The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 2002
 

30 April: The National Electoral Commission has begun receiving the names of the last voters to register following the end of registration last week. Voter registration was extended for Sierra Leonean refugees who returned to their homes too late to take part in February's voter registration exercise. "Voter registration closed on the night of the 24 April," Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured left) told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Tuesday. He said a helicopter was in the process of returning the rosters, but added that it was still too early to know how many people had registered. Meanwhile, Nicol confirmed on Monday that All People's Congress (APC)  vice presidential candidate Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh (right) had been disqualified from standing in the election due to questions about whether he had properly registered as a voter. Under Sierra Leone's electoral laws, a person who has not registered to vote is not eligible to be voted for. According to the Pan African News Agency (PANA), Nicol said he had received letters from citizens protesting Jalloh's candidacy because he was out of the country during the voter registration exercise. "Upon receipt of the letters of protests, I informed the APC and invited Mr. Jalloh to present his disembarkation card and passport for to NEC to compare the dates of arrival and voter registration," Nicol said, adding: "He did not only fail to challenge the allegation, but refused to honour our invitation." According to the BBC, Jalloh was also cited last week because his name appears on two separate parliamentary lists submitted by his APC party, a violation of Section 33 of the 2002 Electoral Laws Act. Jalloh was listed as number one on the APC list for the West-East electoral district, and as number 12 for West-West.

Several Sierra Leoneans are said to be among 57 would-be illegal immigrants apprehended by Italian border police this week along the western coast of Sicily, the Associated Press reported. Their identities were not confirmed. Many Africans who try to enter Europe illegally discard their documents and claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of receiving more favourable consideration of their asylum request. Italian police also intercepted the Tunisian fishing vessel which brought the illegal immigrants and arrested its three-man crew as the boat was heading out of Italian waters.

29 April: Refugees International expressed concern Monday over the plight of some 20,000 Liberians who have sought refuge in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year to escape new insecurity in their country. Over 13,000 Liberians have registered as refugees as well as an estimated 7,000 newly-arrived unregistered refugees. "Humanitarian workers in Sierra Leone expect more Liberians to cross into Sierra Leone this year, but UNHCR (the U.N. refugee agency) has not even received adequate funding for the current caseload," Refugees International said. The group noted that the UNHCR's $2.7 million request to meet the needs of the new refugees, as well as its request for more protection and community service officers, have thus far fallen on deaf years.

Former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy will head a team of 11 Commonwealth election observers to monitor next month's elections in Sierra Leone, the French news agency AFP reported. The team will comprise six eminent Commonwealth citizens and five support staff, according to a Commonwealth statement. Advance observers already in Sierra Leone are monitoring the run-up to the elections, scheduled for May 14.

27 April: On the 41st anniversary of Sierra Leone's independence from Britain, President Kabbah urged Sierra Leoneans to exercise their right to vote in next month's presidential and parliamentary elections, calling the poll "another bold attempt to resume our status as a model of peace, stability and democracy in Africa." In his address to the nation, Kabbah described the May 14th election — the first to be held in Sierra Leone since the end this January of over a decade of civil war — as an "investment in peace and peace-building (and) investment in the political stability of our country." Kabbah stressed that the holding of free, fair and transparent elections should not be seen as an end in itself, but as a necessary way for the country to achieve its goals and objectives. And he warned that merely voting in elections was not enough. "We must ensure that we accept the outcome of the elections," he said. "If for any reason someone is dissatisfied with a result I urge him or her to go to court. Seek redress for any grievance through the courts, and not through the instruments of physical violence. After some ten years of a bloody conflict, we cannot afford to become victims of any form of violence."

26 April: The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has disqualified the former ruling All People's Congress (APC) party's vice presidential candidate, alleging registration irregularities, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. The NEC said Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh's name had appeared on more than one electoral list submitted by the party, in contravention of the Electoral Laws Act, 2002. Under the law (Section 33), a candidate whose name appears with his knowledge on lists in more than one voting district must be disqualified and, upon conviction by an Election Offences Court, could be fined Le 500,000 or imprisoned for up to two years, or both. Jalloh's name appeared as number twelve on the APC's list in the West-West electoral district, and as number one on the list for West-East. Local press reports also suggested that Jalloh was ineligible to stand since he was out of the country during the voter registration period in February. Under Sierra Leone's electoral laws, a person who is not registered to vote is not eligible to be voted for. APC Secretary-General Osman Yansaneh told Fofana his party would fight the NEC's decision. "(Yansaneh said) that his party would disregard the NEC disqualification of his candidate because the whole thing according to him was done improperly," Fofana said. "He said that the party’s lawyers have been thoroughly briefed and and they will take on NEC to reverse its decision."

12,000 ballot boxes have arrived in Sierra Leone for use in the country's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the French news agency, AFP, said on Friday, quoting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The ballot boxes were funded by a UNDP trust fund, supported by contributions from Canada, Germany, Norway, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland and Hong Kong. The UNDP said that 20 independence election observers from ECOWAS and the Organisation of African Unity would also receive support from the trust fund.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister said on Friday that security should not be a problem during next month's presidential and parliamentary elections. Dr. Cecil Blake told the Voice of America that the restructured and retrained army, the police force, and United Nations peacekeepers were deployed across the country to ensure that the elections go smoothly. "Our borders are secure, and internally there’s a lot of training going on with regard to public order," he said. "So in terms of security we’re doing a lot to ascertain that the entire period goes on without a hitch. And the United Nations in fact took special interest in the issue of security, and extended the mandate to cover the security aspects of the general elections. So things are in place." Blake dismissed a suggestion that businesses and aid agencies had suspended operations, fearing instability during the election period. "This is a rumour that’s going on, but to go through the streets of Freetown there is no manifestation of that action," he said. "And I have been very much in touch with people who were working with developmental assistance agencies and everything seems to be intact." Blake denied that political parties were being intimidated and prevented from campaigning in some areas of the country. "We have adopted a democratic system of governance, and so people feel very free to travel to any part of the country to launch their campaigns," he said. He noted that President Kabbah had recently campaigned in the north, traditionally an opposition stronghold, while APC presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma canvassed in the east, generally considered to be an area of strength for the ruling SLPP party. "This is a pure manifestation of what democratic governance is all about," he said. "People should feel free, and it should not be seen as any form of a threat, or people should not be intimidated by that kind of openness. So up to this point it has been fairly civil." The minister said the government had been active in disseminating information about the need for the election to be free from the violence which has marred past polls in Sierra Leone. "People are aware that the internal security structure is such that violence would not really be the best thing to do, giving what exists," he said.

Sierra Leone has put its border guards on alert after hearing rumours that a massive carat diamond had been found last week, and that dealers were preparing to smuggle it out of the country, Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson reported on Friday. "The Ministry of Mineral Resources has put all security measures in place to trace the whereabouts of an alleged 1,000 carat diamond said to have been found on April 22," a senior ministry official was quoted as saying. "The ministry has been informed some top diamond magnates in West Africa have entered Sierra Leone with the aim of getting the alleged diamond out...Border security forces together with the immigration authorities have also been put on alert." There has so far been no confirmation of the report or any indication of where the diamond was allegedly found. If true, it would be the second largest diamond ever discovered. Foday Yumkella, the Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources, told Johnson he had heard that the diamond was only a tenth the rumoured size — only 102 carats. "But as a government we are undertaking a massive search for the whereabouts of such a diamond," he said. "We have always said as a government that legal diamond dealers are free to transact their diamond business legally without fear, and, by doing so, the government is in a position to protect them."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2670 / 3195. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2300 [£] 2700 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3250. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2210 / 2240 [£] 3020 / 3030.

