The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 1999
 

30 April: Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer, in a BBC Network Africa interview conducted Thursday night and broadcast on Friday, said the government was following "with keen interest" the RUF's internal consultations in Lomé, Togo. "We want to hear what they have to say, but the important thing is that we need to have some concrete proposals coming from them and a consensus amongst them, so we don’t have to be dealing with different issues and starting and stopping," he said. "We want this time that whatever we end up with is going to give us permanent and lasting peace." Spencer said the government had not reacted to the RUF's offer of a cease-fire because the it had not received any such proposal. "We’ve heard some statements being made," he said, adding: "If they’re going to make a proposal for a cease-fire, it has to be a comprehensive proposal." Referring to military action by pro-government forces along the Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway, Spencer referred to the government's twin-track approach of military activity and dialogue. "The road has to be cleared," he said. "Certain parts of the country have been inaccessible. People are going without food, etc. and we cannot simply allow that to continue. So it is that action that’s going on, to make sure that the people of this country can have access to food and other necessities of life, and they can live in sort of relative peace and quiet." Spencer denied that the current military action was designed to send a signal to RUF leaders deliberating in Togo. "Well it is not specifically aimed at sending any particular message to them," he said. "I believe by now they are aware that government is serious and sincere in its commitment to a lasting peace for this country. But also, that government is also committed to doing the best it can to ensure that the people of this country can live in peace." He said the government was in the process of forming a delegation to negotiate with the rebels which would be prepared to leave for Togo "as soon as we get word from the rebels that this is what they want to negotiate based on." Spencer added that if the RUF's internal consultations resulted in "in some consensus and it's reasonable," the government would send a delegation quickly "and we would hope that in a few weeks time we should have some sort of peace agreement."

Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has pledged an additional $1.5 million to aid victims of armed conflict in Sierra Leone, Minister of International Cooperation Diane Marleau announced on Thursday. "Thousands of civilians have been displaced by the armed conflict in Sierra Leone, and many have suffered atrocities at the hands of the rebels," Marleau said. "Canadians are deeply concerned by the situation, and we feel it is important to make sure the victims' basic needs are met." The humanitarian assistance will be channeled through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Doctors without Borders, World Vision, and local non-governmental organisations, and will be used both to provide emergency health care and shelter for displaced persons and to assist in reintegrating child soldiers into society. This latest Canadian assistance brings to $3.8 million assistance contributed by CIDA since December 1998 to help those affected by the Sierra Leone crisis. Most of the earlier support was provided to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help care for thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Sierra Leone.

A statement issued on Friday by ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade, as reported by BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, said ECOMOG troops of the brigade operating Masiaka were now conducting "a thorough mop-up exercise as well as cordon-and-search of the area," while a second ECOMOG brigade was advancing "to other locations in their assigned axis." Said Ojukutu-Macaulay: "With the arrival of two new helicopter gunships a few ago, and the news of the capture and liberation of Newton, Songo, Sumbuya, and Masiaka, ECOMOG forces and their allies are now working on dominating the entire Freetown-Masiaka highway, to keep it completely free of rebel activities." The statement said the ECOMOG High Command was pleased with the capture of Masiaka, which it saw as "a prelude to the eventual linkup of the Kenema-Bo axis towards restoring normal movement of goods and services to those areas which have been cut off by the rebels for more than six months now," according to Ojukutu-Macaulay. The ECOMOG statement also claimed that some of the rebels had thrown away their weapons, while those with uniforms had changed to civilian clothes to blend into civil society rather than surrender. ECOMOG warned that those who did so might be caught in the cross-fire and refused prisoners of war status. "I understand that a number of those who were caught by ECOMOG in the process are being interrogated," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "During the interrogation, some of them are denying their commitment to the rebel movement, claiming that they were abducted by the RUF." He added that, according to Olukolade, the Freetown-Masiaka highway was not yet open to civilian vehicular traffic.

29 April: ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen, backed by tanks and fighter jets, captured Masiaka from rebel forces on Thursday, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade. "The battle for Masiaka was fierce, but we overran their positions and have taken firm control of the town, and we are now mopping up the rebels outside the town and establishing defences in and around the town,'' Olukolade said. Reuters quoted a "senior presidential aide" as saying that with the capture of Masiaka, the highway leading to Sierra Leone's provincial capitals could be reopened and shipment of food and fuel supplies to the interior could resume. "Masiaka was one of the rebels' biggest bases in the country. Its recapture will put more pressure on them to talk peace sincerely,'' he said. Masiaka had been under rebel control since its capture from Guinean ECOMOG troops in December.

The Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) quoted the RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley Thursday as saying that the question of power sharing was premature as far as the RUF's internal consultations were concerned. Golley was quoted as saying that the RUF was currently preoccupied with its cease-fire proposal, and was awaiting the government's response. He said the withdrawal of ECOMOG troops was not a precondition to establishing a truce, but that the belligerent forces would have to remain in the positions they currently occupy.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" ongoing atrocities in Sierra Leone, and has called on all parties to respect international humanitarian law. Robinson said Thursday she had been following with deep distress reports of grave human rights violations, particularly by rebel forces. She expressed her support for the current peace process in Lomé, and called on the parties to the conflict to redouble their efforts to secure an agreement to end the war in Sierra Leone which would lay a foundation for peace and respect for human rights. Robinson plans to visit Sierra Leone in June.

28 April: ECOMOG soldiers and Kamajor militiamen shelled rebel positions at Masiaka on Wednesday, with one senior ECOMOG officer predicting that the fall of the town was imminent. "The rebels are fighting us fiercely for the town with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades," he said. "We reached the gates of the town yesterday, and since then the small arms battle and artillery exchanges for the town have intensified." Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said that the government wanted a negotiated settlement with the rebels, but would continue to use military force until a peace deal was reached. "The government is implementing a dual track approach," Kaikai said. "We will continue dialogue with the rebels, but at the same time we will continue to fight them to clear them from strategic positions in the country until a peace agreement is reached with them."

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo called Wednesday for a cease-fire in Sierra Leone to facilitate the peace talks. "To give a chance to the talks to succeed, we think we should create a climate of confidence. This climate can be created by stopping hostilities, during which no side should launch an offensive against the other," Okelo said following a meeting with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. Meanwhile, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said his field commanders had backed comprehensive talks aimed at ending Sierra Leone's civil war. Sankoh expressed disappointment that the Sierra Leone government had not responded to his offer of a truce. "My delegation here is ready to negotiate," Sankoh said at the formal opening of the RUF's internal consultations. He said the commanders gathered in Lomé, Togo were "representatives of all our brigades."

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said the rebel group had not received a response to its cease-fire offer from President Kabbah. The only response the RUF had received, he said, was a faxed copy of Kabbah's Independence Day speech, in which he challenged the RUF to contest elections in 16 months. "We are very disappointed about what he had to say,'' Golley said. "In fact we are about to come to the conclusion that he is not interested in peace at all.'' He added that he had spoken to Kabbah by telephone on Sunday and informed him of the RUF's offer. Golley said the field commanders were in agreement on the cease-fire and on a peace plan. He said the commanders were satisfied that Sankoh, who has been imprisoned for the past two years, was not put under undue pressure by the government to agree to a peace deal. "There's no doubt in their minds that he is the undisputed leader,'' Golley said. "There is absolutely no doubt in their minds, from what I can see, that he is the same man they used to know."

The Sierra Leone government has purchased two helicopter gunships from Ukraine, ostensibly to defend the country against external aggression. "I am very delighted that the helicopter gunships are now with us, to build up our defences and to combat the ongoing war," President Kabbah said in an Independence Day ceremony to commission the helicopters on Tuesday. Dressed in combat fatigues, Kabbah said the gunships, which arrived in Sierra Leone on Saturday, were "to warn those interfering in the sovereignty of our country that we are now preparing for any external aggressors." The Concord Times newspaper described the helicopters as armour-plated M1-24V gunships, capable of firing 4,500 rounds of ammunition a minute. "A particular bomb has the capacity to eliminate any living thing within 200 meters radius. It has high visibility potential capable of detecting the enemy several miles away," the Concord Times reported.

Rebel forces have reportedly attacked Yele in an attempt to wrest control of the town from Kamajor forces who captured Matotoka and the Pampana Bridge in Tonkolili District at the weekend, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said on Wednesday. "According to Yele residents who fled the fighting and who arrived in Bo this morning, the RUF troops bypassed Kamajor positions at Matotoka town and attacked Yele town as the residents slept," Brima said. "Houses were set ablaze while women and children, mostly the displaced who tried to flee to nearby bushes, were gunned down." He said fierce fighting for control of Yele was continuing, adding that over 30 people had been killed in the rebel attack. The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA), citing "independent sources," subsequently put the death toll at "several dozen."

Two Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers who escaped from the rebels said they had been treated badly while in captivity. The two, who were captured in January during the rebel attack on Freetown, spoke from their hospital beds to Nigerian television, and were quoted Wednesday by Radio Kudirat International. One of the soldiers said he had been tied throughout his detention. He also asserted that the rebels possessed a list of loyalist Sierra Leonean soldiers who went over to ECOMOG when the force ousted the junta in February 1998. The two soldiers said rebel forces in Sierra Leone were holding at least 200 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers.

Rebels reportedly attacked a ferry at Maboli on Friday, killing nine traders and maiming eleven, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

27 April: In a speech to mark Sierra Leonean Independence Day, President Kabbah told the nation Tuesday that coups, counter-coups and the country's civil war had "taken a heavy toll on all aspects of life in this country." He called on the RUF to renounce violence and to contest elections next year. After what he called "eight years of sheer terror," the RUF and its allies had failed to win "the most important prerequisite for governance, namely, the will of the people," Kabbah said. "Our message to the RUF rebels...is that if indeed they are genuinely interested in peace, if indeed they want to rule, or if they want political power in any proportion, they must first secure the will of the people of Sierra Leone," he said. "Let them abandon the idea of seizing it by force of arms. Instead of holding the rest of the country hostage and demanding power, they should try to earn it, peacefully, through the ballot box. As the leaders of the RUF are aware, even some of their staunch supporters have come to realize that when all is said and done, the ballot box is still the only way of gaining legitimacy for democratic governance...Today, on the anniversary of our independence, we challenge the RUF rebels to renounce violence and terror. We challenge them to meet us at the polling booths in less than sixteen months’ time. They can now start preparing for the electoral process." Kabbah appeared to rule out any power-sharing arrangement with the RUF in advance of national elections. "It is unfortunate that some of our friends who are great defenders of democracy, some of those who pledge allegiance to uphold their constitution as the supreme law of their respective nations, now expect us to violate the provisions of our own democratic constitution and make arbitrary changes of accommodation without the consent of our people," Kabbah said. "This will clearly be a prescription for future chaos and instability in our country; a situation which the people of Sierra Leone will not tolerate." He added that if Sierra Leone found it necessary to make substantive changes to the constitution, "we will, as in other democracies, do so only with the consent of our people, and in accordance with the relevant provisions for amending that supreme document of state." Kabbah also told the nation that the government had decided, when conditions permit, to set up an independent Human Rights Commission. "Operating as a quasi judicial body, the Commission will be empowered to hear complaints and investigate allegations of human rights violations," Kabbah said. "It will also devise further recourse procedures and relief for victims of such violations. Since the most vulnerable victims of human rights abuses have been women and children, the new Human Rights Commission will have two specialized committees with responsibility for developing, on the basis of the constitution, standards for the protection of their rights against violations by individuals or groups."

RUF leaders continued a second day of internal consultations in Lomé, Togo on Tuesday. The Agence-France Presse (AFP) described the talks as "informal discussions" between RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and 19 RUF members. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said the rebel leaders had not yet received a response from the Sierra Leone government on their proposal for an immediate cease-fire. "We are still waiting to hear from the government as to what their response is to our cease-fire offer. We want an indication or demonstration of their own desire," Golley said. He added that once the government had agreed to a truce, the two sides would sit down to work out how it should be implemented. "The next stage is for us to go jointly to the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and ECOWAS to decide on ceasefire monitors and verification mechanism," he said. Golley sidestepped a question as to whether the cease-fire offer had been prompted by increased military pressure by pro-government troops along the Freetown - Masiaka highway. "We are trying as a movement to move away from who is intensifying where. What we are interested in is peace," he said. Togolese Foreign Minister confirmed that the Sierra Leone government had not yet responded to the RUF's cease-fire offer. "We are in regular contact with Freetown, but so far we have had no official reaction to the cease-fire proposal," he said.

According to a list published by the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), the RUF delegation in Lomé, Togo includes S.Y.B. Rogers, Brigadier Mike Lamin, Colonel Lawrence S. Wormandia, Colonel Rashid Sandi, Lieutenant-Colonel Idrissa Kamara, Major Agnes Finnoh, Major Amara Vandi Jr., Major Rashid Foday, Major S.S. Williams, Major Ernest Ngegba, Major M. Jalloh, Captain Alex Williams, Major Morie Gibao, and Lieutenant Aruna Dauda Finnie.

