The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

May 1997
 

31 May: Two military transport planes from Ghana and Guinea landed in Freetown Friday night, carrying troops along with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, bombs, automatic rifles, and tanks. Guinea reportedly also sent three battalions of troops to Sierra Leone where they will join ECOMOG forces. "They left Guinea by road and will link up with Nigerian troops already in Sierra Leone," a senior officer said. Military sources said the Guinean troops could number up to 1,500, joining 3,000 Nigerians already in the country. Nigeria continued as well to land more soldiers and military hardware in Sierra Leone throughout the day Saturday. A Nigerian Air Force plane brought fresh troops and armoured personnel carriers to Hastings Airport, near a Nigerian military base. Nigerian Alpha fighter jets flew over Freetown Saturday, intensifying the pressure on the AFRC. It was earlier reported that the arrival of Ghanaian troops being sent to Freetown via Monrovia had been delayed by logistical problems, and they were expected to arrive in the country late Saturday or Sunday. The Ghanaians will secure the airports at Lungi and Hastings, freeing Nigerian troops for military action. AFRC leaders said Saturday that they had sent representatives to talk to the Nigerians and other ECOWAS members. The coup leaders also announced over SLBS (state radio) that the government will resume paying salaries to soldiers.

The French navy ship Jean Moulin evacuated about 250 foreigners Saturday who were left behind in previous evacuation efforts by the Americans and British. Nigerian soldiers guarded the bridge leading to the Mammy Yoko Hotel where the operation took place. About 100 of the evacuees were British nationals. Another 130 British citizens left the country Saturday after diplomatic efforts were made on their behalf, and 31 others arrived in Conakry, Guinea aboard an American aircraft. The evacuees leave behind a capital city that is tense, but reported to be relatively quiet. Roadblocks have been erected all over the city, but with most of the petrol stations closed or burned down there are few vehicles on the roads apart from those having been commandeered by soldiers. Stores and businesses have not reopened, and civil servants have ignored the AFRC's orders to return to work. The Red Cross has reportedly suspended operations, and conditions are worsening as supplies of food, drinking water, kerosene, and firewood dwindle. Prices of essential goods are skyrocketing: The cost of a pint of kerosene Saturday was reported to be five times its price before the coup.

The AFRC released a statement read over SLBS (state radio) on Friday night saying that negotiations are underway to avert an attack by ECOMOG forces. "The AFRC wishes the public to know that while it is aware of a possible threat to public security by likely invasion of Freetown by foreign troops tomorrow, negotiations are going on with them," the statement said. "The public therefore has no reason to be unduly alarmed and people are advised to continue their normal day-to-day activities." Tensions rose in Freetown Friday after UNPP leader John Karefa-Smart revealed that the military had intercepted a message saying ECOMOG was planning an attack for Saturday morning under the code name "Wild Chase." Since Friday, SLBS has carried a series of statements by Revolutionary United Front leaders. "We are advising the Nigerians and all foreign forces to stop bringing war materials to threaten the peace for our people," said a statement by RUF official James Coleman. Another statement from RUF spokesman David Collins said the RUF had brought 5,000 fighters into Freetown in support of the "revolution." An RUF colonel said Friday that Foday Sankoh had ordered him to support the Army if the Nigerians should intervene. "We are ready to comply. We are now for peace and nothing should erode this," he said. A Nigerian newspaper, the Daily Times, reported Saturday that the United States government through its Charge d'Affairs in Freetown is backing any action taken by Nigeria to restore the civilian government in Sierra Leone. However, U.S. State Department spokesman John Dinger said Friday that the U.S. opposes a violent solution. "There has been enough violence in Sierra Leone. We hope democracy is quickly restored there by diplomatic means and through international pressure," he said.

Acting Ghanaian Foreign Minister Kwamena Ahwoi urged coup leaders to respond to diplomatic efforts, and warned that West African leaders might have to use force if they did not. "It could be 24 hours, it could be a week," he said. Ahwoi said Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings has been in telephone contact with AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma to impress upon him the need for a political settlement of the crisis. "The contacts are at a very delicate stage now," Ahwoi said. President Rawlings has cancelled his plans to attend next week's OAU summit meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe in order to seek a solution to the crisis. Ahwoi said ECOMOG's experience in Liberia had taught important lessons. "Ghana's approach, therefore, has been to stress more on a negotiated political settlement which upholds the respect of the democratic choice of the people of Sierra Leone," he said. On Friday the Nigerian government reaffirmed its support for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, whom Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi described as "a great leader, upright in stature, and a man of peace." Ikimi disclosed that Nigerian Head of State General Sani Abacha, as Chairman of ECOWAS, has been holding intensive consultations with other countries in the sub-region to ensure the restoration of Sierra Leone's legitimate government and a quick return to peace and stability. Nigeria deplores "the loss of lives and the wanton destruction and looting of property which have accompanied the incident in Sierra Leone," Ikimi said. "We have a responsibility as a country, Nigeria and General Abacha as the Chairman of the ECOWAS, to assist Sierra Leone to resolve its conflicts and find a durable solution."

Reaction: Senegalese President President Abdou Diouf: "I take this opportunity to tell you that I strongly condemn what has happened in Sierra Leone." Ruth Perry, Chairwoman of Liberia's National Transitional Council "I condemn the coup. War isn't good, war brings destruction and loss of life." U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger: "Obviously we have deplored and condemned the coup and the overturning of the first democratic election in Sierra Leone in a very long time. But I think we would prefer to see this thing restored through political rather than military means."

30 May: ECOMOG has reportedly ordered its troops to go on the offensive tomorrow, 31 May, in a bid to oust the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. The news was announced to the nation by United National People's Party Leader John Karefa-Smart Thursday morning in an address carried over SLBS (state radio). Karefa-Smart said he had learned of the invasion plans from message intercepted by the military. "I am concerned with the possibility for the first time in the history of our country to be invaded by an outside force," he said. "I think we, as Sierra Leoneans, ought to do whatever we can to make our friends abroad and our friends in this country know that we will not--will not--be pleased if this happens." He called upon Sierra Leoneans to respond to the crisis, to "let us know what you feel like and what you want to do about this threat to our country and countrymen." In an urgent appeal to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma has called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address Sierra Leone's concerns about ECOMOG "aggression" against the country. He said ECOMOG's military buildup constitutes interference in Sierra Leone's internal affairs, and is a contravention of the United Nations Charter. Koroma warned that any intervention by ECOMOG "would be viewed as an illegitimate act of aggression." Military and diplomatic sources report that the RUF rebels who have joined the coup leaders are rejecting any mediation which would restore the civilian government. "It is a serious problem because the rebels have rejected any mediation. They say they are ready to fight to the end and are prepared for anything," one diplomat said. The diplomat said UNPP party leader John Karefa-Smart, who is acting in the capacity as non-affiliated mediator, met 50 RUF commanders when he went to mediation talks at military headquarters Thursday night. "They were sitting with the coup leaders, who had their military ranks stripped from their uniforms," the diplomat said, citing Karefa-Smart. Karefa-Smart has denied the incident, and says it's not true that the RUF has taken control. An ECOMOG officer was quoted as saying, "The RUF leaders came out the the bush and entered the town. Now it seems the soldiers have got more than they bargained for because the rebels are now calling the shots." Nigeria continued to fly in jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and more troops Thursday, and there were reports that Ghana and Guinea might join the effort. In Abuja, the Nigerian government has cut off Foday Sankoh's communications, and the RUF leader is now being held incommunicado. Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings spoke with Major Johnny Paul Koroma by telephone Thursday in an effort to persuade the coup leaders to negotiate a political settlement. Freetown remained tense Thursday as soldiers drove through the streets in stolen vehicles, firing into the air and shouting, "If you don't want us, then you are going to die."

