The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 2003
 

30 April: The Chief of Investigations for Sierra Leone's Special Court has called on Liberian President Charles Taylor to hand over two men suspected of committing war crimes during Sierra Leone's civil war. Dr. Alan White said he had "credible information" that fugitive former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma (pictured right) and one time RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (left) were currently in Liberia. Koroma, currently an opposition member of parliament, fled in January during a raid on his west Freetown residence in connection with what the authorities now believe was a coup attempt. Bockarie broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999 and went into exile in Liberia. Facing the threat of U.N. sanctions, Liberia's foreign minister announced in March 2001 that Bockarie had left the country but declined to say where he went. White said Bockarie was "still near the Gbinta - Ivorian border just inside Liberia." Press accounts suggest that Sierra Leonean and Liberian mercenaries under Bockarie's command had been fighting alongside the Ivorian rebel group MPIGO in western Ivory Coast. Leaders of MPIGO this week implicated Bockarie in Friday's ambush and execution of their leader, Sergeant Felix Doh, after the two groups allegedly had a falling out. "Those indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone are war criminals, and anyone who aids, abets, or harbors a war criminal is subject to prosecution," White told the Sierra Leone Web. "We have seen the horrible consequences of their actions over the past ten years and the continued disruption to the region. As a result, I am calling for the assistance of all West African leaders and supporters of international justice to assist the Special Court in bringing Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie to justice." In a letter faxed to the U.S.-based news service Allafrica.com, Liberian Charge d'Affaires Aaron B. Kollie denied that Bockarie and Koroma were in Liberia. Kollie suggested that Bockarie was in Ivory Coast and that Koroma had "fled Freetown for the jungle of Sierra Leone."  "Liberia cannot be expected to turn over individuals who are not in its possession or under its jurisdiction," he wrote. But White told the Sierra Leone Web his information was "extremely credible and verified through multiple sources."   "After we indicted (Koroma) our investigation has revealed Charles Taylor has allowed him refuge in Monrovia," he said.

The acting secretary-general of the RUF Party has disassociated the movement from the actions of former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and other former rebel combatants who are allegedly involved in fighting in the Ivory Coast. "We want the international community to really investigate, to tell us the reality, under whose command that Sam Bockarie is operating in Ivory Coast," Jonathan Kposowa told the BBC late Tuesday. "A few months ago there was a complete declaration from (RUF interim leader) Issa Sesay indicating that whosoever that is having arm under his shoulder should immediately release it. So if there is anybody that is saying that he’s an armed man is even not only doing it at his own risk, but he’s an enemy to the state." Kposowa acknowledged that there were former RUF members fighting in Ivory Coast, but he insisted that they were there as mercenaries, not as members of the RUF. "We don’t have fighters any longer," he said, adding that the former rebel movement was now concerned with politics. "In fact, I have on my table so many things, like how can I maneuver to get the other parties included in my party," he said. "Presently there is a vacuum on the leadership. I think I have these things to think on than to think on naive attitudes." Kposowa maintained that those who were fighting in Ivory Coast were doing it on their own, with no backing from the RUF Party. "We have individual differences," he said. "If I am Jonathan Kposowa and I have Mohamed Kposowa and Mohamed Kposowa wants to be a Muslim, I think that is his own opinion. So we are saying that in RUF, we don’t have a fighter. If they are fighting over there they are only doing it on their own, but not under the auspices of the RUF, neither the country Sierra Leone."

While civil war in Liberia has been linked to strife in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast, these conflicts have become "complex, multi-layered and increasingly personal," and any strategy to contain them must focus on the region as a whole, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Wednesday. In  its report "Tackling Liberia: The Eye of the Regional Storm," the ICG says regional leaders are actively supporting insurgencies in one another's territory, while the region's porous borders allow violence to shift rapidly from country to country. "In essence, governments are using rebel groups in neighbouring countries to their own domestic political and security advantages," the report says. In Sierra Leone, both Liberian government forces and LURD rebels have recruited ex-combatants from both sides as mercenaries, while Sierra Leone "appears to be a significant transit route for LURD weapons," the ICG said. In a BBC interview Wednesday, ICG West Africa Project Director Comfort Ero called for the United States to "take the lead physically in establishing a peace process" in Liberia, including a demand for a ceasefire and moves toward a transitional government. "You’ve got the U.N. and Britain in Sierra Leone, you’ve got the French and ECOWAS in Ivory Coast," she said. "There’s no other power involved in Liberia, and the missing link for us is the United States."

29 April: Some 70 Kimberley Process member nations meeting this week in South Africa to review progress in curbing the trade in "conflict diamonds," have decided to send the group's first mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) to evaluate whether that country is able to monitor its diamond sales, the Reuters news agency reported. Human rights groups allege that the country has served as a conduit to launder illicit diamonds mined by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "(The mission) is going to look at their ability to have a credible Kimberley certification system in place," said Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the World Diamond Council. "The Kimberley Process does not have the right to legitimise or delegitimise governments. The review mission was invited by the CAR, which is a very encouraging sign." Last November, diamond producing and importing nations and representatives of the diamond industry hammered out an agreement under which diamonds would be required to be exported in tamper-proof parcels accompanied by certificates of origin attesting that they come only from legitimate sources. The system went into effect in January. Countries which fail to comply with the guidelines could be excluded from the international diamond trade. The Central African Republic was suspended from the Kimberley Process following a recent coup, pending an assessment of the new government's diamond trade policies. Meanwhile, a representative of the non-governmental organisation Global Witness said Tuesday that some progress had been made in working out ways to monitor the diamond trade.  "There has been some good success, especially on statistics, which have been an outstanding issue for over two years," Alex Yearsley was quoted as saying. He said a repository would be set up to collect statistics from diamond producing and trading countries, and that the group was discussing a deadline for producing the date. Izhakoff said the monitoring system could be in operation by the end of May. "If some countries want an extra 30 days to put things in place, that's fine, but...it's high time we had it in place," he said. Missions like the one to the Central African Republic could be prompted by "discrepancy reports" on countries exporting more diamonds than their registered imports or production, Reuters said. Conflict diamonds are alluvially-mined gems blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Officials of the MPIGO rebel movement in Ivory Coast say they were contacted by former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured left) after Sierra Leonean or Liberian mercenaries loyal to Bockarie captured their leader, Felix Doh, in an ambush on Friday. "The rebels claim that Felix Doh was ambushed by combatants allied to Sam Bockarie," said BBC correspondent Arnaud Zajtman. "Then Sam Bockarie, according to them, contacted them and asked for some deal, and he didn’t specify what deal. The rebels said they refused to make that deal, and subsequently Felix Doh was killed by the mercenaries of Sam Bockarie." According to some reports, Bockarie and his followers had been fighting alongside MPIGO, but the two groups had fallen out. But, Zajtman said, Doh was distrusted by some of his own troops as well, with some of them suspecting him of having links to loyalist forces. In the western town of Danane, where Doh had his headquarters, residents lived in fear of the mercenaries from neighbouring countries, an unnamed English teacher told the BBC. "There was fear in Danane population, those [rebels] – I mean the Liberians or the Sierra Leoneans – they can always be taking people’s things, entering into houses, terrorizing people," the teacher said. "Both Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, they entered in the market. They stole everything. They even killed poor women. When people went to Doh, here it is said that he said, ‘anyway they are just trying to feed themselves'."

An internet website which features the writing, drawings and voices of war-affected Sierra Leonean youths telling about the problem of child soldiers in their country has been named one of the world's best websites for children. Childsoldiers.org received the Cable and Wireless Childnet Award, taking first place in the "New to the Net" category for projects which are still in their developmental stage. The project grew out of a collaboration between two teachers: Andrew Benson-Greene Jr. of Sierra Leone and William Belsey of Canada, and is sponsored by the International Education and Resource Network (iLEARN). The website, according to their description, "would be a place where the youth of Sierra Leone could bear witness to the issue of the child soldier as they saw it impacting their lives and that of their families, communities and country."