25 April: The trial of RUF leader Foday Sankoh and 33 RUF co-defendants has been transferred from Magistrates Court to the High Court, the French news agency, AFP, reported. The RUF defendants each face 70 charges of murder, attempted murder and related charges stemming from a May 2000 incident where Sankoh's bodyguards opened fire on a crowed of demonstrators outside his Freetown residence. Some twenty people died as a result. The RUF members were detained for nearly two years without charge under Sierra Leone's State of Public Emergency regulations. They were charged in March after the State of Emergency was lifted to allow campaigning by political parties ahead of the May presidential and parliamentary elections.

24 April: Instability in Liberia could threaten the fragile peace in Sierra Leone, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a new report published on Wednesday. The report, Liberia: The Key to Ending Regional Instability, comes as the United Nations Security Council prepares to deliberate whether to extend sanctions against Liberia, imposed a year ago for that country's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Comfort Ero, the ICG's country director in Sierra Leone, called the debate over whether the international community should engage Liberia or attempt to contain it a false choice. "Engagement threatens to guarantee (Liberian President Charles Taylor) another unfair election victory in 2003 while containment could produce a protracted civil war or descent into chaos if Taylor is removed without a viable opposition ready to take over," she wrote. Instead, the ICG urged the U.N. to adopt a "two track" policy of pressure on the Liberian government through the continuation of sanctions, coupled with what it called "principled engagement" aimed at a negotiated solution to end the conflict in Liberia and to secure fundamental reforms. 

Some former RUF combatants in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District are expressing disillusionment with the leadership of the former rebel movement's political party, the RUFP, and are threatening to support competing parties in next month's elections, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Wednesday. Many of the former rebels living in the diamond rich district are living in abject poverty, Fofana said, with nothing to show for the ten years of civil war in which they fought for the RUF against successive governments in Freetown. Some ex-combatants complained that the RUF leadership had failed to visit Kono to articulate the party's policies or to look after the welfare of its ex-combatants. Other said their loyalty remained with jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who was ruled ineligible to stand as a candidate. "The irony of the RUF in Kono is that even though they controlled the region for so many years, they have no party office there nor are their activities felt politically," Fofana said. "Their number has in fact shrunk to less than 300 from the thousands they used to have in the strategic region a few months ago." A similar report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last month cited reports that "grassroots levels within the RUFP are tacitly supporting other parties, mainly the SLPP (ruling Sierra Leone People's Party)."

23 April: Sierra Leone's diamond exports for 2001 reached $26 million — more than double the $10.1 million figure for the previous year and over 20 times the $1.2 million for 1999, Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen told Christo Johnson of Reuters. Deen pointed to a diamond certification scheme enacted in late 2000 to deny the RUF rebels a funding source, and the end of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war as factors in turning the numbers around, and he said he expected diamond exports to continue to rise. "The government expects to benefit more in 2002, since law enforcement bodies are continuing to re-establish control in diamond areas formerly held by rebels," he said. Legal diamond exports in 2001 rose to over 220,000 carats — the most since 1996. Deen said he expected annual exports to eventually top $30 million, or 300,000 carats, a level not seen since 1992. The minister said that a percentage of funds from the mining of diamonds would go back into the local communities. "A total of 25 percent of what the government gets from exports goes to the people for development in their local area, rather than before, when nothing went direct to the people," he said. Deen added that Sierra Leone's economy should improve once industrial miners returned to invest in the diamond sector. Meanwhile, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle quoted the minister as saying Sierra Leone had exported a 110-carat diamond worth several million dollars, the first time a gem of that size had been legally exported in a decade. Deen described the diamond as being the size of a substantial pebble. Uncut, the stone has an export value of about $1 million but, Deen said, it could bring five times that amount in Europe. He said the fact that the diamond had been exported legally was proof that Sierra Leone's certification system was beginning to work.

Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan (pictured left) will lead a high-level delegation to the United Nations Security Council hearing on Liberia this week, where he will argue that further sanctions against his country would be unjustified in view of an Expert Panel's conclusion that Liberia is no longer fuelling the war in Sierra Leone, the Monrovia newspaper The News reported. The Panel recommended Monday that an arms embargo and a scaled-down travel ban on senior government officials be extended in view of what it said was credible evidence of sanctions violations. It said, however, that an embargo on the sale of Liberian diamonds could be lifted if a certification system were put in place. The Security Council is expected to review the sanctions by May 6 following further discussions within the U.N. Sanctions Committee on Liberia, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported.

22 April: A visiting United Nations assessment team evaluating the effectiveness of Sierra Leone's recently-concluded disarmament and demobilisation exercise visited the towns of Makeni, Port Loko and Moyamba over the weekend. The team, led by former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Manfred Eisele, heard from representatives of the NCDDR and NGOs, U.N. peacekeepers, police officials and former combatants about problems faced in the disarmament process and how they were overcome, and about efforts to reintegrate the former combatants. The U.N. mission will be in Sierra Leone through April 28.

19 April: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed David M. Crane (pictured left) to the post of chief prosecutor of Sierra Leone's Special Court, his spokesman said on Friday. Crane, an American, was nominated for the position by the U.S. government. He is currently Senior Inspector General for National Security Systems in the U.S. Department of Defense, a post he has held since 1997. Annan also selected Robin Vincent of the United Kingdom to be the Court's registrar. Vincent worked for nearly 40 years for the British courts and briefly for the Rwanda war crimes tribunal. He retired in 2001 as director of 32 court centres in northwest England. "The secretary-general will now proceed with the appointment of judges for the Court, and as indicated in the Security Council resolution, the majority of these will be from Africa," the spokesman said. The United Nations Security Council first authorised establishment of the Court in August 2000. It is expected to try about 20 persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Agreement. The Special Court differs from earlier war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in that it will include both Sierra Leonean and international judges, and incorporates elements of international and Sierra Leonean law. It also differs in its legal basis: the earlier tribunals were established by Security Council resolutions which invoked Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, while the Special Court for Sierra Leone is based on an agreement signed last January between the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations. On Tuesday, Sierra Leonean Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs Allieu Ibrahim Kanu and U.N. Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Correll (right) exchanged the instruments which brought that agreement into force. In an interview on Friday, Correll told the BBC that it would be the job of the chief prosecutor "to adopt a strategy for the prosecutions and then to start investigations and then when they are done he will indict." Correll said that those convicted by the court would likely serve their sentences in Sierra Leone, but added: "They can also serve their sentences in other countries, and in particular we have focused on countries that have accepted to receive prisoners from the Rwanda tribunal."