Marines from the U.S.S. Kearsarge today evacuated some 900 people from Freetown. About 330 of those were Americans, and the rest are from more than 40 other countries, including Sierra Leone, Zaire, Russia, Britain, Lebanon, Belgium, Israel, Italy, Germany, Guinea, Ireland, and Cuba. An estimated 200 were children. The evacuees were picked up at the Mammy Yoko Hotel and ferried to the Kearsarge aboard CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters. Although the Marines flew 85 sorties, about 100 people were left behind. Among the evacuees were members of Sierra Leonean civic groups, and the former Deputy Minister of Defence and the Minister of Planning. After the operation was concluded, at 15:30 GMT, the United States closed its embassy and withdrew all diplomatic and military personnel from the country.

About 1,000 Kamajors gathered in Bo Thursday, four days after coup leaders had ordered them to disband. A confrontation between the Kamajors and soldiers was averted on Wednesday night after a truce between the two groups was brokered by Paramount Chief Joseph Boima and members of the Concerned Citizens Group. "It would have been a bloody clash if we had not intervened. We had to make shuttles to the Messima Shrine (the residence of the Kamajors) and the Brigade headquarters to quell the situation," Chief Boima said. Witnesses say the main streets of Bo are now being patrolled by Nigerian soldiers. Kenema was reported to be calm Wednesday. Brigade Commander Lieutenant Colonel Falla Sewah said the Army had peacefully disarmed over 500 Kamajors in their stronghold at Kailahun town.

A few hundred youths marched in Freetown Friday to demonstrate in favor the the military coup. The demonstrators, some carrying banners condemning Nigerian intervention, marched from the east end of Freetown to the National Stadium, singing and beating drums on the way. The demonstrations had been called for by the AFRC the previous day, and some witnesses claimed that many of the marchers had been hired by the coup leaders. The demonstrators were protected by security forces and traffic policemen. Hundreds of people also took part in a candlelit demonstration Thursday night in support of the AFRC.

29 May: The AFRC sent soldiers armed with AK-47's and rocket-propelled grenades into Koidu Town Thursday in a move to seize control of Sierra Leone's diamond mining industry. Police and community leaders said that soldiers have taken over the foreign-owned mines. This report was disputed by Michael Grunberg, a director of London-based Branch Energy Ltd., owned by DiamondWorks Ltd. "The Koidu area is peaceful and quiet and the relationship between the military and DiamondWorks is good. There is no aggressive action by the military. All commercial diamond activities have ceased but some artisanal mining is continuing," he said. At Masingbi, the soldiers ambushed a number of Kamajors and killed 20 of them. Witnesses report that the Kamajors have vowed to take revenge and are massing for a counterattack. A similar clash in Bo has reportedly left one soldier dead.

Foreign Minister Shirley Gbujama was taken away at gunpoint by soldiers early Thursday morning, and her whereabouts are unknown. The 61 year old Gbujama was Sierra Leone's first woman ambassador.

Amid rumors that ECOMOG has delivered a deadline to the AFRC to restore the civilian government, soldiers, joined by hundreds of RUF fighters, have erected checkpoints all over Freetown. The AFRC has lifted the curfew on the city, but ordered Sierra Leone's borders closed and banned all flights over Sierra Leonean airspace after one or possibly two Nigerian fighter jets made very low level passes over the Ministry of Defense Thursday afternoon. The coup leaders have called upon Sierra Leoneans to gather and demonstrate in favor of the military government on Friday. The Voice of Nigeria (Nigerian state radio) Thursday warned coup leaders that Nigeria is committed to restoring democracy to Sierra Leone. "Nigeria is not pretending about sympathy for embattled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah," the statement said. "He is the elected leader of his country and Nigeria recognizes him as such. If there are problems that he has not been able to solve, military incursion will only compound them rather than help...Major Johnny Paul Koroma and his comrades should consider the party over and negotiate their return to the barracks. It will be the wisest thing to do, because ECOWAS wants the military quickly out of politics." A statement from the coup leaders read over SLBS (state radio) on Thursday night warned that "any foreign intervention will be against our integrity...We are appealing to all Sierra Leoneans to support the peace that has already been gained."

Nigerian troops continue to control Lungi Airport, but there was a confrontation today between the Nigerians and Sierra Leone soldiers who control one end of the runway. The airports at Lungi and Hastings Field are now being used primarily as military staging and support areas. ECOMOG troops and supplies continue to pour into Lungi and are being dispatched by helicopter to areas within Freetown. The buildup has intensified since Wednesday evening. Unconfirmed reports Thursday evening said soldiers from Mali, Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal are reinforcing ECOMOG troops, and that Nigeria and Guinea are bringing in substantial air support. Witnesses reported hearing the sound of jets over Freetown at about 18:00 GMT. Another unconfirmed report relates that ECOMOG forces have reached Bo.

AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma, acknowledging that democracy "is a vogue in the modern world" said he would soon announce a new government of national unity and a schedule for elections. "The AFRC is not here to antagonize anyone," he said. Streets remained deserted Thursday except for heavily armed AFRC soldiers and businesses remained closed, despite an appeal by the coup leaders for people to return to work. The Sierra Leone Labour Congress released a statement saying, "We advise all our workers to stay home in the current situation because of the insecurity in the country, especially with the release of hardened criminals from the Pademba Road prison."

Britain evacuated 392 of its citizens aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft Thursday, and the United States has announced that 250 of an estimated 400 American citizens will be evacuated by helicopter to the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Four Marines from the U.S.S. Kearsarge landed by helicopter at the Mammy Yoko Thursday in preparation for the evacuation, which will begin at 8:00 a.m. Freetown time. Sporadic gunfire was heard throughout the day Thursday. "It's not stable at all," said a U.S. Pentagon spokesman. The U.S. State Department has decided to suspend operation of its embassy in Freetown and evacuate its embassy staff after all American citizens who want to depart Sierra Leone have been assisted to leave.

The AFRC Defense Headquarters announced on Thursday the formation of a joint military and police team to deal with the problem of widespread looting. In a statement read over SLBS (state radio), the coup leaders blamed the violence on criminals who "broke out the the Central Prison, Pademba Road, and other prisons in the provinces" on May 25th. They also cited "some retired and dismissed officers and soldiers and well as some civilians" who have put on uniforms and are carrying weapons. A number of telephone hotlines have been set up to address complaints of "harassment, looting, any distress suffered or required security assistance."

An estimated 1,500 persons demonstrated in Washington, D.C. Thursday against the military coup in Freetown. At a rally before the U.S. State Department, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the United States appealed to the U.S. to "work with other nations and international organisations to act decisively to end the crisis, by force of arms if necessary." Ambassador John Leigh told about 50 Sierra Leonean demonstrators that the 1,200 Marines on board the helicopter ship Kearsarge should support ECOMOG forces and end "a reign of terror" by the AFRC. However, a U.S. State Department spokesman said that the role of the Kearsarge will be limited to evacuating American citizens. Leigh said he expects ECOMOG forces to end the coup even without U.S. assistance, but that it would be "faster and less bloody" with American support. In Freetown, U.S. charge d'affaires Ann Wright has reiterated demands that the coup leaders surrender power immediately.

28 May: The Revolutionary United Front High Command today ordered its fighters to back the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. A statement from RUF leader Foday Sankoh was read over SLBS (state radio) at 10:00 GMT, ordering the rebels to stop all attacks and to adopt a defensive posture. "Be on the defensive. All instructions--former instructions--for operations should be cancelled. All commanders should be on the defensive," the statement said. Sankoh ordered RUF fighters to cooperate with the military to defend Sierra Leone's sovereignty. "We ask you to work with (the army) so that peace will prevail in our beloved motherland. So I will like you all to work with them as brothers; we are no more enemies. The enemies are the politicians, not the soldiers." Field commanders were instructed that their orders from Sankoh will now come through Major Johnny Paul Koroma, the leader of the AFRC.