28 April: Representatives from some 70 diamond producing and importing nations, along with members of the diamond industry and civil society groups began a three-day meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa Monday to assess the first five months of a strategy to curb the trade in "conflict diamonds." – illicitly-mined alluvial stones blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last November, participants in the so-called Kimberley Process agreed to implement a certification scheme under which diamonds must be exported in tamper-proof parcels accompanied by forgery-proof certificates of origin. Countries which refuse to take part in the scheme could eventually be excluded from the international diamond trade. Human rights groups, however, have been critical of the scheme for its lack of any provision for the independent monitoring of national diamond control mechanisms. "Without this," said Ian Smillie (pictured left), Research Coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada, "the new system will be no more effective in halting conflict diamonds than the laws against smuggling and war crimes that are already on the books." In a statement Monday, Partnership Africa Canada also expressed concern over what it said were other still-unresolved problems with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme. "Although participating countries agreed more than a year ago to provided trade and production statistics to help in monitoring the flow of diamonds, no mechanism for gathering and analysing data has yet been agreed," the group said. PAC also noted that because the Kimberley System was open to all countries, "some with very bad reputations have been admitted." The Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and Burkina Faso have been implicated in the illegal diamond trade. Neither country produces diamonds of its own, but both have been admitted to the scheme. The South African chairman of the group, Abbey Chikane, said his country did not explicitly support calls for an independent monitoring system, preferring instead to work for better national monitoring and control procedures, the Reuters news agency reported. Chikane added, however, that once compliance terms had been set, countries could expect to come under close scrutiny. "We will have to decide how to deal with those countries that have not complied," he said. "We were looking at the forest. We are now going to look at the trees, and we will begin looking at the leaves."

Leaders of the Ivorian Popular Movement of the Far West (MPIGO), one of Ivory Coasts three rebel groups, are blaming former RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie for the death of their leader. According to the Reuters news agency, N'dri N'guessan Saint Clair alias "Sergeant Felix Doh" was ambushed near the Liberian border on Friday, where he "was captured and executed" by forces loyal to Bockarie. The ambush is believed to have been mounted by Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries who had been fighting alongside MPIGO, but who were told to leave the group because they were harassing the local population and looting, the BBC reported. Bockarie broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999 and went into exile in Liberia. The Liberians claimed to have expelled him in early 2001, but refused to show evidence he had left the country. Bockarie was indicted last month by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. There have been a number of unconfirmed reports in recent months that Bockarie has been fighting in Ivory Coast. 

West African religious leaders want the United States to use its influence to help bring an end to the conflict in Liberia, which they believe is threatening to destabilise that country's neighbours in the sub-region, the Secretary-General of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FCCCWA) said on Thursday. Baffour Amoa and other regional religious leaders travelled to Washington in March with a Church World Service delegation to consult with U.S. leaders and United Nations officials on the precarious political and economic situation in West Africa. He spoke to the Sierra Leone Web from his home in Accra, Ghana. "The West African delegation to the United States went to drum support for cessation of hostilities in the sub-region – mainly in Liberia because we feel it is there that the disturbances started," Amoa said. "It's still continuing, which means the peace we have in Sierra Leone is fragile." Not only the conflict in Sierra Leone, he said, but also current threats to security in Guinea and Ivory Coast all appear to have links to the chaos in Liberia. For that reason, and because of America's historic ties to Monrovia, Amoa said religious leaders were seeking the backing of U.S. church leaders and government officials for their efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities in Liberia. "Britain led the peace move and gave military support to Sierra Leone because of traditional ties," he observed. "We believe Liberia has also got some traditional ties with the United States of America. That's why we were willing to talk to the government of America to see what they can do to help in this respect." Inter-Religious Councils, the product of an inter-faith dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders in West Africa, have taken an increasingly visible role in attempting to mediate conflicts in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Since in any conflict in the region there were likely to be Christians and Muslims fighting on both sides, Amoa said, the Inter-Religious Councils were likely to have credibility with all of the warring factions. And, he said, their efforts were starting to meet with some success. "I think with the efforts so far made by the religious councils in the Mano River Union and ECOWAS, one can see the positive things which are emerging," he said. "Through these Inter-Religious Councils' efforts (they) are able to have the Liberian factions to go into peace talks. We believe as religious leaders work together for peace, we believe warring factions stand a better chance of listening to what the people will be saying through their religious leaders than through one religious faction." The religious leaders have also expressed concerns about NEPAD, the African-sponsored New Partnership for African Development, which seeks to promote good governance on the continent in exchange for increased economic assistance and trade concessions from the West. Amoa said the churches see NEPAD as both an opportunity and as a threat. "On one hand, NEPAD is a platform for collective engagement in dealing with the challenges facing Africa," he said. "Some of the tenets of NEPAD, especially those which border on good governance, which appreciate people's rights and so on, need to be supported and nurtured." But Amoa said he was concerned that debate had been stifled because civil society groups had been left out of the process. Now, during the implementation process, he added, it was important that dialogue take place at the national, sub-regional and continental levels to address some of the potential shortcomings of the initiative. Amoa said he was worried that well-capitalized European and North American companies would take advantage of the opportunities provided by NEPAD, while African businesses would be left out. "It's going to be the same old debt creation process that is not going to set Africans free in a way," he said. "We also believe that we should engage the process and maybe bring in some suggestions we may have as to how to mitigate the impact, the inflow of foreign capital, vis a vis local resources and initiatives not being trampled upon." With the political vacuum which often exists in conflict zones, Amoa said he expected the West African Inter-Religious Councils would continue to play an important role in conflict resolution and advocacy for the foreseeable future. "With the continuing economic hardship that this continent and these people are experiencing, we believe the escalation of violence is not going to be abated," he said. "In that sense, the need to work together in terms of religious leadership, to promote peace, will be something that is going to last for some time to come."

27 April: President Kabbah congratulated Sierra Leoneans on a year of peace Saturday in an address marking the 42nd anniversary of the country's independence from Britain. "How many times have you heard the sound of gunfire during the last twelve months? Have you compared that to the situation one or two years ago?," Kabbah asked, adding in Krio: "Peace don cam en e don sidom good." Kabbah to progress over the past year in rebuilding the security forces, in addressing impunity and promoting reconciliation, in holding national and chieftaincy elections, and restoring the economy. But the bulk of the president's speech was addressed to the nation's youth, many of whom have been marginalised in the four decades since independence. Kabbah enumerated the rights of young people, including the right to an education, the right to participate in decisions affecting their own welfare, and the right to a job. "Our ultimate goal is to again instil the time-honoured notion of dignity in labour and national consciousness and patriotism in our young citizens, so as to lay the foundation for the emergence of a responsible citizenry in the service of a one-and-indivisible Sierra Leone," he said. "We aim to create a level playing field for youths in Sierra Leone to achieve self-realisation and make their contribution as responsible citizens to the development of their country." Later, Kabbah reviewed the military in a ceremony at the National Stadium in Freetown. The president unveiled new regimental colours, the first such change since 1951, which  The president's spokesman noted that the colours were presented by the United Kingdom, giving the occasion "significant historic and military importance."  "The new colours are an embodiment of discipline, courage and commitment to the nation," Kabbah said. "Today is another milestone in that process of reconciliation between society, the state and our soldiers. A milestone which is rightly marked with this occasion as it allows us all to see the professionalism and discipline of our soldiers, and reflect on the progress of the RSLAF (Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces) and its role within a democratic society."

26 April: Former RUF Security Chief Augustine Gbao made his initial appearance before Sierra Leone's Special Court in Bonthe Friday, where he pleaded not guilty to 17 charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of humanitarian law. Four of the charges related to attacks against United Nations peacekeepers. Gbao told the Judge Bankole Thompson he did not have funds to pay for his defence. The court then appointed a defence team to represent him pending an investigation into his finances. Gbao was represented in court Friday by Andreas O’Shea, a British barrister who is currently Professor of Public International Law and International Human Rights Law at Durban University. O'Shea was supported by a representative from a firm of solicitors in London. 

