The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 2000
 

29 April: British High Commissioner Peter Penfold was due to leave Sierra Leone Saturday after a three-year tour of duty. Penfold was an ardent supporter of Sierra Leone's civilian government, and after the May 1997 AFRC military coup took the unusual step of accompanying President Kabbah's civilian government into exile in Conakry, Guinea. In May 1998 Penfold was recalled to London for questioning over his alleged support for the mercenary firm Sandline International, which had contracted to provide arms and training to forces supporting Kabbah's government-in-exile, the so-called "Arms to Africa Affair." But even as the high commissioner came under fire in Britain, Sierra Leoneans took to the streets in Freetown to show their support. Upon his return to the Sierra Leonean capital in June, Penfold was made an honorary paramount chief and given the name P.C. Kumrabai. Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced in March that Penfold would be replaced by David Alan Jones, a career diplomat who most recently served as Deputy Commissioner in Dar-es-Salaam.

28 April: Departing Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers clashed with former AFRC combatants in central Freetown on Friday after an argument over vehicles turned deadly. The incident reportedly occurred early Friday morning when six armed ECOMOG peacekeepers went to Frederick Street to retrieve two vehicles from ex-AFRC combatants. The AFRC soldiers refused to relinquish the vehicles and, according to Reuters, one of the fighters fired a pistol at the back tires of one of the vehicles. ECOMOG troops returned the fire, resulting in a shootout. One AFRC soldier, identified by the BBC as H.S. Sesay, was killed in the exchange and another, AFRC Lieutenant-Colonel George "Junior Lion" Johnson, was wounded. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, the disputed vehicles had been used by ECOMOG at Defence Headquarters. "In the past couple of days a number of ex-combatants have been stripping outgoing ECOMOG soldiers of vehicles," Fofana told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. "I’ve heard about a number of incidents, and what they were saying is that they don’t want the Nigerian soldiers to cart away the vehicles to Nigeria." He added that the vehicles had been vandalised. "The windshields have been smashed and they could not be taken away at all," he said. About 50 UNAMSIL soldiers arrived on the scene and restored order. Reuters quoted witnesses who said the body of the dead man was taken by wheelbarrow to AFRC leader Lieutenant-Colonel (Ret.) Johnny Paul Koroma. Koroma appealed for calm over state radio, and later met with the soldiers in his office. Following the meeting he told Fofana he had succeeded in pacifying the ex-combatants, but the BBC reporter noted that "the same soldiers have been threatening that they will run riot after the curfew hours." The wounded officer was taken to Connaught Hospital for treatment. "Junior Lion," an army irregular, was one of the commanders at the AFRC's Okra Hills base during the abduction in August 1998 of a number of  U.N. military observers, ECOMOG officers, aid officials and journalists. Freetown was reported calm by Friday afternoon, but stores and businesses closed early.

Draws for the second round of the World Cup qualifying matches held in Zurich Friday will match Sierra Leone against Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia and Ghana in Group B. Sierra Leone qualified for the second round last weekend by burying Sao Tome and Principe 4-0 in Freetown, which put the Leone Stars through on a 4-2 goal aggregate. Matches will be played according to the league system, home and away, from 16-18 June 2000 to 27-29 July 2001. Only the winners of each group will qualify for the World Cup finals, which will be hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea in 2002. The Sierra Leoneans' first second-round match will pit them against the heavily-favoured Super Eagles of Nigeria on June 17. Group A: Angola, Zambia, Libya, Cameroon and Togo. Group C: Algeria, Senegal, Namibia, Morocco, Egypt. Group D: Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Congo. Guinea, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burkina Faso and South Africa. 

A cultural delegation led by Sierra Leonean Minister of Tourism and Culture A.B.S. Jomo-Jalloh met in Beijing Friday with the vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, according to China's Xinhua news agency. The Sierra Leoneans are visiting China at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Culture. Earlier in the week Jomo-Jalloh, the AFRC representative in Sierra Leone's unity government, announced in Freetown that a Chinese company, Beijing Urban Construction Group, would spend $10 million to rehabilitate the Bintumani Hotel and Conference Centre. The company would then operate the hotel under a 25 year lease.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society have begun distributing seeds, tools and other relief supplies to some 40,000 farm families averaging six members each in Kenema and Tonkolili Districts, the ICRC said on Friday. The distributions will be expanded in early May to include Kailahun and Pujehun Districts as well. Among the beneficiaries will be internally displaced persons, returning refugees, and farm families who lost everything in the war. The Red Cross has registered 13,000 families in Tonkolili District, 13,000 in Kenema District, 8,700 in Kailahun District and almost 5,300 in Pujehun District. Each of the families will received 40 kg. of swamp and upland seed rice, 10 kg. of groundnuts, 6 varieties of imported vegetable seeds, 3 types of local seeds, and hoes. In addition, around 30,000 families will receive plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats, buckets, kitchen sets, and soap. The first convoys left Freetown and Kenema on April 20. 

27 April: As Sierra Leone celebrated the 39th anniversary of independence from Britain Thursday, President Kabbah called on the leaders of the country's warring factions to disarm their combatants, and on the victims of war to forgive those who had committed atrocities. "I am convinced that with a successful disarmament it is only by such act of forgiveness and reconciliation that lasting peace can return to Sierra Leone," Kabbah said in an address to the nation recorded before he departed for Nigeria. In his speech entitled "Unity, Freedom and Justice" — the national motto of Sierra Leone — Kabbah said peace would not be possible without guarantees for the safety and security of all Sierra Leoneans. "By the same token, we cannot expect to succeed in consolidating the peace if we encourage and exploit regional, tribal and even gender differences to the detriment of the unity and integrity of the nation," he said. "We cannot expect to achieve national integration, or maintain stability, if we continue to create spheres of influence and indiscriminate exploitation within the territory of Sierra Leone." The president pointed especially to the plight of the nation's children, whom he called "the most vulnerable victims of the nine year armed conflict." He announced that the government would move this year to establish a National Commission for Children, "a new umbrella institution (which) will ensure that the concerns and special needs of children are placed and maintained at the highest level of our national post-conflict agenda."

250 more Zambian peacekeeping troops arrived in Freetown on Wednesday, bringing the total number of Zambians in Sierra Leone to 727, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. He said the rest of the battalion was due to arrive in a few days, bringing its total strength to 776 troops. As of Thursday there were United Nations 8,306 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, Winslow said, adding that the total strength of 11,100 troops authorised by the U.N. Security Council was expected to be in place by June. Winslow stressed that UNAMSIL did not announce its deployment areas in advance. However UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley indicated earlier this month that the next peacekeeping contingent to arrive in Sierra Leone would be sent to Kono District.

468 ECOMOG soldiers returned to Nigeria on Friday evening, according to the Lagos-based ThisDay newspaper. The soldiers, part of the Nigerian army's 82nd Division, arrived at Port Harcourt International Airport on Friday evening where they underwent routine health screening and passed through customs. "We have to check that they do not have any diseases, so they have to go through the routine health screening. We also have to be sure that they are not carrying any arms, remember they are coming from a war zone," said the Army Public Relations Officer in Port Harcourt, Captain John Agim. The newspaper described the soldiers as so elated to be home "some of them started kissing the tarmac as soon as they got off the aircraft, while others were smiling and singing praises to God." A few of the soldiers returned to Nigeria with their pet dogs and monkeys, the newspaper added.

Vice President Albert Joe Demby will head Sierra Leone's delegation to funeral services Saturday for Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web late Wednesday. Khobe died last week in his native Nigeria, and will reportedly be buried in his home Adamawa State. Also representing Sierra Leone will be Information Minister Julius Spencer, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, Hon. Kemoh Sesay, MP; Colonel KES Boyah of Defence Headquarters, Lieutenant-Colonel Okunola, Defence Headquarters Public Relations Officer; Major B. K. Mara of Defence Headquarters, Abdulai Mustapha, Head of the National Intelligence Agency; Steven Kargbo, the vice president's Aide de Camp; Major M.S.A. Aliyu, Chief Security Officer to President Kabbah, Captain D.R. Hassan of Defence Headquarters, and two members of the media.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi, briefed a closed-door session of the Security Council Thursday on the current situation in Sierra Leone. Referring to an incident at Magburaka earlier in the week where RUF rebels forced UNAMSIL to close a newly-opened disarmament reception centre, Security Council President Ambassador Robert Fowler of Canada said members asked Annabi to convey their concerns about such incidents to the parties, especially the RUF. Fowler said the Council would be discussing Sierra Leone again shortly when the next secretary-general's report on U.N. activities in Sierra Leone was issued.

RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins alleged late Wednesday that United Nations peacekeepers in Magburaka were trying to dislodge RUF ex-combatants who were staying at the reservation in the town, and that the U.N. officials had not been friendly to their combatants, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Thursday. On Tuesday, RUF fighters forced UNAMSIL to dismantle a newly-opened disarmament reception centre in the town. The Magburaka centre consisted of two existing buildings which the RUF wanted UNAMSIL to withdraw from, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow told the Sierra Leone Web. "It was a reception centre where combatants turn in weapons and register before going to the next stage of demobilisation," Winslow said. According to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network, RUF members claimed their leadership had not informed them that a centre was to be erected in the area. "They did not refuse that the reception centre be put up in this area, but only wanted to get it from their leader first," a UNAMSIL official was quoted as saying. He said the U.N. was handling the operation "as diplomatically as possible," adding that he expected the matter to be resolved.