The AFRC banned all public demonstrations and public meetings Wednesday after learning of a planned protest against last Sunday's coup. "The government has been reliably informed that some members of the public are planning to stage a mass demonstration today," a statement said. "In consideration of the present situation in the country, particularly in the capital, Freetown, government will not permit the holding of such demonstration, public meeting, or procession until further notice." On Tuesday the AFRC suspended the constitution and banned political parties. "As from now on, all legislation will be by military decrees," AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma said. SLBS (state radio) announced Wednesday that Koroma wishes to meet with the presidents or representatives of the following organisations at Defence Headquarters on June 3rd: The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, the Sierra Leone Bar Association, the Medical and Dental Association, the Catholic Mission, the Islamic Council, the Council of Churches, the National Union of Sierra Leone Students, and the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce. He has also asked that representatives of the Indigenous and Petty Traders Association, the Indian Community, and the Lebanese Community meet with him on June 5th. The radio also reported that effective immediately, the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew has been relaxed to run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The Kamajor militia says it will march on Freetown unless Nigerian troops restore the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The Kamajors have rejected an order by the coup leaders to disband, and there were clashes Tuesday between the militia and soldiers at Daru. "We are awaiting word from President Kabbah and we will be in Freetown to help restore order and democracy," said Kamajor commander Eddie Massalay. "We went to the polls and democratically elected President Kabbah and until his term is over, no one can remove him. Nigeria or ECOMOG is welcome in any part of Sierra Leone, provided their coming is to restore democracy. Bring back the president or we do it ourselves," Massalay said.

A Nigerian newspaper reported Wednesday that ECOMOG is negotiating with the coup leaders to give up power peacefully, and AFRC spokesman Captain Paul Thomas acknowledged that the soldiers are coming under heavy pressure by the Nigerians to abandon their coup. He said Nigeria's Defence Minister and Army Chief of Staff are expected to arrive in Freetown today to discuss restoring the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Nigerian officials have remained silent on their diplomatic efforts. "We can't be making public statements when we are trying to to see that the crisis is resolved without further bloodshed," said one senior Nigerian official in Abuja. RUF leader Foday Sankoh said the Nigerians should remain neutral and let Sierra Leoneans resolve their own problems. "The issue is not democracy," he said. "It is peace and security. Democracy will come after peace and security." The Nigerians yesterday landed 720 troops in Freetown, reinforcing 900 who were already in the country under the Status of Forces security agreement. A military source said the Nigerians are demanding to deploy to protect key installations, such as the radio and television stations and State House. He said the Sierra Leoneans tried to limit the disembarking Nigerians to one rifle and one magazine each, but that the Nigerians had insisted on landing with all their weapons.

Major Johnny Paul Koroma and the ruling council of the AFRC met Wednesday with ambassadors and United Nations officials who are trying to organise an evacuation on a U.N. chartered ship. More than 400 foreign nationals are crowded in hotels in Aberdeen District, and about 2,000 Lebanese took refuge at the Lebanese Embassy. A Middle East Airlines plane left with 178 Lebanese nationals, under the protection of ECOMOG forces. The Boeing 707 also carried the bodies of two Lebanese citizens who were killed Sunday by soldiers who ransacked their homes. 11 South Koreans were evacuated to Guinea aboard a fishing boat. The United Nations Development Programme has reportedly completed the evacuation of its non-essential personnel.

In his second address to the nation since Sunday's coup, AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma repeated AFRC charges that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's government had polarized the country into regional and tribal factions. "The former president had lost total control of the situation as atrocities spread throughout the country," he said. He also repeated the charge that the Kabbah government had favored the Kamajor militia over the army. Koroma also criticized Kabbah's treatment of civil servants and teachers. "The teachers remained unpaid for a long time to the extent that many teachers would no longer pay their way to work. This situation is not tenable, and we promise to change this immediately," he said.

27 May: The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) has suspended the constitution and banned political parties and activity. They promised to announce a timetable for elections soon.

Following a direct request for help from President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Nigerian leader Sani Abacha has pledged to restore the Kabbah government. "ECOWAS has pledged to restore democracy in Sierra Leone," he said. Sierra Leone's United Nations Representative James Jonah confirmed Tuesday that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has asked West African states to provide troops to "restore democracy" in Sierra Leone. In answer to whether the troops should oust the AFRC, he replied, "If possible yes, because what else do we have in the country. We have a bunch of corporals who opened the prisons wide open and 600 people came out, criminals, and they are roaming the streets right now." He said all the West African countries have made a "firm commitment" to restore the Kabbah government. "The president of the republic has made an appeal to the ECOWAS and the information which I have is that, indeed, it is true, they are trying to take action to reverse (the coup)," he said. Jonah said he will attend the OAU conference in Harare, Zimbabwe next week to request sanctions against the coup leaders, including non-recognition of their government and a travel ban on the non-commissioned officers who organised the revolt. "We are going to make it difficult for any military leaders to make a coup," he said. There have been some reports that President Kabbah, who fled to Guinea on Sunday, had re-entered Sierra Leone Monday. In an interview Monday, Kabbah expressed confidence that Sierra Leoneans support his government, and said he is returning to Sierra Leone because it is "where I belong."

Three Nigerian frigates docked at Government Wharf in Freetown today carrying hundreds of soldiers, fueling speculation that Nigeria is ready to intervene in Sierra Leone. A statement from AFRC leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma dismissed the speculation as baseless. "The AFRC is concerned over rumors that our brothers, the Nigerian force, are about to launch an attack. The AFRC is hereby informing the general public to know that it is a baseless rumor. The situation is under control, and all and sundry are hereby requested to go about their normal duties." AFRC spokesman Captain Paul Thomas had earlier warned Nigerian troops not to challenge the coup leaders again. "We will not appreciate any foreign intervention in our internal affairs to jeopardize the security of our people," he said. Nigerian troops and the coup plotters clashed Sunday morning; the Nigerians have reportedly now redeployed at Jui, 12 miles from the center of Freetown. United Nations Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast said the Nigerians were in Sierra Leone "in cooperation" with the coup leaders "to bring the situation under control and restore law and order." A Nigerian diplomat called the arrival of the ships routine. "Sierra Leone is part of ECOWAS and so there is no need for alarm," he said. "As a member of ECOWAS we can stop by and visit member states from time to time." The new Nigerian troops reinforce ECOMOG troops in control of Lungi Airport. There have now been reports that the rebels have taken the airport, formerly controlled by Nigerian and Guinean soldiers, by timing their takeover to coincide with a rotation of the other African troops. Hundreds of fighters in ragged camouflage uniforms were seen to enter Freetown from the rural areas Tuesday, asking the way to the military barracks. They did not identify themselves, but are believed to be members of the Revolutionary United Front who have come to reinforce the AFRC in the event of an attack by Nigerian forces.

Looting by soldiers continued through Monday night, according to a report from Freetown. "The looting has not stopped and there are abandoned wrecked cars lining the streets everywhere. They have stolen engines and tyres from some and needlessly wrecked the others by running them into buildings and into drainage ditches. After wrecking one car, they simply steel another. They are still going to every house belonging to government ministers and directors and literally destroying them. The Lebanese houses also have been looted and ransacked." Heavy fire from mortars or grenade launchers could be heard in Lumley into Monday night. Electricity has been out since Sunday morning, and there is no kerosene available. More fires have been set, and many buildings have been either gutted or are still burning, the report said. The offices of the World Health Organisation, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), Catholic Relief Services, Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), Handicap International and the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as other U.N. agencies were looted. Looters broke into the WFP warehouse and stole 1,650 metric tons of food aid, along with 15 light vehicles and trucks. The Ghanaian diplomatic mission was also looted. A statement by a U.S. Defense Department Spokesman in Washington Tuesday said that the situation in Freetown is now calm. Connaught Hospital has reported 40 people killed in the fighting Sunday, and the hospital has also treated more than 80 wounded. Other estimates say as many as 100 people may have died. Businesses remained closed Tuesday, despite the coup leaders' appeals for people to return to work. The AFRC has ordered government workers to report to work immediately.

