The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 1997
 

30 April: The Sierra Leone embassy in Ethiopia is one of 15 African embassies being threatened with eviction for arrears in rent. The Agency for the Administration of Rental Houses, which administers state owned houses in Addis Ababa, said that Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo each owe between $314,569 and $166,565. Gabon owes $423,985, Guinea $348,275, Sudan $331,131, and Niger $302,846. Other countries in arrears are Mali, Uganda, Chad, Mozambique, Burundi, and Zaire. "Unless they settle their long-standing arrears in the shortest possible time, the agency will be forced to sever power, water, and telephone services and later terminate their rent contracts -- which will be followed by eviction orders," the agency said.

Officials of the Central Medical Stores and police are cracking down on quack doctors and illegal peddlers who sell expired drugs and offer unprofessional health care to the public. On April 28 and 29 a special police unit and Central Medical Stores officials raided dozens of small stores in eastern Freetown. Several boxes of expired drugs were seized and will be burned in public, according to Chief Pharmacist Bassie Turay. "We figure that this development is becoming alarming and the vulnerable members of the public may die in the hands of these quacks," Turay said. "Our operations are not going to be limited to Freetown alone. If it weren't for the volatile security situation, we would be traversing the length and breadth of the country, seeking these quacks," he added. It is in the interior of the country where, because of the destruction of hospitals and the medical infrastructure, the situation is most serious. During NPRC rule, the government decreed that drug sellers must obtain licenses and be certified, and laboratory tests were required to test the quality of all drugs entering the country. This forced unqualified medical practitioners underground. But the war and the change in government has allowed them to re-emerge. "I believe this is why the quack doctors are having a field day," said Sahr Mondeh, senior dispenser in Kono District. "Indeed, medical costs are high and so most rural people resort to buying drugs from illegal doctors, or 'peppe doctas' as they are called." A police spokesman added, "Today, all they have to show for their pharmacies are little briefcases which are studded with an assortment of drugs, many of which are expired anyway. When we arrest them, we confiscate their drugs and charge them in court. We have dozens of such cases." Chief Pharmacist Turay explained that regulating the interior presents problems for authorities. "We don't have the requisite manpower, not to talk of the financial resources," he said. "Our problems are made even more difficult because of sporadic bursts of violence in the interior." For now, the authorities are concentrating on Freetown, and relying on a sensitization campaign over radio and television which shows people dying at the hands of unqualified doctors, and police raids, trials, and imprisonment of fake doctors.

29 April: Foday Sankoh claimed Tuesday that RUF combatants remain loyal to him despite attempts to oust him last month. "All RUF combatants are loyal to me...There is only one command, only one RUF," Sankoh said. "There is no faction. Only a few criminals trying to cause trouble...To cause problems with the peace accord for their own selfish aims, because they want money, they want ministerial posts," he said. These "so-called coup-makers" who include Fayia Musa, Ibrahim Deen-Jalloh, Mohammed Barrie, and "Captain" Philip Palmer, are being held at the RUF's stronghold in Kailahun, Sankoh said. He alleged that his ousting was a conspiracy involving President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the Sierra Leonean People's Party (SLPP), and "the so-called coup makers". "These are trouble-makers. Support? If they had support why would they be arrested?...I will not be responsible for their fate. We have structures, rules and procedures, a high command, a people's war council, a people's court." Sankoh denied that he had ordered the execution of Palmer. "We don't behave like that. We can't just kill people like that. We can't just arrest people and execute them. They will be tried," he said. Sankoh denied that he is being detained against his will by the Nigerian government. "I am not in detention. I can go anywhere I like." He added that he will soon return to Kailahun. "I am here on a peace accord mission. (Nigerian President) Sani Abacha is the chairman of ECOWAS (the West African Economic Community) and I am here to brief him on the peace process," he said. He did not reveal whether he had met with Abacha. Sankoh said he had nothing to do with a threat faxed from Accra, Ghana on April 20, purportedly from RUF Major Morris Kallon, saying that the RUF would attack Freetown if Sankoh were not repatriated within seven days. Sankoh termed the fax "disinformation" and noted that Kallon barely speaks English, is deep in the Sierra Leone bush, and is nowhere near a fax machine. "If we wanted to attack anywhere, we would not announce it to journalists first," he said.