A two-day ECOWAS ministerial conference which opened in Accra, Ghana Thursday morning will examine the plight of West Africa's war-affected children. Regional foreign ministers, defence ministers and military officials are expected to attend the meeting, which is sponsored jointly by the governments of Ghana and Canada in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Over the past decade tens of thousands of children have served as combatants or have been abducted, sexually abused, mutilated or killed during conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and elsewhere in the sub-region. Canada's special envoy to the conference told the BBC Thursday that the purpose of the conference was to come up with a concrete plan of action to include commitments by ECOWAS member nations to abide by international protocols for the protection of children, and to explore ways to rehabilitate war-affected children and to reintegrate them into society.

FIFA, the organisation which governs world soccer, will hold a drawing in Zurich, Switzerland on Friday to divide the 25 African nations which advanced into the second round of the World Cup qualifying matches into five groups. African Football Confederation spokesman Viken Djizmedjian said the countries would be seeded based on their 1998 World Cup and 1998 and 2000 African Nations Cup results. Geography would not be considered, Djizmedjian said, because FIFA wanted the five best African soccer teams to represent the continent at the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea. Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia, who represented Africa at the 1998 World Cup finals in France, all made it to the second round. They are joined by Sierra Leone, Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, Sudan, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

26 April: United Nations peacekeeping troops now have a presence in nine of Sierra Leone's twelve districts after deploying in Kambia and Mange-Bureh on Tuesday, according to a UNAMSIL source quoted by Reuters. "While the troops are in Kambia they will be travelling to other major towns and villages and the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea," the source said. He said the U.N. troops were given an enthusiastic welcome and entered the town without opposition from former combatants. UNAMSIL has yet to deploy in the eastern Kono District, which includes the town of Koidu, Koinadugu District, which includes Kabala, and Tonkolili District, which includes the towns of Magburaka, Makali and Masingbi. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted ECOMOG sources as saying Nigerian troops who had just pulled out of Bo and Kenema would be returning home this week.

An Israeli national accused of providing arms to the RUF has been deported to Israel after a Freetown court ruled last week that the government had failed to prove its case. Ya'ir Klein and a Russian co-defendant, Ilior Klachakov, were acquitted of a seven-count indictment which included charges of conspiracy to defraud, forgery, falsifying documents, and demanding money and property.  Klein, who holds the rank of lieutenant-colonel in Israel's reserve army, was originally arrested in late January 1999. Last January, Liberia's Star Radio reported that the two accused were re-arrested fifteen miles west of Freetown where they were trying to flee Sierra Leone by boat after having escaped from Pademba Road Prison. Klein was convicted in absentia in Colombia eleven years ago on charges he provided arms and training to death squads associated with the country's Medellin drug cartel. The Colombian government reportedly requested his extradition to that country, but President Kabbah told journalists in February 1999 that Klein would not be released "until he has answered to the crimes he has committed against this country." Sierra Leone has no extradition treaty with Colombia. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa warded off criticism of the government and prosecutors over having lost the case. "If the trial judge has given his verdict that the men are freed, who is Berewa to interfere with the independence of the court?", Berewa told Reuters.

25 April: Heavily-armed RUF fighters surrounded a recently-opened disarmament reception centre at Magburaka on Saturday and forced United Nations peacekeepers to take the camp down, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Tuesday. The disarmament reception centre at Magburaka, one of four opened on April 17, consisted of two existing buildings which the RUF wanted UNAMSIL to withdraw from, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer told the Sierra Leone Web. "It was a reception centre where combatants turn in weapons and register before going to the next stage of demobilisation," Winslow said. So far no ex-combatants have disarmed at reception centres in the RUF strongholds of Makeni and Magburaka, although former CDF combatants have begun disarming at their areas of Moyamba and Bo, the spokesman said.

The incidence of malaria is increasing in Sierra Leone at an alarming rate, President Kabbah said in an address to the African Summit on Roll Back Malaria on Tuesday. He told delegates and African leaders gathered in Abuja, Nigeria that malaria was currently the leading cause of death in Sierra Leone, and pledged his government would channel more "financial, human and other resources" into the World Health Organisation's (WHO) new strategy to control the disease. "'Roll Back Malaria' is not a health campaign, nor...a revamped vertical programme...The idea is to take a more coordinated and concerted approach to the problem," Kabbah said in announcing that the WHO initiative would be incorporated into the Ministry of Health and Sanitation's National Malaria Control Programme. "(Malaria) is currently the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, and accounts for about 48 per cent of the total outpatient morbidity. In the main childhood referral hospital, malaria accounts for 50 to 60 per cent of all admissions, with a case fatality rate of between 16 to 33 per cent," the president said. "Malaria is a health problem. Malaria is also a human resources problem, and therefore a development problem...It is not only the single most prevalent disease in Africa, it is also the primary cause of poverty in the continent." Kabbah told delegates that during the experimental phase of his country's National Malaria Control Programme, five ideas were shown to be important: that community participation was crucial, that training of community health workers in displaced camps had a potential multiplier effect when internally-displaced persons returned to their homes, that senior-level personnel needed to be trained in proper case management of severe malaria, that "druggists, pharmacists and patent drug merchants" should be trained in malaria control as they are often the first point of contact for patients, and that there should be an aggressive campaign to promote chloroquine as the first-line drug of choice. "If malaria kills so many of our people, most of whom are already impoverished; if malaria slows down the annual economic growth rate of many of our nations by as much as 30%; and if it makes us about $2 billion poorer each year, we should as part of our obligations to our respective nations, assume a leading role in the effort to roll back and subsequently eradicate the disease," Kabbah said.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticised Congress Monday for blocking efforts to pay the U.S. share of badly-needed United Nations peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Albright suggested that this was in conflict with the proper role of the United States — to lead, "an alone, when we must." She was also critical of Republican leaders who approved a budget resolution which cut President Clinton's request for foreign affairs funding by more than ten percent, and who have so far failed to approve emergency funds to help Colombia deal with drug criminals.

24 April: President Kabbah was among the more than 20 African leaders expected to arrive in Abuja, Nigeria Monday for a World Health Organisation (WHO) summit to grapple with the problem of malaria on the continent. More than 400 million people suffer from the disease each year and at least one million die annually — most of them African children. According to a WHO press release, the disease also affects the economies of the hardest-hit countries, with countries of sub-Saharan Africa suffering a growth penalty of one percentage point a year. "Highly malarious countries are among the poorest in the world, and typically have low rates of economic growth," the WHO said. The organisation quoted new research by Harvard University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the WHO as suggesting that Africa's gross domestic product would be $100 billion greater this year if malaria had been eliminated. This week's summit, part of the WHO's "Roll Back Malaria Movement," is expected to focus on first-time treatment and educating people on the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, blinds and other preventative measures. The movement, which is backed by the World Bank, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme, aims to cut the incidence of malaria in half by the year 2010.

Geneticists at Howard University in Washington, D.C. said Monday they plan to offer a DNA test which could link African Americans to their ancestral homelands. Geneticist Rick Kittles said he was still preparing the databases for comparisons, but expected the program could get underway in a few months. "To a lot of blacks, knowing a little bit of the story is important," Kittles was quoted as saying. "This will definitely contribute a lot to understanding the history of African-Americans." Kittles said Howard University would offer two versions of the DNA test. The first looks at mitochondrial DNA, which is handed down unchanged from mother to child. The second examines the "Y" chromosome, which is passed from father to son. Researchers will then compare the results to a database of more than 2,000 samples gathered from about 40 populations across West Africa. Kittles said his team was collecting additional DNA samples so they could expand the database and identify more African populations. According to research published by Philip D. Curtin in 1965, some 427,000 Africans were taken to North America during the entire period of the slave trade. Curtin estimated that 13.3% of these African captives were transported from Senegambia (present-day Senegal and Gambia), 5.5% from Sierra Leone (defined as present-day Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and parts of Senegal and Liberia), 11.4% from the Windward Coast (Liberia and Ivory Coast), 15.9% from the Gold Coast (Ghana), 4.3% from the Bight of Benin (roughly defined as the area from present-day Togo to Gabon), and 24.5% from Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar.

With the arrival of a battalion of Zambian troops in Freetown on Monday, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone will be more than 8,000 strong, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Two Jordanian battalions are also expected to join the UNAMSIL shortly. Under its current mandate, which runs through August 2000, UNAMSIL has an authorised maximum strength of 11,100 troops.

23 April: The head of Britain's Anglican Church warned Easter Sunday against what he called "Africa fatigue" in a society which had become inured to images of suffering. "If it is not Mozambique and the floods, then it is Sudan and the forgotten war. If it is not Rwanda and the genocide, then it is Sierra Leone and the forced amputations of limbs from men, women and children," said Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. George Leonard Carey. "All too easily, in the face of such overwhelming suffering, we can shrug our shoulders and turn away from the pain."