A United Nations chartered ship, the El Salvatore, has arrived in Freetown from Liberia and officials expect to evacuate non-essential U.N. personnel and their families on Wednesday. The United Nations Development Programme reportedly began removing non-essential U.N. staff members to Guinea on Tuesday. A United States Naval helicopter ship, the Kearsarge, with 1,200 Marines on board will arrive in Freetown in 24 to 48 hours to help with the evacuation of Americans if it becomes necessary. "It (the Kearsarge) is planning to stop probably 20 or so miles off the shore and wait and see what happens," a Defense Department spokesman said. "There has been a (State Department) request for us to be available if necessary, but no request to be more than available." He said there are thousands of foreigners in Sierra Leone, but that the United States had not received any requests to help with their evacuation. "Our hope is that the situation will remain calm in Freetown and that the threat to Americans or any other foreigners will go away and that democratically-elected government will return," he said. U.S. State Department Spokesman John Dinger said there are no immediate plans to evacuate the approximately 400 U.S. nationals in Sierra Leone. The Freetown-based air carrier Inter Tropic Airlines Ltd. also announced Tuesday that it will assist in the evacuation from Hastings Field to Lungi International Airport and to nearby countries of all government officials and foreign nationals. AFRC spokesman Captain Paul Thomas said today that Sierra Leone's borders have been reopened to allow foreigners to leave. He said that Major Johnny Paul Koroma had met with U.S. and U.N. diplomats Monday to reassure them about the safety of foreigners in the country. Thomas said the military regretted the looting and is taking measures to prevent further violence. The AFRC has empowered special army and police units to search homes for looted goods, with the authority to arrest and detain those found in possession of stolen property. Hundreds of people have taken shelter in Freetown hotels, waiting for a chance to leave the country. Many Lebanese have sought refuge at the Lebanese Embassy, where they are reported to be running short of food and water. Two Lebanese were killed Sunday when their homes were looted, and two were wounded. Two Americans received non-life threatening injuries.

Between 5,000 and 8,000 persons demonstrated in Bo against the coup Tuesday, and at least one person--a member of a civilian militia--was killed when soldiers used live ammunition to break up the protesters. At least one other person was injured. The demonstration started when some 300 women took to the streets early in the day, and they were quickly joined by other residents. The crowd was angered by the discovery of large quantities of looted goods in the army's possession. Nearly all the shops in Bo and an Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) warehouse were looted in Bo on Sunday. The soldiers also released all the inmates at the prison in Bo Sunday, including some accused or convicted of committing violent crimes. The Kamajors (hunters militia) have rejected an AFRC order to disband, and there have been clashes between soldiers and Kamajors in the eastern town of Daru.

Reaction: Germany: "The Federal government condemns this fresh, violent take-over of power by the military in Sierra Leone in the sharpest way," according to a German Foreign Ministry Statement. The ministry called for the restoration of constitutional order and said the safety of civilians, members of the deposed government, and foreigners in the country had to be guaranteed. United Nations Security Council: "The Security Council is deeply concerned about the military coup d'etat in Sierra Leone, especially when the United Nations is assisting the process of reconciliation in that country. It strongly deplores this attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government and calls for an immediate restoration of constitutional order...The Security Council strongly condemns the violence which has been inflicted on both local and expatriate communities, in particular the United Nations and other international personnel serving in the country. It recalls obligations of all concerned to ensure the protection of United Nations and international personnel in the country, and calls for an end to the looting of premises and equipment belonging to the United Nations and international aid agencies. Canada: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy condemned the coup in Sierra Leone as "unacceptable" and called for speedy restoration of constitutional order. "It is all the more tragic after Sierra Leone's real progress toward democracy, peace, and economic reconstruction since early last year," he said.

26 May: Soldiers have arrested 5 former ministers of former civilian government, and are conducting house-to-house searches for others. The five, whose names have not yet been released, are being detained at military headquarters. AFRC spokesman Captain Paul Thomas urged people to return to work, but businesses have remained closed. Hundreds of people have ventured out to view the damage from fighting around the presidential offices. Thomas said that persons whose vehicles had been commandeered by soldiers could now come to collect them, and he apologized for the inconvenience. The coup leaders have asked that students be allowed to take their GCE examinations, and soldiers have been observed escorting children to school. Foday Sankoh has remained noncommittal on the AFRC's invitation for him to join their government. "You have to watch the situation before you talk," he said.

Sources in Freetown report that both Lungi and Hastings Airports are open, despite orders for their closure by the AFRC coup leaders, and that ECOMOG troops and equipment are arriving in large numbers. Preparations for the deployment had been made Saturday after ECOMOG commanders were alerted to the coup plot. UNIFOR forces are also arriving, most of them American Army and Marines from bases in Germany. The ECOMOG forces have not recognized the legitimacy of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and the airports remain under the control of Nigerian and Guinean troops. Top ECOMOG officials have been flown in from Monrovia, and personnel and equipment are being brought in from Liberia. ECOMOG forces in Liberia have sealed the border with Sierra Leone, and two naval vessels with hundreds of battle-ready ECOMOG troops aboard left the Monrovia Sunday night, presumably headed for Freetown. ECOMOG deputy force commander Brigadier-General Joe Kwateng confirmed that troops in Liberia's Cape Mount County had been ordered to close the border. He declined to comment on the departure of the naval vessels, but said, "The situation in Sierra Leone is an internal matter, but our men are there going about their assigned duties."

Reports from Freetown suggest that the AFRC does not have the complete backing of the army, and that the success of the coup was due to the arming of inmates released from Pademba Road Prison. The coup leaders are becoming increasingly isolated in Sierra Leone and abroad, with talk in Freetown of a possible counter-coup. In an interview on Monday, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah stated that he was on his way back to Sierra Leone. Sources say that he has left Guinea.

No politicians or army officers have voluntarily reported to military headquarters as ordered by the AFRC, and foreign forces have reportedly not returned to their barracks as requested by the coup leaders. State House is still reported to be guarded by Nigerian and Guinean troops.

A forum at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington, D.C. tonight drew an estimated 1,000 persons in support of the civilian government. Ambassador John Leigh told the gathering, "The coup is illegal, the guys are destructionists and they must be held responsible for their actions." The participants resolved to support the Kabbah government either in Sierra Leone or in exile, and determined to recognize Ambassador Leigh as the sole representative of Sierra Leone in the United States. Sierra Leonean leaders in Washington, D.C. are planning a protest for Thursday morning, to begin at the U.S. State Department, move to the Nigerian Embassy, and end at the Sierra Leone Embassy. A press release states, "We are no longer allowing military rule in Sierra Leone; they (the military) must leave now and return the country to democratic rule." Police and secret service agents were called to the embassy shortly before 6:00 p.m. when 5 coup sympathizers confronted about 150 people who supported restoration of the civilian government. There were no arrests.

The coup leaders have now named their government the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Captain Paul Thomas, who has replaced Corporal Gborie as their spokesman, told the nation that all of Sierra Leone's air, land, and sea borders are closed until further notice. He repeated calls for army and police officers to report to military headquarters and for foreign troops to return to their bases. He also called upon the international community to show restraint. "A designated head of state would brief them in due course," he said.

