The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

May 2003
 

31 May: The Liberian authorities say they have released the body of the notorious former Sierra Leonean rebel commander, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured left) after completing an investigation into how he died, the BBC reported on Saturday. The Liberians claim Bockarie was killed in a shootout with their security forces nearly a month ago when he tried to enter Liberia from Ivory Coast with the aim of further destabilising the country. Sierra Leone's Special Court, which indicted Bockarie for war crimes in March, alleges that Bockarie was in fact executed on the orders of President Charles Taylor, and prosecutors have demanded the Liberians turn the body over to them for forensic identification. Foreign Minister Monie Captan said the release of Bockarie's remains followed the conclusion of Liberia's own investigation and the completion of necessary paperwork. "We have turned it over and it is leaving," he was quoted as saying. Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Patrick Foyah, confirmed the handover, and told the BBC arrangements were being made to fly the body back to Freetown late Sunday morning.

Sierra Leone's Under-17 footballers held Egypt to a scoreless draw Saturday, guaranteeing the Sierra Stars a place in the U-17 championship semi-finals. Guinea hammered host Swaziland 6-0, but with just a draw and a loss in their first two games, the Guineans will return home empty handed.

30 May: The Sierra Leone government's Oil Exploration Bid Evaluation Committee opened its first bids Friday from companies interested in exploring for oil in the country's coastal waters. The committee, which is headed by Vice President Solomon Berewa, now has until mid-July to consider bids from three companies: Repsol YPF of Spain, 8 Investment Inc. of the United States, and Oranto Petroleum Sierra Leone Ltd. Winners are expected to be awarded blocks after July 15. According to Sierra Leone Association of Journalists President Ibrahim el-Tayyib Bah, Berewa said he hoped the results of the exploration would be positive to help the country get out of the woods financially. He pledged that the entire process would remain transparent and open. The ceremony at State House was witnessed by journalists and members of the public. 

Sierra Leone's journalists have called for the reform of Sierra Leone's media laws in a way which would create an environment for a pluralistic and quality media and ensure debate on issues of interest to the public. Last month, a committee set up by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) met in Freetown to hammer out a series of recommendations at the request of the government's Law Reform Commission. Those recommendations have now been submitted to the commission over the signature of SLAJ President Ibrahim el-Tayyib Bah (pictured left), and they were made public on Friday. The 13-member committee, which included representatives from both the government-owned and private media, urged that Sierra Leone's much-criticized criminal libel laws be expunged from the books, and that measures taken to ensure that the country's civil libel laws are enforced. The journalists also recommended that the Sierra Leone's Independent Media Commission be made fully functional, with steps taken to make it both more effective and more efficient. They called for legal recognition of SLAJ as the professional media organization for all media policy and reforms in Sierra Leone, and urged that the journalists' group itself should be given responsibility for enforcing a Code of Practice for journalists. 

Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) pointed Friday to progress in Sierra Leone since the end of the country's civil war, including the maintaining of peace, positive economic growth and the holding of elections. The publication, Africa Action Plan: UK Progress Report, noted a ten-year Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this year which commits Britain to providing £40 in development assistance each year, in addition to the £14 spent on military advisory assistance. Britain also provides £34 million in funding for UNAMSIL along with the provision of additional military observers and key personnel. The DfID report also noted British backing for Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission and support of judicial, governance and public sector reform programmes.  

Sierra Leone signed an agreement with Vietnam Friday on economics, commerce, culture and technology, the Xinhua news agency reported. The pact was designed to boost trade between the two countries, and came at the end of the Vietnam-Africa Forum for Opportunities in the 21st Century in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

29 May: Bids from oil companies interested in exploring for oil in Sierra Leone's coastal waters will be opened at State House on Friday, a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web. Journalists and members of the public have been invited to witness the noon ceremony.

Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal announced Thursday the indictment of a former senior AFRC commander and the arrest of two members of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces militia pending possible charges. Brima "Bazzy" Kamara, a one-time Sierra Leone Army staff sergeant and "honourable" in the AFRC military junta, was arrested at the behest of the Special Court on Tuesday. Later, under the self-proclaimed title of "brigadier-general," he led the AFRC splinter group popularly known as the West Side Boys. The group gained notoriety in August 2000 when Kamara and his followers abducted some 40 U.N. military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid workers and journalists at the West Side Boys in an effort to force the RUF rebels to free their leader, former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. Kamara will make his first appearance before the court next week. Also Thursday, the Special Court said it had provisionally detained two other persons under a rule which allows for a suspect to be held up to 30 days before being charged. Moinina Fofana was Director of War for the Civil Defence Forces, and Allieu Kondewa (or Kondua) was Chief Initiator and High Priest of the Kamajors, a component militia of the CDF. Kondewa was sacked by then CDF coordinator Sam Hinga Norman in November 2000 for insubordination and for alleged abuses against civilians. The Special Court is mandated to prosecute the handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. To date the court has indicted ten persons, with one of the indictments still sealed. Seven of the indictees – Foday Sankoh, Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao from the RUF, Alex Tamba Brima and Brima "Bazzy" Kamara of the AFRC, and former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman from the CDF, are in court custody. Two others, Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie, were being sought under international warrants. Bockarie is reported to have been killed in Liberia earlier this month, but the indictment will remain open until the court can do a forensic identification to verify that the body is indeed that of the former RUF commander. So far the Liberians have refused to return the remains to Freetown.

With Thursday's departure of UNAMSIL's Guinean peacekeepers from Bo, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone will have scaled back to just about 13,100 troops, UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker said on Thursday. GUINBATT 3 was due to leave for home by road on Thursday. A Nigerian battalion, NIBATT 13, completed its withdrawal on Tuesday. The drawdown marks the end of Phase 2 of the U.N.'s scheduled force reduction from a peak strength of nearly 17,500 troops last year. Coker (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web that the Guineans would be replaced by soldiers from the Bangladeshi 7th Battalion (BANATT 7), which is currently deployed in the northern city of Kabala. U.N. peacekeepers will continue to patrol to Kabala, but the primary responsibility for security there will now fall to Sierra Leone's army, which is fully deployed in the town. As the U.N. mission draws down, it is also restructuring to allow for a rapid response to any potential security problems which may crop up. UNAMSIL has designated two units, the Ghanaian 7th Battalion (GHANBATT 7) at Lungi and the 10th Kenyan Battalion (KENBATT 10) at Masiaka, as a Force Reserve which could be rapidly deployed to meet any contingency anywhere in the country. On Friday and Saturday, GHANBATT 7 will be joined by Sierra Leonean soldiers and police and UNAMSIL's Russian aviation unit of helicopter gunships for a security exercise along Sierra Leone's southeastern border, near the towns of Pujehun and Zimmi. The exercise, codenamed "Diamond Ring,"  "is geared towards preparing our units to be deployed into an area which requires our Force Reserve, and will also exercise together with the Sierra Leone security agencies on how to respond quickly to any security threat anywhere in the country within a record time," Coker said. He said the U.N. mission was very conscious of concerns that the pullout of peacekeepers could leave a security vacuum, and so UNAMSIL was working closely with the government of Sierra Leone "to ensure that their part of the benchmarking are met and that (their security forces) live up to all the expectations."  The U.N. peacekeeping force is scheduled to become still smaller in coming months. Phase 3 of UNAMSIL's troop drawdown is due to commence in August and, depending on the situation on the ground, should be complete by the end of 2004, or in early 2005. 

Prosecutors for Sierra Leone's war crimes court had strong and essentially "trial ready" cases in hand before filing indictments against those they believe most responsible for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, the Special Court's Chief Prosecutor said late Tuesday. David Crane spoke at a forum in Washington organized by the group Friends of Sierra Leone. "Before I signed the indictments...each and every element of each charge had to be provable beyond a reasonable doubt – not ‘reason to believe’ or what have you," Crane said. "We set the standard already very high, so that when the indictments were signed they were beyond a reasonable doubt. Largely, they were trial-ready so that we have evidence to prove each and every element of each charge." Crane noted that prosecutors had to do more than file charges, however. They also have to prove them. The Prosecutor's Office is only one element of the court, alongside the Judiciary, the Registry and the Office of the Public Defender, and Crane pledged that there would be a level playing field for the defence. "In this system you are innocent until proven guilty," he said. "It is my job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, before a dispassionate and neutral magistrate, that these individuals are guilty." Crane denied charges by the supporters of former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman that conditions at the Bonthe Island lockup where the prisoners are held were so harsh as to violate their human rights. "If they were hellish conditions, certainly the ICRC and other human rights organizations would have called us on that," he said. "It is not a pleasant place. It is a detention facility. But it is a place that does meet all the international standards, and we’ll continue to work to keep it that way." Crane stressed that his office, both under the Special Court statute and in practice, was entirely independent from both the United Nations and from the Sierra Leone government. Decisions on the timing of indictments and arrests, he said, were the prosecutor's alone. "We are not working with the government as it relates to (prosecutions), nor do they expect us to work with them regarding that," he said. "We’re not here just to arbitrarily arrest people. What we’re trying to show is that not only is no one above the law, but also that if anybody is in fact brought before the law that they are treated fairly and decently and transparently." Some have questioned whether war crimes prosecutions may ultimately serve only to open old wounds and disrupt the process of reconciliation in Sierra Leone after ten years of brutal civil war. Crane, for one, has no doubts. "Why is it important that the people of Sierra Leone and international communities stand up and say ‘wait a minute, no more, never again’ to the impunity that took place wantonly for the past ten years?" he asked. "Because it has to be done. No one, no human being, should go through what (Sierra Leoneans) have gone through, regardless of the reason, whatever the reason may be. So why is it important? Because impunity cannot stand and it should not stand anywhere, and to include West Africa." 