The international community should put pressure on the RUF to disarm, including the use of force, National Union of Sierra Leonean Students (NUSS) leader Gilbert Boscoe Nabay told the BBC on Sunday. Nabay, who is currently in London, claimed the RUF was not prepared to give up their weapons. "You see the rebels are just not ready to disarm for now. And that is why, in fact, we are here — to get the international community, at least, to do something to get those rebels to the terms of the (Lomé Peace Accord)," he said. "We want the international community to put some pressure on Sankoh." Nabay suggested that United Nations peacekeepers should consider using force to compel the rebels to disarm. "Currently in Sierra Leone we are seeing a situation wherein it is becoming clear that some amount of force needs to be used, really, to get Sankoh down," he said. United Nations officials have stressed out that UNAMSIL's mandate allows it to use force only in self-defence and to protect U.N. personnel and civilians under imminent threat of physical violence. The NUSS leader also called for the elections to be postponed if the RUF failed to disarm its fighters. "Corporal Foday Sankoh is looking forward to elections, but we have made it clear to him that if his boys fail to disarm we don’t see any need for elections now," Nabay said.

22 April: Sierra Leone defeated Sao Tome and Principe 4-0 Saturday to advance to the second round of the World Cup qualifying matches on a 4-2 goal aggregate. Sao Tome and Principe drew first blood two weeks ago with a 2-0 first leg victory on their home turf, but were overwhelmed by the Sierra Leonean side playing playing their return leg in front of 30,000 fans at National Stadium. Scoring twice for Sierra Leone was Chernor Mansaray (25 and 30), with a goal each from Mohamed Kallon (50) and Ibrahim Sesay (83). Other weekend results: (Saturday) Nigeria 4, Eritrea 0 (Nigeria advances); South Africa 1, Lesotho 0 (South Africa advances on a 3-0 aggregate); Tunisia 3, Mauritania 0 (Tunisia advances on a 5-1 aggregate); Morocco 2, Gambia 0 (Morocco advances on a 3-0 aggregate); Zambia 1, Botswana 0 (Zambia advances on a 2-0 aggregate); Namibia 3, Seychelles 0 (Namibia advances on a 4-1 aggregate); Gabon 1, Madagascar 0 (Madagascar advances on a 2-1 aggregate); Algeria 2, Cape Verde 0 (Algeria advances); Kenya 0, Malawi 0 (Malawi advances on a 2-0 aggregate in a match which was marred by rioting in the final minutes of play); Angola 7, Swaziland 1 (Angola advances on an 8-1 aggregate); Burkina Faso 3, Ethiopia 0 (Burkina Faso advances on a 4-2 aggregate); Congo 2, Equatorial Guinea 1 (Congo advances on a 5-2 aggregate); Democratic Republic of Congo 9, Djibouti 1 (Democratic Republic of Congo advances on a 10-2 aggregate); Egypt 4, Mauritius 2 (Egypt advances on a 6-2 aggregate); Ghana 3, Tanzania 2 (Ghana advances on a 4-2 aggregate); Guinea 3, Uganda 0 (Guinea advances on a 7-4 aggregate); Ivory Coast 2, Rwanda 0 (Ivory Coast advances on a 4-2 aggregate); Liberia 0, Chad 0 (Liberia advances on a 1-0 aggregate); Mali 3, Libya 1 (Libya advances on a 4-3 aggregate); Mozambique 2, Sudan 1 (Sudan advances); Senegal 1, Benin 0 (Senegal advances on 2-1 aggregate); Togo 3, Guinea-Bissau 0 (Togo advances on a 3-0 aggregate); Cameroon 3, Somalia 0 (Cameroon advances on a 6-0 aggregate. The two teams played both legs in Cameroon after security could not be guaranteed in Mogadishu. Cameroon defeated Somalia 3-0 in their first leg match on Wednesday.)

There was a massive turnout Saturday to begin the second round of the National Immunisation Days against Polio, according to a report by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. 

A contingent of 800 Zambian soldiers is due to leave Lusaka on Sunday to join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, according to a report by the Pan African News Agency. The Zambian army's public relations director, Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Chambaila, said the move followed the setting up of a base by an advance team of 140 Zambian troops who arrived in Freetown last week. "I'm happy to confirm the safe arrival of our soldiers in that country where they have set up a base to be used for co-ordinating operations during the peacekeeping exercise," Chambaila said.

21 April: Heads of state or their representatives from six West African nations  resolved Thursday to establish a second shared-currency zone in the sub-region by the year 2003. The "Accra Declaration," signed at an ECOWAS mini-summit, also lays out convergence criteria, or economic goals, to be achieved by the six countries prior to a hoped-for merging of the new currency with the CFA franc in 2004. The new monetary zone would include Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Gambia and Guinea. Eight ECOWAS nations already belong to a monetary union underwritten by France, which uses the CFA franc. Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings said globalisation and the trend towards the creation of large economic blocs underscored the importance of economic integration. "Unless this is done, our economies will remain weak, fragmented, uncompetitive and marginalised," he said. Also signing for their respective countries were Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Guinean President Lansana Conte. Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy signed the declaration on behalf of Gambia, while Central Bank Governor J. Sanpha Koroma represented Sierra Leone. Rawlings described the convergence criteria as "stringent" economic targets which would require "rigorous discipline and prudent economic management" on the part of the member countries. Under the plan, member nations must hold inflation to under 10% by the end of 2000 and to 5% by 2003. They must also ensure they have enough foreign currency reserves to cover at least three months of imports by the end of this year, and for six months imports by the end of 2003. Central bank financing of budget deficits would be limited to 10% of the previous year's tax revenue, with a budget deficit to GDP ratio of no more than 5% by 2000 and 4% by 2002. The six countries also set up a core technical group which will form the basis for a future regional central bank.

The Head of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) Reintegration Unit has played down concerns raised by implementing partners, who fear reducing the Pre-Discharge Orientation (PDO) given to former combatants under the new fast-track programme could make reintegration more difficult by losing lead-time in preparing communities to accept ex-combatants. Charles Achodo said the PDO programme was not designed to transform combatants, but to provide a rudimentary foundation of social adaptation skills necessary to promote their successful reintegration into communities. According to an NCDDR press release issued on Friday, the PDO programme was initially meant to be a "cooling off" period for ex-combatants, while at the same time preparing communities to receive them. "It was originally envisaged to provide the basis for attitudinal reformation. However the current focus is informational," the NCDDR statement said. Achodo said PDO modules will now only include civic education, human rights, the Lomé Peace Agreement, the DDR programme, and a re-entry plan. Meanwhile, commanders from Sierra Leone's warring factions began a five-day Ground/Battalion Commanders Peace Conference in Bo on Tuesday. The conference, organised by the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, was described as "is an information sharing and confidence-building event which, it is hoped, will end with commanders making commitments to disarm," the NCDDR said. Addresses were given by Vice President Albert Joe Demby on behalf of President Kabbah, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Oluyemi Adeniji, CCP Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, and NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai.

20 April: A United States congressman has moved to block U.S. contributions to United Nations peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and East Timor, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Senator Judd Gregg, who is Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary, declined to say why he stopped the $96 million earmarked for UNAMSIL except to indicate he was "not satisfied" with the way U.S. tax dollars were being spent in the country, the Washington Post's Mary McGrory said in an opinion piece. Under the current funding formula, the United States is responsible for one third of U.N. peacekeeping costs.

"Friends of Maxwell Khobe" announced the establishment Thursday of an online condolence book in cooperation with Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information for the late Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, who passed away Tuesday in Lagos, Nigeria. Khobe, 50, served as ECOMOG task force commander until July 1998, when President Kabbah appointed him as chief of defence staff. He was most recently engaged in training Sierra Leone's restructured army. Khobe will reportedly be buried in Adamawa State, Nigeria on April 29.

Sierra Leonean artists will be among those taking part in a major international art festival which opened Thursday in Kunming, China, according to the Xinhua news agency. Last year the one-month festival, held in southwest China's Yunnan Province, attracted over 700 overseas artists.

19 April: The United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) on Tuesday expressed "grave concern at the continuing abuses of human rights and humanitarian law" which it said were committed against civilians, generally with impunity, by former combatants of the RUF, AFRC and ex-SLA "including rapes, abductions, hostage-taking, summary executions, mutilations, forced labour, and the targeting of women and children." The Commission called for an end to all such acts and urged all parties to the Lomé Peace Accord to respect human rights and international humanitarian law "including the human rights and welfare of women and children." The Commission called on the Sierra Leone government, in cooperation with the international community, to continue to comply with its obligations to promote and protect human rights "and to give priority to the special needs of women and children, in particular those mutilated, sexually abused, gravely traumatised and displaced." It further called on the government to investigate all reports of human rights violations that had occurred since the signing of the peace agreement, and to end impunity.

The situation in Sierra Leone will be on the agenda when the eight-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meets in London on May 2-3, an Australian foreign affairs official said on Wednesday.