Profile: Major Johnny Paul Koroma, 33, the head of the AFRC, is one of those officers freed by soldiers from Pademba Road Prison early Sunday, where he was being held on charges of attempting to overthrow the Kabbah government last September. His accusers have testified that Kabbah and his senior ministers would have been assassinated in that coup. The trial has repeatedly been adjourned, and no verdict has been rendered. Koroma has been in the army for 10 years, and is reported to be popular with the junior officers. He has trained in London, Nigeria, and Ghana, and was commanding officer of the battalion attached to Sierra Rutile's bauxite mine in Moyamba District. Koroma is a Limba. He is married with four children.

Looting soldiers in stolen vehicles roamed the streets of Freetown for a second day following a coup which overthrew the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The center of the city has been gutted by fighting, looting, and arson. The Treasury building has been burned and the Bank of Sierra Leone was reported at midday to be on fire. One report says all the shops in Kissy Street have been looted. At least 15 persons are confirmed dead and 40 injured. Freetown remains under a 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. dusk to dawn curfew. The situation is reportedly somewhat calmer than Sunday, and people have begun to venture out.

ECOMOG forces were reported to have begun landing shortly after midnight at Hastings and Lungi Airports, which were secured by the Nigerian and Guinean forces respectively. ECOMOG was tipped off to the coup a day in advance by a former detainee at Pademba Road Prison, according to ECOMOG officers, and had moved heavy military equipment into place to counteract the coup attempt. ECOMOG now states that they are in Sierra Leone only to support Nigerian troops in the country under a military cooperation agreement. The Nigerians, who clashed with coup leaders earlier in the day, are now reportedly cooperating with coup leaders and have returned to their barracks.

Hundreds of inmates released from Pademba Road Prison have been issued military uniforms and weapons, and now claim they are the army "as the army should have been." Reports from Freetown say that no officers have yet reported to military headquarters as ordered by the coup leaders.

Reaction: French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt: "France deplores that a group of military officers has seized power by force...France calls for the quick restoration of constitutional legality in Freetown." OAU Secretary General Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim: "The United Nations and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments, democratically elected, shall not be overthrown by force...It is lamentable that some soldiers who have no mandate to rule at all should decide to challenge the legitimate position of the people. It is a setback for Africa's transition to democracy...This development is a loss for Africa. This development will not be welcome in Africa." Zimbabwean Foreign Minister, Stan Mudenge: "The government of Zimbabwe condemns in the strongest terms the perpetrators of this betrayal of the will of the people of Sierra Leone and calls upon the international community to urgently render all the necessary support to help the people of Sierra Leone regain their inalienable right to democracy and the rule of the law." The South African Foreign Affairs Department issued a statement expressing hope that Sierra Leone's elected government will be restored to power without delay. It called the military takeover a setback to the democratization process in Sierra Leone, as well as to the expansion of democracy on the continent as a whole. "This is a major setback to a process of democratization in Sierra Leone to which the international community attached great importance," the statement said. United States State Department Spokesman John Dinger: "The United States condemns the coup which overthrew Sierra Leone's first democratically elected government in three decades, and calls on those claiming power in Freetown to return authority promptly to the country's elected leadership and parliament." The British Foreign Office: "We deplore this attempt to overthrow the elected government of Sierra Leone and strongly urge the restoration of a democratic civilian government in accordance with the Commonwealth's Harare principles. We have made clear to the military leaders in Sierra Leone our serious concern over the level of violence against both local and foreign communities."

25 May: Soldiers this morning overthrew the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The coup was led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who announced Sunday that he had taken control of the country. "As custodians of state security and defenders of the constitution (we) have today decided to overthrow the Sierra Leone Peoples Party government because of their failure to consolidate the claims achieved by the brokers of peace," Koroma told the nation. He accused Kabbah's government of being "nurtured on tribal and sectional conflict." Koroma said he has invited RUF leader Foday Sankoh to join his government. "In this regard we appeal to the international community and the Nigerian government in particular to release Corporal Foday Sankoh," he said. Gunfire continued into the evening hours as looting soldiers moved around the city in vehicles commandeered from civilians, NGO's, and the government; soldiers also burned down the Treasury building. Freetown is under a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and coup leaders have said that looters, military or civilian, will be shot on sight. The country's borders have been sealed and Lungi Airport and the seaports have been ordered closed. Coup leaders and a Guinean newspaper said President Kabbah has fled to Conakry, Guinea. Connaught Hospital reported 5 dead--including 2 civilians--and 21 injured by midday, but said more casualties were expected.

Heavy shooting was reported in Freetown some time after 4:00 a.m. Sunday from the direction of State House and military headquarters, and continued for several hours. Witnesses reported fighting near the national assembly between soldiers and Nigerian troops who are in Sierra Leone under a military cooperation agreement. A spokesman for the coup leaders, Corporal Tamba Gborie, made a statement Sunday morning over SLBS (state radio): "The Tejan Kabbah government has been removed from power following the successful coup today," he said. "I will inform the nation of further developments. I am just an ordinary man and also the spokesman for the coup." Gborie said the Nigerian forces were now cooperating with the coup leaders, and he called on the Nigerian and Guinean troops assisting the army to keep out of the fighting, saying it was an internal matter. He condemned the Tejan Kabbah government, saying "We want democracy but not this democracy...Enough is enough, we have to build our nation. We want a democracy but...the government has introduced tribalism." A second reason for the coup, he said, was the poor wages soldiers receive, particularly when compared to the compensation received by the Kamajors, a militia comprised of traditional hunters. He said the activities of the Kamajors would be banned. "We are the national army," he said. "They are not, any more." He accused Kabbah of "crying down" the army. All ministers, politicians, and senior officers in the armed forces above the rank of lieutenant colonel were ordered to report to Cockerill Barracks in Freetown. Gborie said that the rebel war is over, implying an RUF connection to the coup. He said that the coup leaders will appeal to Nigeria for the release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who is being detained by the Nigerians in Abuja.

The coup began early Sunday morning when three or four pickup trucks carrying about 20 heavily armed soldiers in civilian clothing drove up to Pademba Road Prison. An explosion followed, evidently from grenades used to blast open the steel gates. The soldiers freed hundreds of prisoners, including 9 soldiers on trial for previous coup attempts against President Kabbah. Nigerian troops who were guarding a nearby broadcasting station approached the prison, but withdrew. Truckloads of soldiers then drove up in their ceremonial uniforms, firing in the air around the prison, then withdrew toward the center of Freetown.

In their first decree since assuming power, the coup leaders abolished the Kamajors, a civilian militia of traditional hunters. They have also called for the return to Sierra Leone of Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa, who was linked to coup allegations in 1993, and General Julius Maada Bio, the leader of the NPRC until the military handed over power to the civilian government last year. An unconfirmed report from Freetown says the coup leaders have called upon United National People's Party (UNPP) leader John Karefa-Smart to join them, a suggestion strongly rejected by a family member.

Update: Shooting continued in Freetown Sunday evening as soldiers went on a looting spree. The soldiers have been seen in Sierra Leone government vehicles, as well as vehicles "commandeered" from the United Nations, religious missions, the Red Cross, ASSP, Farmco, North Central Agricultural Project (NCAP), and those belonging to civil servants and members of parliament. In the wake of the coup, a number of unconfirmed rumors have been circulated. One unconfirmed report says that soldiers have broken into the World Food Programme warehouse in Kissi and looted the rice stores. Another claims that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his wife Patricia fled to Guinea with a 62 carat diamond which was in Kabbah's possession pending the resolution of a dispute over its ownership.