27 April: Nigeria is increasing its contingent of military trainers to 137, according to Lieutenant Colonel Bashiru Conteh, director of training for the Sierra Leone army. He said 21 trainers arrived in Freetown Saturday, joining a group of 16 Nigerians already in place. 100 more trainers are expected to arrive in May. The trainers are being deployed under a memorandum of understanding between the two countries known as the Status of Forces Agreement. Conteh said the team will be headed by a brigadier general and will also include a one-star general, a colonel, and seven lieutenant colonels. Personnel of the training team will come from the Nigerian army, the navy, air force, police, and other security units, Conteh said. Nigerian security personnel are guarding key installations in Freetown including the external telecommunications facility, the broadcasting service and television station, as well as State House, and the residence of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Morocco defeated Sierra Leone by a score of 1 - 0 in a World Cup qualifying match held in Freetown. Morocco's Bassir Salaheddine scored after a mistake by Sierra Leone defender Mohammed Kanu. Other scores: (Group 1) Nigeria 2, Burkina Faso 1; Kenya 1, Guinea 0 (Group 2) Egypt 3, Namibia 2; Tunisia 2, Liberia 0 (Group 3) South Africa 2, Zaire 1; Zambia 3, Congo 0 (Group 4) Cameroon 2, Togo 0; Zimbabwe 0, Angola 0 (Group 5) Ghana 3, Gabon 0.

The Finance Ministry has removed 4,000 "die-man" (ghost) workers from the government payroll. Eight senior civil servants have been under "indefinite suspension" since February in connection with the scandal, and 70 mid-level civil servants face criminal charges. They are all out on $5,000 bail. Officials said the central bank will soon take over from the treasury the task of issuing salary payments to civil servants.

25 April: RUF rebels who are holding members of a breakaway movement hostage denounced the government Friday for abrogating the ceasefire. "Our patriotic forces have no option but to resume the liberation war," according to a statement faxed from Ghana by Major Morris Kallon, the RUF special envoy to the Popular War Council. Kallon called on Nigerian President Sani Abacha "to immediately repatriate" Foday Sankoh. "So long as Corporal Foday Sankoh is kept in Nigeria against his will by arch-dictator (General) Sani Abacha, with the active connivance of Kabbah, we view the peace agreement as not worth the paper it is written on. In other words, it is abrogated." The statement said that if Sankoh were not released within a week, RUF rebels would march on Freetown. "Without our leader and commander-in-chief Foday Sankoh, peace can never return to Sierra Leone. Nothing can abort or derail our march on Freetown."

24 April: Two key RUF leaders have given themselves up in the past three days, government sources said Thursday. Timothy Serry, former chief bodyguard to Foday Sankoh, flew to Freetown from Abidjan on Tuesday. State House sources said it took "weeks of persuasion" for Serry to give himself up and not face prosecution. Serry reportedly spent three weeks in the Sierra Leone consulate in Abidjan for security reasons before flying to Sierra Leone. The second to surrender was identified as Ibrahim Barrie, a leading escort to Sankoh, who surrendered to tribal leaders on Wednesday.

The human rights group Amnesty International has called for the "safe and immediate release of hostages" held by a faction of the Revolutionary United Front. "Hostage taking is totally unacceptable. The taking of hostages and the ill-treatment of captives violate the fundamental principles of international humanitarian standards," the group said in a statement released on Thursday. Special presidential security advisor Sheka Mansaray stated on Thursday that, "We have gone far with negotiations with the RUF commandos holding them to seek their release." He added that the RUF hostages "are well...I spoke with (Philip) Palmer last Saturday and he sounded very cheerful," he said.

23 April: China has supplied Sierra Leone with Lassa Fever drugs to help combat a growing epidemic of the disease in the eastern province. On Wednesday, Ambassador Qu Wenming handed 40 cartons of Ribavirini over to Health Minister Mohamed Turay. Turay said that Sierra Leone had requested "emergency assistance" from the Chinese Red Cross after a U.S. pharmaceutical company notified the country that it is phasing out production of the drugs. "It was a dilemma until China stepped in and got 120,000 tubes of Ribavirini from a medical company in Shangai," Turay said. Between January and March about 239 cases of Lassa Fever were treated in Sierra Leone and 35 patients died.