Cabinet ministers, members of parliament and dignitaries in Freetown gathered Wednesday to sign a condolence book for the late Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe. Khobe passed away Tuesday morning in his native Nigeria.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the targeting of civilians in armed conflict and has stated that this practice, along with denial of access by humanitarian groups, may constitute a threat to international peace and security. Following a day-long open debate, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1296, affirming its intention to ensure that U.N. peacekeeping missions had the mandates and funds to protect civilians under imminent threat. The Council said it might also consider situations where refugees and internally displaced persons were vulnerable to infiltration by armed elements and to take steps to create a secure environment. This could include the establishment of temporary security zones and safe corridors for protecting civilians under extreme circumstances. Humanitarian agencies in Sierra Leone have continued to experience difficulties in reaching vulnerable populations in areas under rebel control, despite a provision of the Lomé Peace Accord guaranteeing them free and secure access. Civilians were frequently targeted during the country's eight-year civil conflict, with many thousands killed or mutilated, or forced to flee their homes. It has been estimated that as much as half of the country's population was displaced at some point during the war. The Council also said that under some circumstances it was willing to consider preventative missions in adopting a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention.

Kailahun town has "returned to the bush," Associated Press reporter Clarence Roy-Macaulay wrote after visiting the RUF's stronghold in eastern Sierra Leone. "Former rebels...now beg for food and medicine in the town that was once their headquarters," Roy-Macaulay said. "Telephone and power lines were vandalized for their valuable wire. Buildings were destroyed from (ECOMOG) air raids...Bridges collapsed and trees sprouted up on roads that became trails...Two unexploded bombs protrude like signposts from what was once a main street."  United Nations officials estimate that only one tenth of Kailahun's former population of 15,000 still lived in the town in April, including several hundred rebel fighters and their families and an equal number of refugees who returned after the arrival of UNAMSIL troops. Those left in Kailahun survive by growing small plots of cassava, ground nuts (peanuts), vegetables and maize (corn), while basic foods like salt, sugar, flour and oil have not been available for years, Roy-Macaulay said. "The people are crying for food and good drinking water," said UNAMSIL Major Sunil Nair. "Aid groups have come to check out the situation but so far none have set up yet." Isata Momoh, a local nursing assistant who remained with the rebels during the war, told the AP reporter that most of the babies suffered from dysentery and malnourishment. "We are using one needle to inject 10 children with drugs before we sterilize it. We don't have enough antiseptic or syringes," she said.

18 April: Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, died Tuesday morning in his native Nigeria. According to a government statement, Khobe, who was airlifted to Lagos last Tuesday for emergency medical treatment after collapsing the previous weekend, died at St. Nicholas Hospital from cardiac arrest at about 10:00 Tuesday morning. The general was in a coma and on life support when he left Sierra Leone a week ago, but according to the Concord Times he initially showed signs of recovery. "The late General Khobe shot to prominence in February 1998 when he led troops of the regional force, ECOMOG, to oust the then-AFRC military junta and reinstate the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah," said BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. He noted that Khobe had shrapnel lodged in his abdomen received during the battle for Freetown "and despite a series of operations his condition continued to deteriorate, leading to his death today." Khobe, from Numan in Adamwa State, first achieved prominence with the ECOMOG force in October 1992 when he took part in "Operation Octopus" in Monrovia, Liberia. When the regional force intervened in Sierra Leone following the May 1997 AFRC military coup, he was appointed ECOMOG task force commander. In May 1998 Khobe was promoted from colonel to brigadier-general, and in July 1998 President Kabbah named him Chief of Defence Staff. The Sierra Leone government has declared seven days of mourning, with all flags to fly at half mast. 

President Kabbah called on the military commanders of Sierra Leone's warring factions Tuesday to use "the same power and authority" they had demonstrated on the battlefield to lead their followers into the peace process. The commanders, meeting in Bo for the Ground/Battalion Commanders Peace Conference, represent the country's various warring groups and are drawn from all over the country. The conference was organised by the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace to facilitate face-to-face meetings among the commanders and peace-building exercises. "Now is the time for each of you to make a difference," Kabbah told participants in an address which was to have been read by Vice President Albert Demby. "Now is the time for you to help us transform the minds and actions of those under your command from a vocation of armed conflict into a new culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence...Today, I would like to take this opportunity to urge you to use the same propensity, the same determination, the same authority and power you had on the battlefield, to lead your comrades-in-arms to join the ranks of the thousands of other ex-combatants who have surrendered their arms and are now part of the DDR programme."

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights was due to vote Tuesday on draft resolutions dealing with human rights in Sierra Leone and sixteen other countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web that the Sierra Leone government had taken the "unprecedented step" of signing on as a co-sponsor, despite the fact that the country is not a member of the Commission and is, in fact, the object of the resolution.

Freetown's High Court has acquitted two foreign nationals, Israeli Ya'ir Klein and Russian Ilior Klachakov, of seven charges which included conspiracy to defraud, forgery, altering false documents, and demanding money and property. According to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) Justice Bankoley-Rashid found insufficient evidence to convict the two on a number of the charges, while dismissing others because the prosecution had either relied solely on the confessions of the accused, or because evidence had been obtained through an unlawful search of the defendants' premises. Klein was arrested in early 1999, charged with having trained rebels who carried out the January 1999 attack on Freetown. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa alleged in a February 1999 interview that Klein had admitted involvement in shipping arms from Libya and Ukraine to the rebels. "Klein has provided us with maps and other details about the rebel army bases in Sierra Leone where helicopters flew in the arms from Liberia," Berewa said. In an interview with Reuters television shortly after his arrest, Klein denied the charges and said he was detained when he attempted to inform authorities the RUF was getting help from Libya. Klein, a lieutenant-colonel in the Israeli Reserve Army, was convicted in absentia by Colombia in 1989 on charges he provided arms and training to death squads associated with the country's Medellin drug cartel. He was convicted by an Israeli court in 1991 on the lesser charge of supplying arms to Colombia without a license.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said Tuesday that the world's failure to achieve universal education could no longer be tolerated. "As we enter the third millennium, more than 110 million children - almost two-thirds of them girls - are excluded from schooling," Bellamy said one week prior to the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal. "Given that we now have a global economy of $30 trillion annually, this is indefensible." She stressed that all children must have access to and complete a basic education. "Decent quality education is a fundamental human right," she said. "If we are to reach the goal of education for all, we must address the underlying causes that exclude massive numbers of children from school and from learning." In 1995, in the midst of more than eight year's of civil conflict which has disrupted education in large areas of the country, Sierra Leone's estimated literacy rate was 31.4% — 45.4% for men and 18.2% for women. 

Finance officials from several ECOWAS countries are meeting this week ahead of a mini-summit to finalise a plan to create a single economic and monetary union in the sub-region. "The mini-summit would discuss and approve the technical work of the expert group on the creation of a second monetary zone by Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia," said Kwamena Ahwoi, Ghana's Minister for Regional Economic Integration. "This would later be fused with the CFA franc to achieve the ECOWAS objective of a single convertible regional currency by 2004." Eight ECOWAS countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo — are already members of a monetary union supported by France, which uses the CFA franc as a common currency.

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie said Tuesday that even with the deployment of UNAMSIL, humanitarian workers were still unable to reach certain areas in northern Sierra Leone. She said that the situation of women was particularly difficult. Human rights workers on the UNAMSIL team reported that the incidence of sexual attacks was higher than in Bosnia, where rape is considered a war crime, McAskie said. She added that situations where girls were held for months or years at a time constituted sexual torture.

Security ministers from the Mano River Union nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia held a one-day meeting in Freetown on Monday "to put in place an effective security mechanism especially along their common borders," Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said on Tuesday. He said the one-day meeting was a follow-up to talks by the three heads of state in Bamako, Mali in early March, which was followed by consultations by their foreign ministers in Monrovia, Liberia on March 18. "The three countries have had some bad internal experiences in the past, characterised by accusations and counter-accusations of one country supporting or harbouring the others' rebels," Kaikai told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). "But now the countries are coming together to discuss matters of mutual interest, strengthen the union and to ensure security."

17 April: About 100 heavily-armed Guinean soldiers have occupied 300 to 400 metres of Sierra Leonean territory near the Moa River, the RUF commander in Kailahun, Colonel Momoh Rogers alleged on Monday. He told reporters in Kailahun that the incursion was a violation of the Lomé Peace Accord, and that he would not order his fighters to disarm until the Guineans left. Major Sunil Nair, the local UNAMSIL commander, confirmed the presence of a "large number" of Guinean troops near Koindu, where the Moa River forms the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. "I travelled to the area and talked with the Guinean soldiers...but they in turn told me that the area they occupied belongs to Guinea," Nair said. "I left them and sent my report to our commander for Kailahun District...who has in turn reported the matter to UNAMSIL in Freetown." Nair was quoted as saying he asked the Guineans to produce a map showing that the area belonged to them. They did not have one, but insisted the area was Guinean territory.