Sierra Leone's national cricket team defeated Ghana by 131 runs Tuesday at the West African Cricket Quadrangular being held this week in Lagos, Nigeria, the Concord Times newspaper reported. Sierra Leone, the two-time defending champions, will meet Gambia on Friday and then play hosts Nigeria on Saturday.

Food shortages could threaten Sierra Leone's fragile peace if tens of thousands of returning refugees don't have enough food to support themselves in the difficult first months of their resettlement, U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director Manuel da Silva told Reuters on Friday. Da Silva said international donors had come up with only about half of the food needed for the current year. "Up to June, we are fine but from the end of July we'll have big problems to keep going. If people don't have food when they return it can start local struggles," he said following a short visit to Sierra Leone. "People feel things are done and peace is coming and they move to another part of the world with more active conflict. It's a real pity because I don't think it's over." Da Silva warned that new insecurity in Liberia could spill over into Sierra Leone. "In a couple of years more we might stabilise this region," he said. "But if we have increasing instability in Liberia, we won't have the resources to cope." 

A United Nations assessment team visited the eastern towns of Koidu and Kailahun Thursday to evaluate the effectiveness of the recently-completed disarmament programme in the two former rebel strongholds,  UNAMSIL said in a statement. The team was briefed by Brigadier-General Ahmed Pasha Shuja, the commander of UNAMSIL's Pakistani contingent, on how disarmament was carried out in Kono, the problems which were encountered, and how they were resolved. They also received briefings from UNAMSIL military observers, members of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), the Movement of Concerned Kono Youths (MOCKY), paramount chiefs, and ex-combatants. In Kailahun, the team received similar briefings from military observers and combatants from both sides. The assessment team will be in Sierra Leone until April 28. It is also due to visit Liberia and Guinea as part of its mission.

Sierra Leone's May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections will coincide with secondary school examinations, with many of the country's schools doubling as polling stations, UNAMSIL's spokesperson confirmed on Friday. But Margaret Novicki (pictured left) insisted that there was no cause for concern. "(The National Electoral Commission) is well aware of that situation," she said. "They have met with the Ministry of Education officials and worked out arrangements so that the two important events in this country’s current history will not collide."

The Sierra Leone government is committed to holding free and fair elections in May, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told the Voice of America on Friday. "The government has backed legislation to make sure that we have an election that is devoid of violence, that is free and fair, that is conducted on a level playing field, and there’s no thuggery at all — no intimidation, no harassment of opponents," he said. Kaikai added that the competing political parties should have the opportunity to articulate their policies and agendas for the people of Sierra Leone. "You recall that this is a country that has experienced eleven years of war," he said. "People are traumatised, and they are looking forward to the day when they can say to themselves ‘we are now experiencing the renaissance of a new Sierra Leone.’ That’s what we’re all looking for."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2670 / 3195. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3350. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2230 / 2250 [£] 2900 / 3100.

18 April: As the United Nations Security Council prepares to receive a report from a Panel of Experts recommending the extension of at least some sanctions against the Liberian government, Liberia's Information Minister has denounced the measures as unjustified and demanded that they be lifted unconditionally. In March 2001 the Security Council imposed a range of sanctions, including an arms embargo, a ban on the sale of Liberian rough diamonds and a ban on international travel by senior Liberian officials, because of Liberia's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its role in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Without further action by the Council, the arms embargo would have expired after 14 months, while the ban on diamond exports and international travel were due to end after a year. While the Panel recommended that the diamond ban be eased if Liberia adopts a credible certification system to curb the illicit gem trade, it said the arms embargo should remain in place because of the volatile security situation in the sub-region, and because of evidence the Liberians have been flouting the arms ban. BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle noted that "perhaps the most significant" finding of the Panel was that Liberia no longer appears to be supporting the RUF. "The panel says though there is evidence of former RUF fighters being employed as mercenaries in Liberia, they do not — this is the crucial part — appear to be connected with the RUF in Sierra Leone," Doyle said. Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge (pictured right) said Liberia had never made any secret of its to use every available means to fight a rebel insurgency in the north, and he insisted his government was abiding by the U.N. demands that it cut ties with the RUF.  "I’m saying that the main concern of the United Nations is that Liberia ought not to be involved in conflicts in the sub-region, particularly with respect to the situation in Sierra Leone," Goodridge told the Voice of America. "Sierra Leone now has peace. In a few weeks they are going to elections. But as I’ve said, if anyone wants to punish Liberia for using whatever meagre resources might be at its disposal to defend its citizens and to defend the sovereignty of this country, I think that they are very wrong and that it’s unjustifiable for anyone to punish us for that." The Panel also said that the 129-member list of those to be barred from international travel could be shortened. Goodridge, however, said the list should never have existed in the first place. "They are saying that they wanted to target mainly President Taylor and his [closest] officials, but evidence has shown that the sanctions and the travel ban have terribly affected the life of ordinary Liberian people," Goodridge said. "The hardship that it’s caused, the economic crunch that it’s caused in this country. So I think that United Nations should do the right thing to forget this travel ban, forget the arms embargo, and just leave Liberia alone."

All but eleven of Sierra Leone's 150 chiefdoms have been declared safe for resettlement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Tuesday. A joint U.N. and Sierra Leone government committee still considers eleven of Kailahun District's fourteen chiefdoms to be insecure. Since 2001, more than 65,000 internally displaced persons have been helped to return to their homes, mostly in the Western Area, Southern Province, and in the two northern districts of Port Loko and Kambia. In March, an effort began to resettle some 155,000 displaced persons in the Northern Province and in Kono, Kenema and Kailahun Districts. To encourage participation in this May's elections, the National Electoral Commission has allowed displaced persons to transfer their voter registration when they return home. The closing date for transfer of registration is April 30, and facilitated resettlements will then be put on hold until after the election. Sierra Leonean refugees are also continuing to come home as well. According to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), 163,517 refugees have returned to Sierra Leone from Guinea and Liberia since 2000. Of these, 87,161 were assisted by the UNHCR.

17 April: The Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Daru has become the first secondary school to reopen in the former rebel stronghold of Kailahun District, UNAMSIL reported on Wednesday. The school was destroyed by war in 1996. Its reconstruction was funded by the Sierra Leone Trust Fund, with Jawi Chiefdom and the Norwegian Refugee Council as the implementing partners. According to school principal S.K. Morforay, the school currently has nine classrooms and 340 students, but has the capacity to enroll up to 600 students on double shifts. UNAMSIL Child Protection Advisor Bituin Gonzales noted that about a third of the school's students are former child combatants.

The European Union announced Wednesday it will send 76 observers to monitor Sierra Leone's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the Associated Press reported. The observers will be deployed starting this weekend in Freetown. Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Agency for Researching Implementation of Constitutional Rights (AFRICR) announced Wednesday it planned to send about nine election monitors and  observers to Sierra Leone beginning on May 1. The monitors will be primarily Sierra Leonean expatriates, the group said in a statement. 

The volatile situation in Liberia, where new fighting in recent months has forced thousands of persons from their homes, could endanger the hard-won peace in Sierra Leone, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugees agency, UNHCR, told the Voice of America on Wednesday. "This surge (of refugees) in the neighbouring countries is threatening the balance of the region, including in Sierra Leone," Delphine Marie said, adding: "A new influx of refugees could further destabilise the process, and even after the election it could destabilise the local population."