Reaction: Ambassador to the United States John Leigh: "This is totally surprising and totally uncalled for. There is no need for a coup in Sierra Leone today. Now Sierra Leone is going to be in a difficult condition...All the aid and all the job I have been doing over here to bring economic development to Sierra Leone are now on hold until this matter is resolved...These people are out to line their pockets...It's going to bring more hardship and difficulty to the country, and that is not the way to make change." United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan: "The United Nations and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments, democratically elected, shall not be overthrown by force...The United Nations and the international community attach the greatest importance to a democratic order for Sierra Leone...The United Nations continues to stand ready to assist the people of Sierra Leone in their quest for a society grounded in democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the pursuit of peace and national reconciliation." Annan expressed concern about the safety of the civilian population, and said he "strongly condemns taking into custody" Sierra Leonean U.N. staff and the looting of U.N. offices, vehicles, and equipment.

23 May: The Sierra Leone authorities have raised $16,000 in fines from 80 illegal immigrants arrested over the past week. "We would have liked to deport them, but this normally involves rigorous court procedures. We prefer this method of raiding them to augment our revenue collection," Assistant Police Superintendent Patrick Farma said. The illegal immigrants were primarily Gambians, Guineans, Lebanese, and Indians.

22 May: The SIEROMCO bauxite mine, owned by Alusuisse-Lonza Holding AG and closed since it was overrun in a 1995 rebel attack, has found a potential U.S. buyer which would allow mining operations to resume, SIEROMCO's director said Wednesday. James Westwood said that Alusuisse had agreed to sell its shares on its Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Co. subsidiary to Innovest Capital Sources Corp, a Colorado corporation based in New Orleans, Louisiana. He said that Alusuisse had agreed to assign its lease and operations agreement to the company, although the deal still needs the approval of the Sierra Leone government. The lease has ten years remaining. "We have entered the agreement in good faith and we hope that government approval comes quickly so that operations can resume before there is further deterioration of the mines," Westwood said. Innovest has financial backing from Fuci Metals USA Inc, located in Northbrook, Illinois. SIEROMCO began bauxite mining in Mokanji in 1964. In 1984-88 it exported an average of 1.7 million tons of ore a year. By 1992, exports had fallen to 1.3 million tons. The company lost about $30 million in assets when the mine was overrun and looted in 1995, and it reportedly also lost a major customer in Ukraine, causing the company to decide that it was not economically viable to resume mining operations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 353 cases of Lassa Fever during the first four months of 1997, with 43 deaths (12.2%). The reported number of cases rose from January to March, but fell in April. This decrease might have been caused by under-reporting caused by the brief closure of the Kenema Government Hospital during the unrest there. During 1996, 470 cases with 110 deaths (23.4%) were reported. Most were treated in Kenema, but four cases were identified in Freetown. Those seeking treatment in Freetown were initially transported to Kenema, but an isolation ward has now been set up in Freetown using health staff trained at the Lassa Fever isolation ward at Kenema. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, WHO, and MERLIN are planning activities to prevent the spread of the disease and to manage cases, and are planning a nationwide training programme on Lassa Fever control for later in 1997. The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is studying a plan for rodent control, and is establishing a national Lassa Fever control programme to be based in Kenema. Treatment with Ribavirin was resumed in mid April when new supplies arrived. Stocks of the drug had been depleted in February.

OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim said Thursday that, despite some setbacks in the implementation of the Abidjan peace accord, the peace process itself is basically on course. He made the statement on the 34th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity. Salim stressed that African people have the capacity, the will, and the determination to forge ahead to an era of peace and development in the continent. "We should always remind ourselves that whenever our peoples stood united, they were able to make great achievements," he said.

21 May: The Army has restored order in Northern Province and the situation is now calm, Defence Spokesman Abdju Sesay said Wednesday. "The region is now relatively calm and we are now pursuing remnants of the rebel group who are on the run," he said. On Tuesday, Guinean troops assisting the Sierra Leone Army arrested 22 suspected RUF members near the town of Gbinti, which was attacked last weekend. A statement from the president Tuesday said that it was now safe for people to return to their villages and towns, but asked people "to keep a watchful eye on all suspect persons who may seek refuge in the Gbinti, Rogbaka, and Feredugu areas." The statement also said that Kamakwie is now safe. Brigadier General Amidu Ojokojo, commander of the Nigerian troops who are aiding the Sierra Leone Army, asserted that, "The current rebel war in Sierra Leone will soon be a thing of the past...Recent disturbances in the north are now under control."

At least 10 people were reported killed during the attack on Kamakwie. More than 30 were reportedly killed early last week in Bomaru, in eastern Sierra Leone.

An official of Moscow's Chief Interior Department said in a briefing on illegal drug trafficking that distributors of "tough" drugs there--cocaine and heroin--are mostly from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Vladimir Charykov said that Africans involve Russians in the illegal drug trade by buying them air tickets to India and Brazil, where they can easily buy narcotics.

Pademba Bay Road Prison holds 60% more inmates than its capacity, according to Chief Superintendent of Prisons Benson Thomas. He said the prison is designed to hold 324 prisoners, but currently has 579. The majority of those, 328, are on remand, outnumbering those who have been convicted.

19 May: The foreign ministers from Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Mali, and Senegal met in an extraordinary session of the ECOWAS Committee of Nine on Liberia Monday in Abuja, Nigeria to set a new date for the Liberian elections. Several delegates reported that a consensus had been reached to reschedule the elections for July. The delegates are expected to set a concrete date during Wednesday's session. The elections had originally been scheduled for May 30, but were postponed when most of the parties concluded that the timetable could not be met.

Reports from northern province indicate that the rebel attack on Gbendembu last week left the town virtually leveled. Only 6 houses were left standing; over 130 homes and the clinic were destroyed. Monday's attack on Kamakwie left the town heavily damaged, with 60 homes destroyed and the hospital damaged and looted. The army, which had been sent to provide security, "ran in full retreat." Many of the towns in northern province are reported to have been deserted, with residents taking refuge in the bush. The rebels reportedly number about 400, mostly teenagers, but heavily armed. Recent rebel attacks have also been reported in Southern and Eastern Provinces. It was reported last week that 60 people were killed in the town of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone.

15 May: RUF leader Foday Sankoh said Thursday that he wants to return to Sierra Leone to help advance the peace process, and he denied that he is being detained by the Nigerian government. "The government in Sierra Leone thinks keeping me out of the peace process will solve the problem but they are mistaken," he said. "My immediate return to my area of control in Sierra Leone will help put the peace process back on track." Sankoh, who has been staying at a luxury hotel in Abuja since March, said that he had come to Nigeria to meet Nigerian leader Sani Abacha, but that a meeting has not yet been possible. "I came here to see President Abacha, the chairman of ECOWAS, for his contribution to the peace accord. There is a delay and I have not yet seen him. I think the government in Sierra Leone has a hand in the delay...we can call it psychological warfare," he said. Sankoh denied reports that he had been arrested for weapons violations at the airport in Lagos. "Four pistol bullets were found in the suitcase of my bodyguard," he said. He added that he was initially lodged at a government guest house for three weeks, waiting to see Abacha. Sankoh said he is not under any restrictions in Abuja. "I can call anyone and I can go wherever I want," he said. He reportedly is staying alone except for protocol officials in a $500 a night suite at the top of one of Abuja's leading hotels.

Former NPRC military ruler Valentine Strasser may soon be a law student at Warwick University in the United Kingdom. The university was approached by the United Nations Development Programme a year ago about the prospect of Strasser furthering his education there. Because of Strasser's lack of qualifications, he will have to take part in the Higher Educational Foundation Programme, according to a university spokesman. "He was 27 years old when he was running his country, but because of his choice of career he didn't have the opportunity to do A-levels," the spokesman said. "He is in the middle of his exams. If he passes his exams he will then be able to come to us and study law at our law department." Strasser is currently studying at a local college, and will complete his exams next month. Strasser was educated at Sierra Leone Grammar School and qualified for the university, but instead opted to join the military academy in 1986.