41 members of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia turned in their weapons to UNAMSIL military observers at Moyamba on Monday, marking the beginning of the DDR process in Moyamba District. According to a UNAMSIL press release dated April 17, the first CDF member to be disarmed in the district turned in his weapon on a day earlier in a symbolic ceremony. Those attending Sunday's ceremony were Kaiyamba Chiefdom Paramount Chief Madam Ella Kobolo Gulama, District Officer Melvin Caulker, and Hon. Tarasid Tarawally, the Deputy Leader of Parliament. Members of the Cease-fire Monitoring Committee (CMC), the RUF and the government also were present. CDF District Administrator Tejan Sankoh assured those present that his members were fully committed to disarmament. "More than 200 people watched as the CDF Initiator for Moyamba District handed in an automatic weapon and ammunition and was registered by the UNAMSIL team. UNAMSIL Observer Team Leader Lt. Col. Knut Carlsen then bent the barrel of the rifle, rendering it useless," the press release said. "Madam Gulama said that the people of Moyamba had waited a long time for this moment. She said that she and the CDF leadership hoped Moyamba District would never again hear the sound of guns fired in anger."

The Resident Minister, East, Sahr Fillie-Faboe, has blamed last week's attack on UNAMSIL peacekeepers at Kenema on armed robbers, the Concord Times reported on Monday, quoting an official statement read over Radio 98.1. There has been no independent verification of the claim.

16 April: Police in the Canary Islands arrested over the weekend about 100 illegal immigrants, allegedly from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Spanish authorities said Sunday the latest detentions were carried out on the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. There have been more than 300 such arrests since the beginning of the month. The Canary Islands, a possession of Spain, are often used as transit points for Africans seeking a better life in Europe. According to the Red Cross, as many as 35,000 people from African countries south of the Sahara are seeking transportation to the Canary Islands by boat. 

14 April: Sierra Leoneans had the lowest life expectancy in the world in 1999, according to statistics released by the German Federal Demographic Research Institute on Friday. The average life span for a Sierra Leonean was only 37, compared to a worldwide average expectancy of 65. At the other end of the scale was Japan with a life expectancy of 80, followed by Canada and Iceland at 79.

An advance party of 120 soldiers from the 776-member Zambian contingent of peacekeeping troops will leave for Sierra Leone on Monday to join the United Nations peacekeeping force. In a parade for the peacekeepers at the Arackan Barracks on Friday, Zambian Defense Minister Chitalu Sampa called on the troops not to become involved in matters affecting Sierra Leone's warring parties, and to maintain a high standard of discipline. "You are true ambassadors of your mother country," he told them. Zambian Army Commander Lieutenant-General Geojago Musengule expressed confidence that his soldiers, from Kabwe's Chindwin Barracks, would behave professionally during their six-month stint in Sierra Leone. "I have no doubt that they will discharge their duties as expected. They are ready and willing to sacrifice for peace," he said.

United Nations efforts in Sierra Leone could be made more effective by increased support for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process, a stronger mandate for UNAMSIL, and by addressing the illegal trade in diamonds and arms, according to Paul Smith-Lomas, the Humanitarian Director for Oxfam Great Britain. Smith-Lomas's observations, which he said were based on Oxfam's experience in Sierra Leone, were made at a New York press conference Thursday evening following United Nations Security Council briefing by experts on international peace and security issues.

13 April: Some 89 ex-combatants turned in their weapons during Monday's symbolic disarmament exercise in Segbwema, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. The number included 52 members of the RUF, 5 from the CDF, and 32 from the ex-SLA. Winslow said that as of 10 April, 22,197 former combatants from all factions had been disarmed. 

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley has downplayed fears of a security vacuum following the withdrawal of the ECOMOG force. He told reporters Wednesday that United Nations peacekeeping troops were gradually taking over most of ECOMOG's responsibilities, and were already deployed in most parts of the country. "UNAMSIL is deployed from one end of the country to the other end: from Lungi in the west to Kailahun in the east, in the south out to Joru and Zimmi, and soon to Pujehun," Jetley said. "What we are trying to convey is that there is no need for anybody to have a sense of insecurity." He rejected suggestions that UNAMSIL use force to compel rebel factions to disarm. "The strength of force lies in not (using) force," he said. "We are here to instill confidence in the people who are here. We are not here to disrupt the peace that is already here, but to enhance it further." Jetley said UNAMSIL was trying to open as many roads as possible before the onset of the rainy season.

The U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee on Thursday approved HR 3879, the Sierra Leone Peace Support Act of 2000, which now is sent on to the full House. The bill would provide $20 million in aid to Sierra Leone, including a $13 million contribution to the World Bank Trust Fund for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, $5 million to bolster Sierra Leone's judiciary, $1.5 million to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and $500,000 to fund collection of human rights data. The legislation would also cut off funding to any West African country trafficking in illicitly-mined Sierra Leonean diamonds and facilitating the flow of illegal arms into the country. It would also provide for increased international military education and training assistance in the areas of defence management, civil-military relations, law enforcement cooperation and military justice. The bill also requires the Executive Branch to report to the Committee within six months on the extent to which Sierra Leone's neighbours are involved in smuggling arms to Sierra Leone and the illicit sales of Sierra Leonean diamonds and gold through those countries. "It is essential that the United States' presence be felt within Sierra Leone, and that we reassure the people of Sierra Leone of our strong commitment to their lives, and their freedom from fear and terror," said Representative Sam Gejdenson, the Committee's ranking democrat and the bill's sponsor.

12 April: Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe (left) was flown from Sierra Leone to Nigeria Tuesday for medical treatment, President Kabbah said on state television late Tuesday night. Khobe's illness was not disclosed, but Reuters quoted a medical source in Freetown as saying he was "in a state of coma." The Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) said his condition was reported to be "very serious." Kabbah announced the appointment of Colonel Tom Carew as Acting Chief of Defence Staff. Khobe, a Nigerian, served as ECOMOG task force commander in Sierra Leone until July 1998, when he was named Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff. Carew (right) was one of eight loyalist military officers and six civilians who were arrested in June 1997 by the AFRC junta and accused of plotting a counter-coup. In 1998 he presided over the military court which in October convicted 34 military officers of treason for their part in the May 1997 coup.

The National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) has expressed "grave concern" over disturbances this week by ex-combatants in the west end of Freetown over payment of the second tranche of their Transitional Safety Net Allowances (TSA). A press release from the NCDDR Executive Secretariat said the disturbances were caused by some ex-combatants agitating to receive TSAs not yet due them, and also by a dispute between former combatants of rival former factions — the CDF and RUF/AFRC. The Secretariat condemned the acts of vandalism committed on Monday and Tuesday, and warned that such acts "could undermine our efforts to help the ex-combatants reintegrate themselves into society and promote timely reconciliation." Anyone responsible for lawless acts or acts of vandalism in the future will be prosecuted and risk forfeiting their rights to reintegration benefits, as well as being required to pay for the damage caused, the statement warned. "Ex-combatants are again reminded that they are now ordinary civilians and are not above the law," the NCDDR said. "They should work hard to build a new image of themselves."

Additional U.S. funding to finance an expansion in United Nations peacekeeping efforts around the world may be in serious jeopardy, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee said on Tuesday. Under the current funding allocation formula, the United States pays one third of the cost of United Nations peacekeeping operations. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, testified Tuesday that the State Department was requesting an increase from its current $498 million peacekeeping budget to $739 million next year to fund U.N. operations in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers said his committee was unlikely to approve funding for the Congo mission, which he argued was poorly designed and had little chance of success. In addition, Republicans in control the House are pushing for a $150-250 billion tax cut for Fiscal 2001, while directing Congress to protect spending for such programmes as defence, entitlements, and other budget priorities. Rogers said this meant a four percent cut in programmes under his committee's jurisdiction, which includes the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Justice Department and the Judiciary. Holbrooke warned Tuesday in would be difficult to press other countries to pay their share for U.N. peacekeeping if Congress fails to fully fund commitments made by the United States.

A Sierra Leonean refugee was among twelve persons killed by police during student demonstrations this week in Banjul, Gambia. The students took to the streets on Monday to protest the alleged torture of a secondary school student by a member of the security forces, and the reported rape of a 13-year old girl by a police officer. When the police confronted the demonstrators in an attempt to prevent them from marching through the capital, the students rioted and the police opened fire. "We managed to avoid all the bullets during the fighting in Sierra Leone only for my son to be killed by a bullet here in the Gambia," said Sierra Leonean refugee James Carrol. Many more persons were wounded or arrested during the rioting. On Tuesday, students again took to the streets, burning buildings and ransacking government offices in protest over Monday's killings.

11 April: Former AFRC combatants went on a rampage in Brookfields Monday after demanding payment of their demobilisation allowances, and UNAMSIL troops had to be brought in to contain the situation. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, the demonstration halted traffic and disrupted schools and services in the area. "Some civilians are clearly apprehensive and many expressed fears about the possibility of resumption of violence by the ex-combatants," he said. "Such feelings are running high among the population, especially when yesterday’s demonstration came on the heels of widely-circulated rumours of a pending rebel assault on the capital once again. These feelings are not helped by the resumption of ECOMOG troop pullouts from the country." Fofana noted that UNAMSIL had recently deployed additional troops in Freetown, where they were manning roadblocks and guarding strategic buildings, installations and the port. Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said his office was disappointed about the attitude of the ex-combatants. "He said that the payments of the former fighters’ allowances would resume today, but that security at the committee’s office has been beefed up to counter any demonstration," Fofana said. "Meanwhile, the behaviour of the ex-combatants has raised concern among potential employers and trainers, and is bound to make the reintegration process very difficult."