A Sierra Leonean man seeking asylum in Germany was attacked Thursday evening by right-wing youths in the town of Schwedt, police said on Saturday. According to the German Press Agency, the unnamed 23-year old Sierra Leonean was travelling with his Kenyan girlfriend and their six-year old son when he was attacked and beaten by two youths and bitten by their dog. Witnesses alerted the police, but they were unable to catch the assailants.

25 April: The United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution Friday welcoming progress on a number of fronts, including the establishment of the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission expressed concern, however, at the number of women and girls still held against their will, and report of trafficking and illegal supply of small arms and the use of children in mining diamonds. According to a statement, the commission urged the government to continue to reintegrate the rest of the ex-combatants and to give priority to the needs of persons mutilated as a result of the country's civil war, and of women and children. "A representative of Sierra Leone said the delegation was grateful for the resolution but felt it was too long, should have focused more on technical assistance, and should have had a different title to more accurately reflect the situation," the statement said. In a separate resolution on impunity, the commission called on the interventional community to provide financial and other support for the Special Court.

U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law Friday a bill designed to curb the import of "conflict diamonds" –  illicitly-mined gems blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The legislation, passed by both houses of Congress earlier this month, brings the United States into line with guidelines agreed late last year by diamond exporting and importing nations and representatives of the diamond industry. The resulting Kimberley Process Certification Scheme calls for rough diamonds to be accompanied by certificates of origin to ensure that they come only from legitimate sources. "Conflict diamonds have been used by rebel groups in Africa to finance their atrocities committed on civilian populations and their insurrections against internationally recognized governments," Bush said in a statement. 

Finance Minister Joseph B. Dauda (pictured left) and U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas (right) signed an agreement in Freetown Friday setting forth the conditions under which the U.S. government would forgive debt payments falling due during a three-year "interim period" from 1 October 2001 and 30 September 2004 on obligations contracted before 20 June 1999. According to a U.S. official, the Sierra Leone government would have to implement its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) for at least one year. Under the IMF/World Bank Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, this requires Sierra Leone to meet a number of "Floating Completion Point Triggers" on the PRSP by the end of the interim period. The triggers focus on Sierra Leone achieving measurable outcomes, or at least intermediate indicators of improvement, in urgent health and education sector priorities, improved governance and decentralization, and key structural reforms. If Sierra Leone meets these benchmarks, the remainder of its debt to the U.S. would be forgiven. According to Dauda, Friday's agreement will mean a savings for Sierra Leone of $11 million during the interim period, with an eventual total of $67 million to be written off. According to World Bank figures (World Development Indicators database, April 2003) the present value of Sierra Leone's debt in 2001 was $834.0 million, with $22.1 million short-term debt outstanding.

The World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a $35 million IDA loan to Sierra Leone Thursday to support the government's National Social Action Project (NSAP), a programme intended to assist war-affected communities to restore infrastructure and services and to build capacity for collective action. The loan is repayable over 40 years with a ten-year grace period. According to a bank statement, the project consists of three components: a community-driven programme to assist in the restoration of social and economic infrastructure under which the local community will come together to select, implement and maintain small-scale projects; a project to rehabilitate chiefdom and feeder roads and other infrastructure through a public works programme which will employ demobilised soldiers, unemployed youths and members of vulnerable groups, and a project to support capacity-building for communities, chiefdoms and district authorities. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar, pound sterling and Euro, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. € 2100 / 2300. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2400. [£] 3250 / 3450. Frandia: [$] 2400 / 2500 [£] 3400 / 3800. € 2200 / 2400. Continental: [$] 2400 / 2550 [£] 3600 / 3900. € 2200 / 2450. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2430 / 2450 [£] 3500 / 3550.

24 April: Six women testified before Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Wednesday and Thursday, telling of sexual attacks, starvation, amputation and beatings they suffered during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, the Associated Press reported, quoting TRC officials. The hearing were closed to the public at the women's request. According to TRC commissioner Yasmin Sooka (pictured left) of South Africa, one of the women, described only as "Witness One," told of her kidnapping by rebels at age twelve on 6 January 1999. The woman told the commission how rebels beheaded her sister in front of her eyes, then raped the witness publicly and cut off one of her legs. The attack left her pregnant." When she should have been playing with dolls, she found herself having to make the decision on whether or not she should keep the child," Sooka said, adding: "Witness One is desperately trying to put her life together again." Sooka said the six women told "moving, compelling and horrifying" stores of "hardship, starvation, beatings, sexual slavery, continued rapes...killings and burning and looting of villages." In once case, she said, the rebels carved the letters "RUF" on a woman's chest. She later had the scar removed.

Former Deputy Minister of Finance Dr. James Rogers has been appointed governor of Sierra Leone's Central Bank, the Bank of Sierra Leone, the president's spokesman confirmed on Thursday. He replaces G. Melvin Tucker, who took over as interim governor last month following the expiration of former governor James Sanpha Koroma's five-year contract. The bank is currently the subject of an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission. Rogers holds a Ph.D in Economics and has worked at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and has lectured at Njala University College and Fourah Bay College. From February 2001 to May 2002 he served as Deputy Minister of Development and Economic Planning. Mohamed Fofanah, who works for the World Bank's Africa Division, was appointed as deputy governor. Fofanah holds an MSc in Economics and previously worked for the Bank of Sierra Leone.

23 April: A United Nations Panel of Experts established to look into whether the Liberian government is abiding by a U.N.-imposed arms embargo and other sanctions says Liberia illegally obtained at least one million dollars worth of weapons over the past twelve months, Radio France International (RFI) reported. The report points to Slobodan Tezic, director of a Belgrade-based company called TEMEX, as being the chief supplier of illicit weapons to Liberia. "Mr. Tezic denies he’s ever visited Liberia, RFI said. "He claims his arms shipments were destined for Nigeria, but his name was registered at the Royal Hotel Monrovia last August, and the Nigerian government says Nigerian certificates for Mr. Tezic’s arms shipments were forgeries." Last month Liberian President Charles Taylor announced he would openly flout the arms embargo, insisting that the United Nations charter gave Liberia the right to defend itself against attacks by LURD rebels. Sanctions were first imposed on Liberia two years ago because of that government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade.

Seven years ago, a small group of Sierra Leoneans in the eastern U.S. city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania came together to see what they could do to help their war-torn country. This past Saturday the Cotton Tree Association held its third annual fundraiser, attracting about 150 people to a dinner which featured former Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake as keynote speaker, and raising about $5,000 after expenses. Cotton Tree Association president Ahmed Sheriff emphasised, however, that the money is only part of the story. The group has managed to leverage its funds through its collaboration with a locally-based non-governmental organisation, Brother's Brother Foundation. Since 1999, the two groups together have sent eight containers with some $5.6 million worth of educational materials, medical supplies, computers and other items to Sierra Leone. "Brother’s Brother actually took us under their wing to introduce us to a lot of people," said Sheriff. The original shipment included 100,000 new primary school books donated by the publishers, Sheriff said. Another shipment contained 27,000 medical and nursing books. Sheriff acknowledged, however, that not all had been smooth sailing. The organisation in Sierra Leone which received the shipments has yet to account for how they were distributed, and there were fears the aid was not reaching those for whom it was intended. "Even when I talk to Sierra Leoneans and say ‘these are the things that we have done,’ they say ‘we’ve never had anything you people have done.’ And that was amazing," Sheriff said. As a result, last year the group opened a chapter of the Cotton Tree Association in Freetown. When the group sends its next shipment later this month or in early May – a 40-foot container of educational materials – it will be distributed through its own organisation. The Cotton Tree Association has also reached out to the local Pittsburgh community, through the newspapers, over the radio, and even by visiting local secondary schools to tell students about Sierra Leone. Last week the town of Wilkinsburg, a Pittsburgh suburb, voted to establish a sister-city relationship with Makeni. Sheriff said the Cotton Tree Association is looking to open chapters Makeni, Bo and Kenema, where the group plans to set up public libraries. "That is what we’ll be focusing our fundraising activities now, to build those libraries in these three provincial headquarters," he said.