16 April: A U.N. Panel of Experts is recommending an extension of an arms embargo against Liberia, saying it has found "credible evidence" that the Liberian government is continuing to buy weapons and supply them to its troops in violations of United Nations sanctions, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday. The panel's report is expected to be presented to the Security Council on Friday. Last year, the Security Council imposed a range of sanctions on Liberia for its alleged support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Along with a broadening of the existing arms embargo, the Council imposed an international travel ban on senior Liberian officials and an embargo on the sale of Liberian rough diamonds. The U.N. also demanded that Liberia cut its ties with the RUF and expel RUF members from Liberia. The Panel said it faces a "dilemma" because, while Sierra Leone's civil war officially ended in January, hard core RUF members now serve as mercenaries for both the Liberian government and for the armed dissident group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). "The main concern of the panel is the continued presence in Liberia of hard-core elements of the RUF, known as Independent RUF, and its possible repercussions for the whole sub-region," the report said. It added that as many as 200 of the 2,000 LURD force may be a "motley bunch" of former RUF fighters. The Panel of Experts also said it favoured keeping the travel ban, because a number of Liberian officials had been able to flout it by obtaining passports with false names and by transiting Abidjan, where the Ivorian authorities turned a blind eye. It recommended, however, that the ban should apply to fewer than the 129 Liberian officials and others suspected of being linked to the arms-for diamonds trade. The Panel noted that rough diamonds originating in or transiting Liberia had declined as a result of the sanctions, although it said some black market trade likely continued. The Panel report expressed concern about Liberia's shipping registry, where it was alleged last year that the government had diverted funds to buy arms. It said that irregularities persisted in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, whose books have not been audited since 1988. When Panel members asked to examine the books, Reuters said, they were told that the generator had broken down. The Panel was shown figures from the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, and the shipping registry's U.S.-based agent. "None of the figures match with each other, and they show significant discrepancies, illustrating the urgent need for independent auditing and oversight," the report said.

The Executive Secretary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's interim secretariat has expressed concern that the TRC has not received any of the $10 million it will need to operate. "Unfortunately, to date there have been no firm pledges or commitments made from the international community to provide the funds for the operation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Yasmine Jusu-Sheriff told Radio France International. "It is rather worrying, but we remain optimistic that the international community will come up with the funds before the deadline which is really the first of June when the commissioners should start work. The public activities of the commission, we are hoping and planning, will commence on or about the first of September." 

Sierra Leone's former RUF rebels are distributing seed rice to farmers in their former strongholds in northern and eastern Sierra Leone, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Tuesday. The RUF's interim leader, Issa Sesay (pictured right), told Fofana that the group's interest in agriculture was part of their concept of "revolution" during Sierra Leone's ten-year civil war. "Our revolution believes in agriculture," Sesay said. "We know that agriculture is very important for the people. And we believe that if we [have the strength], we have the support, in due course we will be capable of feeding our own nation." Sesay claimed that the RUF had 8,000 bushels of seed rice ready for distribution to farming communities in the north and the east. "Whether this is just a campaign strategy is not immediately clear, with elections barely a month away," Fofana commented. The BBC correspondent quoted the headman of Makari village, Bai Kanu, as saying that even when his area was cut off by war, the RUF had supplied local farmers with seed rice and farm tools. 

Sierra Leonean football star Mohamed Kallon finished fourth in the voting for Africa's for 2001 African Footballer of the Year. Kallon, who plays for Inter Milan in Italy, received 28 of the 332 votes cast. Finishing first by a wide margin, however, was El Hadj Ousseynou Diouf of Senegal with 93 votes, followed by Samuel Osei Kuffour of Ghana with 66, Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon with 34, Mohamed Kallon, Noureddine Naybet of Morocco with 26, Khalilou Fadiga of Senegal with 22, Ibrahima Bagayoko of Ivory Coast with 16, Patrick Mboma of Cameroon with 15, Hani Ramzy of Egypt with 12. Zoubier Baya of Tunisia, and Pedro Mantorras of Angola, tied for tenth place with 10 votes each. The results of the voting were announced in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday.

15 April: 1,334 candidates representing nine political parties will contest for 112 seats in parliament in this May's general elections, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday, quoting the Sierra Leone Gazette: Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) - 223 candidates; All People's Congress (APC) - 211 candidates; People's Democratic Party (PDP) - 208 candidates; Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) - 203 candidates; United National People's Party (UNPP) - 155 candidates; People's Liberation Party (PLP) - 114 candidates; Grand Alliance Party (GAP) - 84 candidates; Young People's Party (YPP) - 71 candidates in eight districts (West-West, West-East, Bombali, Port Loko, Kambia, Bo, Kenema and Kono); Movement for Progress (MOP) - 33 candidates in seven districts (West-West, West-East, Port Loko, Bo, Moyamba, Bonthe and Kenema) and the National Democratic Alliance (ND) - 32 candidates in three districts (West-West, West-East and Koinadugu).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree extending the ban on the import of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds not certified by the Sierra Leone government, the African Mining Monitor reported on Monday. The embargo is in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing the illicit trade in so-called "conflict diamonds," blamed for funding wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

13 April: The visiting President of the United Nations General Assembly, Dr. Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea, said Saturday that he had met with President Kabbah, Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya, as well as UNAMSIL officials, to assess the U.N.'s peacekeeping role in Sierra Leone and to discuss ways to guide the country's peace process. Han, who visited Sierra Leone on the second leg of a four-nation West African tour, said he had made African development a key issue of his presidency. "It is encouraging to note that owing to UNAMSIL’s effective contribution to the peace process, the people of Sierra Leone are now able to live in a relatively calm and stable environment," he told reporters. "I sincerely hope that the upcoming election will be held in a peaceful and fair manner, by the continued efforts of UNAMSIL, in close cooperation with the Government of Sierra Leone, both in political and economic fields." Han said U.N. peacekeepers in Magburaka told him they were "very happy with the progress" Sierra Leone was making in the electoral process, but he added that he had not sought to meet with jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh or with opposition leaders. "You know I am here to observe what UNAMSIL is doing in this country, not to meet with the political leaders," he said.

12 April: A seven-member European Union election monitoring team has arrived in Sierra Leone to assess the situation ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, and six observers are expected to be in place by the time the polling starts, the BBC said on Friday. Johann van Hecke, the EU's Chief Election Observer, said the team would consist of long-term observers who would begin following the election process weeks before the election itself. The observers, he said, would assess the registration process, the campaign, the election and counting day, and also the role of the media, access to the media, and the use and misuse of state resources. "It will be a total comprehensive study which will allow us at the end to make a statement which is an assessment based on impartial information, on neutral information, not on rumours," he told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. Van Hecke said it was understood there had been some shortcomings in the voter registration process due to logistical difficulties. "My impression now is that things are getting better and there is a will — there is a good will among the political parties and also the National Electoral Commission to cooperate in a very constructive way." Van Hecke acknowledged there had been problems with EU observer missions in the past, but he insisted these shortcoming had been addressed. "The EU electoral observer mission in 1996 arrived in the country three days before election day and they left already two days after," he said. "So we would like to avoid that kind of mistake. I think we learned from the past." Van Hecke suggested that the mere presence of the EU monitoring team could make a difference in the conduct of Sierra Leone's elections. "I think our presence alone — the fact that we are there not only here in Freetown but also in the districts in and around the polling stations — could be a guarantee that these elections will be fair and free, and also violence-free, which would be very important for the future," he said. "My personal opinion is that the elections are not the end of the peace process, but only the beginning of the peace process."