Leaders and representatives of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ended an extraordinary one-day summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja Thursday with a declaration designed to reinforce previous peace initiatives in the sub-region and to address the security and political causes of conflicts in West Africa. The declaration called for additional troops for strife-torn Ivory Coast to meet an expanded ECOWAS mandate for that country. For Liberia, ECOWAS leaders said they would explore with the United Nations and the International Contact Group on Liberia ways to institute an appropriate monitoring mechanism for a ceasefire and the stabilisation of that country. Summit participants also resolved to activate standby units within the armed forces of ECOWAS member states for the establishment of rapid response force. The leaders reiterated their commitment to an ECOWAS ban on the import, export and manufacture of light weapons, and they reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion and consolidation of democracy, good governance and the rule of law through respect for constitutionality and human rights. President Kabbah (pictured left) attended for Sierra Leone, along with the leaders of Nigeria, Ghana and Benin. Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Liberia were represented by lower-level officials.

28 May: Sierra Leone's Under-17 footballers defeated Swaziland 2-0 in Mbabane Wednesday, handing their Swazi hosts their second straight loss and dashing their hopes of moving on to the next round. The Sierra Stars' goals came in the 39th minute from Sesay Hassan and in the 62nd from Mohamed Kamara. Egypt, with wins over Swaziland and Guinea have already clinched a place in the next round, leaving Sierra Leone and Guinea to compete for the second slot from Group A. The Sierra Stars match with Guinea on Sunday ended in a 3-3 draw. 

Sierra Leone's human rights situation improved significantly during 2003, Amnesty International said in its latest Annual Report which the group unveiled on Wednesday. The report cited the end of a decade of civil war and progress made towards addressing abuses inflicted by both sides in the conflict. But the report said progress was needed in in strengthening the justice system and to promote and protect human rights. Amnesty International also noted that the court proceedings last year against Foday Sankoh and some 100 other persons on murder and related offences "were repeatedly postponed and international standards of fair trial were not met." Some 20 other members of the former armed opposition were held without charge or trial, the human rights group added. 

President Kabbah and the presidents of South Africa, Ghana and Mozambique were in the Nigerian capital Abuja Wednesday ahead of Thursday's inauguration of President Olusegun Obasanjo for a second term, the Associated Press reported. The opposition claims the election was rigged, and his main opponent, former Nigerian military ruler Muhammadu Buhari says he will not recognize the government beyond May 29. News services say tight security measures have been put in place for the inauguration.

For the past three weeks the Liberian government has been locked in a standoff with Sierra Leone's Special Court over the remains of former RUF rebel leader Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. The body was put on display in the Liberian capital Monrovia early this month after the Liberian authorities claimed Bockarie was killed in a shootout with their security forces while trying to enter their country from neighbouring Ivory Coast. The Special Court, which indicted Bockarie last month for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, is demanding that Liberia send the body back to Freetown so investigators can make a positive forensic identification. So far, that demand has fallen on deaf ears. Liberian officials announced May 9 they would only release the body after completing their own investigation into how the rebel leader died. Now the Liberians say that investigation has uncovered evidence that Bockarie had been hired to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor. In a press conference in Monrovia Tuesday, Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea (pictured left) told reporters Bockarie had crossed into Liberia with "a huge cache of arms and ammunition," and that evidence gathered at the scene of the shootout had revealed the reasons for Bockarie's arrival in the country. "His presence on Liberian soil was part of a larger plan by higher-ups in certain regional countries to bring reprisals against the people and government of Liberia for what they consider as Liberia’s role in the Ivorian crisis," Chea said. According to the Voice of America, the minister refused to say when Bockarie's body might be returned to Freetown. The Special Court, however, isn't buying the Liberian version of events. Court officials maintain Bockarie had been in Liberia all along, and they say he was executed on the orders of the Liberian president himself. "Liberians did kill Sam Bockarie. Why do we know that? Because we have the ability to know that," Special Court Chief Prosecutor said in Washington late Tuesday. "They also killed his family a week later. Sam Bockarie was not killed fighting resisting arrest. He was murdered." Crane stressed it was still important that the body be returned to Freetown to put Bockarie's death beyond doubt. Until that happens, he said, the court will officially assume that Bockarie is alive and the indictment will remain open. Crane said the court was pursuing all available avenues to get the Liberians to return Bockarie's body to Freetown, and also to arrest and hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, whom the court says is also in Liberia. Crane declined to elaborate on what measures the court might take, but he blasted Taylor for what he said was the Liberian leader's failure to live up to his international responsibilities. "We are exploring all options as to how this plays out, but the bottom line is President Taylor knows his international legal obligations," Crane said. "We have called him on it. The world now sees how this individual approaches the rule of law, and we’ll continue to press forward with various options that are available to us." 

Leaders of ECOWAS countries are set to meet to discuss instability in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, the Voice of America reported on Wednesday.

27 May: Former RUF leader Foday Sankoh's health has deteriorated, and in his current condition he would not be fit to stand trial before Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, the Special Court's doctor said on Tuesday. Dr. Donald Harding told the BBC that the rebel leader was paralyzed and unable to speak, but he said Sankoh's condition remained stable and that he was receiving treatment. "He’s being fed, he’s having his treatment for his hypertension, he’s having treatment for his trauma, and he’s having liquid diet," he said, adding: "He is not at death’s door." Harding acknowledged that Sankoh would be unable to get the medical attention he needed in Sierra Leone, and he said there were already plans to take him to an undisclosed third country for an assessment of his mental capabilities. "We have to assess the function of his brain which we can’t do in Sierra Leone," he said. Dr. Harding also addressed accusations by the supporters of jailed former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who has been indicted for war crimes allegedly committed by his Kamajor militia during Sierra Leone's civil war. Norman is currently in the eleventh day of a hunger strike to draw local and international attention to his plight. His relatives and supporters have accused the court of holding him in conditions so poor as to violate his human rights. The court denies the charges. Harding said Norman was drinking fruit juices and water, and that despite the hunger strike he was still in good health. "He has been moving about," he said. "Yesterday he walked about four times to the telephone, answered telephone calls, he went to the clinic to see the sister there."  Harding said Norman's weight had dropped from 96 kilograms to 88, but that he was still overweight. He also denied allegations that the former minister was being kept in a mosquito-infested cell. "That’s not true," he said. "It’s not mosquito-infested because apart from the fact that they have mosquito nets there, the cells have been sprayed every evening."

The president of the National Football Association of Swaziland said Monday that the majority of the eight teams competing in the African Under-17 championship have overage players, the Reuters news agency reported. "Most of the countries have over age players," he told the Times of Swaziland. "Our junior squad played very well and were unfortunate not to win, but if they were up against players their own age then maybe they could have done so." Swaziland, which is hosting the tournament, lost 1-0 in the opening game. Following Sunday's 3-3 draw between Sierra Leone and Guinea, team officials traded similar charges. "Guinea players are giants, they are not Under-17s," said Sierra Leonean coach Musa Kallon. "They are big, strong and definitely over-aged. We were playing against giants." Guinea's coach, Syllay Duara, dismissed the accusation. "Sierra Leone have a player with a beard and clearly over-aged," he told the Swazi Observer. "My players are all schoolgoing kids and are within the required age limit." The Sierra Stars' next match is against Swaziland on Wednesday. 

Liberia's LURD rebels say they will participate in peace talks next week with the Liberian government, but it is unknown whether a second rebel group, MODEL, will attend, the Reuters news agency reported. A LURD delegation met in Freetown this week with an ECOWAS-designated mediator, former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, but a MODEL delegation failed to show up. "We will attend the peace talks in Ghana...but ECOWAS should make sure that Taylor attends that meeting because our LURD leader Sekou Conneh will attend," LURD Secretary-General Joe Gbalah told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson. Taylor has said he plans to attend the talks. Gbalah also called on MODEL to take part. In a separate interview with IRIN, Abubakar said a ceasefire was essential, adding that LURD wanted an international stabilisation sent to Liberia to Liberia to ensure that any truce was not violated. He said the talks with LURD had gone well ""in the sense that they gave me their demands on what they think is wrong with Liberia and what the government should do to allow peace."  "If they are sincere in what they told me, I believe we would soon have peace in Liberia because everybody is yearning for peace," Abubakar said. "What I would say to Liberians and the whole region is, give peace a chance. Our people are tired, there is hunger, there is disease, wanton destruction."  Gbalah called the talks with the ECOWAS mediator "fruitful," but he expressed concern about immigration and security arrangements for the upcoming talks in Ghana. "ECOWAS should arrange travel documents [and] security for us to be protected, considering the man we are dealing with," he said.

26 May: President Kabbah convened a meeting of senior officials from the Finance Ministry, Customs and Excise Department, Income Tax, Central Tender Board, the Ports Authority and Anti-Corruption Commission Friday and berated them in front of journalists for inefficiency and "intolerable" levels of corruption in their departments, the official Sierra Leone News Agency reported. Presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy (pictured right) told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday that the president "spoke strongly against those government officials" who put impediments in front of business people, often for no other purpose than soliciting a bribe. These circuitous processes, he said, frustrated business people and created more overhead which was passed on to consumers in the form of exorbitant prices. "The president therefore called on the Commissioner-General of the newly-created National Revenue Authority, Dr. Donald Karimu, to ensure that steps were taken urgently to address these needlessly long and cumbersome processes and procedures," Daramy said. "(He) stressed that the processes must be simplified and rationalised in such a way that there should not be more than one desk officer or point at customs to ensure clearance of one consignment through customs." Kabbah called on the Anti-Corruption Commission to be more alert in identifying and dealing with corrupt practices. He outlined steps being taken to strengthen the commission by adding professional staff, particularly in the area of investigations, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. "The president warned that there will be no place in government for inefficient and ineffective officials, and stressed that government did not have the capacity to employ everybody," Daramy said. "(He said) those citizens who make their living as business people in the private sector must not be unduly harassed and discouraged through the creation of unnecessary roadblocks in their way."