22 April: The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Executive Board has granted Sierra Leone a waiver of performance criteria which will allow the government to draw immediately SDR 14 million (about $19 million) from an SDR a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement set up in September 2001. SDR, or Special Drawing Rights, is defined as an artificial currency unit based on a basket of national currencies. So far, Sierra Leone has drawn SDR 74.84  million ($102 million) of the 130.84 million ($179 million) available under the arrangement. The PRGF is the IMF's most concessional loan arrangement for low-income countries. The loans carry an annual interest rate of 0.5 percent and are repayable over ten years with a 5½-year grace period on principal payments. In a statement, IMF Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair Eduardo Aninat noted that real GDP growth in Sierra Leone had accelerated while inflation had been brought under control. Performance in regard to programme targets was "broadly satisfactory" in 2002, he said, especially given the difficult postwar situation and delays in the disbursement of budgetary aid. He observed, however, that the country's social situation remained difficult, with high unemployment, especially among youths and ex-combatants. Aninat said the Sierra Leone government's 2003 objectives of "maintaining macroeconomic stability while enhancing revenue growth and increasing the effectiveness of public expenditures and systems, in order to ensure poverty reduction and accountability" were considered appropriate. He cautioned, however, that enhanced fiscal discipline would be necessary to avoid a repeat of budget deficits, and that management and accountability problems in the the country's school system "should be firmly addressed." 

19 April: People of all ages and backgrounds took part in a huge cleanup of Freetown Saturday, with soldiers helping to remove the accumulated trash which has long disfigured the Sierra Leonean capital, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. "President Kabbah and his ministers were on hand to give support to the army of youths, soldiers and other security forces who took part in the exercise," Fofana said. "From dawn until midday the entire city ground to a halt. Shops and offices were closed and there was no commercial or private vehicular traffic on the roads...Soldiers were seen all over the capital, especially the over-crowded eastern suburbs with all sorts of cleaning implements instead of guns which for long terrorized the population." According to Fofana, the cleanup was hampered by logistical problems. "A major fallout of the cleaning exercise was that getting transport vehicles from one part of town to the other became difficult," he said. "A large chunk of the garbage cleared ended up clogging the narrow streets of the city, the reason being that there were few available garbage-cleaning trucks around." President Kabbah called on Sierra Leoneans who could afford transport vehicles to join the campaign.

18 April: A former rebel with inside knowledge of RUF operations testified before Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Thursday about the conscription of children and other human rights abuses, the Associated Press reported. Moigboi Moigande Kosia, 61, told the commission he was responsible for the recruiting and training of abducted children who were used as slave labour during the country's civil war. "Some of the boys were below 13 years...there were others below nine years, but not many of them," Kosia said. In three hours of testimony before the seven-member panel, Kosia, a retired army captain who later joined the RUF, described how the rebels traded diamonds for arms in 1999 after the RUF captured the diamond-rich Kono District. In a separate report broadcast by the Voice of America (VOA), Kosia was identified as the RUF's General Staff Officer and one of seven members of the rebel movement's High Command. According to the VOA Kosia related that the rebels' crossing into Sierra Leone from Liberia on 23 March 1991 – generally considered to be the start of the country's decade-long civil war – "was in fact a raid by Liberian rebels to recover a pickup truck which they had given in exchange for 100 bags of rice to Sierra Leone Army officers at the border," said Voice of America reporter Kelvin Lewis. "The Sierra Leone soldiers, he said, took the truck to Daru and turned it into commercial transport without giving the rice to the Liberian rebels. The Liberian NPFL (Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia) commander then decided to launch a raid on Bomaru to recover their loss." Kosia said that after the incident, international media reported that Liberia had invaded Sierra Leone. As a result, Taylor ordered Foday Sankoh, who was still recruiting and training fighters from among Sierra Leoneans in Liberia, to start his rebellion. According to Lewis, Kosia said the objective of the rebel incursion was to set up a defensive position in Daru and prevent ULIMO-K (another Liberian faction) and ECOMOG from entering Liberia. It was only on April 10 that 5,000 RUF fighters, commanded mostly by Liberians, entered Sierra Leone from Voinjama and Vahun and within a week captured all the villages in Kailahun District. The RUF quickly became known for the practice of amputating the limbs of their victims. Kosia claimed, however, that it was the Sierra Leone Army which began the practice, not the rebels. "In 1993, some RUF fighters were captured by the SLA and their hands were amputated," said Kosia, speaking through an interpreter. "They were sent back behind rebel lines with a note that if the RUF didn’t throw down their weapons, that would happen to them." Kosia acknowledged he knew of cases of cannibalism, including "a village where they had a very big pot where human beings were boiled," but he insisted this was mainly done by Liberians. He also told the commission that over 30 Sierra Leoneans were trained in jungle warfare in Libya along with Foday Sankoh, but that only eight returned. He added that Libya supplied weapons to the RUF through Charles Taylor in Liberia. Asked whether he felt responsible for atrocities, according to the Associated Press, Kosia acknowledged that he felt guilty, but insisted that he wasn't a perpetrator. Also testifying this week was a woman, "Rugie," who told the panel how pro-government Kamajor militiamen severed the ears of seven persons, including her brother. "When they stood up, one of the Kamajors – I can remember him and I can remember him even if he were here – he took out a sharp knife," she said through an interpreter. "Seven of them had stood up, and he cut off the ears of the seven of them and chewed one. And my brother said, 'Rugie I am dying'."

17 April: Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal indicted former RUF Chief of Security Augustine Gbao Wednesday on charges of crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The indictment was confirmed by Special Court Judge Bankole Thompson, the presiding judge of the court's trial chamber. Gbao was arrested last month and detained under a court rule which allows for suspects to be detained for up to 30 days before being charged. At the end of that period, the prosecutor may ask for an additional period of detention or file an indictment with the court. Gbao will make his initial court appearance on Friday 25th April, when he will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the crimes alleged in the indictment.

Britain's outgoing High Commissioner to Sierra Leone has hailed progress the country has achieved in restoring security and beginning the task of rebuilding the war-torn country. In remarks Wednesday in observance of the Queen's  Birthday Party, Alan Jones recalled that when he took up his post in May 2000, "the prospects for Sierra Leone at that time looked bleak." RUF rebels had cast aside a ten-month old peace accord, renewing hostilities and abducting more than 500 U.N. soldiers sent to monitor the peace. "Three years on we have made more progress than I could have imagined," Jones said, pointing to national and chieftaincy elections, progress in reconstruction, the establishment of the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and progress in the security sector. Jones praised the role of UNAMSIL and U.N. agencies for what they had accomplished in Sierra Leone, but he said they could not have done it without the Sierra Leoneans themselves. "Credit for what has happened in Sierra Leone does not just lie with the international community," he said. "Primarily it lies with the people of Sierra Leone. They were the ones who suffered the horrors of eleven years of civil war. They are the ones who fought against injustice whether perpetrated by rebel forces or by army coupists." Jones will leave Sierra Leone in early June. His successor,  Dr. John Edward Mitchiner, is scheduled to arrive in August.

Convoys using the Kambia-Port Loko axis continued in April for Sierra Leonean refugees bound for Kono and locations other than Kailahun District, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday. At the Port Loko way station, the agency provided food for about 1,000 people. The WFP provides initial two-month resettlement packages to all returned refugees. An additional two-month package will be decided pending an assessment.