Eight African countries, including Sierra Leone, will benefit from a $10.2 million United Nations Development Program (UNDP) grant to develop internet services. To benefit from the grant, the country will have to provide 50% matching funds. 31 countries currently have internet access, but most can only access it through foreign service providers. Only South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Senegal, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have full internet access. The other countries covered by the UNDP grant are Nigeria, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, and Cape Verde.

Sierra Leone will play Morocco in a World Cup soccer qualifying match on April 27th in Freetown.

22 April: Hundreds of secondary school students rioted in Makeni on Sunday and caused heavy damage to the government hospital. The unrest followed the death of one of their classmates, for which the students blamed medical authorities. The student, Victor Kanu, had just finished a long distance race in an inter-house sporting event Saturday when he fainted. He was taken to the government hospital where he showed signs of recovery, but his condition later deteriorated and he died the following day. Students damaged the hospital and the nearby residence of a doctor, causing damage estimated to run to several thousand dollars. A hospital spokesman said that the hospital will function at about 70 percent of capacity until the damage is repaired.

The Canadian company AmCan Minerals Limited announced Tuesday that it has begun pumping gravel on its Sandia property. During the first day of operations, the company reported, it recovered 10 gem quality diamonds with a total weight of over 20 carats. The company was formed exclusively for diamond and gold mining operations in Sierra Leone.

21 April: Information Minister Abdul Bangura said Monday that Foday Sankoh is "a guest of the Nigerian government" and that he is not under house arrest in Nigeria. This counters a claim by the Nigerian High Commission in Freetown which had claimed that Sankoh was being detained following his arrest in Lagos on weapons charges. Over the weekend, Sankoh loyalists within the RUF holding a number of high-ranking RUF hostages and Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea, warned that unless Sankoh were released they would attack Freetown. "How can they say so when dozens of their colleagues are surrendering to tribal chiefs in the north?" Bangura asked.

19 April: The Sierra Leone government has warned a Revolutionary United Front group holding a number of hostages that they will be held responsible for the captives' welfare. The warning came after a seven-day surrender ultimatum passed unheeded. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman said, "We are anxious that the abducted men are released quickly." He added that the ultimatum has been extended indefinitely. He said the government had been assured by Sam Bockarie, Foday Sankoh's right-hand man, that the hostages were "safe and sound." "I've warned Bockarie that should any harm come to the abductees, his group would be held responsible," Norman said.

18 April: Seven prostitutes drowned Tuesday when the small boat that was carrying them to foreign trawlers capsized in a storm. The incident happened off the town of Yelibuya. The boat was also carrying traders.

17 April: Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom have signed an agreement under which British military experts will train two battalions of the Sierra Leone army. Senior and junior officers, as well as soldiers of other ranks, will receive discipline and conduct training and receive instruction on the role of the army in a democratic society. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who signed the agreement for Sierra Leone, said that the training was an indication of London's desire for "sustainable development and peace" in Sierra Leone. British High Commissioner Peter Penfold, who signed for the United Kingdom, said that under the terms of the peace accord, former RUF fighters are entitled to take some of the training slots. Sierra Leone military authorities have not indicated whether former RUF rebels will take part.

About 400 RUF fighters are now estimated to have surrendered to government troops at Magburaka, according to journalists, aid workers, and government officials. Government officials admit that they have lost count, but put the number at nearly 400. "We don't have the personnel and the logistics to cope," one official said. One rebel fighter said that hundreds of rebels are sitting idle in RUF camps in the north and south, in appalling conditions. "We decided to take the risk of giving ourselves up as we were slowly dying from hunger," another said. "There is hardly any food in the (rebel) bases and we were just starving." International relief agencies have rushed food and medicine to Magburaka to head off what one official has termed "an impending humanitarian disaster." The World Food Programme (WFP) in Freetown said that it is cleaning up the former Arabic College in Magburaka to house the former combatants.

Rex Diamond Corporation has announced the discovery of several large diamonds in Kono, including a 28.59 carat octahedron-shaped diamond which, when cut, will be worth an estimated $100,000. The company has completed the stockpiling of gravel in anticipation of the delivery of a 30 ton per hour washing plant which will be delivered to Kono in two weeks. The plant was constructed to specification and tested in South Africa. The total cost of the project so far has been $1.8 million. Production is expected to begin in early June. The company also expects to begin production at Tongo Field in 12 months time, after completion of the infrastructure and mine development.