An ECOWAS-appointed mediator arrived in Freetown Monday for talks with Liberian rebel groups before next week's direct talks between the rebels and the Liberian government, the Reuters news agency reported. Former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, who has been mandated by the West African community to seek an end to Liberia's civil war, met with a five-member delegation led by LURD Secretary-General Joe Gbalah. Representatives of a new rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), failed to show up in the Sierra Leonean capital. The rebels are scheduled to begin face-to-face negotiations with Liberian government representatives next week in Accra. Upon arrival in Freetown, Abubakar told journalists he was in Freetown to see "how to move peace forward" in Liberia. "First and foremost, we need a ceasefire, after that any other thing can follow," he said, adding: "I am going to do my best to see that peace comes to Liberia but this peace can only be achieved by those involved in the war." According to Reuters, Gbalah said he was optimistic that a settlement could be reached. "I believe that we are going to have a positive result," he said. "We are here as LURD because we are committed to the peace process."

Two persons who claim to be on hunger strike to protest their detention by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal are in fact eating normally, while a third, former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, is continuing to eat biscuits and drink fruit juice, court officials said on Monday. "The health of the detainees is good," Special Court doctor Donald Harding said in a statement. "Norman’s body weight has dropped in recent days but he weighs more now than he did after he was first arrested." Norman's supporters and his lawyer have claimed that the former minister, who was indicted by the court last March for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, has been held in conditions which violate his human rights. Court Registrar Robin Vincent (pictured right) dismissed the charges, noting that the Bonthe Island lockup where five of the six prisoners are being held has been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross, members of UNAMSIL's Human Rights Section, and a delegation from the Sierra Leone parliament's Human Rights Committee. Vincent said Norman's lawyers had the option of filing a formal complaint with the court, but that they had not done so. "Saying things about their client’s detention that are exaggerated and untrue is not helpful," he added. 

25 May: Jailed former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman told family members and supporters over the weekend that he is on a hunger strike to protest his detention by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal. Norman (pictured left) was arrested by the court last March on an indictment which alleged that, as leader of the pro-government Kamajor militia during Sierra Leone's civil war, he knew or ought to have known about crimes allegedly committed by those under his command, and that he failed to take necessary measures to prevent such crimes or to punish the perpetrators. The court also accused Norman of approving the use of child soldiers. Norman's lawyer and family members have countered by accusing the court of mistreating the 63-year old former minister, and of holding him under deplorable conditions at the Bonthe Island lockup. Court officials deny the charges. One of Norman's supporters is Britain's former High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold. Penfold (right) spoke to Norman by telephone on Sunday  – coincidentally the sixth anniversary of the 1997 AFRC military coup against Sierra Leone's civilian government. "(Norman) has been on a hunger strike for the past ten days and is somewhat weak, but otherwise in good heart," Penfold told the Sierra Leone Web. Penfold, who has been a critic of the Special Court, said he thought Norman should be set free. "I firmly believe that it is a great wrong for him to be imprisoned," he said. "What message does this send to anyone who fights for the cause of democracy and peace for his/her country?" In a BBC interview Sunday, Norman's London-based son Sam Norman described a conversation with his  father on Saturday. "He couldn’t even speak to me for that long because he’s getting weak and he cannot stand for long," he said. Norman said his father had gone on hunger strike "because he’s thinking that no one is paying attention to him and nobody is doing anything about his condition." Said Norman: "He can’t bear it any more. If he goes on hunger strike, people might tend to listen to him, but now no one seems to care." Norman accused the court of dragging the procedures out, and of treating his father as if he had already been found guilty. He added that family members and supporters planned to put pressure the Sierra Leone government, the Special Court and the United Nations to bring about his father's release. "I don’t want me to wake up in the morning and get the phone that, oh, your dad has gone on hunger strike and is dead," Norman said.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has to date handed down nine war crimes indictments including one which is sealed, a top court official told the Voice of America last week. Six of the eight public indictments accuse the defendants of acting directly or indirectly in concert with Liberian President Charles Taylor, and Chief Prosecutor David Crane has frequently hinted that the Liberian leader could himself be a target of court prosecutors. But in his interview with VOA journalist Josephine Kamara, Crane wasn't saying whose name appeared in the sealed ninth indictment. "We are currently continuing this international investigation against what we call a ‘joint criminal enterprise'," he said. "We’re looking at all those who we think who bear the greatest responsibility and we will follow the evidence wherever we think it may lead, both in Sierra Leone, regionally, as well as internationally." The court is involved in a standoff with the Liberian authorities who have so far refused to hand over the remains of former RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, whom the Liberians claim was killed in a shootout with their forces three weeks ago. Crane said the court had the appropriate scientific tools to make a positive identification of Bockarie's body, and that it was necessary they do so "so the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa can feel that in fact he truly is dead and they can rest assured that one of the individuals who has brought such pain and suffering in this region is in fact gone." Until that is done, Crane said, the indictment will remain open and the court will assume that Bockarie is still alive. Prosecutors are also demanding that Taylor arrest and hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who they allege is commanding a contingent of Taylor's security forces in the Liberian town of Foya Kamala. The Liberians deny that Koroma is in Liberia. Trials of the accused are due to begin later this year, and Crane said the proceedings would be transparent and open to all. "One of the key aspects that we wanted to do in the Special Court is to show the people of Sierra Leone and the people of West Africa that no one is above the law," he said. "But should they in fact be indicted, then they will have an absolute right to a fair and open trial so that the people of Sierra Leone and the victims can see justice done before their eyes."

The Sierra Stars played their Guinean rivals to a 3-3 draw Sunday at the CAF Under-17 championship in Mbabane, Swaziland. In the opening match of the tournament, Egypt defeated host Swaziland 1-0.

24 May: A five-member delegation from the Liberian rebel group LURD arrived in Freetown Saturday for two days of talks with an ECOWAS-appointed mediator seeking to end Liberia's civil war, former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Associated Press reported. A new rebel group fighting in eastern Liberia, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), is expected to send its own five-member team to the Sierra Leonean capital on Monday. The Associated Press quoted diplomatic sources close to the talks as saying Abubakar was expected to sound out the rebel groups on their willingness to agree to a ceasefire. Direct talks between the rebels and the government are scheduled to take place June 4 in Accra, Ghana.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) U-17 organizing committee has fined the Sierra Leone Football Association $3,000 for failing to submit their team list on time. Under confederation rules, the final 18-member list must reach the CAF secretariat ten days before the opening of the tournament. This is the Sierra Leonean U-17 team's first appearance in the finals. The Sierra Stars are due to take the field against Guinea in Mbabane on Sunday, following the opening match between host Swaziland and Egypt.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) this week held "thematic hearings" in Freetown on the abuses suffered by women and girls during Sierra Leone's civil war. One of those who appeared to testify on Friday was Kenyan lawyer Binaifer Nowrojee, who flew in from the U.S. city of Boston on behalf of a consortium of human rights groups known as the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations. After her testimony, Nowrojee told the BBC that violence against women was not just incidental to the conflict, but was routinely used as a tool of war. "Sexual violence was used in a widespread and systematic way as a weapon of conflict in the Sierra Leonean war, and women were raped in extraordinarily brutal ways," she said. "Sexual violence was used to terrorize, to humiliate, to push people into submission as a way for rebels to use and dominate control over areas." Nowrojee said that most of the perpetrators had been rebels from the RUF, the AFRC or an AFRC splinter group known as the West Side Boys, but that to a lesser extent members of the pro-government CDF militia and even peacekeepers had been responsible for rape and sexual violence. Violence against women during Sierra Leone's decade of war was widespread and often brutal, but it has received less attention than that given other victims, notably the amputees. Nowrojee said she knows why. "Historically, sexual violence has been downplayed, trivialized or dismissed as the unfortunate acts of soldiers as opposed to being a serious crime under international law," she said. "The second thing is because of the stigma and shame that’s attached to sexual violence, women are reluctant to come forward to talk about what happened to them. What you get is a culture of silence that surrounds this crime and inaction, not only to prevent it but also then to assist the victims." The Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations is calling on the TRC to ensure that the experiences of Sierra Leone's women are fully reflected in its final report. Nowrojee said her group also wants the Sierra Leone government to assist women victims with education, skills training and trauma counseling. The group is also urging Sierra Leone to amend or repeal laws which discriminate against women, and to institute judicial and police reforms so that victims of sexual violence can find redress with the police and the courts.

23 May: The United States will donate $75,000 in support of a programme to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone by making high-quality low-cost condoms available to everyone, the U.S. Embassy said Friday in Freetown. The money will come from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the programme will be administered by the aid agency CARE. Initially, the programme will target persons of reproductive age (15-49 years old) in the Western Area before reaching out to the provinces. Last July a United Nations study estimated the HIV infection rate in this group at seven percent, meaning that as many as 170,000 Sierra Leoneans may be infected with the deadly virus. In a statement Friday, U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas (pictured left) said the embassy would collaborate with CARE by sponsoring a series of radio and television ads and community-based educational campaigns covering topics such as condom use, purchase locations and living with HIV/AIDS. "By combining a world-class product made affordable to everyone and a strong educational program, we hope to make a real difference in this important effort," Chaveas said. "Sierra Leone can beat the threat of HIV/AIDS. Sierra Leoneans must lead the way but we intend to be part of the solution." The programme will be launched on May 30.

22 May: The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has announced its first annual media awards for excellence in reporting on national reconciliation and the fight against HIV/AIDS, SLAJ president Ibrahim El-Tayyib Bah (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web. The launch ceremony will take place Thursday evening at the Lagoonda Complex at Aberdeen. The winners in each of the three categories – newspaper, radio and television – will receive half a million leones (about $250) and a certificate of recognition. The closing date for nominations is June 6, and the winners will be announced on June 21. Meanwhile, SLAJ has finished a workshop on media reform and is sending its recommendations to the Law Reform Commission. "We have just finished the radio policy workshop, the first towards the development of a comprehensive national media policy. Hopefully this will be concluded by the end of July this year," Bah said.

Sierra Leone's average monthly diamond exports for the first quarter of this year averaged $5.1 million, the Awoko newspaper reported on Thursday, quoting the Government Gold and Diamond Office.