14 May: RUF fighters captured Kamakwie Tuesday after seven hours of heavy fighting which left many persons dead. "Government soldiers fought bravely to stop the rebels taking the town, but the rebels attacked in large numbers and they were also heavily armed," army spokesman Col. Abdul Sesay said on Wednesday. He said that corpses were left lying in the streets, but that casualty figures were not available for either side. A church source who fled to Makeni reported that many people were killed in the fighting. "I ran past 18 bodies as I escaped. Many of them were young boys, about 14 to 16 years old, carrying guns and machetes. But there were also the bodies of soldiers and civilians," the source said. The rebels reportedly destroyed the hospital, dispensary, and pharmacy, and burned more than 60 houses. Wesleyan church sources report that there are 8,000 refugees at the Wesleyan Conference Center in Makeni, and that supplies of food and medicine there are running low. There have been more than 10 attacks on northern towns and villages in the past week, according to military sources.

14 May: The Sierra Leone parliament has passed the Media Practitioner Act, the second part of the Newspaper Act, which places new restrictions on the press. Under the law, journalists must register with the authorities every year or face a fine. The act also requires journalists to have certificates of registration.

13 May: About 100 members of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) picked parliament Tuesday to protest against a bill they say would shut down newspapers and radio stations. Parliament last week passed the Newspaper Act, the first part of the new restrictive legislation. The second part of the act, the Media Practitioner Act, is currently before parliament.

12 May: A joint task force has been set up by the Special Services Division (SSD) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID) to fight rampant armed robberies in Sierra Leone. The team, headed by Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Christopher John, arrived in Kono on Sunday, where a Guinean businessman was killed and three Russian nationals wounded in the past two weeks. Two Russians were shot in their residence by armed robbers, and a Russian doctor was attacked and beaten up with iron bars in a private hospital. Police say there have been other incidents as well, and that the robbers often maim or kill their victims.

10 May: Soldiers have found 9 bodies at Kalangba, near Makeni, and they fear that many more people died there Friday when rebels attacked the town and razed 87 houses. "The rebels fought us off for more than five hours yesterday, soldiers are picking up the corpses of civilians killed and the search continues," one army officer said. The rebels reportedly also attacked the nearby town of Gbendembu, burning houses and abducting residents. "Since the peace accord last November this is the first time the rebels have launched an attack on a town or tried to capture it. They had only carried out small scale attacks before," army spokesman Col. Abdul Sesay said in Freetown. The International Committee of the Red Cross in Freetown reported that scores of people had been mutilated in the attacks on Kalangba and other villages. "Ten people, some of them with their arms chopped off, have reached Makeni government hospital," said one aid worker. "Many more are trying to make their way to other hospitals in the area. Some have had their arms and some their feet cut off." A Red Cross team that tried to reach the area reported seeing large numbers of rebels in fresh uniforms with new automatic rifles. Two of the houses that were destroyed belonged to government ministers: Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura's home was razed in Madina in Bombali District, and Labour and Sports Minister Dr. Sheku Saccoh's house was burned down at Kalangba. The home of a traditional chief was also destroyed. According to some unconfirmed reports, the rebels left a message threatening to continue the attacks until Foday Sankoh is given back his freedom of movement. Heavily armed government troops and paramilitary militias began a three day offensive in the north of the country Saturday, aimed at flushing out the rebels who continue to operate in the region. A statement from state house said the that "the movement of troops in these areas should be regarded as a protective measure," and called upon residents "to assist the troops by giving them moral and other support." Rebel attacks have intensified in recent days. On Tuesday a U.N. vehicle was attacked, and on Wednesday two passengers in a World Food Programme vehicle were injured in an attack on the Makeni-Lunsar highway. Two private vehicles were attacked on Thursday and a number of persons injured as they fled into the bush. Six people were also reported to have been killed at the village of Mayankay.

Forged cheques totalling $150,000 were discovered at the government treasury Friday by a joint commission of inquiry set up by the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank to investigate corruption by civil servants. "The fraudsters (at the treasury) have been good at forging the signatures of senior members of staff who are signatories to the department's account at the central bank," a commission member said. Police are investigating the fraud, which involves 22 forged cheques discovered so far for the period from December to March. One, issued in January for the Comptroller of Customs, was for $11,000. About 33 government accountants and sub-accountants have been detained in connection with the alleged forgeries.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi will consult with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and other key West African leaders to decide whether Liberia's general election set for May 30 should be postponed. A statement said that Ikimi was meeting with Liberian leaders on after talks with President Lansana Conte of Guinea on Wednesday. "(Abacha) is expected to make a statement on the holding of the general elections after the series of consultations with member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) committee of Nine on Liberia," the statement said. The committee, and some candidates, had argued that the May 30 election date should be postponed because they are not ready for it. Charles Taylor, who started the Liberian civil war and is a presidential candidate, wants the elections to go ahead as scheduled.

9 May: The Ethiopian Agency for the Administration of Rental Houses (AARH), which has threatened to evict 15 African countries from their embassies in Addis Ababa for arrears in rent, now says that Sierra Leone, Sudan, Burundi, and Uganda have started to settle their arrears on a monthly basis. Tanzania is the only country which took immediate action to remedy the situation, while Gabon and Zaire have continued to remain silent on the issue. AARH spokesman Mekwanent Ayechea, who heads the agency's section which deals with foreign tenants, regretted the lack of a response from the embassies concerned after the arrears had been published and a call for payments had been made. He said it was unfortunate that "rich countries" like Sierra Leone and Gabon would expect a poor country like Ethiopia to provide services without payment.

8 May: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has allocated a $14 million loan to Sierra Leone, a government statement said on Thursday. The statement said the IMF had commended Sierra Leone's efforts to keep a structural adjustment programme on track despite difficult circumstances, and had cited efforts at macroeconomic stabilisation and structural reforms. "The IMF's approval will facilitate Sierra Leone's access to resources from the country's bilateral and multilateral donors and creditors," the statement said. The country's success in bringing inflation down from 26% in December 1996 to 6.4% in December was given as an example of Sierra Leone's success in meeting economic targets. The first of two half-yearly loan installments is available for immediate use.

7 May: Gunmen shot and wounded a senior U.N. aid official Tuesday and killed his Sierra Leonean driver in an ambush near Makeni. Two U.N. vehicles were attacked near the village of Madina, 15 miles from Makeni, when about six unidentified attackers, some shirtless, some in combat fatigues or wearing bandanas, sprayed them with machine gun fire. This was the first time that a U.N. vehicle had been specifically targeted. The road had been safe since before the peace agreement had been signed in November between the government and the RUF. "If, as it appears, this was a deliberate ambush on clearly marked U.N. and NGO vehicles, it could have serious implications for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone," a U.N. spokesperson said. The wounded aid official was Robert Painter, the American head of the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Sierra Leone, who was shot in the foot. Passengers in a second car used by the aid agency Concern Worldwide were unhurt. They were identified as Kathy Jones, British deputy head of the U.N. peace operation in Sierra Leone, and a World Bank official.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced a temporary halt to the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia Tuesday because of the fighting in eastern Sierra Leone. A UNHCR spokesperson said the group has pulled out of Kenema District. "We do not wish to endanger the life of anyone working for us. The situation in Kenema is still unsafe and the UNHCR has no option but to suspend our operations until we are sure of a return of calm," he said. The 520 refugees who arrived last week will remain in Freetown until Kenema is safer.

The commission of inquiry into the cause of tension between soldiers and Kamajors will be chaired by Bishop Michael Keili, and will include a paramount chief, a lawyer, an army colonel, a retired police officer, and two Kamajors. The commission has until May 30 to deliver its findings. Clashes between the two groups have left 200 people dead since January.