In a BBC Network Africa interview recorded Monday night and broadcast on Tuesday, Golley repeated the RUF offer of a truce, and said that the RUF was prepared "as soon as the government and ECOMOG is, to enter into a cease-fire agreement, but we want to know their position on this." He said the RUF was expecting a declaration of intent from the Sierra Leone government that it was prepared to enter into a cease-fire agreement with the rebels. Dismissing a suggestion that the RUF declare a unilateral cease-fire, Golley said, "There are many aspects of entering into a cease-fire. You don't just simply declare a cease-fire without knowing the intentions of the other side." Golley also downplayed the absence of former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma and RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie from the RUF internal consultations in Lomé, Togo. "They may not be present here at this particular moment in time, but that does not mean that they are not going to be present in the ensuing ten days," he said. "You can be sure that the people that are here at the moment, representing the movement, have the mandate of all the areas under RUF control in our country. So, whether or not General Sam Bockarie, or Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma are here or not, the people that are actually on the ground here in Lomé at the moment have the mandate to discuss lasting and sustainable peace." Golley rejected any suggestion of a rift within the rebel movement. "Our movement is very strong, it's very unified, and you can be sure that the military commanders in the field are in touch with one another almost on an hourly basis," Golley said. "So, you know, I really don't want to hear about this talk of splits." He added that the timing of a cease-fire was now in the hands of the Sierra Leone government. "If they come now and respond to our manifestation of an intent to enter into agreement for a cease-fire, which could be done within hours or even minutes, I think that you would find that we would respond ourselves favourably."

President Kabbah has ordered the release from prison of some 14 persons serving various offences, and has revoked expulsion orders on three persons, including two Lebanese nationals and U.S. citizen Roger Crooks. Crooks, who reportedly has extensive business interests in Sierra Leone which include the Mammy Yoko Hotel, was expelled in June 1998 after it was alleged he had engaged in arms trafficking. The Attorney-General's office also released more than 30 detainees who were being investigated for involvement in the May 1997 coup.

Kamajor militiamen said Tuesday they had captured Matotoka on the Makeni - Kono highway and the Pampana Bridge in Tonkolili District in fighting over the weekend, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Tuesday. The report was based on an account by a resident who fled the area, and claims by the Kamajor Director of Operations, Mohamed Mansaray. "(Mansaray), speaking with me at the 26th ECOMOG Brigade in Bo this morning, on his part claimed that they inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels," Brima said. "He said six vehicles, ammunition, including an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a four-wheel drive, and 60-millimeter motor bomb were captured from the fleeing rebels. Apart from those that arrived in Bo, I understand that hundreds of people who also fled from Matotoka are now taking refuge in Yele Town in the Tonkolili District."

26 April: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said Monday the RUF was prepared to declare an immediate cease-fire if the Sierra Leone government would reciprocate. "We are ready for any cease-fire, be it temporal or permanent," Sankoh said after he and his commanders met with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. "The field commanders, if possible, will declare a cease-fire by today or tomorrow." Sankoh said he had asked Eyadema "to convince the government of Sierra Leone and (pro-government) troops to respond to any cease-fire declared by RUF." RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said implementation of a cease-fire was conditional on reciprocation by the Sierra Leone government and the establishment of a truce verification mechanism. "This is a declaration of intent, a declaration of our readiness to declare a cease-fire when all the relevant modalities have been put in place,'' Golley said. "As soon as we get a positive response from the other side we'll declare a cease-fire, even tonight." Meanwhile, ECOMOG sources in Freetown said several thousand ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen, backed by tanks and fighter planes, had advanced to within ten miles of Masiaka. Rebel forces have reportedly planted land mines and dug trenches across the highway to slow the ECOMOG advance. "The rebels are fighting us fiercely and ambushing our vehicles, but we are pounding them with howitzers," a senior ECOMOG commander said. "Scores of rebels have died in this campaign to recapture Masiaka and open the country's main highway." He added that several Kamajors had been killed by mines.

According to the BBC, talks between Sankoh and his commanders got underway in Lomé on Monday. "(Sankoh) unambiguously and categorically stated that talks with his men, that international consultations will begin with his men from the bush immediately today in order to arrive at a consensus position and in order to produce a document that will contain a shopping list of the proposals and the grievances of the RUF organization," the report said. Togolese Foreign Minister Kokou Koffigoh was quoted as saying the RUF was asking for at least ten days in which to hold internal consultations.

Police in Freetown have cracked down on the currency black market, arresting more than 100 illegal currency traders over the weekend. "We have locked them up in police cells and we will be taking them to court," a senior police officer said. "We have been ordered by the government to bust the black market once and for all." Central Bank officials have blamed illegal money traders for a shortage of foreign exchange. "The Central Bank and the commercial banks have again run short of dollars and sterling and cannot now provide them to depositors who have foreign exchange accounts with them," an official said. Witnesses quoted by Reuters said the police seized tens of thousands of dollars during the sweep. It added that the Lumley Street and Sweissy black markets were deserted on Monday. The Central Bank exchange rate against the dollar on Monday was Le 1,577.44/1,609.02 (bought/sold). Commercial banks offered a rate of Le 1,900/2,000 while black market traders buy at Le 2,200 and sell at a rate of Le 2,250.

25 April: The United Nations flew a second group of rebel commanders to Togo on Sunday for consultations with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Missing from the delegation, however, were former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma and RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, who are second and third in the RUF hierarchy, respectively. Sankoh dismissed speculation of a rift in the organisation. "Whether Sam Bockarie or Johnny Paul Koroma are here does not matter. They are here in spirit and we'll go ahead with our talks to show that we are serious about peace," Sankoh said.   Leading the group which arrived on Sunday was Brigadier Mike Lamin. Sankoh also introduced as his "political adviser" Daniel Kallon, said to be a funding member of the RUF. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said Koroma and Bockarie had been delayed for security reasons, but that they were still expected. He added that attacks by ECOMOG could force the commanders to cut short their consultations with Sankoh. "If you are a frontline commander ... coming for peace talks and your position comes under attack, you cannot continue the talks," he added.

The European Union has pledged to provide humanitarian aid worth $5.2 million for Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced persons, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported on Sunday. The aid is primarily directed toward the areas of health, water sanitation, and nutrition. The funds will also be used to relocate Sierra Leonean refugees away from the Sierra Leone - Guinea border, and to establish two new camps for these refugees. According to figures published by PANA, there are now estimated to be 450,000 Sierra Leonean refugees — 300,000 of them in Guinea — and 500,000 internally-displaced persons within Sierra Leone, including 150,000 in Freetown, 30,000 at Lungi, 14,000 at Blama, 55,000 at Kenema, 17,000 at Kambia, 4,000 in Bo, and 18,000 in Shenge. 250,000 Freetown residents were also rendered homeless by the rebel attack on Freetown in January.

24 April: According to initial reports, seven rebel commanders arrived in Lomé, Togo on a United Nations plane Saturday and immediately entered into consultations with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Reuters later reported that the first group included only two commanders: Solomon "Pa" Rogers, the chairman of the RUF's war council, and Colonel Idrissa Kamara. The rest, Reuters reported, were teenagers and an unidentified woman. They were met at the military wing of Lomé Airport by Togolese Foreign Minister Kokou Koffigoh and driven to the hotel where Sankoh is staying. "Sankoh was naturally delighted to see them. First he is getting briefed on the situation in the rebel-held areas," said RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley. A second group of seven commanders, including RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie and former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, was expected to arrive in Lomé on Sunday. Golley said their arrival might now be delayed due to security concerns. "They probably won't come tomorrow, and may not come on a U.N. flight,'' Golley said. He added that the RUF's concerns resulted from increased military activity by the ECOMOG force.

According to a list provided by the National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS), the seven commanders who arrived on Saturday were Solomon Y.B. Rogers (Chairman, People's Peace Council), Major-General G.S.T. Mani (who fled from Freetown in February 1998 with the rank of colonel in the Sierra Leone Army), Brigadier Mike Lamin (RUF), Colonel Idrissa Kamara (SLA), Lieutenant-Colonel Rashid (RUF), Major Agnes Finoh (RUF), and Alimamy Pallo Bangura (AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs). According to Reuters, however, only Rogers and Kamara actually arrived on the flight, accompanied by several teenagers and an unidentified woman.

Earlier Saturday, the fourteen rebel commanders arrived in Monrovia by helicopter, where the United Nations had arranged to fly them to Togo. The delegation's arrival had been held up by fighting this week in the Liberian town of Voinjama, which was to have been a transit point. Golley said even Saturday's flight had been in doubt after the delegates insisted on travelling to Lomé in a single group, in their own chartered plane. "It looks like they are coming with the U.N. and in two flights," he said. "The important thing is that whoever comes, we should start our consultations right away." The RUF has expressed concern about security in Togo, and reportedly wants to keep the RUF commanders in Lomé for as short a time as possible. Golley said those arriving on the first flight Saturday might even return to the bush on Sunday with the plane bringing the second group. Reuters observed that this would throw into doubt the government's expectation that negotiations with the rebels would begin immediately following the RUF's internal consultations. Golley said that the RUF would want a week to consult with West African governments before substantive talks could begin. Meanwhile, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said the government expected the RUF's internal consultations to last no more than a week. "As soon as the rebels finish consulting with Corporal Foday Sankoh...the government is sending its own delegation to Togo to begin peace talks with the rebels," he said. "From our contacts with the U.N., we are positive we will reach a peace deal with the rebels."

Three trucks loaded with food and escorted by Kamajor militiamen reached Moyamba on Friday, a Kamajor commander said on Saturday. "These are the first food trucks to reach the interior of Sierra Leone from Freetown since December when rebels captured key towns," he said.

An ECOMOG spokesman reported renewed fighting Saturday as pro-government forces advanced toward the rebel-held town of Masiaka.

23 April: Renewed military action by the ECOMOG force will not derail proposed peace talks, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley told the Associated Press (AP) on Thursday, but he warned of a possible counter-attack by rebel forces. "We are under attack on all fronts in Sierra Leone,'' Golley said. "They are using Alpha jets and cluster bombs to strengthen their bargaining position. It's their severest offensive — launched while we want to talk peace...If we want to launch a truly major offensive, we can at any time. We control 80 percent of the country and we could win militarily. But we will win democratically instead." ECOMOG Chief of Staff Major-General John Onu said ECOMOG had captured the towns of Kambia and Mange, northwest of Freetown, the AP reported. Golley said the RUF will demand a power-sharing agreement with the government of President Kabbah, and will want a say in the formation of a new Sierra Leone military force. The rebels also want Nigeria to withdraw its troops from ECOMOG, he said. Golley added that the RUF does not want their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, returned to prison. The Sierra Leone government has insisted that following consultations with other RUF leaders, Sankoh must return to Freetown, where he faces a death sentence on treason charges. His case is currently before the Appeals Court.

The Director of the U.S. State Department Office of West African Affairs, Ambassador Howard Jeter, said the United States believes that the RUF must reciprocate President Kabbah's show of good faith. "We believe this can best be done by declaring a ceasefire, releasing abducted children, and opening humanitarian corridors to currently insecure and inaccessible areas," Jeter said in a statement.

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa has denied a report attributed to Liberia's Star Radio, which quoted him as saying a British court had frozen accounts containing over $17.5 million in funds belonging to the Sierra Leone government. Berewa told the Sierra Leone News and Information Service (SLENA) that he had been misquoted. He said the misunderstanding evidently arose from statements he made at a press conference to announce the establishment of a Commission of Enquiry to investigate Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (SierraTel). Berewa said he had spoken of court action the government had been forced to take in Britain to ensure that funds held by Crown Agents on behalf of the Bank of Sierra Leone were not subject to an injunction which has been in force since 1991. The injunction resulted from a court decision in favour of Philips Brothers against the former Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) or failing to pay an outstanding debt guaranteed on behalf on Seyle Yorfendeh, a private Sierra Leonean company engaged in the importation of rice. Berewa told SLENA the government won a judgment in March establishing that the assets of the Bank of Sierra Leone were not the same as assets of the Government of Sierra Leone. "The Attorney-General pointed out that the Phillips Brothers case is one of the many albatrosses which this government inherited from previous governments," SLENA said.

Sierra Leonean refugees and Liberian residents were forced to flee Voinjama and nearby villages in Lofa County, Liberia after an attack on the town by armed men on Wednesday. Regional Director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Abu Moussa said the attackers were armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and machetes. Paul Ares, the World Food Programme's Regional Director for West Africa, described the insurgents as "a rag-tag group without any command structure." The attackers reportedly looted the town, including the offices of aid agencies. Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is currently on a visit to South Africa, denounced the attack as "unlawful, unacceptable, and a threat to peace and stability of the sub-region." Pointing a finger at neighbouring Guinea, Taylor said the Liberian government had lodged an official complaint with the Guinean government, ECOWAS, the OAU, and the United Nations Security Council. "Liberia desires peace with our neighbours and finds it unacceptable that any nation will permit, acquiesce, or participate in any action against the sovereign people of Liberia," Taylor said. He warned that if the incident were repeated, measures would "be taken to defend our cause, and our allies will also defend our actions." According to Radio Liberia, the Liberian government called for an investigation by Guinean authorities and requested that Guinea turn over "elements of the incursion forces who are presently receiving medical treatment in Nzerekore as well as others on Guinean soil." In an angrily-worded statement read out by Guinean Communications Minister Ibrahima Mongo Diallo on Thursday, the Guinean government rejected the charges. "The Government of the Republic of Guinea expresses its indignation and protests in the strongest terms such unfounded allegations. It wishes to point out that the Republic of Guinea, true to its vocation of peace, has never been and will never be a rear base for the destabilization of another country. The Republic of Guinea has always worked for the strengthening of its relations with all countries, particularly with neighboring countries," the statement said in part. The Guinean charge d'affaires in Monrovia, Joseph Tohonon, was even more blunt. "We cannot stand by and allow lies fabricated against our country to pass without response. What can Guinea benefit by putting fire on its neighbour's house?," he told Monrovia's Inquirer newspaper.

Freetown's Concord Times newspaper has resumed publication on the internet, Editor-in-Chief Kingsley Lington said on Friday. The Concord Times originally went online last year, but had not been updated since rebel forces burned the newspaper's offices during their attack on Freetown in January.