Cabinet ministers and Central Bank governors from Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea, Ghana were in Freetown this week for a two-day meeting of the ECOWAS Convergence Council, seeking to foster trade and integrate their economies in preparation for the planned launching of a regional currency in 2003. Sierra Leone's Minister of Development and Economic Planning, Dr. Kadie Sesay (pictured right) chaired the meeting and told Radio France International that the regional grouping had made significant progress when it came to the free movement of goods and persons within their various countries. She acknowledged, however, that challenges remained in working toward trade liberalisation and efforts to harmonise economic policies, especially between the Francophone and the Anglophone countries. "This is what we are working on now — to ensure that people have, for example, duties to be levied," she said. "We have harmonised duty systems right across the ECOWAS sub-region." Sesay said the individual ECOWAS countries were working to meet the 2003 deadline to launch the region's common currency. "Sierra Leone, even though it’s a country that’s just emerging from conflict, has managed to comply with two of the primary convergence criteria — the issue of a single-digit inflation figure (and) the issue of the borrowing from the Central Bank," she said. "We’ve managed to maintain and to achieve the required indicators for those two, so we still need to work on two. Most of the other countries have achieved two; one country has achieved three." Sesay suggested that if by 2003 all of the countries had not met the proposed criteria, those countries which were ready could go ahead and find a way of supporting the weaker countries to join at a later date.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2670 / 3195. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3350. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2250 / 2270 [£] 3000 / 3050.

11 April: When Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) begins hearings later this year it must pay special attention to crimes committed against women and children, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women told Radio France International. Radhika Coomaraswamy said women and girls had been abused by both rebels and army soldiers, and she said the TRC should encourage the victims of sexual violence to speak out. "I hope that they will create a climate so that these women can come forward and tell their stories and receive some form of consolation and compensation," she said. "Perpetrators are walking around free, so obviously if you tell something they can be subject to fear, intimidation and violence. So there’s a need to protect them and make them feel that that won’t happen." The TRC is expected to launch its preparatory phase in June with hearings to begin in September, a member of UNAMSIL's Human Rights Section told the Sierra Leone Web. In a report released last month, Coomaraswamy urged that those guilty of sexual offences, including rape and the abduction of women and girls to be "wives" of combatants, be prosecuted for war crimes.

The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Women and Children called Thursday for investigations into sexual abuse of refugees to be extended beyond West Africa, where U.N. officials are currently looking into allegations that local aid workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia exploited refugee children by trading essential humanitarian supplies for sex. "I do not believe this is unique to West Africa. If we believe that, we would be deceiving ourselves," Olara Otunnu told journalists in Geneva. According to the Reuters news agency, Otunnu called for "systematic and pro-active" investigations, saying that such incidents were difficult to detect and the absence of such allegations elsewhere could just mean they were being under-reported. He said he had visited the West African refugee camps shortly before the allegations surfaced and had no indication that anything was wrong. "(The accusations) sound serious alarm bells for the international humanitarian community," he said. He called for steps to be taken to ensure there was no repetition of the problem, including better supplies of humanitarian goods in the camps so that women and children would not be forced to exchange sex for food. He added that it was important that international staff from major aid agencies be stationed in the camps and not far away in the capital cities.

Zainab Bangura, the former head of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance and Movement for Progress Party presidential candidate, told Radio France International that the National Electoral Commission's decision to reopen nominations this week to allow the Revolutionary United Front Party to nominate a presidential candidate had to be seen in the context of the peace process. "I think the Electoral Commission realises that without the participation of RUF there’ll be a problem with the credibility of acceptance of the electoral process," she said. "And I don’t know whether the RUF will be able to accept the result that is coming, so I’m sure that is the reason why the Electoral Commission decided to accept the list nomination of the RUF."

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas is in Sierra Leone this week to attend a meeting of the West African Monetary Association on the proposed establishment of a common currency for ECOWAS nations, UNAMSIL said on Thursday. At a meeting on Wednesday with UNAMSIL officials, Chambas discussed the issue of a common currency, U.N. sanctions against Liberia, Sierra Leone's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, and possible ECOWAS assistance to the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP), as proposed in the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord.

10 April: A second round of polio immunisations targeting children under age five has ended in eight of Sierra Leone's twelve districts in the north and the east, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Wednesday. At least 658,000 children were expected to receive vaccinations between April 6-8, but the number could ultimately prove to be higher because of the influx of people fleeing into Sierra Leone to escape fighting in Liberia. "Because of the problems in Liberia there were lots of children coming in and so we expect more in the second round," said Alhassan Seisay, coordinator of the national Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) at Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health. In the first round, 647,931 children were vaccinated, a coverage of nearly 98 percent. The children also received dosages of Vitamin A to prevent night-blindness, measles, diarrhoea and chest infections, Seisay said. The immunisations took place in areas which until recently had been mostly inaccessible due to Sierra Leone's civil war: Bombali, Kambia, Koinadugu, Port Loko and Tonkolili Districts in the Northern Province and Kailahun, Kenema and Kono Districts in the Eastern Province. The immunizations are part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, aimed at ridding the world of the disease by the year 2005. It is sponsored by the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and Rotary International.

The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Dr. Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea (pictured right), will visit Sierra Leone from April 12-14 for discussions with government leaders, United Nations officials and diplomats on the current political situation and the peace process. According to UNAMSIL, Ambassador Han is scheduled to meet with President Kabbah and senior cabinet members, senior UNAMSIL officials, and representatives of U.N. agencies operating in Sierra Leone. He will also visit U.N. peacekeepers deployed in Magburaka.

9 April: Pallo Bangura's name will appear on the ballot as the RUF Party's presidential candidate despite his having registered nearly a week after the close of nominations, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured right) has told the BBC. Asked whether there could be any further delays or changes to the ballot, Nicol said he didn't think so. "Ballot papers have to go to the printers now, and Mr. Bangura's name will be on them," Nicol was quoted as saying. In an interview Tuesday with the Reuters news agency, Bangura (left) said differences within the party between those who wanted to nominate him and those who insisted that only jailed former rebel leader Foday Sankoh could head the ticket had been settled. "We are now united and we collectively agreed that I should go in as the presidential candidate of the RUFP and not as leader of the RUFP...so our differences have been resolved and we can now join other political parties in the campaign," Bangura said. "Let the world understand that the RUFP will no longer take up arms against our country and this is the reason we went all out to participate in both the presidential and parliamentary elections." Bangura now joins a field of eight other presidential hopefuls contesting in the May 14 election: Ernest Bai Koroma (APC), Raymond Bamidele Thompson (CUPP), Dr. Raymond Kamara (GAP), Zainab Hawa Bangura (MOP), Johnny Paul Koroma (PLP), President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (SLPP), Dr. John Karefa-Smart (UNPP) and Andrew Duramani Turay (YPP). 