The Liberian government has failed to comply with a request by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal to hand over the remains of indicted war criminal Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, Special Court Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White said on Thursday. "As of today, they are not in compliance with their international obligations," White said in a statement. "We have given them more than enough time to meet our demands. This is completely unacceptable." The Liberian authorities say the former RUF field commander was killed in a shootout earlier this month while attempting to cross into Liberia from the Ivory Coast. The court has demanded that Liberia turn Bockarie's body for forensic identification, but so far the Liberian government has failed to comply. The official request, which was signed and hand-delivered to Liberia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations on May 19 by court Registrar Robin Vincent, called on Liberia to comply fully with two Security Council resolutions which mandated that all states, and specifically the government of Liberia, cooperate with the court. Deputy Prosecutor Desmond de Silva called Liberia's failure to hand over the body "a flagrant disregard of the United Nations."  "Security Council Resolutions 1470 and 1478 have been flouted by Charles Taylor with the contempt one has come to associate with his pariah regime," de Silva said. "It is difficult to determine whether he is an adult playing childish games or a child playing stupid games." 

21 May: Prosecutors for Sierra Leone's Special Court say they want the United Nations Security Council to intervene in a standoff with Liberia over the remains of former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured left), the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. The Liberian authorities claim Bockarie, whom the court indicted last March for war crimes in Sierra Leone, was killed in a shootout with their security forces earlier this month when he tried to enter Liberia from the Ivory Coast. Court officials have demanded that the body be turned over to them for forensic identification, but the Liberians have so far refused – first saying Liberia had no direct dealings with the court, and later claiming they first wanted to do their own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the rebel commander's death. Prosecutors have expressed skepticism over the Liberian version of events. They say they have credible reports that Bockarie, and later his family, were executed on the orders of Liberian President Charles Taylor. "It looks as if we are at an impasse," said court Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White. "We are going to take up the matter with the U.N. Security Council to seek their support to intervene. The Liberian government seems not to be playing the game according to international rules." Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia told the Voice of America he had written to Liberia's Foreign Ministry asking the authorities to confirm or deny the deaths of members of Bockarie's family, who had until recently resided in the Monrovia suburb of Paynesville. "As an ambassador, it’s my responsibility to also secure the interest of my people in this country," Patrick Foyah said. "Sam Bockarie’s family are Sierra Leoneans. The mom, the dad, the children (are) all Sierra Leoneans...I have made an official request that I would like to meet these people. The rumor is very persistent, from the Liberian people, from the Sierra Leoneans, from the international community. Even the Liberian government officials are hearing this rumor. The only way to put this to rest is to make available the family to me to identify them, to have a talk with them, and to tell the whole world that the rumor is not true and that the family are alive and kicking."

19 May: Liberian President Charles Taylor is "not only the center, but the icon" of the wars and the refugee crisis plaguing West Africa and should be forced from power, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers spoke to reporters in Conakry at the end of a five-nation visit which took him to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. "If you're serious about democracy in the rest of the world, then you should be serious about democracy in West Africa as well," Lubbers said. "My preference is that one would force Taylor to step down." According to the Associated Press, Lubbers called on the United States and the United Nations to help resolve the conflict in the war-torn country. "If the British felt responsible in Sierra Leone, and the French in Ivory Coast, I can't imagine that the U.S. doesn't feel some responsibility in Liberia," he said, adding: "I prefer in the first place to look into the peacekeeping capacity of the U.N." The former Dutch prime minister's remarks did not go down well in Monrovia. "I think that Mr. Lubbers has stepped way out of his arena, out of the humanitarian business, in talking about politics," Information Minister Reginald Goodridge told the BBC. Goodridge blamed Liberia's problems on two rebel groups fighting the government, LURD and MODEL, and he blamed the UNHCR for failing the Liberian people. "We have not heard Mr. Lubbers condemning the activities and the atrocities of these groups," he said. "They are amputating the limbs of innocent civilians, they are killing and maiming people, they are burning and slashing all over the country...We think that Mr. Lubbers has to really be evenhanded in this matter and he has to cater to the humanitarian crisis of the innocent people and leave the politics to the politicians." The Liberian government has come under increasing military and political pressure in recent weeks. Pro-government forces have lost ground to rebel groups, which are now said to occupy some 60 percent of the country, and there were reports Monday that Guinean soldiers shelled the Liberian border town of Ganta over the weekend. Aid groups estimate that a million Liberians have been displaced within the country, and 300,000 have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Earlier this month the United Nations Security Council renewed sanctions against the Taylor regime, extending an arms embargo and slapped a ban on Liberian timber sales, which have allegedly funded Liberia's illegal arms purchases. The Liberian government is also locked in a standoff with Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, which is demanding that Taylor hand over the body of former RUF commander Sam Bockarie for forensic identification. The court wants Taylor surrender former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who they believe is commanding a contingent of Taylor's security forces in northwestern Liberia. Both Bockarie and Koroma were indicted in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

16 May: Parliament on Thursday approved the nomination of Brima Acha Kamara as Inspector-General of Police, local newspapers reported in Freetown. Kamara succeeds Keith Biddle, whose contract ends at the end of the month.

Sierra Leone's cabinet met in Kenema this week as part of an initiative to make rural people feel part of their government, the BBC reported. BBC correspondent Siaffa Moriba said residents lined the streets of the eastern provincial capital to see the ministers as they arrived by road from Freetown. "(There was) dancing all over the place, people are jubilating, people here are really supporting the idea of the cabinet moving from the capital to the provinces, and this is the first place that this sitting is taking place," Moriba said. Future cabinet meetings are planned for the other provincial capitals. 

The head of the United Nations refugee agency called post-war Sierra Leone Friday "an island of stability" in the midst of a still chaotic region, the Associated Press reported. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers spoke to reporters in Freetown at the end of a three-day visit to the country. "There has been an enormous difference," Lubbers said. "I commend Sierra Leone for being an island of stability. I depart with a good feeling of what I have seen, as compared with 27 months ago when I was last here, when Sierra Leone was a refugee-producing country." Lubbers, who is on an eight-day assessment mission to West Africa, met with President Kabbah in Kenema on Thursday. According to a UNHCR statement, he urged Kabbah to continue to support the return of Sierra Leonean refugees from neighbouring countries. Also Thursday, Lubbers met with Liberian refugee women at the Tobanda Refugee Camp in Kenema District. Later, in Koidu, he visited the Alladura Primary School for returned refugee children from Guinea, and a settlement which houses Sierra Leoneans who had their limbs hacked off during the country's civil war. In his press conference Friday, Lubbers said he was concerned about "the substantial number of refugees coming in from Liberia." There are currently some 70,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone, and the High Commissioner said it was important to see that the number did not rise. Lubbers told reporters President Kabbah had expressed his willingness to meet with Liberian rebel leaders if it would help to resolve that country's conflict. Lubbers said his meeting with Kabbah "confirms my impression that (Liberian President Charles Taylor) is losing friends by the day," the Associated Press said.

The Special Court has evidence that Liberian President Charles Taylor is harbouring fugitives from the terrorist al-Qaeda network, and has turned that evidence over to the appropriate law enforcement authorities, Chief Prosecutor David Crane said Friday at an American Bar Association breakfast in Washington. "I know that they are moving about. I know that they are trading in diamonds, washing money and being protected by Charles Taylor," the Reuters news agency quoted Crane as saying. Crane said that members of the group were moving freely throughout West Africa, and that it was time for the world to examine the region and its "terrorist" links. "No one is checking on them," he said. "This is a place where they come to relax because no one is bothering them and I am talking about all of West Africa. We have ignored it and now we may be ruing the day."

Former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar will meet with leaders of the Liberian LURD rebel movement in Sierra Leone, Radio France International reported on Friday, quoting U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers. Abubakar was designated by ECOWAS to try and negotiate an end to the Liberian conflict. Liberian officials say they were scheduled to hold talks with LURD in Accra, Ghana on June 2, but LURD has reportedly backed out of the meeting over security fears.

15 May: Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal has turned up the heat on Liberian President Charles Taylor, accusing him Thursday of harboring Middle Eastern terrorists and of having ordered the execution of former RUF field commander Sam Bockarie and his family. "Charles Taylor is harboring terrorists from the Middle East, including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, and has been for years," Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane (pictured left) said in an interview with the Washington Post. "It is time for the world to know this and who Charles Taylor really is. He is not just a regional troublemaker; he is a player in the world of terror and what he does affects lives in the United States and Europe." The Washington Post and human rights groups have long alleged Liberian government complicity in selling illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds to representatives of the al-Qaeda Network. Liberia has denied the allegations. Crane also told the Post he had evidence that Sam Bockarie had been executed by Taylor's Chief of Security, General Benjamin Yeatan, and not killed in a shootout with Liberian security forces as the authorities there have claimed. Bockarie, often known by his nom de guerre of "Mosquito," was indicted by the Special Court last March for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone. The rebel commander's death came barely a day after court officials pinpointed his location in the border town of Kahnple and demanded that the Liberians hand him over. According to the official Liberian account, Bockarie and a handful of bodyguards were intercepted while trying to cross into Liberia from Ivory Coast. An attempt to arrest the group resulted in a firefight with casualties on both sides. A diplomat in Monrovia cast doubt on the Liberian version, however, telling the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) that Bockarie was actually killed in the Liberian capital after a violent argument with Taylor. Now, in a statement released on Thursday, the court's Chief Investigator said there was evidence that the Liberian president had ordered Bockarie's mother, wife and two children killed as well. "We have credible information that Bockarie's family has been murdered at the direction of Taylor," Dr. Alan White said. "This latest development casts serious doubts about his claims regarding the circumstances of Sam Bockarie's death." In an interview with Radio France International (RFI), White noted that the family had been missing for the past couple of days, and that the court had "some very strong valid information" that they were in fact dead. RFI quoted Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge as saying he had know information about the alleged killings. A Western diplomat contacted by the Sierra Leone Web said his office could not confirm either the presence of al-Qaeda members in Liberia or of the execution of Bockarie's family and expressed skepticism over the claims. White, however, said he had little doubt the reports were true. "Our information has been incredibly accurate," he told the Sierra Leone Web. Meanwhile, Deputy Prosecutor Desmond de Silva expressed frustration over the Liberian government's continued refusal to hand Bockarie's body over to the court for forensic identification. Last week, the Liberians said they would honour a Sierra Leone government request to send his remains to Freetown, but later changed their mind. Liberia's Defence Minister announced his government would hold on to the body until Liberia completes an investigation into the circumstances under which Bockarie died. He declined to say when such an investigation might be complete. But de Silva said the Liberians didn't need the body for that. "We want the body," he said. "If the Liberians claim it is Bockarie's body, there is no justification for holding it, as he was a Sierra Leonean national. We are extremely concerned that if the information regarding the murder of his family is true, it was carried out in order to avoid possible DNA profiling." White agreed. "Clearly the family would have been used as part of our forensic examination to confirm in fact that the body was or was not Sam Bockarie," he told RFI. The Liberian authorities have maintained they have no direct dealings with the Special Court and claim the court has no authority in Liberia. Last week, however, the United Nations Security Council called on all states and "in particular the Government of Liberia to cooperate fully with the Special Court for Sierra Leone."