16 April: Sierra Leone's Police Commission has nominated Brima Acha Kamara (pictured left) to succeed British national Keith Biddle as Police Inspector-General when Biddle's current term ends at the end of next month. Kamara, who comes from the town of Madonkani near Binkolo, is currently Acting Deputy Inspector-General. The commission also selected Oliver B. Somassa as Deputy Inspector General of Police. Both nominations are subject to approval by parliament. The man Kamara has been tapped to replace, veteran police officer Keith Biddle (right), arrived in Sierra Leone in July 1998, originally to be an advisor to the government and to the head of the police. He took over the helm of the Sierra Leone Police in July 1999, and was officially confirmed as Inspector-General four months later. The police force which Biddle took over had been decimated by years of war and neglect, and had gained a reputation for inefficiency and corruption. Biddle set out to change that. "What we set out to do was to re-equip the force, reposition it in terms of its ethics, and improve its leadership," he told the Sierra Leone Web. With just six weeks to go until he hands over to his successor, Biddle said things had gone well, but he acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to do. "This is an infinitely long process – It will go on forever if it’s set up right," he said. "What we’ve set in place is a strategic management system that will enable the force to adapt and change with the environment and economic circumstances." As Sierra Leone's government seeks to re-establish its authority throughout the country following a decade of civil war, police officers are slowly being deployed in areas of the country that were previously under rebel control. The United Nations would like to see the process speeded up, but Biddle said it was a problem of recruiting and training new police officers. "We have to train people for a basic of three months, which itself is shorter than we would like," he said. "We can only train 200 at a time became of damage done to our training facility. That is now being expanded with some U.N. assistance, but we can’t do it faster than we can recruit." Last year the police force completed a restructuring, or "rationalisation" of its ranks, a move which drew fire from some critics in Freetown. Biddle insisted that the move was necessary in order to make the force more efficient, and to rid it of its outdated colonial structure. "(You had) a colonial police ranks system which was a three-tier rank system – commissioned white officers, you then had gazetted African officers and then you had the other ranks," he said. "You didn’t need three systems to run a police force in the 21st century in a democracy." Where many police forces around the world have fewer than ten ranks, Sierra Leone had nearly twice that number. "You don’t need 19 ranks," Biddle said. "We ended up with six managers and supervisors to one constable, which is completely the wrong way to run a business." He noted that the changeover which ended last October was the culmination of a process which had been going on since January 2000. "We stopped promoting to the ranks, stopped replacing them some time ago, and we eventually moved it over," he said. When he finally leaves Sierra Leone at the end of May, Biddle says he intends to take a short break, either at his home in England or at his farmhouse in southwest France, where he wants to do some gardening and building. "Then I'll see what happens," he said. "I’m available to undertake any policing management task anywhere in the world after about August."

15 April: Dr. John Edward Mitchiner has been appointed as Britain's new High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, a spokesman said on Tuesday. He will take up the post in August. Mitchiner (pictured left)  succeeds Alan Jones, who arrived in Freetown in May 2000. Jones will be moving on to another Diplomatic Service appointment. Mitchiner, 52, began his diplomatic career in 1980. His most recent postings were as Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata (Calcutta) India (2000-2003) and as Ambassador to Armenia (1997-1999). He has also served as Desk Officer of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Central African Department. Mitchiner received a PhD from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies in 1977. From 1977-1978 he was a research fellow at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan and from 1978-1979 the Bipradas Palchoudhuri Fellow Calcutta University. His research subjects were early Indian history, Sanskrit and early development of Hinduism. Mitchiner's outside interests include hill farming in Wales, bridge, tennis and family history. He is married to Elizabeth Mary Ford.

Ireland will contribute €2.25 million ($2.43 million) in humanitarian funding for Africa's "forgotten emergencies" in Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Eritrea and Somaliland, Irish Minister for Overseas Development and Human Rights Tom Kitt announced on Tuesday.

The United Nations refugee agency and the Sierra Leone government are conducting a joint information campaign in Guinea's refugee camps aimed at persuading Sierra Leonean refugees to return home, a UNHCR spokesman said on Tuesday. The information campaign provides the refugees with first-hand information about conditions in Sierra Leone, including the security situation and efforts to improve shelter, education and health care for returnees, so that they can make an informed decision on whether to go back. According to a recent survey, 80 percent of the estimated 35,000 Sierra Leoneans still remaining in Guinean camps want to return home this year. Some have asked for help in transporting furniture and livestock. Meanwhile, the UNHCR has decided to speed the pace of repatriations through the "parrot's beak" region to Kailahun District over a new Moa River causeway. Convoys will now carry 500 returnees six times a week. Since the repatriation exercise started on April 4, some 2,800 refugees have used this route to return to Sierra Leone. The UNHCR hopes to repatriate up to 26,000 refugees using both this route and a longer route via Kambia before the rains make the roads impassible. "If the current pace of returns continues, the repatriation to Sierra Leone could be completed by the end of next year," the spokesman said.

14 April: A farmer whose right hand was hacked off by a child soldier was the first to tell his story publicly before Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Associated Press reported. Tamba Finnoh told about 200 observers how he was abducted in 1998 as he searched for food in the countryside. Nine others persons were rounded up with him, and he watched as rebels murdered seven of them. Finnoh was himself attacked by a child fighter with a machete. He awoke in hospital several days later, missing his right hand and two left fingers. "I have put everything behind me and I am ready to forgive," he said. The 37-year old farmer said he thought one of the adult rebels must have harboured some unknown anger against him and ordered one of the teenage fighters to attack him. "I believe the children were manipulated by the rebels – and they are good at imitating their elders," he said. The TRC began its public hearings phase on Monday after collecting some 7,100 statements from victims, perpetrators and witnesses to atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Between mid-April and mid-July, the TRC will hold hearings in each of the country's twelve districts and the Western Area and hear the stories of about 700 victims and perpetrators. According to the Voice of America, an official of the Revolutionary United Front pledged the group's cooperation with the TRC and the Special Court, raising hopes that some of the former rebel fighters might come forward to give testimony. 

In an address Monday to launch the public hearings phase of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), President Kabbah called the institution "one of the most significant pillars of peace, justice and reconciliation ever created in our country." Between December and March, the TRC collected thousands of statements from victims, perpetrators and witnesses of atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. In the next few months, and hearings around the country, Sierra Leoneans will at least have the chance to tell their stories in public. Kabbah noted that a parallel institution, the Special Court, is mandated to prosecute just a very few of those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most grievous crimes committed during the war. For most of the perpetrators and their victims, he said, the proper forum is the TRC. Kabbah said that in assessing the commission's work, regard should be given to the right of people to know the circumstances which caused them so much suffering. But, he said, the commission's work was more than just telling the story of what happened during the war. "The most important purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is its therapeutic contribution to the entire peace process and to the search for lasting national reconciliation," he said. Meanwhile, in an apparent reference to the controversy surrounding the arrest last month of former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, Kabbah stressed that no one, not even the president, has the power to interfere with the Special Court's deliberations. Norman was indicted for alleged crimes against humanity committed by the pro-government CDF militia he led during the war. To many, however, Norman is a hero who organised the resistance to the RUF rebels, and some of his supporters have urged the president to have the court let him go. Kabbah suggested, however, that Norman had his support. "I have every confidence in all my collaborators during the conflict, some of whom are ministers in my government up to this date," he said. "Within the confines of the law, which I as president willingly uphold, I continue to do all that can be done to support them." 

The civil society group Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) urged parliament Monday to reject an agreement which would prevent Sierra Leone from turning over U.S. citizens accused of war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The so-called "Article 98 agreement" was signed in Freetown by Sierra Leonean and U.S. officials on March 31, and is due to be considered by parliament on Thursday. Under the "Rome Statute," the ICC is given the task of prosecuting persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The statute gives the court jurisdiction when the crime was committed in a state which is a party to the agreement, or where the accused is a national of a member state. Sierra Leone ratified the Rome Statute in September 2000. The United States has refused to join, however, arguing that the ICC could be used to prosecute U.S. citizens for political reasons. Article 98 of the Rome Statute provides that the ICC may not require the surrender of a person when handing the person over would conflict with a state's obligations under international agreements. A U.S. legal expert told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday that Article 98 was intended to be interpreted narrowly, to take into account Status of Forces Agreements. Instead, the U.S. has used the provision to conclude a series of bilateral agreements which would deny the court jurisdiction over its citizens. In its statement, the CGG called on parliament to reject the agreement, which it said "seeks to reverse recent advances in international justice" and "seeks to endorse a two-tier system of international justice - one for U.S. nationals and another for the rest of the world."