One report puts the number of persons killed in Kenema in clashes between soldiers and Kamajors at 50. The bodies of 13 civilians, 10 Kamajors, and 2 soldiers were recovered in the town, but humanitarian officials believe the actual number may be twice that high since many casualties may not have been reported. At least seven Kamajors, five soldiers, and 21 civilians were wounded. Other sources had variously put the death toll as high as 70 or 80. Most patients and staff also fled the government hospital and were taken by Red Cross workers to a medical post on the outskirts of town. The Red Cross began taking them back on Wednesday. U.N. aid workers had not yet returned by Wednesday, but schools and shops in Kenema had begun to reopen.

6 May: At least 80 persons were killed in Kenema after a weekend of clashes between soldiers and Kamajors, a hospital source said Tuesday. "Hospital staff and the International Red Cross in Kenema have discovered the bodies of 30 civilians, 30 soldiers and 20 Kamajors and we are looking for more," the source said. Aid agencies said the situation was tense in Kenema Monday, but the fighting had stopped. "We have treated 25 wounded people so far, some of them in very bad shape from gunshot wounds and in need of emergency surgery," an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday. The withdrawal of aid agency staffs has left 70,000 people recently resettled in nearby villages without food or medical supplies.

New clashes also reportedly broke out at Camp Charlie near Matotoka Tuesday, where 14 persons were killed Sunday when soldiers fought against Kapras (a traditional hunters militia). "At least six Kamajors and two government soldiers have been killed in bitter fighting," a military source said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Monday approved the third annual loan of $14 million under the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) to back Sierra Leone's 1997 economic program. Under the 1997 program, real GDP growth is targeted for about 10 percent and the rate of inflation is to be contained at 8 percent. The IMF approved an augmented second annual loan for Sierra Leone under the ESAF, raising the total three year ESAF loan to about $139 million from the original of about $121 million. Currently, Sierra Leone owes the IMF about $163 million.

5 May: New clashes between soldiers and Kamajors broke out in Kenema Saturday, leaving at least 20 persons dead in three days of fighting and causing some relief groups to pull out of the city. The UNHCR and the British medical group Merlin have already withdrawn their staffs, while a spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the situation Monday remained "extremely tense" and that the WFP staff might leave later in the day. The International Committee of the Red Cross has stayed behind to treat the wounded. The fighting reportedly started at 11:00 a.m. Saturday after Kamajors drove by an army base at Kpetema, near Kenema, singing derogatory songs. Soldiers reportedly fired on the truck, killing 3 Kamajors and starting a gun battle which lasted until evening and resumed Sunday morning. Thousands of civilians fled the city to take refuge in the forests as Kamajors fought soldiers in the streets of Kenema with rocket propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, and assault rifles. Several buildings were set ablaze in streets empty except for the fighters. "Many people, especially civilians, have been killed in the battle and their bodies are lying about in the streets of the town," a military source said in Freetown. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Hassan Conteh and Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman flew to Kenema Sunday to negotiate a truce, but more gun battles were reported early Monday. SLBS (state radio) reported Sunday that President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has set up a six man commission of inquiry to look into the cause of the clashes between the soldiers and the Kamajors.

Clashes between soldiers and traditional hunters also broke out Sunday at Camp Charlie, near Matotoka, the army's main base in the north. Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-Colonel Max Kanga said in Freetown that hundreds of Kapras (a separate militia of traditional hunters) attacked the main military base at Camp Charlie on Sunday evening. "There was a serious shoot-out which lasted for six hours," he said. At least 14 people are reported to have died.

At least 60 more RUF fighters surrendered to government forces in northern Sierra Leone over the weekend. "They have given us valuable information about life in the Kangari Hills Camp (on the Makeni-Kono highway)," a government spokesman said. Surrendered rebels described severe food shortages, and spoke of a conflict between Liberian and Sierra Leonean fighters in the camp. "Senior Sierra Leonean rebel commandos now want all fighters to be allowed to surrender but their Liberian counterparts are opposed to this," one rebel said. Surrendered rebels said five female commandos who tried to escape from the camp were "butchered" to death.

17 "first ladies" of Africa, including Liberian Interim President Ruth Perry and Patricia Kabbah, wife of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, opened "the first summit of African first ladies on peace" Monday in Abuja, Nigeria. The summit was organized by Maryam Abacha, wife of Nigerian military ruler General Sani Abacha, and is backed by the Nigerian government. Maryam Abacha said that the conference would work out practical ways of mending fences among warring African nations. "Our intention is not to duplicate the commendable efforts of African leaders in brokering peace," she said. General Abacha said the summit should focus on "conflict prevention and improving the deplorable economic conditions of our people, because economic deprivation is one of the causes of conflicts in our continent." Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi said, "The major objective of the summit is to find ways women can be involved in conflict resolution in Africa." Other first ladies attending the meeting are those of Namibia, Angola, Niger, Senegal, Gabon, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guinea, Chad, Zambia, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania.

3 May: Two boats carrying 295 Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia docked in Freetown Saturday. A gunboat of the Sierra Leone navy arrived with 42 refugees, while another 253 docked on a naval landing craft. A further 233 were expected on Sunday after the fishing trawler carrying them developed engine trouble. Doctors who treated the returnees, mostly women and children, said some had malaria and worm infestations, while others suffered from seasickness or high blood pressure. The refugees returned in the second phase of the UNHCR's resettlement program, which is expected to last for two years and repatriate 500,000 Sierra Leoneans from neighboring countries. According to UNHCR figures there are 340,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, with 120,000 in Liberia and tens of thousands more in Ivory Coast, Mali and Guinea Bissau. The current phase will last until July, and the UNHCR expects to repatriate 3,000 Sierra Leoneans from Liberia.

2 May: The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that it completed the distribution of three-months resettlement rations to 220,000 internally displaced persons in April, and is now concentrating assistance to rehabilitation and development-oriented programmes. Some 50,000 families are currently involved in food-for-work and food-for-agriculture activities throughout the country. Food-for-agriculture activities include the rehabilitation of thousands of acres of coffee, cocoa, oil palm, citrus fruit, banana, and pineapple plantations to jump start the local economy. Food-for-work activities include the construction of housing and shelter in areas of resettlement and the rehabilitation of roads leading to villages. The WFP continues to provide emergency rations to populations displaced because of isolated security incidents.

1 May: Police questioned ten top treasury officials for seven hours Wednesday in their investigation into corruption by civil servants. A spokesman said Thursday that the probe involved forged cheques totaling $150 million. Those interrogated included treasury controllers, computer systems analysts, accountants, and sub accountants. The deputy head of the treasury was also questioned and released on bail. Police said their investigations were leading to the Central Bank, where forged cheques were allegedly cashed. "We are treating the development as a conspiracy. The cheques involved were salaries for different ministries using code accounts from the Central Bank," an official said. Police made a surprise raid on the treasury Tuesday and demanded the addresses of a number of officials suspected of fraud. Most of those wanted were not at work, but some were arrested at home. Others fled to the provinces. There are unconfirmed reports that 21 officials are being sought in connection with the investigation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Thursday sent a first batch of 600 Sierra Leonean refugees from Samuka Town displaced camp back to Freetown aboard three ships. UNHCR senior protection officer Yacoub el-Hillo said 600 more refugees will be repatriated on May 8, and another 600 will follow a week later. The voyage will take about 22 hours. El-Hillo said that 200 extremely vulnerable refugees will be airlifted to Freetown on May 15, while 1,153 at Bo Waterside, on the Sierra Leone border, will return home by foot or by road. The Chairman of the Sierra Leone Welfare Committee, George Zoker, said the refugees had decided to return because of the deplorable conditions at Samuka Town camp. "Our ration is inadequate and most often delayed, while our children have no educational facilities," he said. The UNHCR said that each refugee will be provided with an assistance package upon arriving in Sierra Leone, comprising two months food rations from the World Food Programme, a plastic sheet, two mats, a jerrycan, a lamp, a kitchen set, and two blankets.