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers met with President Kabbah Thursday morning in Kenema, a UNHCR spokesman said. The two men reportedly discussed their concerns about the situation in Liberia. Lubbers is on an eight-day mission to West Africa. He arrived in Sierra Leone late Wednesday for a two-day visit. Earlier in the day, Lubbers met with Sierra Leonean refugees on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia and urged them to return home, the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported. "Your future is not in Liberia, but there," he told them. In a statement presented to Lubbers, the refugees said some of them were afraid to go back to Sierra Leone. "Our concern is our desire to return home, but some of us are afraid that we could face persecution," the statement said. Lubbers told journalists that Liberia had become "a country where people have no safe place to go anymore" and he said a solution had to be found to end Liberia's civil war. Liberian President Charles Taylor "has to share power with others. It's an illusion to think otherwise," he said. Taylor refused to meet with Lubbers during his stopover in Monrovia. Lubbers had harsh words for the Liberian authorities. "You are killing your own people," he told a government delegation.

13 May: The United Nations Security Council have called off a planned eight-day mission to West Africa one day before it was to depart so ambassadors can be in New York for negotiations on a resolution that would lift sanctions on Iraq, news services reported. Council president Munir Akram of Pakistan said some governments wanted their top envoys to be present at the United Nations during what are expected to be tough negotiations on the resolution, but he said the mission to West Africa was only postponed. "The situation in West Africa certainly deserves attention – and urgent attention – and that is why the mission was being sent," he said. "At the same time, I think the representatives on the mission also felt – at least some of them – that they were required by their governments to be here at this time. It's a question of determining governmental priorities...but I can tell you this is not an indication of any loss of priority for West Africa. The commitment is there. The mission will go very soon." The mission had been scheduled to leave on May 15 and would have visited Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. 

243 Sierra Leonean refugees arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Quay in Freetown Saturday after a 30-hour trip by sea from the Liberian capital Monrovia. A second boat carrying 147 returnees is due to arrive in Freetown on Tuesday. A UNHCR spokesman said that with the resumption of repatriations by sea, the costly air repatriation exercise from Monrovia has been discontinued. 909 Sierra Leoneans were returned home by air since February 28. Since 2001, some 63,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have been repatriated from Liberia, 48,000 with the assistance of the United Nations refugee agency. Another 16,000 Sierra Leoneans are still living in five refugee camps around Monrovia, with about 800 of them registered to go back on the next boats. An exercise to send home Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea is also continuing, both through Pamelap into Sierra Leone's Kambia District and via Gueckedou into Kailahun District. Since the beginning of the year, 16,500 people have returned from Guinea – half of them over a new causeway over the Moa River which opened on April 4. Since the end of 2000 an estimated 160,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea have gone home – 70,000 of them with UNHCR assistance. An estimated 25,000 Sierra Leoneans remain in refugee camps in Guinea. The UNHCR expects to complete Sierra Leonean repatriation from all countries in the region within the next twelve months.

Special Court Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White renewed his demand Tuesday that the Liberian government turn over the body of former RUF commander Sam Bockarie to the court for identification. In a statement released in Freetown, White called Liberia's refusal to release Bockarie's body pending an investigation into the circumstances of his death "an attempt to obstruct the work of the court." The court indicted Bockarie in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. On Monday, Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea said the rebel commander's remains would be sent to Freetown only after the Liberian authorities had completed their probe into what they claim was a shootout between security forces and rebels on Liberia's border with Ivory Coast. He gave no timeline for completion of the investigation. The Liberian government has refused to deal directly with the court, but said it would comply by a Sierra Leone government request to return the body to Freetown. White said there was no reason now for the Liberians to delay. "An examination of the body has already been conducted by the Government of Liberia, and there is no logical reason for them to retain it," he said. We are calling on Taylor to release the body immediately to Sierra Leonean authorities." White also called again on the Liberian government to hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma – alive. The court says it has reliable reports that Koroma is in western Liberia. The Liberians deny the claim. Koroma also faces indictment by the court. He fled Freetown last January during a police raid on his residence in connection with what the Sierra Leonean authorities now say was a failed coup attempt.

12 May: Liberia will release the body of former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie only after it finishes its own investigation into his death, Defence Minister Daniel Chea (pictured left) told the Associated Press on Monday. "It is right for our people to know what actually went wrong," Chea was quoted as saying. He added that the investigation would "require some time" but that his government had no reason not to hand over the body. Sierra Leonean authorities had expected the remains to be returned to Freetown on Saturday, a diplomat told the Sierra Leone Web. In an interview with the BBC, Chea denied there was any delay, and he insisted that Liberia's action was in the best interests of the region. "Sam Bockarie "Mosquito" – we all knew him, so to speak," Chea said. "We knew what he represented to peace in this region. What has unfolded in the last few days will require some investigation so that at the end of the day both the Liberian government and the government of Sierra Leone will be on the same wavelength." According to the Liberian authorities, Bockarie was killed a week ago in a shootout with Liberian security forces who attempted to arrest him as he crossed the border from Ivory Coast. Chea said that the Liberian investigation was necessary because Liberian soldiers had died in the gun battle with Bockarie and his bodyguards. "We cannot just write their deaths off," he said. "We have to establish what went wrong because they went in there to do a simple job...Once that has been established, the Foreign Minister, I believe, will take it over from there – whether the body will be taken to Sierra Leone or whatever else is necessary." Chea said the Liberian defence ministry was moving speedily with other agencies to move the investigation forward, but that he could make no promise as to the time frame for completion. "I don’t want to be very quick to say in a day or two, because this thing requires some time," he said. "Even if you were bundle up the former rebel leader’s body and send to Sierra Leone, there will still be a lot of questions unanswered. And we are a government. I believe the Sierra Leonean government, being a government itself, will appreciate our stand on this matter, because at the end of the day they will realise that whatever exercise we are running will be in the best interest of the two countries." Chea told the BBC that a team of investigators would be sent to the Liberian border town of Bin-Houye where Bockarie was said to have been killed. A Defence Ministry statement said Bockarie's death was being investigated because "the orders given through the Ministry of National Defence to the men in the field concerning the arrest and detention of General Mosquito were not implemented accordingly." Chea has reportedly demanded a report from the commander in charge of the Liberian security forces at the time Bockarie was killed. "The reason behind the investigation is to determine whether excessive force was used in bringing General Bockarie to book, if his death could have been avoided, or if he could have been subdued without being killed," the statement said.

President Kabbah will testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission before it wraps up its public hearings phase in August, the Agence France-Presse reported on Monday. Kabbah's testimony was said to be  scheduled for July. Former president Joseph Saidu Momoh and former NPRC chairman Julius Maada Bio will also testify. According to the TRC thematic hearings schedule, Kabbah will first testify on July 21 about the May 1997 AFRC coup. He will be followed by former AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs turned RUF Party Secretary-General Pallo Bangura. The president is also scheduled to have the last word when the hearings wrap up on the fifth of August.

The United Nations refugee agency in Liberia resumed repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Monrovia to Freetown by boat Saturday, the UNHCR said on Monday.

The Chief Investigator for Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal reiterated his demand Monday that Liberian President Charles Taylor hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. Koroma was indicted by the Special Court in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity he and his followers were alleged to have committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Koroma fled Freetown during a police raid on his residence last January in connection with what the authorities now say was a failed coup attempt. The court says the former junta leader is commanding a contingent of Taylor's security forces in the Liberian town of Foya Kamala. "I am demanding that President Taylor arrest and turnover Johnny Paul Koroma alive," Dr. Alan White told the Sierra Leone Web. "I continue to receive credible information that confirms he is in Liberia, as previously reported despite repeated claims by President Taylor." White called a claim by Taylor's press secretary that Foya Kamala is on the Sierra Leonean side of the border a delaying tactic, and he said the Liberian leaders' failure to turn Koroma over "only casts doubt about President Taylors sincerity about securing peace and stability" in the sub-region. "President Taylor's failure to arrest Johnny Paul Koroma only highlights his apparent unwillingness to cooperate with the international community in pursuit of international justice," White said. "The world is watching to see what President Taylor does, and we hope that he will do the right thing."