22 April: After capturing the town of Songo, ECOMOG troops have begun an advance along the highway toward Masiaka, ECOMOG Chief of Staff Major-General John Onu said on Thursday. "Very soon and by God's grace, the Freetown-Kenema highway will be totally free for commercial activities," Onu said. Rebel forces continue to hold sections of the highway, cutting Freetown off from the rest of the country. Officials acknowledge that the rebels remain active within a 30 mile radius of the capital. "Many security apparatus have been put in place to take care of any security lapses. Freetown is safe and will continue to be very safe for normal activities," Onu said.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie has "left Sierra Leone today and will likely arrive in Lomé by the weekend," RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said Thursday from the Togolese capital. Former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, now considered number two in the RUF hierarchy, is also on his way to attend consultations with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, Golley said. He told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that a list of 16 delegates had been approved by ECOWAS and the United Nations, who are brokering the talks. Earlier, Golley had said the RUF was not yet completely satisfied with security guarantees for its delegates. He told the AFP that the concerns were now "resolved" and that the entire delegation would arrive this weekend. The rebels had requested that Sankoh be guarded by Togolese security personnel instead of Sierra Leonean officers or ECOMOG troops. "That request has been fulfilled by the Togolese authorities," Golley said. He told the AFP that the RUF was organising its own transportation from Sierra Leone to Liberia, but that the United Nations would provide transportation from Liberia to Togo.

Fighting between Liberian rebels and Liberian government troops at the town of Voinjama in Lofa County has delayed the departure of AFRC/RUF rebel commanders planning to travel to Togo, Minister of Information Dr. Julius Spencer said on Thursday. The delegates had been offered safe passage through Liberian territory to Monrovia, where the United Nations was to fly them to Togo for consultations with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley confirmed that the fighting had prevented the delegates' from leaving Sierra Leone. Liberian rebels, reportedly from Alhaji Kromah's officially-disbanded ULIMO-K militia, attacked Voinjama from across the Guinea border on Wednesday. Reuters reported Thursday that Kromah, supposedly in exile in the United States, had been sighted several times in Guinea recently, and that he is known to have training bases at Macenta and Kekedou. Aid workers said that fighting was ongoing, but that government troops appeared to be driving the rebels back toward the border. Witnesses said troops from Monrovia's Barclay Training Centre barracks were preparing to head for the Guinean border on Thursday.

President Kabbah has given permissing for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to return to Sierra Leone, an ICRC delegate in Guinea said on Thursday. "We have made the first step to return to Sierra Leone ... and it's a successful one," Beat Mosimann said. "We now have to clarify the situation with ECOMOG and with government ministers." The ICRC was expelled from Sierra Leone in January after ECOMOG accused the organisation of aiding rebel forces with their communications, a charge the ICRC has denied. While the battle for Freetown still raged, ECOMOG ordered all aid organisations, including United Nations agencies, to hand over their communications equipment. Other aid workers have also faced accusations of collaborating with the rebels. In a televised address on Tuesday, Kabbah said security problems facing the country had caused people to be "traumatised and suspicious of everyone." Kabbah was shown with ICRC Delegate General for Africa Pierre Wettach, who said "The ICRC has always been transparent with governments taking into consideration national security constraints." Mosimann expressed his hope that ICRC personnel would be back on the ground soon.

Britain's Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana, Craig Murray, met Thursday with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema and assured him of Britain's support for his efforts to restore peace in Sierra Leone. "We essentially discussed the peace process in Sierra Leone and President Eyadema's peace initiative, as well as the talks within the RUF with a view to successfully ending the sad situation and restoring peace," Murray said. "We have reaffirmed our total support for ECOMOG and [words indistinct] we will continue to support the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group [ECOMOG]. Our prime minister has sent a letter to the president, congratulating him for his efforts to restore peace to Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. We are the largest supporter of ECOMOG troops, and we are working as closely as we can to support the peace negotiations." Eyadema also conferred with ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Couyate on what Radio Lomé described as the "mechanisms and modalities" for the upcoming consultations. "I came to confer with President Eyadema on the negotiation procedures," Kouyate said. "The discussions will not be easy, but ECOWAS will contribute to the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone. We will first seek to harmonize the views among RUF members, and then prepare the meeting between the RUF and the Sierra Leonean government. We have discussed this possibility and I believe that everything will go according to plan and I am very optimistic."

Guinean residents of the town of Mollah destroyed a camp sheltering Sierra Leonean refugees Tuesday, a day after an attack which was blamed on rebels hiding in the camp. Two people were reported killed in the rebel attack Monday night and eight wounded. Villagers accused the refugees at the camp, one of seven in the area, of siding with the rebels.

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers ended a four-day meeting in Maputo, Mozambique on Thursday with a declaration calling on western governments to use their influence to end the recruitment into armies of children under the age of 18. "Participants...call upon governments outside Africa to use their influence to bring pressure to bear on any government or armed opposition group which recruits or uses children as soldiers by refraining from providing them with arms, military equipment, training and personnel," the declaration said. There are believed to be some 120,000 child soldiers, some as young as seven, serving in conflicts across Africa. Sierra Leone, Algeria, Uganda, Liberia, Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were cited as having the worst records in the use of children as combatants.

The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported Thursday that the "violent massacre" at Songo occurred after rebels stormed the town last week and began setting fire to the homes of over 100 residents. Citing "well-informed MISNA sources in Guinea," the news agency said the bodies were discovered by a unit of the Kamajor militia, which reported the killings to ECOMOG in Freetown. The sources alleged that the massacre was due in part to clashes between opposing rebel factions. "Songo was however already abandoned by a large part of the civil population at the beginning of hostilities at the end of last year," MISNA reported. "While the various rebel factions are presently operating under the RUF,  their military co-ordination is difficult given that they are often scattered throughout the area. The lack of discipline and food shortages greatly increase the aggressiveness of the rebels, particularly the younger ones. In fact last month, in the city of Makeni, numerous (people) were killed in clashes between rival rebel groups." The news agency added that during the past few days the Songo area had seen joint military operations by ECOMOG and the Kamajors with the principal aim, still not accomplished, of capturing the important rebel stronghold at Masiaka.

Sierra Leone's Government Information Services (GIS) on Thursday released a transcript of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's statement made prior to his leaving for Togo. "My two years detention has given me the opportunity to review the stated objectives of the RUF and the way forward," Sankoh said. "This period also has given me the opportunity to assess the sincerity and commitment of President Tejan Kabbah about bringing lasting peace and prosperity to Sierra Leone." Sankoh said that he would listen carefully to briefings from his colleagues and relate these to the overall objectives of the RUF. "As you know the RUF was created to address the injustice, corruption, as well as ignoring the poor people and their interests," he said. "I see that these are the very problems that the present government is trying to wipe out. The RUF cannot be against anything that is in the interest of the common man to make a few changes so that we can be sure that all those who for various reasons are afraid to join other Sierra Leoneans to work for the development of the country will do so without fear." Sankoh said the RUF was "not going to allow the dialogue to concentrate on creating opportunities for individuals but for the masses of the people." 

21 April: Fleeing rebels killed at least 125 civilians at Songo last week, witnesses and ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said on Wednesday. According to Reuters, dozens of bodies lay in the streets of Songo on Tuesday. Survivors said the rebels killed more than 100 people there on Thursday and Friday, and had abducted others. "The rebels started to kill the people of Songo, and other people they had abducted from nearby towns and villages and were holding hostage in Songo, last Thursday and continued on Friday until they finally fled," a resident told Reuters outside her burned-out home. She said the rebels fled Friday as ECOMOG soldiers and Kamajor militiamen advanced on the town. A similar report was filed by BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay. "As we actually entered the town itself, which is about 47 kilometres from Freetown, we saw dead bodies on both sides of the road leading to the Songo town itself, and when we entered Songo there were a lot of shallow graves, and ECOMOG and the Kamajors told us that since they took the town four days ago, they have been burying a lot of dead bodies they met at Songo," he said. Ojukutu-Macaulay confirmed that ECOMOG was in control of Songo, "and as I'm talking to you there are plans for ECOMOG to advance, but for security reasons they are not saying much." He said there were signs of a fierce battle along the road leading from Waterloo to Newton. "There were empty shells all across the road, sort of a carpet on the road. In fact, one has to drive very carefully to avoid getting punctured, and when we got to Newton the houses were all destroyed, burned down, and the same with Songo. When we entered Songo, there was not a single living thing in Songo except one dog. We saw only one dog in the entire Songo, and Songo is a very big town with over 7,000 people before the rebel invasion." He said ECOMOG officials implied their casualties had been light. "What he actually told us was that they are having serious problems to advance, because most of the rebels are now changing over to civilian clothes, and even when they capture rebels now some of them are even claiming to be civilians abducted by the rebels," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "So they are having very serious problems in advancing from where they are now." Olukolade told reporters in Songo that at least 125 bodies had been collected, and added that civilians had been hacked, shot, or burned to death inside their homes. According to state radio, Olukolade said there was an "urgent need for NGOs to go into Songo and its environs to provide food, water and shelter for civilians liberated from rebel-controlled areas." Meanwhile RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley, quoting battlefield commanders, denied RUF involvement in the killings. "We unreservedly deny that the RUF has been responsible for the unfortunate deaths of civilians in the Songo area," Golley said. "We have been accused about these things so many times before. This time it would not be consistent with a policy of...sincere dialogue." He blamed the killings on Nigerian Alpha jet fighters attached to the ECOMOG force. "For eight consecutive hours they were bombarding allegedly RUF positions in the area on Friday," he said. "We feel very strongly that the peace process should not be jeopardised by wanton acts of destruction by ECOMOG personnel."

Rebels attacked the towns of Kassiri and Kychom in Kambia District on Tuesday, burning houses and forcing residents to flee, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. "Though for the moment the situation is still unclear, the assumption is that the raid was carried out by a scattered rebel faction in search of food," MISNA added.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh reportedly instructed RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley on Monday that Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma and Major Eldred Collins should be dropped from a list of RUF delegates who will travel to Togo for consultations, according to a source close to the Sierra Leone government. He said Sankoh also directed Major-General Sam Bockarie and Brigadier Issa Sesay to decide between themselves who would attend. This would allow an additional RUF official, possibly Gibril Massaquoi, to attend while maintaining the delegation size to fourteen as had been agreed, he added. According to the source, the United Nations has rejected a proposal by Golley to charter a plane to take the entire RUF delegation to Togo. "The U.N. has made it clear that on the basis of  arrangement between us, Togo, and Sankoh, the U.N. would have sole responsibility of providing transportation for the RUF delegation to Togo and back, as well as security and other logistical support," the source said. "The U.N. feels that any other arrangement, including the Golley idea, would undermine the agreement and understanding reached with the Security Council's Committee on Sanctions." Meanwhile, Liberian Star Radio reported that a 16 member delegation was poised to leave Liberia for Togo. Star Radio quoted "diplomatic and other sources in Monrovia" as saying the delegation included 5 AFRC representatives and 11 RUF members, including  Johnny Paul Koroma and and Sam Bockarie. 

Rebel forces attacked Kamajor positions at Mano Junction on Monday night, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday. "During the five-hour battle, three towns, Sembehun, Koye, and Masahun were recaptured by the Kamajors," Brima said. No sources were indicated in the report. Brima also reported a humanitarian crisis at Daru and surrounding villages, where residents have been cut off from relief supplies since rebels captured the town of Segbwema in December. "According to the program officer of the Kailahun Development Foundation, Francis Vandy, the situation is so bad that up to seven children are dying daily from starvation and disease," Brima said. "Vandy, who was among thousands trapped behind rebel lines when Segbwema fell to the rebels, told me yesterday after he escaped from the rebels that thousands of people are now desperately malnourished in the area, with vulnerable old people also dying from hunger. He said that there has been an outbreak of typhoid and scabies, and to survive people are now subsisting on wild fruits gathered in the forests. The World Food Programme office in Kenema says it has relief supplies, but cannot gain access to the people trapped behind refugee lines."

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley and General Ibrahim Bah arrived in Lome, Togo on Tuesday. They were met by Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigou and taken by motorcade to the oceanside Deux Fevrier Hotel, where Sankoh is staying. Golley said the rest of the RUF delegation would arrive "on Friday or Saturday, we hope."