16 April: 33 civil servants charged with corruption appeared before a magistrates court in Freetown Wednesday. The accused, mainly mid-level accountants from the ministries of health, fisheries and marine resources and the treasury, are alleged to have participated in a "die-man" (ghost employee) scheme which cost the cash-strapped Sierra Leonean government tens of thousands of dollars. The prosecution, which is being led by Attorney General Solomon Berewa said the defendants "falsified the government roll to include people who were not employed by the state and stole millions of leones from the state coffer from 1994 to 1996." Berewa said that, due to corruption, the gap between revenues and expenditures has been growing for years. "Part of this has to do with dishonesty by public officials who operate within a complex conspiratorial web, particularly in the treasury," he said. Berewa said that, "Within the scheme, only a fraction of the revenue collected on behalf of government by individuals was reported." He said that ghost workers were "making the government keep paying huge sums into the pockets of a few fraudulent individuals." The government, which has repeatedly blamed corrupt civil servants for its financial problems, has had difficulty in paying salaries in recent months and is faced with the threat of strikes.

15 April: More that 100 RUF rebels surrendered to government forces in Magburaka on Monday and Tuesday. An official of the Sierra Leone Red Cross said the former combatants "are haggard looking, malnourished and had advanced stages of skin diseases." A military spokesman said that all RUF members who surrender, who tend to be teenagers, are given hotel accommodation and relief supplies. Military sources believe that RUF forces remain in three places: Kailahun in the east, Kangari Hills in the north, and Bradford in the south. Despite an internal power struggle within the RUF, the security situation in Sierra Leone is reported to be improving. In the past month, and Interior Ministry source said, "Incidents of ceasefire violations and ambushes have in fact drastically reduced. Commuters are travelling daily from and to the interior and everything is calm."

FIFA, world soccer's governing body, will consider Ghana's protest of their 1-1 tie with Sierra Leone in a World Cup qualifying match in Freetown on April 5. Sierra Leone scored the equalizer on a penalty in the 85th minute after a Ghanaian defender was called for a handball. FIFA will also decide what action to take over two other African games: Gabon-Morocco, in Libreville, which had to be abandoned in the 55th minute when debris rained down on the field and fans invaded the pitch, and Nigeria-Guinea, in Lagos, where five fans were reportedly crushed to death trying to leave the stadium.

14 April: The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has stepped up its attacks on the proposed new press bill which will be debated by parliament on Tuesday. In a statement released on Monday, the SLAJ said the bill "reflects a slant in favour of political rather than professional interest." SLAJ President Frank Kposowa accused Information Minister Abdul Thorlu-Bangura of "betraying the confidence of SLAJ which had the feeling it enjoyed the cooperation with the authorities to effect the necessary improvement of press laws." Bangura said the bill "is necessary to bring sanity to the profession and save the trade from being swamped by dead woods." In an previous interview, Bangura said, "There are many young unseasoned journalists who didn't go through the right apprenticeship. The older and more experienced ones are much more reasonable. When dealing with some of our journalists, you have to treat them like 18-year-olds."

Nord Resources Corp, a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile, said on Monday that its Sierra Rutile Ltd. unit is negotiating a new financing package for rehabilitation and expansion programs as well as a restructuring of its existing debt. The company said there is no guarantee that the negotiations will be successful, but anticipates that the company could restructure its finances by July 1997. Nord Resources and Sierra Rutile aims to rehabilitate the company's assets, resume production of rutile, and complete an expansion program when financing is received.

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, speaking in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, said there is hope of resolving the conflict in Sierra Leone.