Liberian President Charles Taylor (right) has denounced as "disinformation" and "lies" reports that his country is harbouring Sierra Leonean dissidents. According to the Liberia News Agency, Taylor told reporters last week his government would invite the Sierra Leonean ambassador to visit Liberian military training bases, where he could see for himself that the Liberian government was not engaged in training Sierra Leonean dissidents. On Monday, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle referred to "persistent reports from diplomatic and military sources that Sierra Leonean rebels" led by former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured left) were receiving fresh training in Liberia near the border with Sierra Leone. The Liberian Charge d'Affaires in Washington, Alexander Wallace, told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday that there were no training camps for Sierra Leonean dissidents within the borders of Liberia. If Sierra Leonean dissidents were training in Liberia his government had no knowledge of it, Wallace said, adding that Taylor had pledged not to allow Liberia to be used as a springboard to launch attacks into neighbouring countries. He suggested that any training by RUF dissidents was taking place within Sierra Leone. A diplomatic source in Freetown, however, told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday there was "credible evidence" Bockarie had up to 500 people with him in Liberia and that "they seem to be housed at training camps."  

ECOMOG is considering postponing the withdrawal of its remaining troops in Sierra Leone, government officials suggested on Tuesday. In December, Nigeria informed the United Nations that it would withdraw its remaining troops from the ECOMOG force by mid-February, but later agreed to a 90-day extension. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman told the Awoko newspaper on Tuesday that the possibility of ECOMOG remaining until UNAMSIL troops were fully deployed in late June or July was being "actively considered." "Nothing has been finalised," National Security Adviser Sheka Mansaray told the Associated Press.

The international community needs to do more to address the problem of an estimated 300,000 child soldiers currently fighting in countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe, according to U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu. He said the international community must exert greater pressure on governments not to enlist children into their armies, and more money must be provided to demobilise and rehabilitate child soldiers and to reintegrate them into society. He also pointed to the need to educate local communities about the suffering endured by child soldiers. "Don't forget, the person who left the community was a child," Otunnu told the VOA. "The person who has come back in their being is no longer a child because they now got used to violence. In many cases, they were used cynically to commit atrocities. Some of the worst atrocities in Sierra Leone were committed by young people being used by others and often under the influence of drugs." He said such children had to be viewed as victims and healed, not rejected by their communities.

While RUF leader Foday Sankoh instructed his followers to hand in their weapons during Monday's high-level disarmament mission to Daru and Segbwema, he said he was more concerned about the needs of his fighters and their future, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Tuesday. "The basic needs of the combatants: This is my concern always," Sankoh said. "You see the men are reporting. The men are asking questions about their future. And what about those who who [word indistinct] to disarm? And these are trained men. They have families. They have their relatives. Even those who are disarming, they have families. You know, we are very much concerned." Sankoh also took the occasion to attack parliamentarians who accompanied the mission, calling them criminals and thieves, and to confront United Nations peacekeepers. "He told his supporters not to yield to any pressure from U.N. troops, and that any time they hear gunfire near their position they must move in and disarm the person who let off the shots, be it a U.N. soldier or not," Fofana said. "The former rebel leader also blasted U.N. commanders who told him that the DDR programme must be accelerated and that he must hit the road shortly for that purpose."  The BBC reporter added that an address to by Major Mandela Kamara "made quite a difference" to AFRC former combatants "who are believed to be in their hundreds in that area."

Acts of violence are still common in northern Sierra Leone, Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi said on Tuesday. Referring to Saturday's attack on U.N. peacekeepers in Kenema, Biguzzi said such acts were symptomatic of the widespread insecurity in which a large part of the Sierra Leonean population continued to live. "Also (in) my Diocese of Makeni acts of intimidation, which I consider absolutely unjustifiable, are still frequent," he told the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). The bishop said that if the disarmament process had not been completed by July 7, the first anniversary of the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord, "It will mean a serious defeat for this country and the international community."

10 April: United Nations peacekeeping troops came under attack in eastern Sierra Leone late Saturday night when unknown attackers fired on the Ghanaian Headquarters in Kenema. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the peacekeepers returned fire in a two-hour shootout, but that there were no casualties on either side. UNAMSIL immediately dispatched a platoon Indian Gurkha troops from its "Quick Reaction Company" to the area, but the attackers escaped into the bush around midnight. The spokesman said UNAMSIL is investigating the incident, which he noted was the first of its kind since the arrival in Sierra Leone of the U.N. peacekeeping force.

United Nations, ECOMOG officials, parliamentarians and former rebel leaders accompanied RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh to Segbwema Monday for the symbolic start of a planned massive disarmament and demobilisation exercise in Sierra Leone. Despite the high-level presence only 70 former fighters, many of them youths as young as 15 carrying "disused weapons, or none at all", turned up to be disarmed, according to the Associated Press, which added that two arrived with the rusting empty barrels of guns, others arrived empty-handed, and some were seen leaving the disarmament site with the same weapons they came with. Sankoh, who has come under criticism by the United Nations recently for allegedly not ordering his followers to disarm, on Monday urged his supporters to work for peace. "We are going to take power in Sierra Leone without force, so let us be patient and disarm, as the war is over," he said. The former rebel leader at the same time warned UNAMSIL against confronting his troops. "If you don't stop, it would not end (well) for both sides," he said. "We are ready and sincere to be disarmed. This is the order. This is the order we have been waiting to receive, and I assure you that the order will stand firm," said the RUF Strike Force Battalion Commander in Segbwema, Lieutenant-Colonel Harris Momoh. "We are ready and prepared to disarm." Despite the low turnout Monday, Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone, said there was no cause for disappointment. "Today's disarmament exercise is positive even though it may not be massive," he said, noting that now Sankoh had instructed his supporters to turn over their guns, "They have no excuse now not to disarm."

Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya (left) and United Nations Permanent Representative Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara  will represent Sierra Leone at this week's Group of 77 South Summit in Havana, Cuba which gets underway on Monday. The main themes of the 133-nation Third World summit are to be globalisation, north-south relations, south-south cooperation, and knowledge and technology. Monday and Tuesday will be taken up by meetings of senior officials and ministers of foreign affairs. A heads of state and government summit will convene on Wednesday, the first such meeting at this level since the organisation's founding in 1964. More than 60 heads of state are expected to attend, most of them from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. According to organisers, the summit will result in two documents: a forward-looking document setting priorities for action, and an action-oriented documented with clearly-defined measures, targets and time frames.

140 Jordanian peacekeepers arrived in Sierra Leone on Saturday, a United Nations spokesman said in New York on Monday. He said the complete Jordanian battalion is due to arrive in May, and is scheduled to deploy soon after. In separate articles, the Associated Press quoted a U.N. spokesman as saying 110 Jordanian troops arrived on Saturday and UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley as saying that 112 Jordanians had come on Sunday. Jetley reportedly said the troops would be deployed in Freetown, while a contingent of Zambians is expected on April 13.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pointed to last week's donor conference in London as demonstrating continued international support for Sierra Leone, but expressed regret over the slow pace of disarmament in the country. "With the deployment of the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone, there is a real prospect that peace, national reconciliation and stability can be brought to Sierra Leone," she said in a statement. Albright added that the United States is pledging an additional $12 million to the country. "It is essential to the creation of lasting peace, to the safe delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid, and to the holding of free and transparent elections early next year that this process accelerate now," she said.

Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma has invited President Kabbah to speak at a CCP "Ground/Battalion Commanders Peace Conference" in Bo on April 18, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web over the weekend. The conference, reportedly for AFRC/SLA, RUF and CDF commanders, is aimed at confidence-building and the sharing of information and experience. The programme will be followed by a football match and tug-of-war between the former rivals, the diplomat said.

Former combatants of the RUF, SLA and CDF are entitled to join Sierra Leone's restructured army provided they meet the established criteria laid out in the Military Reintegration Plan (MRP) developed by the Ministry of Defence and endorsed by the government, according to a statement issued Monday by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). The MRP provides for the screening, selection and subsequent training of ex-combatants aimed at rebuilding a military that is not only highly professional but also under effective democratic control. "The first stage of the process is that ex-combatants must disarm to UNAMSIL and go through a demobilisation process. It is only by going through this process that they will be entitled to benefit from either the civilian or the military reintegration programme," the NCDDR statement said. "On being disarmed and demobilised each individual ex-combatant will be required to settle for one of the two options of going into the army or becoming a civilian." The screening and selection mechanism is currently being set up and should begin operation in less than two months time. Individuals will be assessed "purely on merit against a set of objective criteria" while the new armed forces will "reflect the geo-political structure of Sierra Leone," the statement said. The international community will be asked to provide independent monitors to ensure that the process is implemented in a fair and transparent manner.