In an open letter to President Kabbah, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern about the detention Tuesday of BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay by ECOMOG soldiers. "While we are relieved that Ojukutu-Macaulay was released from custody later the same day, we remain gravely concerned that subsequent reports aired on state radio and television attacking Ojukutu-Macaulay's credibility could expose him to vigilante violence," the CPJ letter said. According to the CPJ account, Ojukutu-Macaulay was arrested at the SierraTel communication centre at approximately 10:30 a.m. on April 20 while speaking by telephone to BBC colleagues. Major Tanko, a Nigerian ECOMOG officer, and four ECOMOG soldiers forced Ojukutu-Macaulay into a waiting vehicle and transported him to the ECOMOG command post at Wilberforce Barracks where he was placed in a cell. Tanko allegedly accused Ojukutu-Macaulay of "trying to incite civilians against ECOMOG," with a story broadcast earlier in the day, in which he alleged that vehicles impounded at ECOMOG checkpoints and held at a vehicle yard administered by Tanko were not immediately returned to their owners. "At approximately 3:15 p.m., Col. Buhari O. Musa, commanding officer for the Freetown ECOMOG garrison, apologized to Ojukutu-Macaulay and ordered his release," the CPJ said. The CPJ expressed concern that following the incident, SLBS radio and television aired reports accusing Ojukutu-Macaulay of fabricating an April 18 report aired on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. The report quoted RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh as implying that "peace could only be attained if the government agreed to a power-sharing arrangement with the rebels," which President Kabbah had previously asserted would violate Sierra Leone's constitution, the CPJ said. The CPJ said it was concerned "that given the the unsettled political climate in Sierra Leone, and the number of violent attacks against journalists, the government's public denouncement of Ojukutu-Macaulay's credibility could incite a vigilante attack against him."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned Wednesday that war and civil strife are causing exceptional food emergencies in 17 sub-Saharan African countries. The countries were listed as Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi and Liberian President Charles Taylor, in a joint statement issued Wednesday at the end of Taylor's three-day visit to Tripoli,   expressed their commitment to ending the war in Sierra Leone. "Regarding the conflict in Sierra Leone, the brother leader (Khadafi) and President Charles Taylor agreed on continuing and consolidating the efforts in order to find a final solution for this conflict," the statement said. "Concerning this issue, President Charles Taylor expressed appreciation and gratitude for the reconciliation efforts made by the brother leader. The brother leader expressed appreciation and gratitude for President Charles Taylor for his initiative aimed at finding settlement for the conflict in Sierra Leone. They also expressed appreciation and support for the reconciliation efforts made by the Economic Community of West African States aimed at achieving peaceful and final solution for the Sierra Leone problem, stressing the importance of maintaining the national unity of Sierra Leone and achieving development."

20 April: The RUF has forwarded to the United Nations and ECOWAS a list of 16 delegates the rebel group is proposing to send to Togo for consultations with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. The list includes Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, Major-General Sam Bockarie, Brigadier Issa Sesay, Brigadier Mick Lamin, Brigadier Gabriel S.T. Mani, Brigadier Alex Tamba Brima, Mr. S.Y.B. Rogers, Mr. Alimamy Pallo Bangura, Colonel Eddie P. Kanneh, Major Eldred Collins, Major Agnes Finnoh, Major Mohamed Jallow, Major Ernest Ngegba, Mr. Omrie Golley, and General Ibrahim Bah. The list of 16 delegates is two more than the number previously agreed to. A source close to the Sierra Leone government said the U.N. had consulted with Sankoh on Monday night about the possibility of reducing the number of delegates to 14. Meanwhile, Sankoh said he was ready to negotiate peace for Sierra Leone. "There is no need to worry. We are prepared to negotiate for a peaceful settlement," Sankoh said following a meeting Tuesday with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. "I am just waiting for my colleagues from the bush. It's not easy to leave the bush, there are so many obstacles...I'm sorry for them for being late. I appeal to the Togolese to forgive us. As long as I am here, they'll be here." The RUF delegation has been delayed by logistical and security concerns. A Togolese official said the delegates would arrive in two groups, probably on Wednesday and Saturday, after gathering in Liberia. Prior to his talks with Eyadema, Sankoh thanked the Togolese president for arranging a medical examination for him. "I haven't seen a doctor in more than two years," he said.

Participants in the Sierra Leone Contact Group (SLCG), which met in New York on Monday, confirmed their support for a "twin-track approach" to restoring peace and stability in Sierra Leone: military pressure on the rebels and their external supporters combined with dialogue. "The two objectives of the meeting were to support the process of political dialogue and national reconciliation and to sustain, widen and help coordinate international assistance to the government and the ECOMOG forces," said Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, who chaired the meeting. "If we are going to rebuild that shattered country, back into society will have to come people who themselves have been the perpetrators of acts of terror. But we can't make the mistakes of past where we see Sierra Leone descend into chaos precisely because all parties haven't been committed to the democratic process." The SLCG called on the Sierra Leone government to pursue dialogue with the rebels aimed at securing a negotiated political settlement to the conflict, and to explain the benefits of an early peace settlement to the Sierra Leonean public. The Contact Group also urged the Sierra Leone government to maintain respect for human rights and international law, and to take urgent steps to build a new, democratically accountable, Sierra Leonean Army and police force, while making "all efforts" to ensure that they reflect all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. The SLCG appealed to the government to allow humanitarian agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross to carry out their work in the country without interference. The Contact Group called on ECOWAS to assist and facilitate the peace process, to maintain peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone until the Sierra Leone Armed Forces are able to provide security and, in cooperation with Britain, to continue to train the new Sierra Leone Army. The SLCG appealed to the international community to "maintain and where possible enhance financial and other support to enable ECOMOG to remain in Sierra Leone and pursue its operations effectively." The Contact Group welcomed a pledge by Britain of an additional £270,000 to support the "security sector," and a commitment by the United States to double its contribution to peace building in Sierra Leone.

A British court last week froze the Sierra Leone government's assets and overseas bank accounts in Britain, Liberian Star Radio reported on Tuesday, quoting Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. Berewa said the courts order, which affects over $17.5 million in overseas accounts, resulted from a lawsuit brought against the government by Phillips Brothers, a British firm which reportedly had done business with a Sierra Leonean company alleged to have been acting on behalf of a government-owned produce buying company. "Minister Berewa said the cash-strapped government no longer has access to its money in English banks. He also said the University of Sierra Leone's overseas accounts were affected," Star Radio said.

Libya has offered to work with Togo to resolve the conflict in Sierra Leone, Libya Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs Ali Triki said Monday after meeting with President Gnassingbe Eyadema. "I believe that cooperation and coordination between our two heads of state can contribute to ending centres of tension," Triki said.

19 April: RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley told Reuters Monday the RUF had picked a delegation to travel to Togo for talks with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "We are looking at Thursday or Friday," he said. "We would hope to have a full briefing with Foday Sankoh in Togo. We will then be proposing a date to the government when substantive talks should begin...We reiterate that we intend to start the negotiations in good faith. We would expect the talks to be wide-ranging with no preconditions." In a BBC Focus on Africa interview Monday, Golley said the list of those who would attend the meeting was now being confirmed. "It will be a list of 17 members, including 17 members of the military high command, plus myself, the legal representative, and our senior military adviser, General Ibrahim Bah. The list will include the former chairman of the AFRC, Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma. It will also include Major General Sam Bockarie, and Brigadier Issa Sesay. These are sort of our major military commanders." Golley said that the RUF leadership were confirming their own security and travel arrangements, and  hoped that the delegation would arrive in Togo by Thursday or Friday. "The fact of the matter remains that security considerations for any of the military commanders are paramount [words indistinct] to the movement, and you don't expect our military commanders to put their bags on their back, and walk to some unknown destination to pick up a flight," Golley said. "It is rather important for these issues to be properly confirmed." The United Nations Special Representative to Liberia, Felix Downes-Thomas, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the U.N. was trying "to see what is happening at the (Liberia-Sierra Leone) border in terms of the people who are supposed to go to Togo." Meanwhile Sankoh, who is lodging at a hotel in Lomé, told BBC correspondent Mark Doyle that he was looking forward to seeing his "brothers from the bush," whom he had not seen since he was detained in Nigeria two years ago. Sankoh received a preliminary medical checkup on Sunday evening and was due to undergo a more thorough examination on Monday at the insistence of the RUF. Doyle observed, however, that Sankoh appeared to be "in very good shape." Doyle noted that Sankoh's access to the media in Lomé had been limited. "The diplomats brokering the peace talks want to try and make sure that Mr. Sankoh and his men agree a common position before they move on to substantive negotiations with the Sierra Leone government," Doyle said. "The hosts of the Lomé talks are concerned that the rebels could adopt a variety of public positions which could complicate the negotiations." Sierra Leone's Justice Minister and Attorney-General, Solomon Berewa, said the government was anxious to begin peace talks with rebel leaders. "The peace talks between the government and the rebels will begin this week," Berewa said. "Our bags are packed. The government is ready and waiting to go to Togo."

Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Monday the Sierra Leone government was "very pleased about (RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's) commitment to the peace process," but noted: "The thing about it is it’s a peace process. Our hope is that once they get together and sit down and talk amongst themselves, which they are going to do in Togo, that they will be able to understand that what we need to do is to work together to bring about peace in the country." Kaikai told the BBC that following consultations with RUF field commanders, Sankoh would be returned to Freetown. He said that within the judicial system "there are all kinds of parameters. And the parameters will allow us to achieve sustainable peace once he gets back here — in the interest of everybody." Kaikai dismissed a suggestion that Sankoh might "just run away" following the talks. "No, Mr. Sankoh is not going to run away," Kaikai replied. "There are very clear indications that he wants to hold a significant position in this country later. He wants to form a political party. He will not be able to do that, run a political party, if he’s out of the country. We believe he has every intention to come back and be recognised in this country. And we believe that’s what he will do."

A meeting of the Sierra Leone Contact Group (SLCG) was convened in New York on Monday to discuss progress in Sierra Leone and to give international backing to peace talks, which are expected to be held in the near future. A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release said the meeting, chaired by Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, would endorse a twin-track strategy on Sierra Leone: support for the ECOMOG force coupled with efforts to reach a negotiated settlement of the country's civil war. Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James Jonah led the Sierra Leonean delegation. The meeting was attended by representatives of eleven countries, the U.N., ECOWAS, the European Commission, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank, the IMF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The SLCG first met in London on 5 November 1998. The press release added that Britain had contributed £14 million in assistance to Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year. A U.S. diplomat noted Monday that the United States had contributed $43 million during the same time period.

Libya has sent its Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs, Ali Triki, to take part in the talks. During a meeting with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema on Monday, Triki delivered a personal message from Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi which, according to Radio Lomé, "focused on efforts being made by the two heads of state on conflict resolution in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, as well as the strengthening of friendly and cooperative ties between Libya and Togo." Eyadema met with Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo in northern Togo on Sunday, where the two reportedly discussed conflicts in the sub-region. Said Obasanjo: "The way to lasting peace in Sierra Leone is the way of the Sierra Leoneans themselves, going by dialogue. There must absolutely be dialogue, and this is what the ECOWAS chairman has initiated. As you know, talks will be initiated this weekend and next week between the Sierra Leonean delegations, where everyone will trying to find ways of restoring peace and reconciliation. All this will be done under the auspices of President Eyadema. It is in the interest of Sierra Leoneans and everyone's interest to ensure that the talks are a success. We think that if Sierra Leoneans themselves should adopt a give-and-take attitude, we should be on our way to restoring peace and reconciliation to that country."

18 April: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was met at Lomé International Airport Sunday by a delegation which included Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigou, Defence Minister Tidjani Assani, and Communications Minister Koffi Manou, along with ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate. "We're here for discussions. We are seeking all means to bring peace to our country," Sankoh told reporters before being taken in an official convoy to a hotel where he will stay before traveling north for consultations with RUF commanders and officials. The BBC reported that the RUF leader immediately began talks with West African diplomats on the peace process. Earlier, Sankoh, accompanied by United Nations officials, departed from Lungi Airport aboard a United Nations plane. "The Revolutionary United Front is convinced of the need for peace, and they know that they have to make some sacrifice," Sankoh said before leaving Freetown, adding that he had joined President Kabbah "to negotiate for peace." The BBC subsequently quoted Sankoh as insisting the Sierra Leone government would have to make some concessions on the constitution. There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of the RUF delegation. Earlier, state radio had reported that the plane would pick up the RUF delegates "somewhere between the borders of Liberia and Guinea." The talks had been scheduled to begin Sunday in the northern Togolese town of Kara, the birthplace of Togo's president and current ECOWAS chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema. Sankoh was transferred from prison to United Nations custody on Saturday, and was moved to Lungi on Saturday night in preparation for his departure. The United Nations Security Council on Friday lifted an international travel ban to allow RUF delegates to travel to Togo for the talks.  Although a list of RUF delegates was not available, RUF sources said it would include the name of field commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, although other sources have indicated it is not certain he will attend. The RUF delegation was slashed from 46 members to 14 following pressure from the Sierra Leone government.

The National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS) has disputed a report by BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima, who said Friday that Mile 91 and the rebel Camp Charlie had fallen to ECOMOG and the Kamajor militia after a two day battle. The NINJAS quoted RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie as saying, "They are just lying to the world that they have retaken here and they have retaken there. Let them take United Nations men of UNOMSIL to visit Mile 91 if they are sure they are in control of Mile 91." Bockarie was quoted as saying Brima could not have reached Moyamba Junction as he claimed because it remained under RUF control. The NINJAS also termed as "false" claims that Songo and Sumbuya were in government hands, and reported that ECOMOG had been forced to retreat to Newton Saturday after a rebel counter-attack at Makolo Junction. There has been an increasing number of military claims and counter-claims as both sides attempt to strengthen their negotiating position in advance of proposed peace talks between the government and the rebels. RUF leaders have indicated any new peace agreement should take account of the current military situation on the ground. In his statement read to the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process, RUF leader Foday Sankoh spoke of the RUF's commitment to work towards peace in Sierra Leone "and the possibility of making any necessary adjustment to reflect prevailing circumstances."

17 April: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh is expected to arrive in Togo on Sunday, Togolese Communications Minister Koffi Panou announced on Saturday. This was confirmed by Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai, who said the RUF leader was expected to leave Freetown Sunday at 11:00 a.m. On Friday, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Sankoh was likely to depart on Saturday. No reason was given for the change. Sankoh, who is expected to travel aboard a United Nations plane, will undergo a medical examination before meeting RUF field commanders for consultations, Panou said. A delegation of RUF field commanders had arrived in Monrovia, Liberia by Friday and was due to meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor on Saturday before being flown on to Togo by the United Nations. A "source close to the Liberian foreign ministry," told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie was among those who would meet with Sankoh. The National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS) reported Saturday that Bockarie and other RUF leaders had not yet left Sierra Leone pending security arrangements. Liberia's Star Radio reported Saturday that a two-man RUF delegation had arrived in Monrovia prior to leaving for Togo. Star Radio identified one of the two as RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley, while the NINJAS identified the other as former AFRC spokesman and Secretary of State for Marine Resources Captain Paul Thomas. Star Radio, quoting an "African diplomat" said former President Joseph Momoh and former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma would be among those meeting with Sankoh. The talks are scheduled to begin Sunday in the northern Togolese town of Kara, birthplace of President and current ECOWAS chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema.

Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi has been invited to Sunday's talks between RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and his field commanders, Libyan state radio said on Saturday. According to the report, the invitation letter, sent jointly by President Gnassinge Eyadema of Togo and President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, was handed to Khadafi by the foreign ministers of the two countries.

Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo said Saturday that ECOMOG troops would not be withdrawn from Sierra Leone without adequate security provisions for that country. "Neither the head of state (General Abdulsalami Abubakar) nor myself will withdraw troops without making sure that there are sufficient and adequate security to safeguard smooth democratic governance in that country," Obasanjo said during a visit to Ghana. He added, however, that ECOMOG troops could not remain in Sierra Leone indefinitely, and that arrangements must be made for their return home "sooner or later." On Friday, Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Al-Amin Daggash was quoted in the Nigerian media as telling ECOWAS chiefs of defence staff from countries contributing troops to ECOMOG that the force would begin a phased withdrawal from Sierra Leone before the end of the year.

Liberian President Charles Taylor acknowledged to Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council on Friday that the widespread belief Liberia is helping the rebels in Sierra Leone has resulted in his country's isolation by the international community. According to Liberia's Star Radio, Taylor repeated his commitment to helping find a solution to the Sierra Leone conflict, and added he had asked Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar to use his influence to end the war before he hands over power in May. Taylor said he was aware that the war in Sierra Leone created instability in Liberia, but expressed his belief that only Sierra Leoneans can bring peace to their country. Earlier, Methodist Bishop Joseph Humper, in prepared remarks thanked Taylor for his pledge to help end the Sierra Leone civil war, saying he hoped Taylor would remain committed to his pledge.

16 April: ECOMOG troops from the 6th Mechanised Battalion, backed by the Kamajor militia, have captured Mile 91 and the rebel base Camp Charlie after a two day battle which began on Wednesday, the BBC reported Friday. Pro-government forces are now said to control the main highway linking Freetown to southern Sierra Leone. "On arrival at Moyamba Junction, 15 miles from Camp Charlie yesterday morning, I heard the sound of heavy artillery and mortars, while an ECOMOG fighter plane flew overheard letting off some bombs. I saw more ECOMOG troops and Kamajors heading toward the area," BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said. He quoted Colonel Jack, commander of the 26th ECOMOG Brigade in Bo, as saying  casualties on their side were light. What casualties ECOMOG suffered came when his men ran into a minefield," he added.

The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) quoted "independent sources" Friday as saying ECOMOG had captured the town of Songo, forcing rebel troops to withdraw to the hinterland. MISNA added that ECOMOG "seems determined to regain control of the town of Masiaka, now still in Sierra Leonean rebel hands." The news agency reported that a delegation of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council would travel to Monrovia, Liberia for consultations. "The promoters of the peace process are convinced that, now more than ever, the conditions are present for a full scale dialogue both at the national and regional levels," MISNA said.

The United Nations Security Council's sanctions committee has agreed to lift the international travel ban on imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and "other specified RUF members" to allow them to travel to Togo "in order to facilitate the peace process for Sierra Leone," the committee confirmed on Friday. Sankoh will hold face-to-face consultations with his field commanders for the first time since he was he was detained in Nigeria on weapons charges early in 1997.

The United Nations will facilitate upcoming talks in Togo between RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and his field commanders, U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo told President Kabbah during a meeting late on Thursday. Okelo said the U.N. would also provide military observers and secretarial assistance during the meeting. He added that the United Nations had agreed "to lift the travelling ban temporarily on Sankoh and his men."

The new French Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Christophe Philibert, said France would put pressure on those countries providing assistance to the rebels, state radio reported. He did not name the countries thought to be involved. Philibert, who presented his credentials to President Kabbah on Thursday, expressed concern over the war, which he said was worsened by external involvement. He also pointed to French assistance to Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, particularly in the provision of medicines. In response, President Kabbah replied that he was "particularly happy by the interest France has manifested in the ongoing crisis in Sierra Leone, particularly in the peace process."

ECOMOG will begin a phased withdrawal of troops from Sierra Leone by the end of the year, Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshal Al-Amin Daggash said on Thursday. "As we look to the future, we must build on planning, training, and developing the Armed Forces of Sierra Leone with a view to replacing the ECOMOG troops later in the year when our phased withdrawal will have no alternative but to commence," Daggash told an extraordinary meeting of ECOWAS chiefs of defence staff from nations contributing troops to the ECOMOG force. His comments were carried in the Nigerian press, but were not included in a communiqué issued following the conference. He called for a review of ECOMOG's operations in view of lessons learned from the January 6 rebel invasion of Freetown. "The seriousness of the crisis since the rebel incursions on January 6 now compels us to address the urgent problems of manpower, command, control and rules of engagement," he said. Daggash said that Nigeria, with 11,000 troops in Sierra Leone, bears much of the material and financial burden of the force, and that the meeting should produce a rational and pragmatic solution to the crisis. He added that as part of its military aid to Sierra Leone, "Nigeria is currently training Sierra Leonean officers at the Nigerian Defence Academy, in addition to the secondment of Nigerian officers to the armed forces of that country." ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate asked participants to address the question of negotiating a status of forces agreement between ECOWAS and Sierra Leone, pointing out that the existing bi-lateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Sierra Leone and Nigeria was insufficient to cover current ECOMOG operations. Kouyate said the inability of some countries to fulfill their pledge to contribute troops to the ECOMOG force meant that ECOMOG lacked manpower and equipment to carry out its mandate effectively. He urged those ECOWAS nations who had promised to contribute soldiers to the force to do so, as ECOMOG required an additional 5,000 troops. The Executive Secretary also noted that despite significant financial contributions from the international community, "ECOMOG still does not have resources to meet its logistical needs." Referring to a United Nations report last February which alleged human rights violations by ECOMOG troops, specifically that its soldiers had carried out summary executions of suspected rebels and collaborators, Kouyate said he had directed the ECOMOG force commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, to submit a full report on the matter. He said he was determined to get to the root of the matter, because ECOMOG troops were professionals, "well-trained, not new to war or international peace-keeping operations." He added that ECOWAS was determined to "stop this propaganda that could undermine on-going efforts to restore durable peace to that country." According to the communiqué, a committee would be set up comprising "diplomats of non-contributing states, the government of Sierra Leone, U.N. and the ECOWAS secretariat'' to look into the allegations. The chiefs of defence staff staff agreed that the matter "must be taken seriously," the communiqué added.

Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, visited the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) on Friday to check on the progress of 81 Sierra Leonan cadets undergoing military training. Khobe was accompanied by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Nigeria, Joe Blell. As reported by the Nigerian NTA Television Network, NDA commandant Major-General Bashiru Magasi expressed satisfaction with the cadets' progress and said that the NDA would to its best to ensure that the cadets received the best training despite the short course.

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Friday that imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was likely to fly from Freetown to Lomé, Togo on Saturday. Consultations between Sankoh and his field commanders are scheduled to begin on Sunday. Berewa said Sankoh would be in the custody of a sheriff, who would sign an undertaking promising to produce Sankoh in court after the talks, where the rebel leader is currently appealing his conviction and death sentence on treason charges. The appeals court on Thursday granted an application by the attorney-general's office to allow Sankoh to travel to Togo. "The consultations between the rebels will go ahead as scheduled from the 18th of April to not later than the 25th April," Berewa said. "Togo and Benin and the U.N. have given security guarantees to the rebels for their safety and security in Togo during their consultations." He said the foreign ministers of Togo and Benin were in Freetown Thursday for talks about security arrangements. "African diplomats" said there was still no agreement about the size of the RUF delegation, Reuters reported. One diplomatic source said RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie wanted to travel to Togo with an armed escort of 60 men, while organisers were insisting on a maximum of nine. Diplomats said the RUF had still failed to produce a list of RUF delegates planning to attend the talks.

Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, which has been brokering the peace process, has met in Monrovia with an RUF delegation and with members of the Liberian government, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah told the BBC on Friday. "The two groups met, they embraced, they were all talking about peace, they want peace for their country," he said. "(The meeting) was friendly and we could see the air of freedom [as heard]. They were embracing one another. We heard some of them saying ‘We are Sierra Leoneans, why continue to kill ourselves? It was time for peace for our country.’" Mulbah said the Inter-Religious Council then met with Liberian President Charles Taylor at his residence, and called on him to intervene directly to bring peace to Sierra Leone. "They also asked the Liberian leader to ensure that those children abducted by the RUF can be released immediately to meet their parents once again and to go back to school. And specifically they want President Taylor to reopen the Liberian Embassy in Sierra Leone," Mulbah said. The Information Minister sidestepped a question as to who headed the RUF delegation and said he did not know who led the Inter-Religious Council group. "The meeting was so crowded there was no way for us to get their names, but they came in a very large group," Mulbah said, and after a pause added: "This is no lie, this is no play, this is no propaganda, it’s the fact I’m telling you...I’ve never lied to the BBC before. I’m just telling the fact." Mulbah said Taylor's experience in civil conflict would be helpful in helping to bring peace to Sierra Leone. "President Taylor, specifically with his long relationship with Corporal Foday Sankoh, would think the president has leverage over Corporal Sankoh, and President Taylor is anxious to ensure that there can be peace in that country, because for us having peace here is meaningless unless we can have total peace equally so in Sierra Leone," he said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said Friday that the transfer of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea to camps away from the dangerous border area began on April 12. "Convoys are operating every day. Through Thursday more than 1,100 had been moved from Dakongo camp, one of six sites judged to be most vulnerable to cross-border attacks from Sierra Leonean rebels, to Katkama. During the next four months, 50,000 refugees are to be moved to new camps farther from the border in the Gueckedou area," he said. There are currently some 350,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. The UNHCR has received some financial assistance for the transfers, estimated to cost about $4 million, but is seeking additional funding.

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled consultations on Sierra Leone for next Thursday. Meanwhile, the International Contact Group on Sierra Leone will meet Monday at U.N. headquarters. The meeting, which will be chaired by Britain's Minister of State for Africa, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Tony Lloyd will discuss the peace process.

One day after ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade dismissed a report by Reuters of a rebel attack on Kabala as "not true," Sierra Leone's Government Information Services published a virtually identical account by the New Storm newspaper. The New Storm reported that 200 AFRC/RUF rebels were killed on April 11 after they launched an unsuccessful attack on Kabala. The newspaper alleged that the attack had been led by RUF commander Dennis "Superman" Mingo. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

15 April: RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley has responded to suggestions that internal consultations between RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and other RUF leaders may have to be delayed, because the RUF has yet to submit a list of its members planning to attend to the United Nations Security Council. "The military commanders cannot be expected to simply pack their bags on their backs and come out of the bush to meet Sankoh," Golley said. "As soon as we have these guarantees, not just from international organisations involved in this, but from the Sierra Leonean and Togolese governments, we will be very pleased to submit them the names." The Security Council indicated on Wednesday its willingness to lift an international travel ban on RUF delegates to enable them to travel to Kara, Togo for the talks, scheduled for April 18.

There have been widely differing reports of the military situation in the provinces. Sierra Leone News Copy (the NINJAS) on Wednesday characterised as "completely and totally false" an April 12 Reuters report of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for the town of Masiaka, and disputed  ECOMOG's claim that the rebels had used Masiaka as a base from which they last week launched an attack on Newton. According to the NINJAS, it was the Kamajor militia which attacked and initially drove rebel forces from Newton last week. An attempt by the Kamajors and ECOMOG troops to clear rebel forces from their stronghold at Fogbo failed when pro-government forces were ambushed by rebels between Joe Town and Newton, the NINJAS alleged. They added that rebel forces from Fogbo then retook Newton, capturing "a huge cache" of ammunition abandoned by the Kamajors and driving loyalist forces back to Waterloo. Meanwhile, Government Information Services (GIS) claimed Thursday that ECOMOG was in control of Newton and that its troops were now advancing on Songo in what GIS termed as a "full scale offensive to clear the Masiaka-Freetown highway." GIS said ECOMOG had relocated its headquarters from Jui/Kosso to Waterloo "because the latter is the most strategic for the defence of the Freetown Peninsula." The news release quoted ECOMOG Brigade Commander Colonel Akpata as saying ECOMOG troops had been deployed at Macdonald, Benguema, and Tombo "and this completely seals off rebel infiltration into the Freetown Peninsula." GIS also claimed that the Civil Defence Forces, made up of Kamajor and Kapra militiamen, were advancing on Magburaka from Yele and Mile 91 and had now reached to within fivemiles of the town. Also on Thursday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said ECOMOG was in control of the highway as far as Newton, while the stretch of road between Newton and Mile 91 was held by the rebels. "Beyond Mile 91, loyalist militia groups are reported to be in control," the AFP said. Quoting security forces, the AFP reported that Kambia and Kabala were under ECOMOG control while the rebels were in charge of Makeni and Kailahun District. The NINJAS also dismissed a report by the BBC's Bo correspondent, Prince Brima, that the Kamajors had captured the eastern town of Bunumbu. According to the NINJAS, Bunumbu, Segbwema, Manowa, Tongo, Zimmi, and Koindu remain under rebel control. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe told reporters on April 2 that pro-government troops had captured Tongo and Segbwema from the rebels. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade dismissed a Reuters report published Tuesday which said Kabala was under siege by rebel forces. "The reports are not true. Troops were undergoing regular maneuvers and some people in the area were concerned. They were assured by ECOMOG that there was no need to panic as its soldiers were in full control and there was no attack," Olukolade said. Because journalists typically lack access to military operations areas, news stories are generally based on secondhand accounts, interviews with eyewitnesses, and official statements.

