saturday for a three day visit to Kuwait, to strengthen ties between the two countries.

8 March: Nigerian sources have reported that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was arrested Sunday at Muritala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria on weapons charges. The Concord newspaper reported that Sankoh was detained for being in possession of arms at the airport. The newspaper said police handed Sankoh over to presidential guards, who flew him to Abuja for further questioning. Sankoh was reportedly in Lagos at the invitation of an unnamed businessman.

7 March: The average life expectancy in Sierra Leone now stands at 34.4 years, according to a new United Nations report entitled "The World Social Situation." The report points out that the lowest life expectancies are in Africa, while the highest are in Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. The overall life expectancy in Africa is 51.8 years, with the highest being Botswana (54.3), Kenya (54.1), Ivory Coast (52.1), Congo (51.5), and Togo (51.0).

A United Nations delegation will arrive in Abidjan early next week to seek ways of breaking the stalemate on the deployment of a U.N. observer team in Sierra Leone, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday. He said the delegation will try to persuade RUF leader Foday Sankoh to accede to the deployment of the mission. "The delegation is going with the aim of meeting Foday Sankoh to explain the concept of the mission to him...we hope he will consent and let the mission be deployed," he said. He did not reveal the composition of the delegation, or how long it will remain in Abidjan. The mission, which will comprise 55 observers and 700 security forces, will help implement a peace accord signed in 1996 between the Sierra Leonean government and the Revolutionary United Front.

Sierra Leone signed a military defence training agreement with Nigeria Friday, renewing and extending military cooperation between the two countries. The pact, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), provides for an expansion of the Nigerian Army Training Agreement (NATAG) signed in 1994. NATAG provided for the training of Sierra Leone troops only. SOFA covers training for the navy, air force, the police, and other security agencies. Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Maj. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who initialed the agreement for Nigeria, said the agreement is a reaffirmation of Nigeria's support for Sierra Leone. He referred to the long-standing socioeconomic and cultural ties between the two countries, and noted that contemporary developments have shown that no nation can stand alone. The current emphasis in international relations, he said, is collective regional security. He announced that the training mission will be headed by Brig. Gen. Jimi Ojokojo. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Norman, who signed the agreement on behalf of Sierra Leone, said Sierra Leone always looked up to Nigeria as a big brother. "We recognise our size which is small. We recognise the size of Nigeria, which is bigger...We have a responsibility to protect our people," he said.

14 soldiers were killed in a clash with Kamajors at Matotoka Thursday. According to a survivor, the Kamajors accused a group of soldiers of being rebels. "Even when we explained to them that we were soldiers and that we were on patrol to comb the area of marauding rebels, the Kamajors would not listen," he said. "They simply opened fire on us at point blank range, killing 14 of my colleagues." A spokesman for the military high command in Makeni said he believed that killings were "a revenge for a clash between soldiers and Kamajors in southern Sierra Leone late last year in which about 100 Kamajors died." Lt. Col. Gabriel Mani, commander of the brigade at Makeni, suggested that the attackers were rebels. "It was all a case of mistaken identity and the antics of rebels who disguise themselves as Kamajors and attack government positions," he said. "This acrimony has to be resolved immediately if the soldiers and Kamajors are to work together and maintain a cordial relationship."

Two civilians were killed in the south Wednesday and 11 Kamajors seriously wounded when a Kamajor living in Bo accidentally detonated a grenade in the midst of the group. Medical sources at Bo Government Hospital said that three Kamajors had their legs amputated and three others are in critical condition.

6 March: The government ordered the army and the Kamajors Thursday to flush out rebels who are attacking civilians. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman said that Foday Sankoh is trying to wreck the peace agreement between the government and the RUF in November, and accused rebel fighters of killing civilians and ambushing vehicles. "The government has ordered the army and the Kamajors to attack RUF rebels roaming the country attacking and killing civilians and ambushing vehicles on the highways...We are calling on all RUF fighters to immediately report to the four demobilisation camps set up in the country under the peace agreement or face the consequences," Norman said. The RUF has accused the government of infringing on the ceasefire by sending the Kamajors against their positions. Military sources say that over a dozen soldiers and 20 civilians have been killed in attacks and ambushes over the past two weeks. Under the peace agreement, RUF fighters were supposed to report to demobilisation camps. Officials say that so far only 30 rebel fighters have reported there. Norman said that the government is no longer prepared to wait for a response from Sankoh, who is in Ivory Coast. "Sankoh is vicious and is betraying the peace process. We are left with no alternative but to flush out RUF fighters so as to protect the lives of civilians which is the government's prime responsibility," he said. The drive against the rebels has been codenamed "Operation Comb the Bush."

The International Monetary Fund has warned that unless Sierra Leone raises the pump price of petroleum products and the electricity tariff, it will suspend the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in the country. "They are also demanding that the government install water meters on taps for the state-controlled Guma Valley Water Company to pay off a $48 million dollar World Bank loan," a Finance Ministry official said. SLBS (state radio) quoted Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura as saying that, "The present economic situation has denied the people the capacity to face any increase in prices without corresponding increases in their wages." He said that he had held talks with World Bank Alternate Executive Director Godfrey Goseb in Freetown last week. Democracy has brought "great expectations" to Sierra Leoneans only "in terms of an improvement in their living standards," he said. "The government will therefore not introduce any measure that will lead to explosive situations...(the government) cannot do without the IMF but is asking the world organization to consider the economic, social, and political implications in drawing up its programs," he said.

5 March: Nine people died of lassa fever in Eastern Province between December and February, and 59 more are currently seriously ill with the disease at Kenema Government Hospital, according to a Ministry of Health official. "There is evidence of more people suffering from the disease, but they are living in outlying villages," he said. Medical authorities in Freetown said that the situation is not very alarming and that it could be contained.

4 March: The government reacted to opposition to the granting of pension benefits to former President Joseph Momoh with a statement Tuesday that said the decision is in accordance with a 1986 act of parliament. "The government had to streamline the benefits because the original act called for many more benefits," the statement said. Under the 1986 act, Momoh was entitled to five office and two household staff, four vehicles, and 36 security personnel including 30 personal guards. The statement said that the economic situation in Sierra Leone could not support these demands, and that Momoh instead has been offered a Le 900,000 a month pension, a house, a car, and two security personnel. The statement said that leaders of all political parties represented in parliament supported the pension benefits. The acceptance of the pension means that Momoh is permanently barred from taking part in active politics, and that he cannot be the leader of any political party.