A total of 425 CDF militiamen were demobilised at the Brookfields Hotel in Freetown between March 28 and April 6, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Monday. The group had been operating in the Western Area throughout the conflict. Meanwhile, at sensitisation and information-sharing workshops for former CDF combatants in Bo and Moyamba on April 4th and 5th, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured right), who is also Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces, said Parliament had granted the CDF legitimacy in April 1997 when the force sought a mandate to defend the country and its constitution. The signing of the Lomé Peace Accord ended the struggle against forces opposed to constitutional order and as such meant that the CDF no longer has any business fighting, Norman was quoted as saying. He added that the CDF would have no problem with reintegration, because they were community-based. NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai told participants the workshops were meant to give them an insight into the benefits of the DDR programme. He warned that further delays in implementing the programme could result in a reduction in assistance from the international community.

9 April: 210 Jordanian peacekeepers arrived in Freetown on Saturday to join the UNAMSIL force, according to Freetown's Concord Times newspaper. 

8 April: Sao Tome and Principe defeated Sierra Leone 2-0 Saturday before a crowd of 7,000 in their first round first leg World Cup soccer qualifying match. Scoring for Sao Tome and Principe were Amilcar in the 36th minute and Celso Garrido in the 65th. In other first round results, Zambia defeated Botswana 1-0, Guinea Bissau and Togo played to a 0-0 draw, Madagascar won 2-0 over Gabon, Malawi beat Kenya 2-0, Seychelles and Namibia tied 1-1, Ghana won over Tanzania 1-0, Uganda and Guinea tied 4-4, Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of Congo drew 1-1, and Tunisia defeated Mauritania 2-1. [Subsequent results: Benin 1, Senegal 1; Cape Verde 0, Algeria 0; Central African Republic 0, Zimbabwe 1; Chad 0, Liberia 1; Equatorial Guinea 1, Congo 3; Eritrea 0, Nigeria 0; Ethiopia 0, Burkina Faso 1; Gambia 0, Morocco 1; Lesotho 0, South Africa 2; Libya 3, Mali 0; Rwanda 2, Ivory Coast 2; Sudan 1, Mozambique 0; Swaziland 0, Angola 1.]

28 former RUF and AFRC combatants have been arrested and detained at Port Loko and Lungi for allegedly stealing corrugated iron (or zinc) roofs from houses in Maforki and Loko Masama Chiefdoms of Port Loko District, the BBC reported on Saturday. According to BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers, the former rebels invaded Maboni and other towns around the Rokel River, firing their weapons indiscriminately. Residents who escaped the area were quoted as saying that nearly all the roofing sheets had been taken and some houses with thatched roofs set on fire. "An undisclosed number of local inhabitants were abducted and made to cart away the looted items, while the female abductees were gang-raped but later released," Rogers said. He added that the looted roofing panels were being openly sold at markets in Port Loko and Freetown. "Last week about 1,000 corrugated iron sheets were intercepted by UNAMSIL personnel at the Port Loko wharf, but were later handed over to the police when the culprits identified themselves as RUF and SLA combatants," he said.

An estimated 200 to 300 persons, most of them students from the Washington International School, gathered in front of Sierra Leone's Washington, D.C. embassy Friday evening to hold a vigil for child soldiers in Sierra Leone and to demonstrate for the passage a bill in Congress, the Sierra Leone Peace Support Act of 2000. The event was sponsored by the Washington International School chapter of Amnesty International and organised by two teenagers, Elisabelt Golub and Clementine Thomas. Speakers included Sierra Leonean Ambassador John Ernest Leigh, an aide to Representative Sam Gejdenson, who is co-sponsoring the bill, and representatives of Sierra Leonean groups. The sponsors called on the RUF to release all abductees, including children, and to demobilise and disarm all child soldiers within its forces. They also called on the United States and the international community to ensure that all parties abide by the provisions of the Lomé Peace Accord to demobilise child combatants, and to allocate the necessary resources to ensure that the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of  former child combatants would be adequately funded and vigorously implemented.

7 April: The United Nations peacekeeping force will await the arrival of additional troops before deploying in Kono District, UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley said on Friday. "I am waiting for the Jordanian and Zambian peacekeeping contingents to arrive," Jetley said following a meeting of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, adding that whichever contingent arrived first would be sent to Kono. He said he had insufficient troop strength for UNAMSIL to deploy in the district because Indian peacekeepers designated for Kono had been deployed in the RUF stronghold of Kailahun. "Such deployment was very strategic because peacekeepers are now close to the border with Liberia," Jetley explained. He said he envisaged no problem in eventually deploying in Kono as he had the agreement of RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh, whose followers are in control of the area.

6 April: RUF/RUFP leader Foday Sankoh said Thursday that the disarmament process could be complete by July as long as proper facilities were provided for former combatants. "If camps and other Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration logistics are properly put in place...Sierra Leoneans and the international community must rest assured that disarmament of all RUF and other ex-combatants will end in July this year," Sankoh said. UNAMSIL Public Information Office Philip Winslow, however, dismissed claims that the U.N.'s lack of logistics was preventing RUF fighters from disarming. "It is a bit disingenuous for the RUF to say that it is UNAMSIL preventing their disarmament," Winslow told the Sierra Leone Web this week. "Disarmament is a voluntary process called for in the Lomé Peace Agreement. There is nothing stopping the RUF from disarming except the orders of the RUF leaders. Most ex-combatants across Sierra Leone are ready to disarm immediately, but many are being prevented from doing so by their commanders, who say they are acting on orders of RUF Chairman Foday Sankoh...Disarmament reception centres are being set up in many places, including Kailahun. Another major centre should be ready at Makeni in the next 10 days. Where disarmament centres have not yet been built, UNAMSIL helps facilitate the disarmament anyway, as we have been doing in Kabala and in many parts of the country. The RUF could disarm at any time, which would show their commitment to the Lomé Agreement and to lasting peace in Sierra Leone." Sankoh insisted Thursday that the RUF was committed to the peace process, but added that he would work to protect the interests of his followers. "There is no reason why we should take up arms again as some people are anticipating. The war has come to its end and disarmament will end in July," he said. "My business now is politics and not war, and indeed let no one mistake my hope to become the next president of Sierra Leone."

Amnesty International research Tessa Kordeczka said Thursday that rebels are still carrying out frequent raids on civilian villages in many areas of northern Sierra Leone. "A large number of civilians abducted by rebel forces continue to be held captive, despite provision in the peace agreement for their release," Kordeczka told Reuters. "In Makeni, which the RUF continues to control despite deployment of the UNAMSIL troops, RUF forces are illegally detaining a group of up to 20 of their own combatants, apparently because they had attempted to join the disarmament and demobilisation programme. There are strong indications that these people are also being seriously ill-treated."

UNAMSIL troops have begun taking over security arrangements in Freetown in preparation for an eventual pullout by the ECOMOG force, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Thursday. "Many checkpoints and strategic government buildings earlier manned by Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers have been taken over by UNAMSIL troops who ironically happen to be Nigerians that were recently co-opted in the U.N. force," Fofana said, adding: "It is no secret here that ordinary people are apprehensive about the withdrawal of ECOMOG troops and the apparent security gap this is bound to create."

Liberia has denied reports that its troops on the Sierra Leone border have been put on full alert following recent thwarted attempts by dissidents to launch cross-border attacks into Liberia. On Tuesday, Liberian defence department sources told the BBC as saying the soldiers had been put on "full alert" after receiving diplomatic notes from the Sierra Leone government describing several attempts by armed insurgents to cross the border into Liberia. "There is no full alert and the president has said it is not an emergency situation," Information Minister Joe Mulbah told the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN).

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in an atmosphere of peace and security at Port Loko, according to a delegation of United Nations agencies who visited the area on Wednesday. The joint delegation, which included members of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) found about 2,000 IDPs living in makeshift shelters they had built themselves. However, construction is underway of 25 buildings which will provide some 200 rooms. The camp has a capacity of 2,000 IDPs and wells are being dug to provide them with clean water. There is a heavy presence of ECOMOG and UNAMSIL troops who patrol the outskirts of the town every hour. In a similar visit to Kambia on Wednesday, the delegation found extensive damage to the town's infrastructure, making the return of IDPs difficult. Much of the district north of Port Loko is under RUF control. Schools are not functioning, while medical facilities are provided by Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders).

5 April: ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade denied Wednesday an Associated Press report that ECOMOG has begun a final pullout of its troops from Sierra Leone. "It's just routine, some are going on leave and some have new assignments," he told the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). The AP report, which quoted anonymous senior ECOMOG officials, said 150 ECOMOG soldiers flew out of Lungi International Airport on Monday, with more due to follow during the week. Nigeria, which provides the bulk of the ECOMOG force, announced a 90-day suspension on the withdrawal of its troops in mid-January. Olukolade said that to date the Nigerian government had issued no directive to resume the pullout. 