None of more than 70 African illegal immigrants who reached Malta by sea last week claiming to be Sierra Leoneans in fact comes from Sierra Leone, Honorary Consul for Sierra Leone in Malta J.A. Dougall said on Thursday. "Last night, at about 1:00 a.m., at the Special Assignment Group Headquarters at Ta Kandia, I ended my interviews and it can now be demonstrated with tangible proof that no one is a citizen of Sierra Leone," Dougall said. "Furthermore, the fishing boat that these people used to transport themselves did not come from Turkey but from North Africa. The matter is now in the hands of the Maltese Authorities, but it is understood that these people will be extradited back to their point of embarkation in North Africa." Would-be immigrants often claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of being granted refugee status. Dougall said that during his investigation he discovered a real Sierra Leonean who had been detained at the airport after resisting police and attempting to destroy his official papers. "I managed to obtain his pardon from the police, who promised to release him in the coming days," Dougall said. "He will be allowed to stay here after arrangements will be made for his keeping and well being."

14 April: The United Nations Security Council said Wednesday it would "consider favourably" a request from the Sierra Leone government, a member state, "or any other appropriate source" to lift the international travel ban imposed by Resolution 1132 on members of the former AFRC military junta. In a press release, the Council indicated it would agree to lift the ban, imposed in October 1997 as part of a package of sanctions following the May 25 military coup, "to authorize the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Corporal Foday Sayabana Sankoh, and other specified RUF members, to travel outside Sierra Leone for planned talks in order to facilitate the peace process in Sierra Leone." Meanwhile, a source close to the Sierra Leone government said the RUF had so far failed to submit to the Security Council the names of its members planning to travel to Togo to attend the talks. The list had been expected by Wednesday. "The talks could be delayed if they do not provide the names within the next three days," the source said. "We hope they would respond and avoid any such delay." Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone Court of Appeals has agreed to a petition from Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa to allow Sankoh to travel outside Sierra Leone for the purpose of holding consultations with other members of the RUF. According to a press release issued by the Sierra Leone government on Wednesday, the Court's permission was required because Sankoh had been convicted of treason, a capital offence, and is awaiting the hearing of his appeal. "The Court, while granting the permission for Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh to go to Lomé because of the national importance attached to his trip, insisted that the Attorney-General provide the Court with sufficient particulars indicating that Cpl. Sankoh would return to Sierra Leone for the hearing of the appeal," the press release said.

Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah said Wednesday the government was drawing up an emergency budget to take into account the damage caused by rebel attacks since the beginning of the year. Jonah said that the 1999 budget had been predicated on the belief that rebel activity could be contained in the north and the east. He said the whole budget would now have to be rewritten because of the destruction of public and private buildings, a decline in agricultural output, the displacement of a large proportion of the population, and the shutdown of the mining and industrial sectors. He said gross foreign reserves had fallen to $36.8 million at the end of March from $45 million at the end of 1998. The government recently met with key donors in Washington, D.C. and hoped to receive emergency aid for the budget, he said.

British High Commissioner Peter Penfold told the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process last weekend that Britain might cut off aid to Sierra Leone if order were not restored, according to local newspapers quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Penfold was quoted as saying that Britain "cannot continue to pour money into projects and provide aid packages only for rebels and their allies to destroy and bring all efforts to nil." He reportedly told delegates that if Sierra Leone could not put its house in order, "Britain cannot continue to pour millions of pounds down the drain." He added that Sierra Leone was blessed with natural resources, "but bad management and other nefarious attitudes of a few has caused the majority to suffer." Penfold reiterated British support for a dual-track approach, telling delegates that Britain "is strongly in support of the military option while pursuing dialogue," the AFP said.

President Kabbah returned Wednesday from a two-day visit to Guinea, where he held consultations with Guinean President Lansana Conte on issues of concern to the sub-region. Neither Conakry Radiodiffusion Nationale de la Republique de Guinee (Guinean state radio) nor the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) provided details on the substance of the talks. "Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's visit comes within the framework of the periodic consultations which have become a tradition between the two heads of states, on the one hand, and among the different heads of state in the subregion, on the other," Guinean state radio said.

13 April: Rebels forces have launched an attack on Kabala, the only major northern city still under government control, Reuters reported on Tuesday. ECOMOG said its troops had repelled a number of attacks since the rebels began their offensive late last week. "They have tried to take the town more than seven times so far. We have killed close to 200 of them since the end of last week," an ECOMOG officer said. He added that the rebels were armed with machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. Reuters said wounded survivors had begun to arrive in Freetown. "The rebels have shot dead dozens of civilians in their attempt to capture Kabala,'' one woman related. "The ECOMOG troops have had to transfer hundreds of women and children into their trenches to protect them.''  Aid agencies are reporting that hundreds of people have left Kabala and the surrounding villages for refugee camps on the Guinea border.

Hundreds of internally displaced persons are dying each week from diseases in crowded displaced camps and in communities in rebel-held territory, Health and Sanitation Minister Dr. Ibrahim Tejan-Jalloh said on Tuesday. He noted that 25 children at a Kenema displaced camp died recently in a chicken pox outbreak, and that there had been other deaths at camps in Freetown. He said doctors had been airlifted to Kenema to contain the outbreak. Tejan-Jalloh said epidemics of measles, dysentery, and influenza were killing people in both government and rebel-controlled areas in the west of the country. "I am concerned over the alarming situation of epidemic outbreaks," he said. He accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, keeping them in crowded conditions and preventing their escape from behind rebel lines. The minister appealed for international assistance to address the health crisis, saying that many hospitals and clinics had been damaged during the rebel offensive in December and January.

ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo said late Monday that ECOMOG required 5,000 additional troops in order to "flush out" rebel forces holding much of the interior of Sierra Leone. "We need about another 5,000 to solve the problem," he said. "Freetown is very safe. We've been able to organise the place. We have been able to push the rebels from Freetown and its environs."

Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea said Liberia has asked the United Nations to send military observers to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border to verify or disprove allegations by ECOMOG and the international community that Liberia is backing rebel forces fighting in Sierra Leone. Chea described as "irresponsible" threats made last week by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo,  who said ECOMOG would launch military strikes against countries supplying arms to the rebels. Chea said that Liberian authorities were taking the threat seriously, and were preparing to send reinforcements to the border.

Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia have accused the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) of increasing their suffering by not providing them with sufficient food rations, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported on Tuesday. They claimed only 22,000 of some 100,000 refugees were receiving food rations from the agencies. "Our ration has been severely reduced, and this has created malnutrition, starvation, and has increased the death rate of the refugees in Liberia," the refugees said in a statement. "We want the UNHCR authorities to visit the various refugee camps to observe our plight." The refugees also claimed that scholarships meant for them were being sold to non-refugees for $50.00, but provided no details. UNHCR spokesman Mike James denied the accusation, saying that more than 7,000 refugees were benefiting from scholarships provided by the international community. "We are open," he said. "Let them come and seek information they need. We will make it available to them instead of running to the media."  James also said that the UNHCR was currently assisting nearly 50,000 of the more than 103,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. "Those we are not catering for are the ones residing in places not recognised by the UNHCR," he said.

Defence chiefs of ECOWAS nations with troops in Sierra Leone are scheduled to hold a one-day meeting in Abuja, Nigeria on Thursday to review operations of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. According to a statement issued on Tuesday, defence chiefs of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, and Mali will discuss the relationship between the ECOWAS secretariat and the ECOMOG high command. Also on the agenda for discussion is a United Nations report issued earlier this year critical of ECOMOG's human rights record. The defence chiefs will be joined by the new ECOMOG force commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, and by Sierra Leonean officials. Also slated for discussion are financial and logistical support for ECOMOG, Nigerian assistance to other countries contributing troops, and contributions for the development and training of a new Sierra Leone military.

12 April: Pro-government forces launched an attack Sunday to capture the town of Masiaka from rebel forces, ECOMOG sources and aid workers said on Monday. An ECOMOG officer said the rebels had regrouped at Masiaka after failing to capture Freetown in January. He added that the rebels had used the town as a base to launch attacks on Waterloo last week. "Our troops are closing in on the town, although the rebels in their thousands are fighting us fiercely to stop our advance to recapture the town," he said. Reuters quoted "sources" who said as many as 5,000 rebels had massed there. ECOMOG said more than 100 rebels had been killed in and around the town. Casualties have also been reported among ECOMOG troops and the Kamajor militia.

Magistrates Courts reopened Monday amid tight security for the first time since the rebels attacked Freetown on January 6. "Only the Magistrates Courts reopened today, but we are working on the modalities to reopen the High Court and the Supreme Court, and we will reopen them at the earliest possible time," an official in the Attorney-General's department said. He said trials in Freetown would start on Tuesday, and that Magistrates Courts around the country would reopen when the security situation allowed. Another "senior legal official" said imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's appeal of his treason conviction and death sentence would be postponed until after he held talks with his commanders, scheduled to begin in Kara, Togo on April 18.

Italian priest Father Vittorio Mosele, who was freed by rebels on April 6, related in Conakry, Guinea that except for the first three days he had been held captive in Makeni. Mosele, a member of the Xaverian missionary order, was abducted at the Catholic Mission in Kambia on February 11. Mosele told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) that he had been treated respectfully by the rebels. "I was considered as a hostage, but I resided in the Bishop's house and on Sunday I could celebrate the holy Mass in the cathedral church," he said. Mosele gave one of the first accounts of life in Makeni since it was captured by rebel forces late last year. "The city of Makeni was not destroyed as many have reported," he said. "The barracks, however, have been flattened and all stores and homes abandoned by the local people were looted. Even Bishop Biguzzi's house was ransacked. The Makeni population in considerably less than what it was since the rebels took over the territory, but life goes on for those who decided to stay there." He said the rebels operated throughout the territory as several autonomous groups that at times were in conflict with one another. Mosele said two other abducted clergymen, Irish Father Noel Bradshaw of the Congregation of Christian Brothers and Sierra Leonean priest Father Dominic Kargbo, had decided to remain. "They are doing fine and they are free to move about in the Makeni area. They preferred not to leave in order to continue to help those in need," he said. Mosele said that just before his departure from Makeni, "The commander of the rebels, an officer named 'Superman' (Dennis Mingo) asked me to give to the international community this message: 'All of us want peace at all costs, and we are waiting for an agreement with the Freetown government.'" Said Mosele: "These are the words that make us hopeful for a better future."

Liberian Vice President Enoch Doglea has denied accusations made last week by the new ECOMOG force commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, that the Liberian government is directly involved in transporting arms to rebel forces fighting in Sierra Leone. Doglea called on ECOMOG to engage in a "constructive peace building initiative," according to Liberian Star Radio, and pledged the Liberian government's commitment to seeking an early end to Sierra Leone's civil war. Meanwhile, the president pro-tempore of the Liberian senate, Senator Keikura Kpoto, told the Afro-European Summit in Strasbourg, France that Liberia is not directly involved in the Sierra Leone conflict. He said Liberians were fighting in Sierra Leone because of a lack of jobs at home. Keikura called for international assistance to address the problem of former combatants in Liberia.

11 April: The Magistrate and High Courts will resume operations in Freetown Monday after the government agreed to provide increased security for courts, judges and magistrates. "Government has now provided adequate security for all court sessions and judges and magistrates have agreed to start court sessions on Monday," High Court registrar Annette Showers said on Saturday. Many judges were forced to flee the country or had their residences destroyed during January's rebel invasion of Freetown. Last week a supreme court judge was quoted as saying the courts would remain closed until improved security was provided.

A powered fishing boat loaded with over 70 African men and women, reportedly including Sierra Leoneans, has landed on Malta, according to the Honorary Consul for Sierra Leone in Malta, J.A. Dougall. The refugees are currently being held at the headquarters of the police force's Special Assignment Group at Ta Kandia, which deals with suspected illegal immigrants."I will go there to investigate and to interview all these people to ascertain their real nationality so that if any do come from Sierra Leone, these will be afforded the courtesy and safe shelter that they are seeking," Dougall said.

10 April: Talks between imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and his commanders will take place April 18 in the northern Togo town of Kara, home of Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Togolese officials said on Saturday. They said RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie would be in Kara for the talks.

After three days of talks in Freetown, the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process which was convened on Wednesday said there should be no power sharing with the RUF before the next election. According to the BBC, the Conference also called for the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission to address the question of a blanket amnesty for all rebels, and insisted that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh should go through the due process of law.

The president pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate, Senator Keikura Kpoto, told delegates to the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process that President Charles Taylor had given the Senate absolute power to deal with the Sierra Leone crisis. Kpoto said parliamentarians from the three Mano River Union States — Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — will soon travel to the RUF stronghold at Kailahun to met with RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie. "If we go in search of peace and the rebels killed us, then it is an honourable death," the BBC quoted him as saying. Kpoto acknowledged the involvement of Liberians in Sierra Leone's civil war. "I do not come here to argue the merits or non-merits of the Liberian involvement. How can anybody say we are not involved, with tens of thousands of professional Liberian fighters the Liberian government cannot give jobs to?," he asked. Kpoto said the consensus reached at the National Consultative Conference would form one of the working papers for the Mano River Union parliamentary group, which is expected to meet soon on the peace process.