12 April: The Sierra Leonean parliament will debate a tough new press bill which would "regulate newspapers, their proprietors and publishers to enhance the role of journalists with a view to protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons." Under the new law, a new independent press council would be responsible for registering all newspapers and dealing with complaints, including alleged libel. The law also requires that newspaper editors have 10 years experience, as well as a degree or diploma in journalism. The local press has termed the proposed law a "killer bill," and asserts that only 8 of the current 46 newspapers in Freetown would be likely to survive. According to Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, "Most of the proposals (in the bill) came from the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). We made some embellishments as the profession has to be thought of from a national perspective." Berewa added, "Like every profession, there must be minimum academic and professional qualifications, more so to be a journalist, people who are reporting on events which become the basis on which editors have to write editorial comments." A senior member of SLAJ explained, "We've been having a lot of quacks poaching into the profession. They carry briefcases, they have no office, no recognised location, no staff but yet they publish newspapers libeling people and getting away with it. We want to stamp that out." However, SLAJ President Frank Kposowa denied Berewa's assertion that the organisation is supporting the proposed law. "We are not a party to the killer press bill," he said. "We will resist all attempts to muzzle the press...We oppose the 10 and 15 years' experience imposed on editors as it was not among the rules and regulations submitted to the information ministry."

Following is commentary on the proposed press law. Victor Foh, APC parliamentarian: "The press must not be seen to be muzzled and as a democratic state, there should be a free press." Joe Conteh, UNPP parliamentarian: "Journalists should forward a written statement to MPs pointing out all the obnoxious clauses of the bill so that we can thoroughly scrutinise." Weekly Point newspaper: "Government should realise that stifling the press by introducing draconian acts and laws for the practice of journalism will never augur well for this newly found and much cherished democracy." Pathfinder newspaper: "The press bill is not bad. Journalism is like any other profession that requires some guidelines. We have no quarrel with these regulations." Expo Times newspaper: "The bill is set to kill a very large chunk of the independent press and increase the level of unemployment." Foday Fosky, Weekly Echo: "This is the worst era for vocal journalists and I believe the frequent arrests and detentions, raids on newspaper houses and the new press regulations have all combined to make a mockery of our new democracy." Pan African Association for Human Rights and Democracy: "The bill is a direct step to muzzle if not censure the press." Sorie Fofana, Vision: "The SLPP government is hell-bent on killing the vibrant and independent press in the country by invoking such conditions." Sheka Tarawali, Spotlight: "The conditions are too hard and are obviously aimed at shutting down the most vocal papers which publish uncomplimentary things about the government. They know that some of us cannot meet the requirements."

11 April: Liberian security officials seized a Sierra Leonean naval vessel Friday in Monrovia after it was found to be carrying drugs. A military spokesman said seven baskets of marijuana were found in the vessel's hull. The ship had traveled to Monrovia directly from Freetown, carrying food and other logistical supplies. A Sierra Leonean naval officer has been detained by ECOMOG military police. His name and rank have not been disclosed. The military spokesman termed the incident a "major embarrassment." ECOMOG Field Commander Major-General Victor Malu is quoted as saying, "This is not the first time that officers have betrayed the confidence (placed in them)." He advised all ECOMOG troops to shun all acts of indiscipline, saying that all cases of misdemeanor would continue to be severely punished. The arrested officer claimed that the baskets were given to him by a woman trader in Freetown who told him that they contained foo-foo for friends in Monrovia.

Supporters of UNPP leader John Karefa-Smart have demonstrated in Freetown, and presented a letter to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, asking him to intervene. Karefa Smart was suspended from parliament for a year by legislators who accused him of contempt after he urged the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in London to expel a Sierra Leonean delegate.

The faction of the Revolutionary United Front loyal to Foday Sankoh has denied collaborating with the London-based NGO International Alert to derail the peace process.

9 April: Namibia's Minister of Defence has accused the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes of recruiting Namibians to undergo training in Sierra Leone in order to destabilize Namibia. Phillemon Malima told the National Assembly on Tuesday that the training was being conducted from Angola, and that members of South Africa's former West Africa Territory Force (SWATF) were preparing to destabilize Namibia. On April 3, some members of the group threatened "suicide attacks" and "bombs" within ten days unless their pensions were paid. The Namibian government has rejected the ultimatums. Executive Outcomes left Sierra Leone in February, and has denied any involvement in Namibia. "The corporation strongly condemns and indeed resists such activities on the continent of Africa and elsewhere," the company said in a statement released in Pretoria, South Africa.

8 April: The United Nations Human Rights Commission will continue to privately monitor gross violations in five countries including Sierra Leone, according to a U.N. statement released Tuesday. The decision was taken by the 53 member commission behind closed doors Monday. 11 other countries were dropped from the list. The other four countries under scrutiny are Saudi Arabia, Chad, Gambia and Kyrgyzstan.