10 May: Ambassador Ibrahim M'baba Kamara presented his credentials to U.S. President George W. Bush on Thursday as he officially took up his post as Ambassador to the United States. Kamara formerly served as Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He succeeds former Ambassador John Leigh, who left the post last year. In his remarks, Kamara stressed the historic ties between the two countries, from the Gullah people of Sierra Leonean descent and the Amistad Africans to the contributions of Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Sierra Leone. Kamara took the opportunity to urge the American president to reopen the U.S. Embassy's consular section in Freetown, pointing out that its seven-year closure had created a hardship for Sierra Leoneans wishing to travel to the United States. Bush, in his statement, noted the "close friendly ties between the two nations."  "Increasingly, our two countries share ties of family as well," he added. Bush praised Sierra Leone's efforts in recovering from a decade of civil war, and he commended the role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Special Court and the government's Anti-Corruption Commission in holding persons responsible for wrongdoing and seeking an end to a culture of impunity. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Friday, Ambassador Kamara described current relations between Sierra Leone and the United States as "very, very good." The United States, Kamara said, was a key sponsor of the Special Court, and is the largest financial contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. With improvement of conditions in Sierra Leone, Kamara said his government would like to see the U.S. administration encourage American companies to invest in Sierra Leone. He said he would like to see the Americans play an expanded role in bringing peace to the West African sub-region by supporting the ECOWAS contact group on Liberia "to see that sanity prevails in that country."  Said Kamara: "Something has to be done in Liberia, definitely. They are our neighbours. We want to see peace in that part of the world." Kamara said the stood ready to assist Sierra Leoneans with consular services, and he appealed to Sierra Leoneans in the United States to register with the embassy – whatever their legal status in the country. "We cannot render assistance to Sierra Leoneans...when they have not registered with the embassy," he said. "The sooner you arrive in this country, try to let us know where you are. We are not going to expose you. We are not here as spies on Sierra Leoneans. We are here to assist Sierra Leoneans. That’s why the embassy is here." Along with processing of passports and lobbying the State Department on immigration matters, Kamara said, the embassy has managed to facilitate assistance to a handful of Sierra Leonean students in need. But only, he added, when the students pledged to return home after their studies to help their country. "If we’re going to spend taxpayers' money on people, definitely they owe it to the people to go back to the country and pay them back," he said.

9 May: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers leaves Saturday for an eight-day mission to five West African nations sheltering some 400,000 of the region's estimated 520,000 refugees. Lubbers last visited the area in early 2001 during his first official trip as High Commissioner. During his current trip, he is slated to meet with government leaders, United Nations officials, and the staff of the UNHCR and its implementing partners in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Lubbers is scheduled to visit Sierra Leone on Thursday, where he will meet with President Kabbah and other officials before travelling to the Tobanda Camp. He will also view other other refugee settlements and programmes for both returnees and Liberian refugees.

Britain's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, will lead a United Nations Security Council mission to six West African countries between May 15 and May 23, to explore new opportunities for peace and stability in the region. Greenstock led a similar mission to the region in October 2000, which included a three-day stopover in Sierra Leone. During this month's eight-day mission, Security Council members will visit Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. At each stop they will examine country-specific issues while urging more cooperation among the countries in the region. The mission will also assess progress towards Security Council objectives on the protection of civilians and children affected by armed conflict.

The Bellu/Dandu causeway linking Guinea's Gueckedou Prefecture with Sierra Leone's Kailahun District has been repaired, and repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees has resumed at the accelerated rate of 500 a day, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. Since April 22 more than 2,400 Sierra Leoneans have been repatriated through Kailahun District. Aid agencies had planned to use the bridge to return about 20,000 of the 30,000 remaining refugees in Guinea. Another 9,000 or so were slated to return via Pamelap via the Kambia/Port Loko axis to Kono District. That operation is continuing, and with the WFP providing food for some 3,000 returnees at the Port Loko way station. In Liberia, the UNHCR is looking after 16,105 Sierra Leonean refugees located in camps near Monrovia, and repatriation efforts are continuing. So far, more than 1,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have been sent home. In Sierra Leone itself, the WFP distributed 561 tons of food to 116,399 persons in Sierra Leone between April 21 and May 4. Due to an ongoing strike at the Bo Government Hospital, a ten-day food ration was issued to the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and the UNHCR to ensure cooking for Liberian refugees admitted to the hospital. 

Liberia will hand the body of former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie over to the Sierra Leonean authorities as soon as the paperwork is complete, Information Minister Reginald Goodridge told the BBC on Friday. "There are processes involved where the Ministry of Health together with the Foreign Ministry and the Sierra Leone Embassy in Monrovia have to do a positive identification of the body. And they have confirmed that indeed it is Sam Bockarie," Goodridge said. "Now the Ministry of Justice has to do all of the proper legal documents. We understand that the Sierra Leonean government has made a formal request for the body, and as I speak assurances are being made for the eventual turning over of the body to the Sierra Leonean government." Goodridge said his government would hand Bockarie's corpse over to the Sierra Leone government, but not to Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, the Special Court, which wants the body for forensic identification. Bockarie was one of eight persons indicted by the court for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. But Goodridge said this should not be an issue. "It is very clear that there’s no direct dealings with the court," he said. "We have relations and dealings with the Sierra Leonean government, and I don’t see any controversy in this matter." The minister acknowledged it would have been better if Bockarie had been captured alive because "maybe there might have been some revelations to have settled this whole matter."   "But I think that the fact that this matter has been resolved, although it was resolved tragically, has brought a lot of relief to the Liberian people and I’m certain to the Sierra Leoneans as well," he added. Goodridge said what Bockarie might have told the court was "a matter of conjecture and pure speculation," and he rejected a suggestion that the warlord might have been executed in order to prevent him from linking Liberian officials to war crimes. "That is so far fetched that I couldn’t even begin to address that," he said. "You know, people have pointed all sorts of fingers at Liberia, and we expect that they will point fingers because it is convenient for people to use Liberia as a whipping-boy."

The press secretary for Liberian President Charles Taylor said Thursday he hoped that the death of former RUF field commander Sam Bockarie would lead to an improvement in relations between Liberia and Sierra Leone, the Voice of America reported. The Liberian authorities say Bockarie, who had been indicted for war crimes by Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed Special Court, was killed in a shootout with security forces who tried to arrest him as he attempted to cross into Liberia from Ivory Coast early Tuesday morning. Court officials, however, maintain that Bockarie was staying Liberia's northeastern Nimba County. His death came just hours after the court pinpointed the rebel commander's location in the border town of Kahnple. Press Secretary Vaani Paasewe said the Liberian authorities had no reason to want Bockarie dead. He denied Liberia was worried that Bockarie could give information about Taylor's alleged links to the RUF during Sierra Leone's civil war. "Foday Sankoh who is at the top, he could also divulge information on us, but we know that we are clean," Paasewe said. The Special Court has also asked Liberia to hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who the court says is commanding a contingent of Taylor's security forces in the town of Foya Kamala. Paasewe claimed that the town is, in fact, inside Sierra Leone. "Foya Kamala is on the Sierra Leone side and Foya on our side," he said. "The Foya Kamala where they might have spotted him is a business centre that is not just far from the Liberian border area. So when that comes up, then he tells me that there is misgiving with reading of the geography." Maps place Foya Kamala inside Liberia. Paasewe said that if Koroma were to cross into Liberia "he will find it an unwelcome place. He will be arrested and turned over." 

Political weakness in West African diamond-producing states will prevent them from instituting the kind of regulation which will make international oversight of diamond exports unnecessary, Partnership Africa Canada said in a new report published on Friday. Last year, diamond producing and importing countries,  together with representatives of the industry and human rights groups, hammered out a mandatory certification system designed to prevent illicit gems from reaching the world market. Of especial concern were "conflict diamonds" mined by rebel groups to finance conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Non-governmental organizations and human rights groups have criticized the system for its lack of an independent monitoring mechanism, which they say will allow illicit diamonds to enter the system, or be laundered through third countries. The report, which was researched in six countries in West Africa, calls for a credible and independent review of these countries' ability to comply with the new system's minimum standards. It also urges a regular system of independent monitoring for all national control mechanisms for countries taking part in the system. "Without this, (the certification system) will have little meaning in countries where a long-corrupted diamond trade simply ignores borders and regulations," the report said. 

8 May: The body of former rebel commander Sam Bockarie will be flown back to Sierra Leone, President Kabbah told journalists on Thursday. Bockarie was killed earlier this week in what the Liberian authorities say was a shootout between his followers and Liberian security forces along Liberia's border with the Ivory Coast. According to news services, Kabbah said the Sierra Leonean ambassador in Monrovia had "positively identified the body of Sam Bockarie." At Liberia's request, the remains will be examined by the International Committee of the Red Cross before being flown to Freetown. Kabbah's announcement came as the Special Court for Sierra Leone made an official request that the Sierra Leone government turn the body over the court for forensic identification, a court spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web. The Special Court is also asking Liberia to turn over a second man indicted for war crimes, former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma. Koroma, who was elected to parliament a year ago, vanished in April during a police search of his residence in connection with what the Sierra Leonean authorities now say was a failed coup attempt. According to the court, Koroma is now in Liberia's Lofa County. "For our country's own security, the whereabouts of Koroma is very important to us and we, too, would like him to be here to answer certain questions," Kabbah said.

7 May: Liberia will send the remains of former rebel commander Sam Bockarie to Freetown once it receives a formal request from the Sierra Leone government to do so, Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said on Wednesday. "Bockarie was a Sierra Leonean citizen and we are in excellent terms with that government. Arrangements will be made to take the body as soon as we get a formal request," Goodridge told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), adding: "The Sierra Leone ambassador has already identified the body. It is now up to his government." In fact the Sierra Leone ambassador didn't (see next story), but one Liberian journalist said that he at least had no doubt the corpse on display in a Monrovia mortuary was that of the former RUF field commander. "The body that I saw there was no different from the Sam Bockarie that I interacted with here in Liberia on numerous occasions before he was expelled, except that he’s put on some weight lately," said BBC stringer Jonathan Paye-Lahleh. "But by looking at his face I can say that the body I saw was that of Sam Bockarie I knew in Liberia here...He was very famous, with a particular haircut, and everybody who knew him could tell from that haircut and his face." A Western journalist who interviewed Bockarie in early 2001 confirmed that his appearance had changed from his days in the bush. "He had put on a lot of weight, so much I didn't recognize him when I saw him last in Monrovia," the journalist told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. In Freetown, the Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court renewed his request that the Liberian government turn Bockarie's remains over the court for identification, and he called on the authorities to back up their account of how he died. "Until we are able to do a forensic examination and positively identify the body, we will assume Bockarie is alive," David Crane (pictured left) said in a statement. But a Liberian official told Paye-Layleh that Liberia may be unwilling to turn the body over to the war crimes tribunal. "I talked to an official in the government who said that, yes, there is no problem with turning the body over, but he did not see any reason why the body should be turned over to the court in Sierra Leone instead of the government," Paye-Layleh said. "(The officials) said the Liberian government does not have any dealing with the court, and the turning over of the body should be to the government and not to the court." Crane also repeated the court's demand that Liberia turn over fugitive former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, whom the court believes is commanding troops in Liberia's Lofa County. Crane had a personal message for Koroma. "Turn yourself in," he said. "You are an indicted war criminal and an international fugitive. There's nowhere to hide." Goodridge, too, had a warning for the former AFRC leader. "We have not seen him in Liberia," he said. "If we find him, he will be arrested. But if he resists arrest like Bockarie, he could be killed."