Kamajor militiamen have recaptured the eastern town of Bunumbu after a three day battle which began on Wednesday, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Saturday. "The town, which was captured by the RUF last December, was one of the RUF brigade headquarters in Kailahun District," Brima said. He quoted a witness who said 300 persons abducted by the rebels took advantage of an artillery exchange to escape into the bush. The witness, a schoolteacher, added that three vehicles loaded with arms and ammunition from Liberia were burned by the Kamajors. "Kamajors from Bunumbu, on arrival in Kenema yesterday with a large cache of arms, including vital documents captured from the rebels about the RUF operations, claimed also to have inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels. But this has not been confirmed independently," Brima said. Bunumbu has changed hands several times since Sierra Leone's civil war began in 1991.

Connaught Hospital has reported a sharp drop in the number of people being treated for skin diseases, which dropped from 100 cases at mid-week to between 10 and 25. The outbreak was initially reported erroneously as smallpox, a disease which was eradicated worldwide by 1980.

82 children have been born at Freetown's National Stadium, where tens of thousands of people have been sheltering since they were rendered homeless by the rebel attack on Freetown in January. Only one of the newborns is reported to have died.

9 April: In a statement read to the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh pledged the RUF's "continuous commitment to work towards genuine and lasting peace in Sierra Leone and the possibility of making any necessary adjustment to reflect prevailing circumstances." Referring to the January 6 rebel attack on Freetown, he said: "Like all decent Sierra Leoneans I deplore their actions in the strongest possible terms." Sankoh welcomed recent diplomatic initiatives aimed at reaching "a negotiated settlement" to the war. "I hope the conference will listen to the civil society organisations to what they have to say to you, because they are my concern as the masses of Sierra Leone to be paramount and should benefit from this peace as the RUF/SL is ready to give peace a chance once and for all," he said. Sankoh said he and President Kabbah had met several times, and called Kabbah "genuine, sincere and committed to peace and development in Sierra Leone." He called on his followers to turn their efforts toward bring peace to Sierra Leone. "I know that some of you will think that this is coming too late but I want you to know that I am genuinely sorry for all the pain and grief that my revolution has caused you and let us now put all our hurt behind us and forge ahead as we catch up with other developing countries," Sankoh said.

ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo asked Friday for the United Nations to pressure Liberia and Burkina Faso to stop supplying arms to AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. In a meeting with U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, Mujakperuo said "the only way the rebel crisis can end is for the U.N. to put pressure on certain political leaders in the sub-region to stop supporting the rebels with arms and ammunition." Okelo said he would communicate ECOMOG's concerns to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Liberian Information Minister on Friday rejected charges by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo that Liberia has been supplying arms to rebel forces fighting in Sierra Leone. Mulbah said the claim was an empty alarm and charged that Mujakperuo had little knowledge of Liberia's geography. Mulbah added that the charges came at a time that Liberia and Sierra Leone were trying to improve relations.

Kidnapped Italian priest Father Vittorio Mosele has reportedly been released by rebels who abducted him on February 12 from the Catholic Mission at Kambia, Bishop George Biguzzi told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA), citing "sources close to the rebels." Mosele is said to have left the area where he was detained and to be headed for the Guinea border. Biguzzi said the decision to release Mosele "undoubtedly represents a sign of hope" for Sierra Leone.

8 April: ECOMOG's new commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, threatened Thursday to order military strikes against Liberia and Burkina Faso in order to halt shipments of arms and ammunition to rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. "ECOMOG has now confirmed the activities of two countries and the leaders involved in the shipment and delivery of arms to the rebels through the government of a neighbouring country," Mujakperuo said in a prepared statement read to reporters. He added that the deliveries had started in mid March and were continuing. "I therefore want to make it categorically clear that we will no longer watch this mischief by supposed leaders continuing side by side with the peace initiative in view of the danger it poses to us and the whole sub-region," he said. "We shall proceed to strike at all the channels involved in this movement of heavy arms and ammunition to the rebels by land, sea and air." Mujakperuo alleged that on March 14 a Ukrainian-registered cargo plane carrying 68 tons of arms arrived at Ouagadougou and was parked at the presidential wing of the airport. He said the plane was directed to proceed to Monrovia, but the pilot refused "on the grounds that this was not the initial arrangement." The cargo was then transferred to smaller planes and flown on to Monrovia, he said. The following day a smaller plane with a Ukrainian crew landed at Monrovia's Robertsfield Airport, accompanied by a Liberian Special Security Services Director. The cargo was unloaded onto waiting vehicles which headed for Gbanga and from there to the Liberia-Sierra Leone border for delivery to the RUF. "This process continued with additional aircrafts," Mujakperuo said. "(RUF commander) Sam Bockarie has now indicated his receipt of the arms from Liberia in his recent conversation with some of his field commanders." Mujakperuo called on the international community to put pressure on Liberian President Charles Taylor to stop backing the rebels, adding: "Let there be no doubt whatsoever that ECOMOG will not hesitate to strike where necessary to forestall all the schemes being packaged to undermine the peace efforts in the sub-region."

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley has denied Burkinabe backing for rebel forces in Sierra Leone. "We think that the continuing accusations against Burkina Faso are baseless and absurd," Golley told the Inter-Press Service (IPS) from Ouagadougou last week. "The accusations are false and we totally reject them." Golley's comments, published by IPS on Thursday, preceded the latest charges by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo. "The root of these accusations against Burkina are rumors spread by high-level propagandists in the Sierra Leone government and are false and unfair," Golley said. "We believe that President Compaore, who is chairman of the Organisation of African Unity, is playing a key role in restoring peace to our country." Golley said the RUF visit to Burkina Faso was to "inform officials, just as we already have in Togo, Cote d'Ivoire, and Nigeria, that we are sincere in our intention to negotiate with the Sierra Leone government as long as we can be confident they will keep their word and conduct the talks with dignity."

31 persons were reported killed, including 14 civilians, in a rebel attempt to ambush a Guinean ECOMOG patrol at Kukuna, nine miles north of Kambia, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Thursday. The AFP did not say when the clash took place. ECOMOG killed 17 rebels in the failed ambush attempt, and the rebels reportedly executed 14 civilians after accusing them of giving away their position to ECOMOG, according to the AFP report. "The rebels tried to re-group but were beaten off by ECOMOG troops," one witness was quoted as saying. According to a journalist quoted in the report, the rebels then burned several houses and a mosque and destroyed a bridge to prevent ECOMOG from pursuing them.

ECOMOG warned Thursday that its personnel on land, sea, and in the air had been "instructed to enforce the security arrangements with uttermost strictness." In a statement issued in Freetown, ECOMOG warned: "It is therefore risky for anyone to persist in breaking the 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. curfew, as there will be no discrimination whatsoever in the enforcement of the orders." The statement warned "all fishing trawlers to abide by regulations forbidding their activities within 15 nautical miles off the exclusive economic zone of the territorial waters of Sierra Leone," adding that "boat owners should obtain necessary clearances from ECOMOG."

Guinean authorities have arrested a number of Sierra Leoneans in Conakry, some of them registered as refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to UNHCR representative Chris Athie (spelling as transcribed). Athie told the BBC his office had interviewed 126 Sierra Leoneans who had been transferred from Conakry to Forecariah by the Guinean military. "Some of them are indeed under our mandate and they are registered with us, and we are going to take steps to ensure that they are protected in accordance with the Guinean law and international law," he said. "What we have also done is to send our colleagues out to the prisons and to the police stations, since yesterday, to look for people — Sierra Leoneans — who might be of concern to the office, in which case, we shall endeavor to get them out of the prisons or out of the police stations, in accordance with the agreement we have with Guinea that allows us access to persons of concern to UNHCR." Athie said the arrests apparently stemmed from an attack on an Italian ship anchored off the coast of Guinea on April 3. "The crew was attacked by these unidentified armed men, who stole money and beat up the crew. Nobody was killed. And, apparently the attackers were speaking Krio. And, subsequently, the crew members went and sought medical help from a mercy ship anchored in Conakry, and that's how we knew about what happened. And I think that it was based on that attack, that night, on this ship that the military went looking for those whom they suspect might be accused of having done that. You recall that the government is very much concerned about the possible rebel infiltration into this country, I think that might well have caused it, but we still have to get the government's view on this."

7 April: President Kabbah opened the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process Wednesday with a call on delegates to debate "whether political power-sharing should be based on democratic principles, or whether it should also be a trophy for attempts to overthrow a democratically-elected government." He told delegates they would have to consider whether power sharing with the RUF was in the national interest, or whether political power should be derived from the will of the majority. "The message to the RUF rebels who have learned to wage war, to destroy, to humiliate and mutilate, should be loud and clear," Kabbah said. "We must let them know that it is about time they learn to wage peace. We say to them, wherever they are, to come out and learn the meaning of peace, to experience peace, to manage peace. The RUF rebels and their allies cannot claim that they want peace if they continue to deny others the right to live in peace." He expressed the hope that after their internal consultations in Lomé, Togo, "the RUF leadership would have a conscience and the courage to make peace; that they would go beyond that and make a solemn commitment this time to work with us and international observers, to keep the peace; and above all, that they would make a determined effort thereafter, to promote and sustain peace, together." Kabbah said that the parties to any peace agreement must recognise their "obligation and responsibility" to the people of Sierra Leone to implement the provisions of the agreement. Implementation, Kabbah noted, is an integral part of the peace process. "It is unacceptable, indeed it is inhuman, to leave our children a heritage of crude violence and social disintegration," Kabbah told delegates. "We in Sierra Leone believe that the stability of any nation in our sub-region should be measured not merely by the strength of its conventional and guerrilla forces, nor by its capacity to aid and abet the disintegration of other countries in the neighbourhood. In the final analysis, its own stability will be determined by its ability to feed, clothe and sustain the life and livelihood of its people. We are determined to devote all our effort, and the bulk of our resources, to the welfare of our people. We shall not allow anyone to deny them their right to economic and social development, their right to peace, and their right to life. This is the principal objective of our response to this RUF rebel conflict." The National Consultative Conference, which is being funded jointly by the U.S. and Britain, includes five representatives from each of the country's thirteen districts, along with representatives of various Sierra Leonean civic groups.

Rebels holding kidnapped Italian priest Father Vittorio Mosele assured the Bishop of Makeni, George Biguzzi, that the priest is well, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. Biguzzi spoke to the rebels by radio Tuesday at 1:05 local time. Mosele, a 63 year old priest of the Xaverian missionary order, was kidnapped from the Catholic Mission at Kambia on February 12. Biguzzi asked when Mosele might be freed, but the rebels declined to commit to a release date.

Sierra Leone and Ukraine have established diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, according to a statement from the president's office read out on state radio on Wednesday. "It is believed that establishing diplomatic relations with Ukraine enhances government's efforts to bring a speedy end to the unwarranted and unprovoked rebel war," the statement said. "It will also enable government to monitor and effectively control the clandestine activities of some Ukrainian nationals regarding their involvement in the war in Sierra Leone. Besides, it is hoped that by cooperating with Ukraine, other benefits of economic nature will accrue to the mutual advantage of the peoples of both states." Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Russia, Melrose Kai-Banya, will also serve as Ambassador to Ukraine with residence in Moscow. Ukraine has been accused in the past of supplying arms to rebels fighting in Sierra Leone, a charge the Ukraine government has denied. More recently, the Sierra Leone government alleged that Ukrainian mercenaries were fighting on the side of the rebels. Various Ukrainian government spokesmen have either rejected the charge outright, or acknowledged the possibility that Ukrainian nationals might be involved in the Sierra Leone conflict without the knowledge of the Ukraine government.

Shots were fired in Waterloo on Wednesday where a group of renegade soldiers was trying to surrender, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. Local residents said another group of rebel soldiers prevented the surrender by firing a volley of shots into the air, causing panic among residents.

The new ECOMOG Force Commander, Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, directed ECOMOG soldiers to exhibit a high sense of professionalism in on-going operations in Sierra Leone, according to Nigeria's Guardian newspaper. Addressing the soldiers of the Freetown Garrison Command at Wilberforce Barracks, Mujakperuo said a high degree of discipline was required to maintain the reputation of ECOMOG and the commitment of ECOWAS member states who had contributed troops to the force. He said he would continue to ensure that the soldiers were adequately protected as long as they remained diligent. Mujakperuo warned his troops not to get caught up in local disputes: "You should not allow yourselves to be dragged into settling scores by individuals who want to avoid the normal machinery of law and procedures," he said, adding that the soldiers should refrain from molesting civilians and to be humane in their relations with the public, as they were in Sierra Leone to protect lives and property.

Civilians trapped in the northern town of Kamakwie are facing a severe humanitarian crisis, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said Wednesday, citing a report by a resident who arrived in Freetown on Wednesday. The resident, Amadu Kamara, told the AFP that more than 20 people were dying in the town every day from hunger, lack of medical attention, and rebel atrocities. He added that there were no drugs at the Kamakwie Health Centre and that all health officials had fled. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

6 April: Sierra Leone's newly-accredited ambassador to Liberia, Dr. Kemoh Salia Gbao, urged Liberian President Charles Taylor Tuesday to use his influence to end Sierra Leone's civil war. "Considering the economic, cultural, and social ties between our two nations, Sierra Leoneans are convinced that with your personal intervention, the war in Sierra Leone can speedily come to an end," he told Taylor during his accreditation ceremony. "My government is interested in peaceful co-existence, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression and non-interference in each other's internal affairs." He made no reference to charges by Sierra Leone and others that the Taylor government has provided backing for the rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. "We are clearly aware of the inseparable links between both countries," Taylor responded. "We believe that it is for this reason that Sierra Leone joined forces with other ECOWAS nations to assist in the process leading to peace in Liberia."  According to Liberian Star Radio, Taylor commended President Kabbah for his initiative for peace and reconciliation by inviting all sides in the conflict to the negotiating table. He said Kabbah's offer to allow RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to meet with his commanders in Lome, Togo was an initial step toward a final resolution of the Sierra Leone conflict.