11 April: The U.S. Congress has sent the Clean Diamond Trade Act to President George W. Bush after minor differences between the House and Senate versions were resolved. The House, which passed the bill on Tuesday, voted again on Friday to match its language to the Senate version. Bush is expected to sign the legislation. The bill adopts guidelines hammered out by diamond exporting and importing nations and representatives of the diamond industry, and are designed to curb the trade in "conflict diamonds" – illicitly-mined alluvial diamonds blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The guidelines, known as the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, call for rough diamonds to be accompanied by certificates of origin, to ensure that they come only from legitimate sources. 

10 April: Ambrose Ganda, the long-time publisher of Focus on Sierra Leone, passed away Thursday at a London hospital. He had reportedly been suffering from meningitis. Originally from the town of Serabu in Bo District, Ganda was the founder or co-founder of several Sierra Leonean newspapers, including the Sierra Leone Report, the Watchman, the New Patriot and SLAM. "The papers had one common theme running through them," Ganda wrote. "The welfare and defence of the underprivileged, disadvantaged and long exploited ordinary citizens of the country, and the articulation of their views as one saw them, since they themselves did not have the means to do so." In the pages of his last publication, the London-based Focus on Sierra Leone website, Ganda urged his country's warring factions to lay down their arms and to choose the path of peace and reconciliation. "We do not need the guns of any side for us to coexist, because we will simply end up destroying each other, everybody, and everything around us," he said. "We must work doubly hard to remove the guns from our society." With the end of Sierra Leone's civil war in 2001, Ganda tried to constrain his political commentary so as not to be seen as a spoiler. Instead, he said last November, he planned to work with other Sierra Leonean exiles in the hope of "eventually disengaging from our various abodes abroad to return home and create, or become part of the process of creating, a new ethos of public service in Salone." An influential advocate for the land of his birth, Ganda described himself in modest terms. He wrote: "I am simply a committed citizen of Sierra Leone who is determined to have a say in what happens to my country now and in the years to come. I am determined to press on with this objective till I draw my last breath."

President Kabbah and U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas were on hand at the Military Training Centre in Benguema Thursday morning to witness the launch of an HIV/AIDS awareness programme for members of the army, Sierra Leonean and U.S. officials told the Sierra Leone Web. The programme is funded by the U.S. Defence Department. Presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy noted that efforts to control the disease were being spearheaded by the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS), which manages the World Bank-funded Sierra Leone Aids Response Project (SHARP). "Every ministry, department or agency has a focal point for sensitizing their sectors on how to prevent or manage HIV/AIDS," he said.

The United States Senate unanimously approved the "Clean Diamond Trade Act" Thursday, designed to curb the global trade in "conflict diamonds" – illicit gems blamed for financing wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The legislation reflects new guidelines for a certification of authenticity programme agreed in December by diamond exporting and importing nations and diamond industry representatives. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill on Tuesday. The bill now goes to conference committee to work out small differences between the two versions before being sent to the president for his approval.

Heavy gunfire was heard close to the Liberian capital Monrovia Wednesday, apparently from the area of the Voice of America camp, which is home to some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. A military source told the Reuters news agency there had been more bursts of gunfire around Ricks Institute, 12 miles from the city centre. "We haven't been able to identify precisely what's going on there," the source was quoted as saying. Witnesses said military vehicles were seen heading for the area in the afternoon.

9 April: Victims, perpetrators and witnesses of atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the country's brutal decade-long civil war will finally have the chance to tell their stories in public, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) begins its hearings phase on Monday, TRC chairman Bishop Joseph Humper told reporters in Freetown. Humper said the hearings would give witnesses a platform to validate their experiences, and offers official acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them. "The hearings will in addition create an opportunity for the country to be engaged in a dialogue with itself about what went wrong and what needs to change," said Humper (pictured right). "Through the hearings, the Commission is going to make recommendations towards charting a roadmap for development and sustainable peace in Sierra Leone." The hearings phase will kick off with an opening ceremony in Freetown, followed by four days of testimony from victims, witnesses and perpetrators. Then, between April 29 and July 18, the TRC will move to the provinces, with hearings scheduled for all of Sierra Leone's twelve districts and the Western Area. Humper said the Commission would guarantee the security of those testifying before it, and could even discourage public testimony from persons whose testimony might put them in danger. The TRC will organize four types of hearings: Individual; Thematic, designed to produce a social analysis of events leading to patterns of abuse; Event-Specific, to establish what events were pivotal in leading to human rights abuses in Sierra Leone; and Institutional, which will examine the roles of institutions and state actors in inflicting, legitimizing or ignoring abuses. In addition, Humper said, closed hearings may be held where it is deemed that the testimony is of a sexual nature, that the testimony may endanger a witnesses' ability to be reintegrated into his community, where there is a threat to security, or where the witness is a child. 

Officials from Sierra Leone's Kamajor militia issued a statement in Freetown Wednesday calling for the release of their former leader, jailed Internal Affairs Minister, Sam Hinga Norman, the BBC reported. During Sierra Leone's civil war, Norman (pictured left) led the Kamajors and was coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), to which the Kamajor militia belonged. He was arrested last month by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, the Special Court, and charged with crimes against humanity for acts allegedly committed by the CDF which, the indictment said, he failed to prevent or punish. In an interview with the BBC, Kamajor Commander [Kasela] said the group was unhappy over the way Norman was taken into custody. "What we are against was the way our leader was arrested and humiliated," he said. "We are not happy over it. We are fighting for democracy in this country. Chief Hinga Norman was not a criminal. He was a hero fighting for the peace to save his people." Kasela complained that police had chained and handcuffed Norman at his office, then pushed him into a waiting ambulance to be taken away. "They pushed him, and that arrest was played over television all over the country," he said. "We saw the way he was kicked into the vehicle. So that is humiliation." Kasela said the Kamajors were now asking President Kabbah to intervene to bring about Norman's release. He also denied charges leveled by the court and human rights groups that the Kamajors had committed crimes against civilians. "The Kamajors did not commit atrocities," he said. "We are defending our people and we are defending the government of Sierra Leone." Kasela stressed that Wednesday's statement was not a threat by the militia to resort to violence if Norman were not freed. "Only what we should do is to plead to our president for the release of our leader. That is all what we are pleading," he said. "We are not troublemakers."

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to adopt a bill aimed at curbing the global trade in "conflict diamonds" – the illegally-mined alluvial gems blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. On a vote of 419-2 with one abstention, House members approved guidelines in line with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which requires that diamonds be accompanied at each stage of the process by certificates or origin guaranteeing they were not obtained from illicit sources. The bill includes provisions for the oversight and monitoring of the industry certification process, mandated U.S. government coordination, with key government agencies including the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security, responsible to ensure full compliance with the Kimberley Process. It also calls for comprehensive monitoring and reporting by the General Accounting Office. A companion bill in the Senate, the Clean Diamond Trade Act, was approved by the Finance Committee last week, and is expected to receive the approval of the full Senate this week. 

A 1-1 draw between Koinadugu District's Bintumani Scorpions and a Freetown-based football team was enough to set off celebrations in Kabala Saturday, according to team supporter and presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy. Daramy noted that the Bintumani Scorpions were the only provincial side to have succeeded in holding the Freetown team to a draw. Saturday's friendly match took place at the Kabala Secondary School football field. The Binutmani Scorpions had fallen on hard times in recent years, and this year finished third in the Northern Province behind Bombali's Wusum Stars and Port Loko's Bai Bureh Warriors. "Bintumani Scorpions have been there as the district team for a very long time – long before the war," Daramy said. "After the war it became difficult for them to restart, given the degree to which Kabala and the rest of the district were affected." Before the match, Scorpions players were presented with two sets of jerseys and boots, the result of a campaign headed by Daramy, Deputy Finance Minister Alhaji Foday Mansaray, and businessman Momoh Konte.