Air Afrique has resumed regular scheduled flights to Sierra Leone for the first time since the May 1997 coup, a company official said on Wednesday. The Concord Times newspaper quoted the airline's manager, Turpin Maurice, as saying the carrier had resumed flights flights to Sierra Leone as of March 27 because of the improved security situation. "For now we have started with two flights — an Airbus which caters for 200 passengers on Mondays and a Boeing 737 with 110 passengers on Saturdays," According to the Voice of America, Freetown will be serviced from the airline's hubs in Dakar and Abidjan. Air Afrique is owned by eleven member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo. 

Sierra Leone is due to meet Sao Tome e Principe at the weekend in a first round qualifying match for the 2000 World Cup. Sierra Leone's soccer programme has fallen on financial hard times due to years of civil conflict in that country, and last year had to withdraw from the African Nations Cup qualifiers. Sao Tome e Principe spent the last week training in Angola, where they lost to the Inter Luanda and Primerio Agosto football clubs. The team has also spent time training in Portugal.

President Kabbah returned to Sierra Leone Wednesday from a trip which took him to the Sierra Leone Donor Conference in London, to Libya, and to the EU-Africa Summit in Cairo, according to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS). Also returning to Freetown Wednesday was a delegation headed by Information Minister Julius Spencer, which visited Beijing last week at the invitation of China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. According to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), Chinese Vice Premier Li Lan Quin has promised Chinese assistance to SLBS in the form of exchange programmes and the provision of a satellite link which will allow SLBS radio and television to download news reports via satellite.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer confirmed Wednesday that last week's fighting between RUF and AFRC/ex-SLA factions in Bafodia resulted in casualties on both sides. "We don't have any figures but there were RUF and SLA casualties," Spencer told the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). He added that an unknown number of civilians had been wounded.

4 April: ECOMOG has resumed pulling its forces out of Sierra Leone after a 90-day moratorium on troop reductions announced by Nigeria in mid-January. 150 ECOMOG soldiers flew out of Lungi International Airport on Monday and Tuesday, with more due to follow this week, the Associated Press reported, quoting senior ECOMOG officials. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade has said previously that the withdrawal of the remaining 2,000 soldiers would be complete by mid-April, although about 2,500 former ECOMOG troops would remain in Sierra Leone under UNAMSIL command until late June. Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai downplayed fears of a security vacuum in the country, saying the government and former rebels were continuing to make gains in the peace process. "The pullout notwithstanding, I feel positive about the general situation in the country," Kaikai said.

Some 20,000 public primary and secondary school teachers returned to work Tuesday, ending a week-long strike over unpaid salaries. State radio quoted Sierra Leone Teachers Union Secretary-General Davidson Kuyateh as saying the teachers had suspended their strike until April 30 due to parents' concerns and the government's response to their plight. He added that the government had issued teachers pay cheques for January and February, and had begun working on paying salary arrears.

Ten of the fifty primary and secondary students arrested March 27 for taking part in a violent protest to demand the reopening of public schools were granted bail at a court hearing on Tuesday. The students were charged with disorderly behaviour and damaging property during the demonstration, in which they targeted private schools unaffected by the teachers strike.

Liberian soldiers on Sierra Leone's border have been placed on full alert following reports of several attempts by Liberian dissidents to launch attacks from inside Sierra Leone, Liberia's defence ministry said on Tuesday. Last week the Sierra Leone government announced it had arrested 16 dissidents in the Gola Forest area. Liberian defence officials, quoting diplomatic notes from Sierra Leone, said Monday that two additional attempts by armed dissidents to cross the Liberian border had also been foiled. In one of the attempts "55 alleged dissidents, headed by a former general of one of the armed factions in the Liberian civil war, were arrested," said BBC correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh. "The attempted attack, in which six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, seven automatic machine guns and a huge bag of assorted ammunition were seized, was due to take place on March 27." The Dow-Jones news service reported that six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ten automatic rifles and assorted ammunition were seized from bases near the border towns of Gisiwulo and Zimmi. The identity of the faction involved was not disclosed. ECOMOG reportedly arrested the would-be attackers after their bases were discovered and raided by Kamajor militiamen. "In the second attempt, another group of 56 well-armed dissidents were reportedly arrested in the Sierra Leone border town of Gohun while on their way to the border with Liberia," Paye-Layleh said. "Armed with 46 AK-47 rifles and eight cutlasses [machetes], the men are said to have decided to use alternative routes to launch the attack after pleading in vain with peacekeeping soldiers and the Kamajors to allow them easy passage." The dissidents are reportedly being held in Zimmi while arrangements are concluded for their repatriation to Liberia once their safety can be guaranteed. An official at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Monrovia confirmed the attempted attacks and the arrests. "We have informed the Liberian government, but we are surprised that up to now the government has not made the information public," he was quoted as saying.

About 2,500 refugees returned to eastern Sierra Leone from January to March and were registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kenema, the agency said on Tuesday. The majority of the refugees entered the country from Liberia by way of the Mano River - Zimmi highway but moved to Kenema to join relatives. A total of 1,785 were registered in Pujehun District in January. According to UNHCR figures, there are still some 485,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in neighbouring countries, including 370,000 in Guinea, 98,000 in Liberia, and 12,000 in Gambia and elsewhere in the region.

3 April: "Despite some improvement in food production, Sierra Leone and Liberia remain heavily dependent on international food assistance," the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) said Monday in designating Sierra Leone as one of 16 African countries facing exceptional food emergencies this year. GIEWS cited the impact of past civil strife and population displacement as factors responsible for projected food shortages in the country. 

In a press conference Monday following the presentation of his Millennium Report to the United Nations General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped a full U.N. force of 11,100 peacekeepers would be deployed in Sierra Leone by the end of July. Annan noted efforts to make the RUF and its leader, Foday Sankoh, understand their responsibilities under the Lomé Peace Accord, and he urged all parties to help bring peace to Sierra Leone. "People want it, they need it, and they are tired of the senseless war," he said.

The Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers meeting in Durban, South Africa in advance of this week's conference of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has adopted a resolution calling for strict controls to prevent the sale of diamonds originating in conflict zones. "Diamonds used to finance wars and conflicts should be rejected categorically," the resolution said. The union is demanding identification documentation to distinguish diamonds obtained from legitimate sources from those which are illicitly-mined in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile in Antwerp, Belgium, where 85 percent of the world's rough diamonds are traded, the head of the High Diamond Council's task force to implement United Nations sanctions against Angola's UNITA rebels, Mark Van Bockstael, pointed to the difficulty in verifying a diamond's origin. While some diamonds can be recognised as coming from particular mines, gems panned from rivers in northeastern Angola are indistinguishable from those originating in Congo and are similar to Canadian stones. "A lot of production is simply not identifiable," Van Bockstael said. "We are trying to develop a technology (but) it's going to take at least another five years before we have a reliable instrument." He added that UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi could easily circumvent sanctions by forging certificates or by shipping the gems through third countries. Once cut and polished, Van Bockstael said, the origins of the diamonds are impossible to determine.

1 April: Two Sierra Leonean asylum seekers were assaulted overnight Friday in the German town of Luckenwalde, some 45 kilometers south of Berlin. Police said one of the two Sierra Leoneans suffered minor head wounds in the apparently unprovoked attack. According to Germany's Deutsche Presse-Agentur the two heavily drunk assailants, aged 20 and 38 and residents of the town, were quickly taken into custody.

The majority of Nigerian fighter jets used for ECOMOG peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone either never came back or have been grounded, according to a report by the London-based Financial Times. The report said 80 percent of the planes owned by the Nigerian Air Force were grounded, leaving only three Alfa fighter jets and a transport plane capable of flying. According to the findings of an external auditor on the state of the Nigerian military, 75 percent of that country's military equipment is in deplorable condition, the Financial Times said.

6,831 former combatants in Port Loko and Lungi are due to receive the second installment of their Transitional Safety Net Allowance (TSA) within the next three months, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said in a press release on Friday. "This is the first set of ex-combatants to receive the second tranche of the TSA in the Lungi and Port Loko area since the start of the second phase of the DDR programme," the NCDDR said in a press release. "In actual fact they should receive this payment at the Regional Reintegration Office in Makeni, but since this is not possible at the moment, arrangements are being made for them to be paid at special centres in Port Loko and Lungi." Meanwhile, construction has begun on two new demobilisation centres for members of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) in Bo and Moyamba Districts. Sensitation workshops for CDF ex-combatants in Moyamba and Bo are scheduled for April 4th and 5th, respectively. In the east, 256 former combatants had reported to the demobilisation centre at Daru as of March 25. Response to the DDR programme has been slow at the Daru centre, which has a capacity of 2,000. According to NCDDR Liaison Officer John Jusu, 230 of the ex-combatants were members of the former Sierra Leone Army, and many had expressed their intention to join the restructured army. The other 26 were RUF ex-combatants. The NCDDR statement said that while there was a cordial relationship between the two groups at Daru, "RUF men have been intimidating their SLA colleagues who dare to disarm, claiming that the SLAs have betrayed their common leader, Chairman Sankoh, by agreeing to disarm. It is even claimed that at times they punish the SLAs for 'betrayal'." Jusu said vehicles were now reaching Daru and even as far as Kailahun, while ex-combatants mingled peaceful with civilians in the town.