Amnesty International warned Tuesday that the deteriorating human rights situation in Liberia could endanger the peace in neighbouring Sierra Leone, where a devastating ten-year civil war only ended earlier this year. In a new report, the London-based human rights group said Liberia's two month old state of emergency was being used to carry out human rights violations and to crack down on freedom of expression in that country. "The worsening human rights situation could have a devastating impact on regional security and in particular a threat to the fragile peace in Sierra Leone. The international community must take concrete steps to address human rights protection as a matter of urgency," the group said in a statement. The report accused the Liberian government of failing to protect civilians, many of whom have been forced to flee to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Former Sierra Leonean vice president Dr. Abdulai Conteh has denied published reports that he held the post of justice minister and attorney-general while vice president and, in an open letter to President Kabbah, questioned whether that would even be legal under the country's current constitution. Kabbah announced last month that if his running mate, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, were elected vice president, he would continue to serve in that capacity. Conteh, who is currently Chief Justice in the Central American country of Belize, pointed out that only former vice presidents F.M. Minah and J.B. Dauda had concurrently held the justice portfolio, and this was under the 1978 constitution where vice presidents were appointed from parliament. Conteh noted that under the current 1991 constitution, the vice president is elected with the president while ministers are subject to approval by parliament. "At the very least, as a 'minister,' the attorney-general and minister of justice must get parliamentary approval," Conteh wrote.

8 April: Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) said Monday it would nominate Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy as its presidential and vice presidential candidate, news services reported. An abortive move last week to nominate the two former ministers drew an angry response from other RUF officials, who insisted that only jailed former rebel leader Foday Sankoh could lead the party into the May elections. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) ruled last month that Sankoh, who is on trial for murder and related offences, was not eligible to stand. The plan was shelved, and the RUFP missed last Wednesday's extended deadline to nominate a presidential candidate. The BBC quoted NEC officials as saying they were now considering the legal implications of allowing the party to nominate candidates after the deadline. The Associated Press quoted Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol as saying he planned to rule by Wednesday on whether to accept the late nomination. Bangura served as Minister of Energy and Power and Vandy was Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning and the Environment in the short-lived unity cabinet which followed the signing of the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord. They were detained in May 2000 following the collapse of the peace process, and only released late last year. Bangura, a one-time Fourah Bay College lecturer, served as Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations under the NPRC regime. In 1997, he joined the AFRC military junta as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He currently serves as the RUFP's secretary-general. Meanwhile, dozens of angry RUF rank-and-file demonstrated in front of the RUF Party's offices in Freetown Monday demanding Sankoh's release. "It was a pretty chaotic scene, as there were no senior officials to address the protest," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. 

The wife of jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh denounced charges of murder against her husband Monday, and said he should be released and allowed to contest the presidency of Sierra Leone. Fatou Mbaye Sankoh, a naturalised American citizen, is in her native Senegal this week as part of an RUF Party delegation appealing to ECOWAS to intervene in Sierra Leone's electoral process on her husband's behalf. Foday Sankoh was detained in May 2000 after his bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of protestors outside his Freetown residence. With the lifting of the State of Public Emergency last month, he and 49 RUF co-defendants were brought to Magistrate's Court and charged with 70 counts of murder and related offences. "I was shocked, very surprised, to see my husband appear on March 4th under these charges that I can call bogus charges," Fatou Sankoh told the Voice of America. "He has been held incommunicado in [?undisclosed] locations for almost two years. And he has never, never got any kind of medical assistance despite his poor health. So it was really a shock to hear that these people are just bring Foday Sankoh to charge him of murder. These are bogus to me." Mrs. Sankoh said reasons given by the National Electoral Commission for not allowing her husband to stand as a candidate, namely that he had not registered as a voter and therefore was not eligible to be voted for, were "really bogus."  "They held him incommunicado, in detention, for almost two years. They did not allow him to register," she said. "And during that period of time there was no charge. They said they are detaining him for his protection. So why they didn’t allow him to register?" Fatou Sankoh denounced a move by a group of RUFP leaders in Freetown to nominate Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy as the party's presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively. "How a section (of the party) can appoint a president, a leader, for the people of Sierra Leone?," she said. "I think it’s up to the people of Sierra Leone to choose their own leader and not to a section to choose a leader for the Sierra Leoneans. This is my position." Mrs. Sankoh said she was trying to draw the attention of the United Nations and ECOWAS to the plight of her husband, and she expressed surprise over the international community's silence on what she described as the flagrant violation of Foday Sankoh's human rights. "My expectation is very simple: they have to apply the law," she said. "They are charging him for murder. Murder of what?"

7 April: Political parties began campaigning over the weekend after Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol gave the go-ahead on Friday, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. "Already the towns and cities are awash with groups of supporters of various political parties, dancing and singing," Lewis said.

The foreign ministers of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are due to meet Monday in Morocco, to review progress towards restoring peace in their three countries, Radio France International reported. The meeting will lay the groundwork for a possible Mano River Union summit between presidents Kabbah, Lansana Conte of Guinea, and Charles Taylor of Liberia, the report said.

6 April: Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia said this week that political efforts to revitalise the Mano River Union had reached a satisfactory level. According to the Voice of America, Ambassador Kemoh Salia-bao said the peace which had been achieved in Sierra Leone would also take root in Liberia and Guinea. "We will not fail you, and we will continue to work very hard with our colleagues in the region to see that we achieve the peace that we want so that development can take place in this region," he said. "This cooperation is set to continue for a very, very long time to come."

5 April: President Kabbah (pictured right) and several other regional leaders met in the Nigerian capital Abuja Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to discuss a proposed new aid initiative for Africa. The New Partnership for African Development, which was accepted in principle by the G-8 group of industrialised countries at their summit last year, envisages an infusion of aid into African countries, but would require commitments from recipient nations to improve governance, freedom of speech, and economic management. Chretien is in midst of an eleven-day, seven-nation tour in advance of this year's G-8 summit, which he will host next June in Kananaskis, Alberta.

The Revolutionary United Front Party's (RUFP) secretary-general has acknowledged divisions within the former rebel group which resulted this week in the party's inability to nominate a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in May. Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) ruled last week that jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh was ineligible to stand. Interim RUF leader Issa Sesay, in his mid-thirties, does not meet age requirements for a presidential bid, and an abortive last-minute move to nominate Bangura and Peter Vandy drew fire from party hardliners. In an interview with the BBC, Bangura blamed the split on Sankoh's continued imprisonment, but he said the party should have been able to come up with another candidate. "Obviously there is the need for an alternative, and in considering that alternative it has touched off all manner of dramas," he said. "The absolute majority of the party believe that it should be no other person than Pa Foday Saybana Sankoh." Bangura insisted, however, that the divisions within the RUFP should not lead to further turmoil in the country, only now emerging from ten years of brutal civil war. "This is a problem that needs to be handled, and if it is handled well I don’t see any reason why people should be scared," he said. "I believe we’ve demonstrated that there is that commitment (to peace). I hope we can only think of resolving crises now through negotiation, through dialogue, through discussion, and I believe we have sufficient support to make a difference, to join the mainstream of the democratic process. In no way would and should the RUFP — it is now — go back to arms. No way."