Diplomats and reporters have been shown a bullet-riddled body in Monrovia purporting to be that of the notorious former RUF rebel commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, but several who saw the body said they had not known Bockarie well enough to make a positive identification. "To be very frank with you, the last time I saw Sam Bockarie was in 1997, and his body was not as big as the one I saw today," said Patrick Foyah, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia. Radio France International reporter John Collie said the ambassador's driver, Jim Sawyer, said he knew Bockarie and confirmed that the body on display in a Monrovia funeral home appeared to be that of the rebel commander. Ambassador Foyah (pictured right) told the BBC it would have been preferable for Bockarie to have been captured alive, because the former RUF field commander had "a lot of questions to answer" before Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal. "If this body is indeed the body of Sam Bockarie, it would have been very nice for us to have got him alive," he said. "But again, it shows perhaps the commitment on the part of the Liberian government to be moving in the direction that we expected them to move." Meanwhile, the Special Court, which in March indicted Bockarie for war crimes, said it wants the Liberian authorities to hand over the body for identification by forensics experts. "He has an outstanding arrest warrant for war crimes, and we would like to confirm through forensic examination a positive identification of Sam Bockarie," Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White told the BBC. "It’s reasonable and customary in the investigative law enforcement world to have bodies examined to in fact confirm that they are who they are purported to be, so this would be a normal and customary practice to confirm the identity of this indicted war criminal." Liberian officials say Bockarie was killed in a shootout with Liberian troops after crossing the border from the Ivory Coast. "(Bockarie) crossed into the town of Bolay, we tried to apprehend him, he resisted and killed one of our soldiers, so we brought him down," Defence Minister Daniel Chea told the Associated Press. White said he was unconvinced. "I find it highly suspect," he said. "(Bockarie) has been in Liberia since April 27, 2003. So how can he enter Liberia if he is already there?" The Chief Investigator also repeated the court's demand that Liberia hand over a second man indicted for war crimes, former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. The court says Koroma is currently in the Liberian town of Foya Kamala.

Liberia's Information Minister has denounced Wednesday's unanimous vote by the United Nations Security Council to extend sanctions on his country, calling it "a wicked act" based on double standards, the BBC reported. In voting to extend the sanctions, which include an arms embargo, a ban on the sale of rough diamonds and travel restrictions on senior Liberian officials, and the addition of a new ban on the sale of Liberian timber, the Security Council cited Liberia's "active support" for rebel groups in the sub-region, and its flouting of sanctions already in place. Information Minister Reginald Goodridge (pictured right) complained that Liberia was being unfairly singled out. "Other countries in this region are doing much worse than us," he was quoted as saying. The sanctions were originally imposed two years ago because of Liberia's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade.

6 May: Former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has been killed in a gun battle with Liberian troops along Liberia's border northeastern border with Ivory Coast, Liberian government officials said in Monrovia Tuesday. According to the BBC, Defence Minister Daniel Chea said Bockarie was killed late Monday night when he was intercepted while trying to cross into Liberia's Nimba County accompanied by a unit of his bodyguards. An attempt to arrest the rebel commander was met with resistance, and Liberian forces returned fire, killing Bockarie and several of his followers, Chea was quoted as saying. The minister said the bodies had been brought to Monrovia and deposited in a funeral home. Earlier, Liberia's Information Ministry said Bockarie had been seriously injured in a Tuesday morning shootout, but Information Minister Reginald Goodridge now says the rebel commander was killed. "He is dead. The body is right here," Goodridge said. The reports come days after Special Court officials in Sierra Leone said they had received credible reports that Bockarie and 40 to 50 former RUF fighters were staying in the Liberian border village of Kahnple. Liberian officials denied that Bockarie was in their territory. In March, the Special Court indicted Bockarie for war crimes committed by his forces during Sierra Leone's civil war and has been seeking him under an international arrest warrant. In a statement Tuesday, Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane called on the Liberian government to back up its claims. "If reports of Bockarie's death are true, I ask Liberian authorities to provide proof and request that they turn his body over to us for forensic examination and positive identification," he said. Bockarie, a one-time hairdresser and professional dancer in Liberia before he joined the rebels, broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in December 1999, resigned from the RUF, and fled into exile in Liberia. In February 2001, under threat of United Nations sanctions and ignoring demands from Sierra Leone and from ECOWAS to hand Bockarie over, the Liberian authorities announced he had left their country, but refused to say where he went. More recently, there were reports that Bockarie and his group of mercenaries were fighting alongside rebel groups in the Ivory Coast. The Sierra Leonean rebel reportedly had a falling out with one of these groups. Officials of the rebel group MPIGO last week implicated him in the ambush and execution of their leader, Sergeant Felix Doh.

Sierra Leone's parliament voted by an overwhelming margin Tuesday to ratify an "Article 98" agreement with the United States, under which the two countries agree not to turn over each other's nationals accused of war crimes to the newly-formed International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. The agreement was approved despite heavy lobbying from local and international human rights groups who accuse the United States of seeking impunity for its citizens, a charge the U.S. denies. Reportedly, only one parliamentarian, Ibrahim Sorie (APC-Kambia District) voted against ratification. The United States has refused to ratify the Rome Statute which established the ICC, and has expressed fears that the court could be used to prosecute American citizens for political purposes. The Rome Statute gives the ICC jurisdiction over persons accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression where the accused is a national of an ICC member state or where the crime takes place within a member state's territory. Under the agreement, persons accused of such crimes would face prosecution either in the United States or in Sierra Leone.

Citing Liberia's "active support" for rebel groups destablising West Africa, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend existing sanctions on Liberia for another year, and will impose an additional measure to ban the export of Liberian timber. Current sanctions, which date from March 2001, include an arms embargo, a ban on the sale of rough Liberian diamonds, and international travel restrictions on senior Liberian officials. The ban on timber was added because the Liberian government had not shown that revenue from its timber industry "is used for legitimate social, humanitarian and development purposes." Human rights groups have long argued that the Liberian regime was using profits from timber sales to fund illegal arms purchases and to enrich government officials. The ban takes effect on July 7, but it will be reviewed on September 7 to determine its effect on Liberia's timber industry, the country's largest employer. The resolution would allow timber exports to resume to fund humanitarian programmes. The sanctions could also be terminated immediately if the Security Council determines that the Liberian government has complied with its demands.  Meanwhile, a U.N. Panel of Experts said it had traced thousands of automatic rifles, grenades and mines and millions of rounds of ammunition from Serbia to Liberia, in violation of the arms embargo. The weapons shipments were reportedly brokered by a Belgrade-based company, Temex, and were delivered to Monrovia in June and August 2002 using a false end-user certificates. The panel said it suspected Temex was now preparing to send an additional 50 tons of Serbian military equipment to Liberia via the Democratic Republic of Congo. In its report to the Council, the Panel urged a "more comprehensive approach" towards West Africa, noting that the region was "awash with weapons," while combatants were crossing borders to fight as mercenaries for armed factions in neighbouring countries. "Armed youths from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and now Ivory Coast, who have become accustomed to a life of conflict, banditry and lawlessness, have joined armed groups in Liberia and in western Ivory Coast," the panel said. "Combined, they pose new risks of a vicious cycle of violence." A Security Council mission is scheduled to visit Liberia later this month. The sanctions against Liberia were originally imposed because of Liberia's support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its alleged involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade.

5 May: The United States announced Monday it will provide more than $40,000 to improve the capacity of Sierra Leone's police force. Under an agreement signed by U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas (pictured left) and police Inspector-General Keith Biddle (right), the two countries agreed to set up and support a joint project aimed at strengthening the police force's ability to manage crises and provide security protection. In addition, Sierra Leonean law officers will receive training and instruction for U.S. government technical advisors through scholarships, fellowships and participant training. The Sierra Leone government, for its part, is responsible for ensuring the effective day-to-day operation of the police force by providing adequate funding to cover normal administrative and related expenses.

A Liberian Information Ministry spokesman denied Monday that two men wanted for war crimes were in Liberia. "(Sam) Bockarie and (Johnny Paul) Koroma are not in Liberia. The government had denied this before and I would like to state once again that they are not here," Jeff Mutada told the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). On Sunday, Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane said he had pinpointed Bockarie in the village of Kahnple, while Koroma was said to be in Foya Kamala, allegedly commanding a unit of Charles Taylor's security forces. Mutada denied it. "The waters are getting muddy in the region," he told IRIN. "The borders are porous and there are mercenaries moving from one country to the other. Liberia is busy trying to consolidate peace now and we have not seen these two." 

4 May: Last week Sierra Leone's Special Court called on Liberian President Charles Taylor to hand over two men sought for war crimes in Sierra Leone or to face possible prosecution himself for harboring them. The court said it had multiple credible reports that Sam Bockarie (pictured left) and Johnny Paul Koroma (right) were on Liberian territory. The claim brought swift denials from Liberian officials. Then on Thursday, Taylor telephoned President Kabbah and pledged to turn the pair over to the authorities in Freetown if they were indeed found to be in Liberia. Now, the court's Chief Prosecutor says he knows exactly where they are. "We have credible information that as of this morning, Koroma continues to be located in the Foya Kamala area, located in Lofa County," David Crane (below right) said on Sunday. He added that Bockarie was staying in Kahnple, a small village in Liberia's Nimba County, accompanied by 40 to 50 armed former RUF rebels. According to Dr. Alan White, the court's Chief of Investigations, Koroma is allegedly commanding a new unit set up by President Taylor called the "Special Monitoring Group." The unit is said to be comprised of about 3,000 heavily armed former RUF fighters and members of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, Marine forces and militia forces. "Sam Bockarie and Johnny Paul Koroma are international fugitives hiding in Liberia. I expect Mr. Taylor to deliver on his offer to arrest and turn them over to the Court," Crane said. "The time has come for him to fulfil his international obligations and immediately transfer these war criminals to the Court. Any credibility he still has with the international community is now linked to this promise. He knows where they are." Sam Bockarie, the brutal RUF field commander who fought for the rebels under the nom de guerre of "Mosquito," broke with the RUF in 1999 and was forced into exile in Liberia. Recent reports have him leading a band of Sierra Leonean and Liberian mercenaries fighting in western Ivory Coast. Opposition parliamentarian and former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma vanished from Freetown this January after police raided his residence in connection with what the authorities now say was likely a failed coup attempt. Crane, meanwhile, called on all West African nations to seize, arrest and surrender Koroma and Bockarie to the court. "There can be no hiding place for them," he said. "There can be no peace for West Africa until this is done. They must be brought to justice."