The Secretary-General of the London-based NGO International Alert has termed the Sierra Leone government's decision to cut relations "extremely unfortunate." Kumar Rupesinghe termed as "complete nonsense" the government's claim that the organisation had provided communications equipment to Foday Sankoh. "During the peace process we assisted communication. For example we were taking messages from one side to the other, from the RUF to the government, etc. We have not provided any equipment whatsoever," he said. He also denied that International Alert had played any role in the coup against Sankoh within the RUF, saying that IA believed "that any attempt to fragment the RUF is dangerous and it could lead to a Liberian situation." Rupesinghe stated that both the Sierra Leone government and the RUF had acknowledged with gratitude IA's role in the peace process. "We now have no operations on the ground (in Sierra Leone)," he added.

7 April: John Karefa-Smart, head of the United National People's Party (UNPP) has been suspended from parliament for one year and stripped of his parliamentary privileges and immunities. Legislators accused Karefa-Smart of contempt after he urged a meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in London to expel a Sierra Leonean delegate. This is the first time in history that a Sierra Leonean legislator has been suspended from parliament.

Sierra Leone's high court has granted bail to three Expo Times editors arrested March 19 on charges of espionage. Bail was set at Le 10 million each for Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, Charles Roberts, and Gibril Koroma. The three are accused of obtaining "secret official documents or extracts containing secret military information which might be used directly or indirectly by an enemy against the state." If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. The case has been adjourned until April 15.

The Sierra Leone government has severed ties with the London-based conflict mediation group International Alert, and declared its representative in Freetown, Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, persona non grata. Presidential Peace Advisor Sheka Mansaray gave no reasons beyond citing the group's "negative role and influence," but diplomatic sources indicate that the group gave communications equipment to Foday Sankoh which allowed him to contact RUF rebels in the bush and to announce that he is still in control of the RUF. "Sankoh's interviews have embarrassed the Nigerian authorities," a diplomat said. International Alert played a prominent part in the negotiations between the government and the RUF which led to the peace accord signed last November.

6 April: Sierra Leone and Ghana drew 1-1 Saturday in their second round World Cup qualifying match held in Freetown. Ghana's score came in the 23rd minute on an own goal scored by defender Abubakar Kamara. Sierra Leone equalized in the 88th minute when Lamin Kamara scored on a penalty shot. The game was played before a crowd of 70,000. Other scores: (Group 1) Nigeria 2, Guinea 1; Kenya 4, Burkina Faso 3; (Group 2) Liberia 1, Egypt 0; Namibia 1, Tunisia 2; (Group 3) Congo 2, South Africa 0; (Group 4) Angola 3, Togo 1; Cameroon 1, Zimbabwe 0; (Group 5) Morocco 4, Gabon 0; Zaire 2, Zambia 2.

5 April: Foday Sankoh Friday accused the Sierra Leone government of plotting to overthrow him, and said that the plan to oust him as RUF leader was "hatched" by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Sankoh's charges were rejected by Presidential Adviser on Peace Sheka Mansaray, who termed them ludicrous and baseless. "The Sierra Leone government would never undertake such a venture, he said." He said that the kidnapped members of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace were only interested in advancing the peace process, after "so much life had been lost and massive destruction done to their motherland...There was no question of our urging them to overthrow Sankoh or promises of ministerial posts and directors of parastatals." There was no word about the fate of the seven senior RUF officials and Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea, who were abducted at Nongowa in Kailahun District last week by RUF field commanders loyal to Sankoh. It is believed that Ambassador Mohamed Diaby, who before his diplomatic appointment six years ago was Commander of the Sierra Leone Navy, will be used as a bargaining chip for Sankoh's release from Nigeria where he is being held on weapons charges. In a rally in Freetown on Thursday, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said he is "prepared to beg Nigeria to free Sankoh in the interest of peace in the country."

4 April: The World Food Programme is to open a regional office in Ivory Coast to serve West Africa, with special emphasis on Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

3 April: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday that U.N. observers would be deployed in Sierra Leone as soon as the United Nations can secure the consent of the Revolutionary United Front. "I am aware of the change in the leadership of RUF and my special representative in Sierra Leone is in touch with the new leadership," Annan said. "We have indicated that when the new leadership is established our military experts will brief them on our operational concept and the plans we had in mind for the implementation of the peace process and we will move ahead with the deployment." Lack of consent to the operation has delayed the implementation of the peace agreement signed between the government and the RUF in November.