8 April: Russia unveiled a diamond certification Tuesday aimed at reducing the global trade in illegal "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was agreed to last year by some 50 diamond producing and importing countries and representatives of the diamond industry. Under the agreement, rough diamonds must be exported in tamper-proof parcels accompanied by certificates of origin declaring that the gems come from legitimate sources. Countries which refuse to participate in the scheme would be barred from the international diamond trade. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov said the certificates would provide for "transparency and effective control" and prevent "the financing of armed conflicts through the illegal trade of rough diamonds," the Associated Press reported. But Denisov called the measures "temporary" until illicit diamond sales were eliminated. He added that Russia does not support an independent monitoring body. Human rights groups and non-governmental organizations have argued that in the absence of independent verification, the trade in conflict diamonds is likely to continue.

Parliament on Tuesday agreed to a government motion ratifying a protocol to the treaty establishing the African Economic Community relating to the creation of a Pan-African Parliament, and a protocol  relating to the establishment of a Peace and Security Council for African Union, Clerk of Parliament Joseph Carpenter told the Sierra Leone Web. Debate will continue on a development grant agreement with the International Development Association which would be used toward the reconstruction and development of Sierra Leone's health sector. On Thursday parliament will consider ratifying an treaty signed last week with the United States under which Sierra Leone agrees not to surrender U.S. citizens accused of war crimes to the International Criminal Court. Legislators will also take up a bill relating to the statutes of the West African Central Bank, and agreement with the United States and examine the Report on the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) July-December 2001. "On Thursday 10th April the parliamentary Legislative Committee will recommend that the bill entitled: The Road Transport Authority (Amendment) Act, 2002 be redone for comprehensiveness," Carpenter said.

500 more Sierra Leonean refugees returned home Sunday along a newly-constructed road linking Guinea's Albadaria region to Sierra Leone's Kailahun District by way of the "Parrot's Beak" and Gueckedou. The 240-mile long dirt road uses a new causeway to cross the Moa River at Dandou, reducing travel time for the returnees from several days to about seven hours. A concrete bridge should be added soon. A first group of about 300 Sierra Leoneans was repatriated on Friday. In Geneva, a UNHCR spokesman said the refugee agency expects to send 500 person from the Albadaria camps to Kailahun on alternate days. In addition, convoys will travel the route twice weekly through Kambia District in northern Sierra Leone. So far, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have helped repatriate 60,776 Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea. The agency hopes to assist another 26,000 refugees to return home before the height of the rains in June. There are currently 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees living in camps in Guinea. A recent survey by the UNHCR indicated that up to 80 percent of them want to return home before the end of the year. Meanwhile in Liberia, the spokesman said, the desire of refugees to return home has been hampered by logistical constraints. Because of the deteriorating security situation around Monrovia, the UNHCR started an airlift this February. So far, 357 people have returned to Sierra Leone at an average of two flights a week. "In all, the agency has assisted over 200,000 Sierra Leoneans in the region to return and settle back home since late 2000," the spokesman said. "Surrounding countries are still hosting some 100,000 Sierra Leoneans, with 73,000 in Guinea alone – 35,000 in camps, the rest spontaneously settled."

7 April: A furor blew up in Freetown at the weekend on allegations that jailed former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured left) has been mistreated while in the custody of Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, the Special Court. Following a visit to the Bonthe Island lockup where Norman is being held, his defence counsel and his daughter accused the court of subjecting the former minister to what they described as deplorable prison conditions. Court officials have strongly denied the allegations. Norman led the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) during Sierra Leone's civil war. It was in connection with alleged acts committed by the Kamajor militia – the largest constituent militia of the CDF – that Norman was indicted last month for crimes against humanity, including the summary killings of rebel combatants and suspected collaborators and the destruction of property as part of what the court said was an effort to terrorize the population, and the recruiting of child soldiers. As both de jure and de facto leader of the CDF, the court argued, Norman "knew or had reason to know" of the violations, but failed to prevent them or to punish the perpetrators. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Monday, defence lawyer James Blyden Jenkins-Johnson insisted that conditions at the Bonthe Island jail failed to meet the required international standards – or even local ones. "The cell itself is very hot (with) very, very bad ventilation," he said. "The room is very bare. There’s just an iron bed with a mattress on it and a bucket which they put gravel in to use for a toilet facility with no cover." He said Norman was kept in solitary confinement for all but 20 minutes of each day, with no proper exercise, no electric light, and inadequate food. "There is not proper nutritious food there, so he asked for some food, some provisions to be taken for him," Jenkins-Johnson said. "When we took them they rejected everything. They didn’t allow him to eat the food." Norman's lawyer said he planned to write a formal letter of complaint to the court on Monday afternoon, but he said court officials had failed to act on his previous complaints. "We’ve complained about a lot of stuff, but nothing much seems to have been done," he said. "I think the only thing I remember that I’ve seen them do is they’ve put up a mosquito net. That is the only thing." In an interview Saturday with the BBC, Juliet Norman asserted that her father was being held in a "very dark, small room like a cave" and given only dry bread and hot water to eat. "He has been chained in a cave – no food, no time for exercise, no nothing," she said. A court official told the Sierra Leone Web Monday that Jenkins-Johnson's allegations "are wholly untrue." In a statement issued simultaneously by the court, Registrar Robin Vincent (right) insisted that those in custody, including former RUF and AFRC officials, were being treated in accordance with international standards, and that the charges of mistreatment were false. "There are strict guidelines about the treatment they receive which take into account the rights of the accused and the rights and safety of staff," Vincent said. He maintained that prisoners received adequate food and bottled water, and said they were allowed individual free time outside their cells. Vincent also noted that the International Committee of the Red Cross had been invited to make an independent evaluation of prison conditions, and that an Amnesty International mission was due to visit the facility in May. Meanwhile, Norman's lawyer said that despite the allegations of of mistreatment, the former minister wanted his supporters to remain calm. "He just stated that he wanted everyone to remain calm and not to cause any trouble, and let us go along with the law," Jenkins-Johnson said. "He said he didn’t want anybody to go and cause any trouble. He said to me, ‘Look, put out a statement I want my supporters to remain quiet. I don’t want any problem'."

6 April: Some 300 Sierra Leonean refugees, most of them women and children, returned to Sierra Leone Friday as the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) prepared to repatriate up to 30,000 Sierra Leoneans remaining in Guinean camps before the onset of the rains. About two-thirds of the returnees will travel to eastern Sierra Leone by a newly-constructed 240-mile long dirt road connecting Gueckedou and Kailahun by way of a new Moa River bridge at the Bellu crossing point. "We constructed this road in order to shorten the repatriation route which we have been using to return the Sierra Leoneans," the UNHCR's representative in Guinea, David Kapya, told the Voice of America. He added that the trip had been reduced from several days to seven hours, and that the trucks would be able to return the following day. "(We are) targeting to move about 20,000 refugees between now and June on this road," he said. "Then we’ll have about 9,000 remaining which we’ll continue repatriating through Pamelap." Upon their return, according to the BBC, the refugees will be resettled in their communities with the help of Sierra Leone's National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA). "Any responsibility now lies on government and our development partners to reintegrate these people into their communities as they return," said NaCSA Deputy Commissioner Justin Bangura (pictured left) in an address to mark the opening of the new road.