Liberia has designated diplomat McDonald Boan as that country's new ambassador to Sierra Leone. Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah called Boan's appointment "a favourable reciprocal response" to the posting of a Sierra Leonean ambassador in Monrovia, and an attempt to enhance relations between the two countries.

Imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has spoken to his field commanders by telephone, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said on Tuesday. "He has spoken with his military commanders over the past few days,'' Golley said, adding that he himself spoke to Sankoh Tuesday for about an hour and a quarter. "He seems fine. He seems very lucid. He was very much supportive of trying to enter into sincere dialogue with the government," Golley said. "He appeared to be well and is looking forward to meeting us in Lomé."

There has been renewed tension along the Sierra Leone - Liberia border following the reported kidnapping last week of  32 civilians, allegedly by elements of Liberian President Charles Taylor's disbanded NPFL militia, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The abductees, all but to of them women, were said to have been taken from the border town of Jendema, according to BBC correspondent Prince Brima. A Kamajor commander at Zimmi, Hassan Jalloh, told Brima that 24 of the 32 had been killed by their kidnappers on the Liberian side of the Mano River Bridge, although this has not been independently confirmed. "Commenting on the kidnapping, the Resident Minister of southern Sierra Leone, Foday Sesay, said the matter is now being investigated, while Kamajors along the Liberia - Sierra Leone border have threatened reprisals if prompt action is not taken by the Sierra Leone government," Brima reported, adding: "Meanwhile, there is now a massive buildup of Kamajor fighters along the border to forestall any further acts of aggression by the Liberian border guards."

60 persons, most of them traders, were killed over the weekend when rebels attacked two boats along the Freetown Peninsula River (according to the BBC) or the Mabang River (according to the Associated Press). A member of the Boatmen's Association, Captain Abdullahi Abubakar, said the boats were loaded with goods including petrol and kerosene worth millions of leones. Passengers heard shots as they neared the town of Kirba. As described by BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, "Capt. Abdullahi said with nowhere to run the boatmen who were sailing the two boats simply shut down their outboard machines as the rebels advanced toward them on board four captured boats, and with continuous gun firing from the river bank the rebels took all the goods from the boats and money from the traders and other passengers before they started firing at the boat and the outboard machine." The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the rebels used four dugout canoes to plunder the boats. Abubakar told reporters that by the time rescuers arrived on the scene, 60 passengers had drowned, while several had gunshot wounds. The AP quoted one of the boat captains, Abdulai Turay, identified by the AFP as an official of the Tissana Boatsmen Association, who said that the rebels opened fire on the two boats as they were carrying passengers and supplies to villages up the Mabang River. He said several people were killed by gunfire, while others drowned after they jumped into the rapid current to escape the bullets. One witness said he thought the rebels were hiding in the mangrove swamps to ambush passing boats. Turay said a similar attack occurred in the same area two weeks ago, and five passengers were killed.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights expressed alarm Tuesday about the "horrifying violations" in Sierra Leone, and called on all factions to halt killings and other human rights abuses. The resolution, reached by consensus, means that Sierra Leone will be on the Commission's official agenda next year. The decision was taken in a closed-door meeting under the Commission's "secret procedures" arrangement to examine situations in states not already on the official agenda. The Commission said it was alarmed at reports by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) which "disclose horrifying violations of human rights and international humanitarian law." The Commission called on U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to report back on Sierra Leone at the next annual session.

5 April: The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has suspended its activities on behalf of some 250 amputees at the Murray Town camp in a dispute over a Canadian donation, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. An ADRA official said the decision was "due to the blatant disregard for authorities and the non-appreciation of their efforts by those they are assisting." The move reportedly was prompted by a demonstration by amputees last Monday over disbursement of a $30,000 donation by the Canadian government. The amputees demanded the money be given directly to them, but the agency said the funds would be used to provide them with basic necessities in the camp. ADRA officials said that as a result of the disagreement the money would be returned to the Canadian government. ADRA director Prince Cummings told the amputees Saturday to "start looking for other areas for food, drugs and other necessities" which the agency had been providing them free of charge. "We are going to redirect our resources to other vulnerable groups that need assistance," he said. "It was out of sympathy ADRA decided to come to the rescue as our organisation is mainly meant for development programmes and not for humanitarian work."

4 April: 81 military cadet officer candidates have departed for Nigeria following an address by Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe. As related by BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, Khobe advised the cadets "to take the hardship that will come during their training with manly heart, and that they should never waver before any obstacle." Khobe warned the cadets they would be expected to maintain a high standard of discipline in Nigeria, and that "those who are already soldiers and misbehave will be detained as soldiers and released as a civilian, whilst those who are not soldiers will be sent straight back to their village," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. In his address, Khobe said his goal was "to build a respectable military that would be a pride to all Sierra Leoneans."  He said he owed his loyalty to the constitution, the president, the parliament, and the people; that he saw his task of rebuilding the Sierra Leonean army as a task from God, and that he intended to pursue it with vigor. Khobe warned politicians that the practice of outside interference in purely military affairs had ended. Referring to the period of AFRC military rule, Khobe vowed that, "Never again will the Sierra Leone army degenerate to the level which saw corporals or sergeants taking over politrical power in this country." About 500 cadets have been selected to undergo training in Nigeria. The rest of the proposed 5,000-member army will be trained in Sierra Leone by Nigerian and British military officers. "You must learn as you go that the highest rank in the armed forces is a general, not president or head of state," Khobe told the cadets. "If you have political ambition wait until such a time you have retired from the army."

A three-day conference aimed at preventing further civil conflict in Sierra Leone will take place in Freetown beginning on Wednesday, the BBC reported on Sunday. An official of the National Commission of Democracy and Human Rights, George Coleridge-Taylor, said five delegates from each of the country's thirteen districts would attend. The conference is to be funded jointly by the United States and Britain.

3 April: An RUF spokesman has welcomed the Sierra Leone government's call for a temporary lifting of the United Nations Security Council international travel ban on former AFRC junta officials, in order to allow imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and RUF delegates to travel to Lomé, Togo later this month for consultations. "The Revolutionary United Front welcomes the recent announcement from the government submitted on the BBC Focus on Africa production yesterday on the matter of the proposed lifting of the travel ban on the delegates that will attend the proposed internal consultations in Lomé, Togo with Corporal Foday Sankoh," RUF legal representative Omrie Golley said in a statement issued on Saturday. "We are at present deliberating on who will travel from Sierra Leone to attend these consultations, and I will submit these names to the government and relevant authorities as soon we have completed these deliberations."

Guinean ECOMOG troops have recaptured the town of Kambia after heavy fighting in which they shelled and bombed rebel positions, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Schools in Britain will donate educational materials and equipment to Sierra Leone in a scheme launched Friday by British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold. "Schools are encouraged to contact the Project Office already set up in Cardiff, Wales, and the scheme is to be launched shortly on British television," Penfold said. Ministry of Education officials say 300 schools were damaged or destroyed following the May 1997 military coup, and another 50 were damaged following the rebel attack on Freetown in January.

2 April: The Sierra Leone government has called for a temporary lifting of the United Nations international travel ban on AFRC and RUF officials to enable the to travel to Togo later this month for consultations with their imprisoned leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh. The ban was imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution in October 1997 as part of a package of sanctions aimed at putting pressure on the AFRC military junta. In a BBC interview on Friday, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said the government needed a list of those wishing to travel to Lomé to participate in the consultations. "Once we are in possession of those names, then we will make sure that we’re able to facilitate the process for their travel to Lomé as soon as possible," he said. Kaikai said the government would not dictate who or how many people the rebels would send to the talks. "That is an internal matter that the RUF will have to decide." The government was asking for a list, he said, in order to provide travel documents for the AFRC/RUF delegates. "Again, you know that there was a ban," he said. And these are Sierra Leoneans, and I’m not so sure what travel documents that they have. Government is going to make sure that we arrange for the issuance of travel documents to them to participate, because there has been a ban on them." Asked whether the lifting of the travel ban would be temporary or permanent, Kaikai replied: "What we are doing at the moment is dealing with the issue at hand. For them to be able to participate in the consultation process, there has to be a temporary lifting of the ban. And once they go through the consultation process, and then we go on to the next stage wherein as the president has proposed they will be able to meet with representatives of the Sierra Leone government, then the rest of those other issues will be addressed later." Kaikai said security for the delegates would be provided by the Togolese government. "I do believe that there will be security for all," he said. "I do believe that because of the interest of (President Kabbah) and the government and people of this country in achieving sustainable peace and security, that nothing will be done to hinder the achievement of what it is that we wish for our country."

ECOMOG, backed by Kamajor militiamen, captured the eastern town of Segbwema on Monday, Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said on Friday. Civilians and local journalists quoted by the Agence France-Presse said about 50 rebels were killed in a four hour battle, but Khobe said he could not confirm the figure. "There were a lot of rebels killed and minimal casualties on ECOMOG's side," he said. Khobe also said the diamond mining town of Tongo Field had fallen to ECOMOG after heavy clashes last week. The AFP provided no independent confirmation of the claim. Khobe said that despite these gains, the ECOMOG force was "relatively dormant" while authorities tried to lay the groundwork for peace talks with rebel leaders. "We are talking with rebels and we want to see whether this thing will be peacefully resolved," Khobe said. "(United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone) Ambassador Okelo is playing a significant role here, I want to give him credit." Khobe noted that the rebels maintained a presence as close as 20 miles from the Freetown peninsula. The town of Masiaka remained in rebel hands, he said.

Judicial authorities have closed down all courts in Freetown, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday. The report quoted a "senior supreme court judge" as saying the courts would remain closed until their security needs were addressed. The judge said the judiciary had requested 50 security personnel to protect courts, judges, and magistrates. So far, Star Radio said, the government has provided 20 security personnel, a number judge described as inadequate.

Sierra Leonean newly-appointed Ambassador to Liberia, Dr. Kemoh Salia Gbao, said Wednesday relations between Sierra Leone and Liberia have improved, although they remain strained. Liberian Star Radio quoted Gbao as saying that the two countries were now working closely together and holding discussions to reach common ground. Gbao told Star Radio that a common understanding would help to solve their problems.

1 April: The security situation in Freetown has continued to improve, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday. In its Emergency Report for the period through March 31, the agency said ECOMOG had reinforced checkpoints in the capital to prevent rebel infiltration. In addition, the number of U.N. staff permitted to be in Freetown at any one time has been increased to 25 based on the availability of the WFP helicopter for emergency evacuation or relocation. Between March 20 and April 1, the WFP received 2,300 tons of food through the port in Freetown, the report said. In cooperation with other agencies, the WFP has assisted over 230,000 persons in Freetown since January, mainly Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). An additional 7,000 IDPs were verified last week and will now receive food distributions. The WFP also continues to support over 12,300 vulnerable persons in hospitals, clinics, and orphanages, including amputees and the disabled. In Kenema, where the WFP has 480 tons of stockpiled food, the need for distributions has become pressing. Prices have increased significantly due to the restricted flow of goods from Freetown and the food-producing rural areas. "WFP will distribute two-week rations to all registered IDPs in Kenema town and Blama, beginning on 31 March, and provide one-month food supplies for all medical NGOs and the hospital," the report said. Due to recent looting of food warehouses in Kenema by mobs, ECOMOG has been guarding the warehouses. The WFP is increasing distributions to registered IDPs in camps to avoid losses "through forceful seizure by the resident population." In Bo, some 10,000 persons including Liberian refugees are receiving food assistance. WFP activities there are limited to areas in and around Bo town and on the Bo-Kenema highway because of fuel shortages. Over the past week, nearly 1,800 new arrivals were registered in Bo. At Kambia, recent reports indicate that over 5,000 persons have crossed the border into Guinea, while more remain at Gbalamuya and surrounding villages. The WFP is providing food for newly-registered refugees at Forecariah, and their condition is described as satisfactory. The WFP and other agencies have expressed increasing concern about IDPs still at the border. Attempts to visit the border area have failed because Guinean authorities have not been able to provide security guarantees and clearances to humanitarian agencies wishing to assess the situation.

A group of 200 amputees in western Freetown said Thursday they were suffering from a shortage of food and medicine since the government expelled the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in January. The ICRC, which had provided drugs and meals for persons mutilated by rebel forces, was forced to leave the country after ECOMOG accused the agency of aiding the rebels with communications, a charge the ICRC has denied. The ICRC's Information Officer in Abidjan, Christian Frutigier, said Thursday the organisation was "waiting for clarification of its situation from the Sierra Leonean government before it could envisage returning to the country."

Liberian President Charles Taylor repeated his call Thursday for the Sierra Leone government to extradite Liberian mercenaries to stand trial. "We have sent a diplomatic note to Freetown for those people to be disarmed, arrested and sent back home to stand trial for mercenarism, and we hope the government of Sierra Leone will cooperate," Taylor told journalists at the Executive Mansion. He said Liberians serving as mercenaries in Sierra Leone "pose a danger to our national security."

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted health authorities Thursday as claiming that smallpox had broken out on the east end of Freetown due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) certified in 1980 that the disease of smallpox had been eradicated following an international effort which began in 1967. The AFP reported Wednesday on efforts in Kenema District to control an outbreak of measles, a viral disease which is spread by personal contact or through the air.