RUF leaders loyal to Foday Sankoh have called for his immediate release from detention in Nigeria. Vice President Joe Demby, Attorney General Solomon Berewa, and Presidential Peace Advisor Sheka Mansaray travelled on Wednesday to Nigeria, where they met with Nigerian leader Abacha and other senior government officials. The subject of the talks was not disclosed, but Mansaray said that the government in Freetown is in contact "directly and indirectly" with RUF bases in eastern Sierra Leone. The government is "trying to persuade the abductors to release the men as the method is not conducive to the peace process," Mansaray said. Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea, Mohammed Diaby, is reported to be safe. Two of the RUF members captured, Fayia Musa and Ibrahim Deen-Jalloh, are reported to be on trial in an RUF people's court for "plotting to overthrow the lawfully constituted authority" of Foday Sankoh. The two are delegates to the Commission for the Consolidation for Peace, which was set up under the Abidjan peace accord. Fears have been expressed about the fate of Captain Philip Palmer, who signed the announcement of the coup against Sankoh and who was part of the group captured by the hardliners. "My fear is that they have killed Palmer," Alieu Mustapha, spokesman for the breakaway group, said Wednesday in Freetown. "He knew all the RUF's secrets. He did all Sankoh's little jobs. Sankoh would not hesitate to order his execution," he said.

Sierra Leone will play Ghana in Freetown on Saturday in a World Cup qualifying match. Other matches to be played from April 5th to 9th in Africa are Nigeria vs. Guinea (Lagos); Kenya vs. Burkina Faso (Nairobi); Liberia vs. Egypt (Accra); Namibia vs. Tunisia (Windhoek); Congo vs. South Africa (Pointe-Noire); Zaire vs. Zambia (Harare); Cameroon vs. Zimbabwe (Yaounde); Angola vs. Togo (Luanda); and Gabon vs. Morocco (Libreville)

2 April: Three Expo Times journalists were denied bail for a third time Wednesday, and have been returned to Pademba Bay Road Prison. Magistrate Naomi Tunis adjourned further hearings until Friday. The three are facing four counts of spying and possession of a military document which the prosecution maintains would be useful to an enemy or to the Revolutionary United Front. Justice ministry officials say the case will be transferred shortly to the high court where the accused will be tried in secret because the documents allegedly concern state security. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), in a press release signed by over 35 editors and addressed to President Tejan Kabbah, has pleaded for the three editors to be freed.

RUF Commander Morris Kallon, in a written statement, said the rebels are still loyal to Foday Sankoh, and branded those who announced his ouster last month as traitors. Sankoh "remains the leader and commander-in-chief of the RUF and is the only person who can either disarm or order us to lay down our arms because he gave us these arms," the statement said. The group who announced his ouster "are renegades, treacherous and as such a danger to society," he said. Kallon disputed reports that seven senior RUF officials, along with Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea, had been abducted. "They have not been kidnapped but simply arrested for plotting to overthrow the lawfully constituted authority of our leader...These rebels will soon be arraigned before a special military court which will try them under the military Court of Justice." Mohamed Diaby, Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea, "was captured by our gallant commandos after a fierce gun battle during which the armed column he was leading to launch an attack on our positions fell into an ambush." The statement said that 11 members of the "Freetown armed gang" and two RUF fighters were killed. The faxed statement purported to come from the RUF stronghold in Kailahun, but bore an Accra, Ghana telephone number.

1 April: The United Nations has appealed for $68.2 million in humanitarian aid for Sierra Leone. The funds, which would cover the period from March 1997 to February 1998, would be used to promote the consolidation of peace and to assist the affected population in becoming self-sufficient. The assistance will include food aid, designed to assist the resettlement of those who have been displaced or impoverished by the war, as well as nutritional supplements, vaccines, and educational services for displaced children. The appeal covers the programmes of several U.N. agencies, including the World Food Programme, the U.N. Children's Fund, the U.N. Development Programme and the World Health Organisation. The aid would provide a foundation for the Sierra Leone government's National Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program.