4 April: The Commonwealth is expected to provide two judges and a prosecutor to expedite the prosecution of corruption cases in Sierra Leone, Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier said on Friday. "Government will shortly receive nominations from the Commonwealth Secretariat for consideration. Also included will be a Special Prosecutor," Collier told the Sierra Leone Web. The Awoko newspaper quoted Finance Minister Joseph B. Dauda as saying this week that the officials would be funded through Britain's Department for International Development (DfiD). A British High Commission spokesman confirmed that the Commonwealth Secretariat had offered to provide two judges and a prosecutor, adding that the matter was currently under consideration. "Funding of the positions is subject to further consultations," he told the Sierra Leone Web.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar, pound sterling and Euro, posted in Freetown on Monday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. € 2100 / 2300. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2400. [£] 3250 / 3400. Frandia: [$] 2350 / 2500 [£] 3400 / 3800. € 2200 / 2400. Continental: [$] 2350 / 2550 [£] 3500 / 3800. € 2200 / 2450. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2430 / 2450 [£] 3600 / 3700.

3 April: At least ten people have died of Lassa fever in Bo and Kenema districts, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, quoting a senior health ministry official. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Tuesday there had been 80 confirmed cases of the deadly disease in refugee camps and in nearby host communities, and as many as 2,000 more suspected cases. Last week four U.N. agencies and the British medical charity MERLIN signed an agreement with the Sierra Leone government to work to control the outbreak.

350 Liberian combatants – 340 of them members of the Armed Forces of Liberia and ten LURD rebels – have crossed crossed the border and surrendered to Sierra Leonean security forces since an internment was opened last October, Deputy Defence Minister Joe Blell told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. "These are soldiers who are giving themselves up at the border areas to Sierra Leonean authorities, as they are tired of fighting," Blell said.

Parliament approved three government motions Thursday, ratifying agreements negotiated with the World Bank's International Development Association and the African Development Fund for the rehabilitation of the country's educational sector, Clerk of Parliament J.A. Carpenter told the Sierra Leone Web. Three other motions, including protocols to agreements establishing a Pan-African Parliament and the African Union's Peace and Security Council, along with the proposed ratification of a development grant agreement with the International Development Association, will be taken up on Tuesday.

U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas and USAID Mission Director Annette Adams travelled to Kailahun District on Wednesday for the official reopening of the Koindu Market. Once a focal point for trade between Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the Koindu Market was completely destroyed during the war. The market, and a local school, were refurbished with by local youths and ex-combatants in a project overseen by World Vision and funded by the USAID Skills Training and Employment Promotion (STEP) programme. In his address, Ambassador Chaveas (pictured left) noted that much more rebuilding was needed, but he said the market's reopening was an important beginning. "While Koindu's strategic location-at the crossroads of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone-put this town in harm's way during the war, it is also important to Koindu's and Sierra Leone's economic viability," he said, adding: "This community has taken an important step towards re-establishing commerce in the once popular trade link between the Mano River states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone."

2 April: Sierra Leone's parliamentarians will consider ratifying three agreements Thursday which are aimed at rehabilitating the country's educational sector, Clerk of Parliament J.A. Carpenter told the Sierra Leone Web. They include a development grant agreement with the International Development Association for the rehabilitation of basic education, a loan agreement with the African Development Fund for the rehabilitation of basic and non-formal education and vocational skills, and the protocol of an agreement with the African Development Fund. Also Thursday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is expected to submit for parliamentary approval the protocol to the treaty establishing the African Economic Community relating to the Pan-African Parliament, and the protocol to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. The Minister of Finance will table a development grant agreement with the International Development Association for the reconstruction and development of Sierra Leone's health sector and the National Commission for Privatisation Act, 2003 (Act No. 12 of 2002). Meanwhile, Carpenter said, debate Tuesday on the Report of the Public Accounts Committee on the Auditor General’s Report 1996 -1999 was deferred after an argument over the proper certification by the Auditor General of the Accounts of the Accountant General. In the attached opinion, the Auditor General stated that the reservations expressed on the accounts by the Accountant General were of such significance, "I find myself unable to certify that, in my opinion, the statement is correct."   "One side argued that it was a non-certification; the technical people (argued) that it was a qualified certification," Carpenter said.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee moved Wednesday to approve a bill designed to help curb the international trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling civil wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The proposed "Clean Diamond Trade Act" would bring the United States into compliance with the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme. Under the scheme, which was hammered out over several years by diamond exporting and importing nations and representatives of the diamond industry, all diamonds must be shipped in tamper-proof containers and accompanied by certificates of origin confirming they come only from legitimate mines. Under the Act, the U.S. would deal only with countries abiding by the Kimberly Process guidelines. The bill now moves on to the full Senate. A companion bill in the House of Representatives with 42 sponsors, HR-1415,  has been referred to the Committee on International Relations and the Committee on Ways and Means.

1 April: Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has finished collecting some 6,000 statements from the victims and perpetrators in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, TRC Information Officer Daniel Adekera told reporters on Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, Adekera said the commission will hold public hearings across the country between April 14 and July 18, during which victims, perpetrators and witnesses of human rights abuses will have the chance to tell their stories. Sierra Leoneans will also be able to debate the causes of the war, including the roles played by corruption, the judiciary and the military, Adekera was quoted as saying.

The governments of Sierra Leone and the United States signed an agreement in Freetown Monday under which Sierra Leone agreed not to turn U.S. citizens suspected of war crimes over to the newly-created International Criminal Court (ICC). The agreement is still subject to ratification by Sierra Leone's parliament. The U.S. has refused to join the ICC, voicing fears that the court could be used to prosecute American citizens for political purposes. The bilateral agreement was signed for Sierra Leone by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway, and for the United States by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr. Walter Kansteiner (pictured right), a U.S. Embassy spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web. Sierra Leone is the 27th country to have concluded bilateral Non-Surrender Agreements with the U.S. For its part, the spokesman said, "the U.S. accepts the responsibility to investigate and prosecute its own citizens for international criminal offenses should they occur, and seeks to protect its citizens from the potential danger of politically-motivated prosecutions by a court of which we are not a member." In his statement at the signing, Halloway stressed his government's support for the Court, but noted that the United States "is a very important partner for Sierra Leone," adding: "Our country, ravaged by recent conflict, still depends heavily on the goodwill of its friends." Halloway stressed, however, that the U.S. had pledged to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute any of its citizens alleged to have committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide. "This commitment is an integral of the agreement we are about to sign," he said. "We have every reason to believe that the Americans are as good as their word." Either party may terminate the agreement by giving one year's notice. 

Systematic human rights abuses declined in 2002 with the end of Sierra Leone's civil war, but problems remained in several areas, the U.S. State Department said in its annual worldwide human rights review, 'Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,' which was released on Monday. The report pointed to a number of positive developments, such as the lifting of the State of Emergency last March, no reports of unlawful killings by the pro-government CDF militia, and an improvement in prison conditions. The State Department expressed concern, however, over continued arbitrary detentions and extortion by members of the police force and prolonged pretrial detention due to a lack of resources in the judicial system. The report also pointed to violence against women, abuse of children and the use of child labour, reports of forced labour in rural areas, and reports of trafficking in persons. "There were some reports of abuses committed by former RUF rebels," the State Department said. "International aid groups believed that many girls who were abducted by the RUF remained sex slaves during the year. Some young ex-combatants still were dependent on their former RUF commanders for support." The report also detailed what amounted to a climate of impunity, with murders and other abuses committed by rebels, pro-government forces and even peacekeepers as far back as 2000 going unpunished.

The Sierra Leone government last week signed an agreement with four United Nations agencies and a British medical charity to help control an outbreak of Lassa fever which has so far infected 80 persons in refugee camps and nearby communities in the south and east of the country. Since February, more than 2,000 suspected cases of the disease have been reported in Bo and Kenema districts, according the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. The victims' ages range from two to 44 years, with children and pregnant women most vulnerable to the disease. The disease is transmitted by rats, both by direct contact and through contaminated food. The situation has been made worse by the crowded conditions in the camps. Under the inter-agency agreement, Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health and Sanitation will increase medical stocks for treatment of the disease, centralise information, and work with the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control, which will conduct laboratory work and be responsible for staff training and disease prevention and control.