2 May: President Charles Taylor of Liberia has promised President Kabbah to find and turn over two men indicted for war crimes if they are on Liberian territory, presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy told the Sierra Leone Web. The two leaders spoke by telephone on Thursday. The Chief of Investigations for Sierra Leone's Special Court called on Taylor this week to hand over former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, saying he had received multiple credible reports that the two men were on Liberian soil. Taylor's spokesman had previously denied the allegations. Daramy said Taylor also promised to do everything possible to restore peace and calm in the sub-region. In a press release, the Liberian government quoted Taylor as assuring the Sierra Leonean president that any fugitive who crossed into Liberia would be turned over to the authorities in Freetown. According to the Monrovia newspaper The News, the Liberian government reaffirmed its commitment to ridding the sub-region of non-state actors who use violence to achieve their aims.

Heavy rains on April 20 washed away a new earthen causeway across the Moa River which was being used to expedite the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. Repatriation convoys are being rerouted through western Port Loko District until the Bellu/Dandou bridge linking Guinea to Kailahun District can be repaired. Aid agencies had planned to use the bridge to return about 20,000 of the 30,000 remaining refugees in Guinea. Another 9,000 or so were slated to return via Pamelap to Kono District. That operation is continuing. Before the bridge's failure, nearly 5,000 people were resettled in their home areas, the WFP said. Meanwhile, 83,119 persons in Sierra Leone received 834 tons of WFP food aid during the second half of April. 

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled consultations on Liberian sanctions for Monday, May 5. The sanctions are due to expire on Tuesday. The council first imposed the sanctions in March 2001 because of the Liberian government's backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and for its alleged involved in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The sanctions include an arms embargo, a ban on the sale of Liberian rough diamonds, and travel restrictions on senior Liberian officials.

1 May: In a ceremony at State House Wednesday to launch Statistics Sierra Leone and to proclaim the upcoming census, Vice President Solomon Berewa said President Kabbah would announce the date for the census in the government Gazette, Statistician General H.B.S. Kandeh told the Sierra Leone Web. "(The president) was deputised by the vice president at the launching ceremony, which was a short one-hour ceremony at State House," Kandeh said, adding: "The census will now be held early in 2004." Sierra Leone's last census took place in 1985. Wednesday's ceremony was attended by government ministers, parliamentarians, United Nations officials and diplomats.

A meeting of 70 diamond producing, processing and trading countries ended in Johannesburg Wednesday with a decision to exclude from the international diamond trade any country not in compliance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme by July 31. The Kimberley Process, which was launched in the South African mining centre of Kimberley more than two years ago, seeks to curb the global trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Under the scheme agreed last November, diamonds are required to be exported in tamper-proof parcels and must be accompanied at all stages by certificates of origin meant to exclude illicit stones from international diamond markets. 56 countries met the original deadline of January 1. 14 countries, including Angola and the DRC, have not yet had their diamond certification process approved. According to the Voice of America, Kimberley Process chairman Abbey Chikane of South Africa said that countries would have until the end of May to pass laws showing they were in compliance. On July 31 he will issue a complete list, and any country not on it will be "marginalised and isolated from the Kimberley Process."  Said Chikane: "Effectively what it means is that that particular country will not be able to trade with major diamond producing, processing and exporting countries around the world, which means it will not have access to large markets such as United States and Japan. It will also not have access to trading centers such as India, Israel, Belgium, etc." Liberia asked the Kimberley Process group to send a monitoring team to Monrovia so that it could apply for membership, but the request was turned down. Chikane said the group could not send monitors or take any other action to legitimise Liberia's diamond trade so long as the country is subject to a U.N. embargo on rough diamond sales. Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations which have been monitoring the Kimberley Process complained that there was still no independent monitoring mechanism to ensure that illicit stones were excluded from the system. "NGOs are deeply disappointed that no action was taken on establishing a regular, effective monitoring mechanism to assess over time all national diamond control systems and meet the threshold of trust and credibility consumers want," the groups said in a statement. Global Witness campaigner Corinna Gilfillan told the Voice of America that such a system was essential to ensure that the Kimberley Process worked properly and was not open to abuse. "As far as we’re concerned, having a credible, regular monitoring mechanism is absolutely crucial to the whole credibility of the system and to stopping the trade in conflict diamonds," she said. Chikane said such a system might eventually become necessary, but for now the plan is for a system of peer reviews which require individual countries to report other members they suspect of breaking the rules.

President Charles Taylor of Liberia could be prosecuted by Sierra Leone's Special Court if he fails to turn over Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, the court's Chief of Investigations told the BBC. "What I am asking him to do right now is to locate, arrest and turn over these two indicted war criminals," Dr. Alan White said. "If President Taylor refuses to turn over these people to the Special Court, and we have direct knowledge that he is aiding and abetting these two indicted war criminals, Charles Taylor could be charged with obstruction of justice in terms of the Special Court for Sierra Leone." Taylor's Press Secretary, Vaani Passawe, told the Associated Press that the two men "are nowhere in Liberia," but promised they would be arrested if they did arrive in the country. But White said the court had information that former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma had been in Liberia "for at least the last two to four weeks," while Bockarie, who until December 1999 was the RUF's field commander, had been pinpointed by multiple sources as being in the Liberian town of Gbinta on the border with Ivory Coast. White said the Special Court's statute gave it the authority to indict and arrest a head of state for war crimes investigations. "We have the authority to go back to the United Nations Security Council and directly request their intervention in executing an arrest warrant should one be issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone if any head of state fails to honour or acknowledge an arrest warrant that has been issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone." There has been widespread speculation, fueled in part by hints from the court's Chief Prosecutor, that Taylor could be indicted in any event for his backing of the RUF during Sierra Leone's civil war. Indictments of four other alleged war criminals – Foday Sankoh, Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon of the RUF and Alex Tamba Brima of the AFRC – accuse them of having "acted in concert" with Charles Taylor.

The Special Court has rejected allegations by Nigerian lawyer Edo Okanya that he was roughed up by court officials last week while waiting to board a helicopter flight to Bonthe. In a letter to the Sierra Leone Bar Association on Tuesday, Okanya claimed to represent former RUF Security Chief Augustine Gbao, who was indicted for war crimes earlier this month. Gbao made his first appearance before the Special Court at a Bonthe courthouse on Friday. Last year, Okanya attempted to represent RUF leader Foday Sankoh before Sierra Leone's High Court, but his application to practice law in Sierra Leone was denied. After Gbao's arrest in March, he asked for Okanya to represent him. Subsequently, however, Gbao pleaded indigence and another lawyer, British barrister and law professor Andreas O’Shea, was appointed for him by the court. In a statement Thursday, the court denied that Okanya was manhandled at the helipad and maintained that the Nigerian lawyer had merely been asked to leave a restricted area since he did not have a boarding pass for the flight and he had not signed a waiver for travel. The statement added that, despite his assertions, Okanya was never assigned as Gbao's legal representative. When a defendant tells the court he cannot afford a lawyer, the Defence Office appoints counsel for him from a list of persons who meet the necessary requirements and who do not have a conflict of interest. Okanya's name was not on the list, since he did not submit his papers to the court until the day before the hearing. But even if he had submitted the required documents earlier, the court said, Okanya would not necessarily have been assigned to represent Gbao. The Defence Office seeks to appoint a lawyer "with the highest qualifications and experience in international criminal law," and the defence counsel must not have an actual or potential conflict of interest. Since Okanya stated on his application that he had represented Foday Sankoh before the High Court, and since Sankoh is a defendant in the Special Court proceedings, "that represented a potential conflict of interest which automatically barred his assignment, even if he possessed the necessary breadth of experience in international criminal law," the statement said. The court also dismissed Okanya's contention that Gbao had rejected his court-appointed lawyer. "Mr. Gbao has stated that he is happy with the assignment and has not requested that Mr. Okanya be assigned to him," the statement said.

Press freedom "suffered notable worldwide deterioration" in 2002, in part due to political and armed conflict and increased government restrictions on independent media houses, Freedom House said in a new report released on Wednesday. In a study of 193 countries (including the Israeli occupied  territories) in which the legal environment for the media, political influences and economic pressures are assessed by the assigning of points, 41 percent of the countries were rated "free," with no significant restrictions on the news media. 24 percent were deemed "partly free" with some media restrictions, while 35 percent were rated "not free," with state control or other obstacles to a free press. Eleven countries declined in category, with just two advancing. In rating Sierra Leone "not free," Freedom House cited the country's criminal libel laws which, it said, are occasionally used to jail journalists. The report was also critical of the government's Independent Media Commission for attempting to suspend a newspaper in March and denying a license to a private broadcasting station in November. Journalists, the report said, sometimes face harassment and intimidation at the hands of the security forces. Freedom House was also critical of the Freetown press itself. "Dozens of newspapers are printed in Freetown, the capital, but most are of poor quality and often carry sensational or undocumented stories," the report said, adding that corruption and bribe-taking continue among poorly-paid journalists continues to be a problem. In West Africa, the media in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali and Sao Tome and Principe was rated free; Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal were called partly free, and Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo and Mauritania were rated not free.