A United Nations Panel of Experts appointed to assess whether Liberia has complied with Security Council resolutions demanding the government of Charles Taylor sever its ties with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels will present its findings to the U.N. Security Council on April 11, a member of the panel told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Friday. "It was a short mission, but we were able to meet almost everybody we wanted to meet, from ministers to civil society members, militias, miners and security personnel. Now we are going to start writing the report," said Harjit Singh Sandhu, the Panel's Interpol expert. Sandhu told IRIN it was too early to discuss the Panel's preliminary findings. But in a separate interview with the Reuters news agency, Sandhu said Liberia had been importing weapons in violation of an arms embargo, imposed on the country a year ago for its alleged backing of the RUF and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. He said the Panel was investigating whether these violations were continuing. "We keep on getting information (on sanctions violations) and we are verifying it. We have to get proper evidence," he said. "We will put all of these (reports) to the Security Council and it is for them to decide." The Liberian government says that the arms embargo has hampered its ability to defend itself against armed dissidents, and that other U.N. sanctions, such as a ban on the sale of rough diamonds, have precipitated a humanitarian crisis in the country. Sandhu disputed this. "I personally do not see the shortage of arms in the country," he said. "Before the sanctions, the plight of the ordinary people was no better — there is no electricity, no running water and there are no doctors in the hospitals."

The Sierra Leone Bar Association has dismissed reports that no Sierra Leonean lawyer would agree to represent Foday Sankoh and 49 other RUF defendants charged last month with 70 counts of murder and related offenses, saying none of its members had been invited to do so. Instead, the RUF accused are being defended by a team of foreign lawyers headed by Nigerian attorney Edo Okanya. Last month Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Sierra Leonean lawyers had declined to take the case despite offers by the government to pay the defendants' legal expenses. "I have pleaded with members of the Sierra Leone Bar Association to rise up to the occasion fearlessly like lawyers," Berewa was quoted as saying. But in a statement released on Thursday, the Bar Association disputed this. "The Bar Association is not aware that any of its members have been approached or briefed to represent the said accused persons," the statement said. "It is unprofessional, dishonourable and unworthy conduct under the Legal Practitioners Act No. 15 of 2000 for members of the Bar to tout for briefs/clients." The statement, which was signed by Bar Association Secretary-General Yada H. Williams, noted that it was the responsibility of the state, and not the Bar Association, to provide legal representation for persons charged with capital offenses. 

4 April: Sierra Leone's former rebel movement is appealing to ECOWAS, as guarantor of the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, to intervene in their country's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections after the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) was barred from nominating their jailed leader as their presidential candidate. Last week, Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) ruled that Foday Sankoh was not eligible to stand as a candidate because he had not been registered as a voter. RUFP interim chairman Mike Lamin (pictured left), who was in Dakar Thursday to consult with Senegalese President and current ECOWAS chairman Abdoulaye Wade, said it was the government itself which had prevented Sankoh from registering. "For two years he and other detainees of RUF have been (held in an) undisclosed location without being charged," Lamin told the Sierra Leone Web. "Now this prevented (them) from registering. It is very, very much absurd that NEC would now come out with a statement that Mr. Sankoh is ineligible." Lamin described Sankoh as the party's presidential candidate and its legitimate leader. "He enjoys majority support from the masses of Sierra Leone as well as (from the) ex-combatants," he said. "Any attempt to exclude him from participation in the process may not go well for peace and stability." Lamin also complained that the government had given the RUFP too little time to organise for the upcoming elections, scheduled for mid-May. "We were registered only (on the) 26th of March, and we had a deadline that is already expired — that was the 2nd of April — for us to submit our parliamentary list and our presidential list of nominations," he said. "As you are aware, there has been undue delay on the party of the government in issuing us license to operate as a legal party. Now it is unimaginable that just within a week the government is expecting us to go all throughout the country of Sierra Leone, all the twelve districts, prepare all these lists and present it with all constituents involved that have been created by them." Lamin said these developments would leave the RUF ex-combatants "very, very frustrated," but he ruled out a return to armed rebellion. "We’re not going to take up arms," he said. "Taking up arms at this point in time is counter-productive. We’ve already demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt our commitment to the peace process in Sierra Leone. That was exemplified in the disarmament process itself." Lamin noted, however, that disarmament was only one of the key provisions of the 1999 peace agreement between the government and the rebels. "The other most important thing is the political provision — that is, the transformation of RUF into a political party to participate fairly in the electoral process. That remains to be done," he said. The RUFP chairman insisted that ECOWAS, as moral guarantor of the Lomé Peace Accord, had an obligation to follow up on the peace process. "Disarmament is not the end itself, but they should complement the efforts of United Nations," he said. "The peace process in Sierra Leone is an ECOWAS initiative." Shortly before Wednesday's final deadline for the registration of candidates with the NEC, RUF interim leader Issa Sesay met with several RUFP officials to nominate former ministers Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy as the party's presidential and vice presidential candidates. The move quickly drew fire from other members of the RUFP, and in the end the party failed to register a presidential candidate. Lamin condemned the move, saying that Bangura and Vandy were "not the choice of the people" and that the party's presidential candidate was Foday Sankoh. "According to our laws we must have a convention," he said. "RUFP is a party. It is inconceivable that three or four people will go in any room and just decide on who to lead the party." Lamin maintained that the party had not been given sufficient time between its registration and the nominations deadline to compile candidate lists and at the same time to hold a convention. "You see how everything is being rushed up?" he said. "So we didn’t have the opportunity to have a convention. So how can they just impose someone else on the people?"

As a reconstituted United Nations Panel of Experts visited Liberia this week to assess whether the Liberian government had met conditions for the lifting of U.N. sanctions, the country's information minister again insisted that the measures were unjustified and that they should be lifted immediately. Last year the U.N. Security Council imposed a range of sanctions for Liberia's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. These so-called "smart sanctions," which included a new and broader arms embargo, a ban on the sale of rough diamonds, and travel restrictions on senior Liberian officials, were designed to avoid inflicting suffering on ordinary Liberians. But Information Minister Reginald Goodridge claimed that the sanctions had resulted in a "very, very huge humanitarian crisis" in his country. "Many people have mistaken the sanctions for broad economic sanctions and therefore in essence have shied away from coming to Liberia, or those who were already here have put on hold all of their investment activities," Goodridge told Radio France International. He noted that the value of Liberia's currency had plummeted, while prices and unemployment had shot up. "There’s hunger and general distress throughout the country," he said. "It’s a very terrible situation, and a very dismal psychological problem that this country is facing right now." Goodridge claimed his country had been the victim of large powers at the United Nations, and that once they decided Liberia was guilty there was nothing the Liberian government could have done to change the decision to impose sanctions. He insisted, however, that Liberia had complied with the U.N. demands. "Oh yes, we’ve cooperated," he said. "We’ve had no choice, although we knew from get-go that the sanctions were unjustified. Nevertheless, we put into place certain measures regarding the moratorium on the export of diamonds. We shut down our aircraft registry business, and we have complied with every aspect of the U.N. resolution that brought about the sanctions. We’ve closed down RUF offices in Monrovia, we’ve disengaged from them, and we asked them to carry their problems somewhere else. So I think that we’ve cooperated very well, and I don’t think the U.N. can find any fault right now for continuing the sanctions against Liberia."

3 April: The Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) will not field a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, news services reported on Wednesday. Earlier, sources close to the RUFP said that a divided party had decided to nominate former RUFP ministers Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy as its presidential and vice presidential candidates. But Bangura, the party's secretary-general, told reporters that the party had been unable to come up with a nominee. "We cannot contest the presidential election for many reasons. One, we cannot provide a leader to be nominated as for now," he said, adding: "We have carefully sat down and meditated on this decision. It was a unanimous decision...In the interest of peace, we will not put up a presidential candidate because of some logistical problems." Bangura, who was flanked by RUF interim leader Issa Sesay and RUFP Public Relations Officer Eldred Collins, said however that the party did nominate lists of candidates for parliament. "We have been able to come to NEC, and we have conceded that at this point it would be in the best interest of the RUFP as we concentrate on the parliamentary elections," he said. "The important thing is for us to be seen inserted in the mainstream of the democratic process. That is what is most important for us." Earlier in the day, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi denounced the decision, reportedly made by Sesay and a few others, to nominate Bangura and Vandy. In a telephone interview with the Sierra Leone Web, Massaquoi insisted that the RUF rank-and-file would support only imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh as the party's presidential candidate. The National Electoral Commission ruled that Sankoh is ineligible to stand as a candidate because, under Sierra Leone's electoral laws, a person must be registered as a voter in order to seek elective office.

Raymond Bamidele Thompson's Citizens United for Peace and Progress (CUPP) party became the eighth and final party Wednesday to nominate a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, All People's Congress (APC) presidential candidate Ernest Koroma has chosen as his running mate longtime APC activist Alhaji Abu Bakarr Jalloh (pictured right). Raymond Kabia, the chairman of the APC's North American branch, told the Sierra Leone Web that while Jalloh has never held elective office, he previously served as Executive Secretary of the now-defunct National Diamond Mining Company.

2 April: The National Electoral Commission (NEC) has extended the deadline by one day for presidential candidates to submit their nomination papers, news services reported. By the Tuesday afternoon deadline, only seven of the fourteen political parties which met requirements to participate in the May presidential and parliamentary elections had presented candidates to the NEC. Among those which failed to nominate a candidate on Tuesday was the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP). Many within the RUFP continue to back Foday Sankoh as their party's presidential candidate, despite a ruling by the NEC last week that the former rebel leader in ineligible to stand. "We have been confronted with a lot of problems, logistically and otherwise, and we have not been able to complete the nomination exercise," RUFP Secretary-General Pallo Bangura told the Reuters news agency. Among those who did show up at the NEC's Wallace Johnson Street headquarters to submit their nomination papers were President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (Sierra Leone People's Party), Ernest Koroma (All People's Congress), Dr. John Karefa-Smart (United National People's Party), Zainab Hawa Bangura (Movement for Progress Party), Johnny Paul Koroma (Peace and Liberation Party), Dr. Raymond Kamara (Grand Alliance Party), and Andrew Duramani Turay (Young People's Party).

Movement for Progress (MOP) party presidential candidate Zainab Bangura has chosen Deborah Salaam (pictured right) as her vice presidential running mate, Bangura told the Sierra Leone Web late Tuesday. Bangura (at left described the nominations process as "a logistical nightmare."  "We were told that we had to do parliamentary nomination at the district offices on Tuesday, but the nomination papers were only released on Thursday," she said. "Friday and Monday were public holidays, Saturday and Sunday (were) non-working days." Bangura said that communication was also a problem, and she added that the parties had to pay Le250,000 for each district list.

1 April: The People's Democratic Party (PDP) has re-elected Osman Kamara as party leader, but will back President Kabbah of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) for re-election, Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported on Monday. Following the vote, Kamara, who is currently serving as Minister of Trade and Industry, called on his supporters to back Kabbah. "The PDP convention ended with a resolution that the PDP will not contest the presidential election. Rather, they will vote for President Kabbah and contest the parliamentary elections," Lewis said. Meanwhile, with only hours until Tuesday's deadline, the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) had not held a political convention, and party leaders were still pressing for Foday Sankoh to be their presidential candidate, despite a ruling by the Chief Electoral Commissioner that the former rebel leader is not eligible. "I spoke to the secretary-general, Pallo Bangura, and he was saying they are seeking legal advice on how best they can get Foday Sankoh to be registered and to present his papers," Lewis said.

UNPP presidential candidate Dr. John Karefa-Smart has chosen businesswoman Haja Memuna Conteh as his vice presidential running mate, UNPP spokesman Salami Barrie told the Sierra Leone Web late Monday. Conteh attended the Ebenezer Primary School in Freetown and the Independent Secondary School in Kissy, where she did her O'Levels. After teaching for two years, she left for the United States, where she attended Blackwood Community College and then Glassboro State College in New Jersey, graduating in 1978 with a B.A. degree in Sociology. Conteh, 53, currently operates a shop on Lumley Street in Freetown. She has been involved in UNPP politics since 1996. More recently, she has been active in the 50/50 Group, an organisation dedicated to increasing the representation of women in parliament.

Members of the reconstituted United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia arrived in Monrovia Sunday to assess whether that country had complied with U.N. sanctions imposed a year ago because of the Liberian government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. In March 2001 the U.N. broadened and strengthened an existing arms embargo and also enacted a number of so-called "smart sanctions" — designed to target government officials and to not increase the suffering of ordinary Liberians — which at the request of ECOWAS were delayed by two months to give President Charles Taylor's government a chance to comply with U.N. demands. In the absence of further Security Council action, those sanctions, which included a travel ban on senior Liberian officials and their immediate families and an embargo on rough diamond exports, will expire this month. A crowd of about 1,000 protestors, some of them carrying placards denouncing the sanctions, met the five-member panel at Roberts International Airport, the BBC reported. Demonstration organisers said they "had decided to take their protests to their airport on behalf of the starving people and babies of Liberia who have no reason to suffer the effects of the U.N. sanctions" and presented the panel with a petition calling for the measures to be lifted, BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported. In its resolution a year ago, the Security Council demanded that Liberia sever its ties with the RUF, including the freezing of the rebel group's assets in Liberia, and the expulsion of RUF members still in Liberia. The Council also demanded that Liberia cease the export of illicit Sierra Leonean rough diamonds. The Liberian government has continued to insist that it is in compliance with the resolution, while dismissing the allegations against it as baseless. More recently, Liberian officials have maintained that with the end of Sierra Leone's civil war, the conditions for the sanctions no longer exist. There have been allegations in recent months that Liberia has attempted to circumvent the arms embargo, and reports that RUF rebels are fighting alongside Liberian forces against the armed dissident group Liberians United for Peace and Democracy (LURD). The number of RUF said to be involved in fighting in Liberia is unknown, but a Western diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web last week that it was "not insignificant."