31 May: Sierra Leonean business woman Sarian Bouma has been chosen to receive the U.S. Small Business Administration's Welfare-to-Work Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The Welfare-to-Work awards, which will be announced in Washington on Monday, pay tribute to the role played by small businesses in helping welfare recipients move into the workforce. Bouma, a former welfare recipient, is president and chief executive of Capitol Hill Building Maintenance Inc., Lexington Park, Maryland, which provides commercial cleaning services. The company she founded employs some 200 people, many of them former welfare recipients and homeless persons.
30 May: ECOMOG troops raided Wilberforce army barracks at 5:00 a.m. Saturday, arresting 50 people and seizing a large cache of arms and ammunition. "Most of the 50 men and women we caught are junta soldiers of the former Sierra Leone army who had surrendered to ECOMOG when we captured Freetown, and RUF rebels," said ECOMOG's commander in charge of Freetown security, Gabriel Ohiemi.
The Sierra Leone government has offered an amnesty to AFRC/RUF rebels. Speaking on SLBS television, President Kabbah said rebels fighters had two weeks to surrender in order to qualify for the amnesty. Interior Minister Charles Margai told the BBC he would personally guarantee the safety of any rebel soldier who surrenders within the two week time period.
Civil Defence Forces militiamen said they ambushed a force of some 300 Liberian fighters loyal to the ousted junta Friday while they were crossing into Sierra Leone, killing about 70 of them.
The Liberian government has welcomed President Kabbah's call for talks with AFRC and RUF leaders, Liberian Star Radio reported Saturday. According to a government statement, Liberian President Charles Taylor will rally support for Kabbah's efforts at upcoming OAU and ECOWAS summits. Taylor said Liberia's experience with dialogue instead of confrontation should be emulated, and added that peace in Sierra Leone would benefit Liberia. On Tuesday, President Kabbah told the BBC he was "prepared to talk to anybody as long as that would bring about peace to Sierra Leone," but that he would only talk to AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma "as a Sierra Leonean, but not as a representative of any group."
The United Nations Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunno, said Saturday that a donor's conference will be held in London soon to fund emergency assistance for children and other civilians caught up in Sierra Leone's civil conflict. Otunno, who visited Sierra Leone from May 26 to 29, said civilians were not simply incidental casualties of the fighting. "There has been deliberate targeting of civilians. It is part of the objective of warfare, not just indiscipline on the part of fighters," he said, adding that almost 300 persons had arrived at Connaught Hospital in April and May with severed limbs. "Part of the exercise is to humiliate, wreak suffering, teach them a lesson...to demoralise as a tool of war," he said. Otunno said he saw no signs of fighting from Freetown to Daru, a military garrison town now utilised by the ECOMOG force. Fighting was continuing three miles or so east of Daru, he said, but the towns of Kenema and Segbwema were calm. Otunno said the U.N. estimated some 500,000 refugees had fled Sierra Leone for Guinea or Liberia, while thousands more persons were internally displaced. "I saw congregations of children, hundreds of them, most below five years of age, unattended, unaccompanied," he said, adding that while they were not starving, having survived on bush yams and wild fruit, they were "clearly malnourished." Otunno said ECOMOG troops "still had a remarkable rapport with the people everywhere," but special counseling and relief help was now needed, as well as food and medicine. He said the Kamajor militia had agreed to demobilse child soldiers, and that Sierra Leonean authorities had agreed to extend protection to children who had fought with the rebels. While fighting continued in "peripheral" areas in the east and in parts of the north, Otunno said there was a "measure of normalcy" in much of the country, and that rehabilitation work could begin immediately, giving priority to children. "If we wait until there's complete peace, it will be too late," he said.
ECOMOG said the transfer of a company providing logistical support for the force from Liberia to Sierra Leone does not mean that ECOMOG is pulling out of Liberia, Liberian Star Radio said Saturday. Pacific Architects & Engineering (PAE) will help ECOMOG meet its logistical requirements in Sierra Leone, a spokesman said. At present, Nigeria is the only country providing logistical support for ECOMOG's "Operation Sandstorm" in Sierra Leone. PAE is a American firm contracted by the U.S. government to manage support equipment donated to ECOMOG. The company arrived in Liberia in 1995.
29 May: AFRC/RUF rebels and ECOMOG troops clashed Wednesday on the Port Loko highway, 60 miles north of Freetown. Bus drivers reaching the capital on Friday said the fighting had created panic in nearby towns and villages, causing hundreds of residents to flee the area carrying bundles of possessions on their heads. ECOMOG said it had killed at least 62 rebels and captured 30. "Hundreds of rebel fighters filed past two of our positions...about two miles from Gbere Junction, the northern town where the highway branches off to Guinea," an ECOMOG spokesman said. "They walked into a ready-made trap." He added that the rebel death toll could rise because ECOMOG troops had found trails of blood leading into the bush. SLBS television showed pictures of 19 of the 30 prisoners on Thursday. One prisoner, a former soldier, said the rebels had run out of ammunition and food, and were attacking along the roads to survive. "The ambushes will increase in the next month because there are a lot of rebels in the bush without any food and the rainy season, when food becomes harder to find, starts proper next month," he said. The ECOMOG spokesman said rebels attacked villages in the Gbere Junction area on Thursday, killing eight people.
The United Nations Security Council agreed Thursday to draw up a new resolution which would allow a partial lifting of the arms embargo on Sierra Leone, a British Foreign Office spokesman said on Friday. "The U.K. and other Security Council members now agree in principle that there should be a new UNSCR," the Foreign Office said in a statement. "Following the restoration of democratic government in Sierra Leone, this should lift the prohibitions on arms sales to the Sierra Leone government and ECOMOG, but maintain the embargo against non-governmental forces." Negotiations on the new resolution will continue at the United Nations in New York next week.
AFRC/RUF rebels who have formed death and amputation squads are using a "macabre lottery" to decide the fate of their victims, according to witnesses quoted Friday by the AFP. "In what victims in the capital's Connaught Hospital have dubbed 'ballot for your life,' the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels carry pieces of paper marked with instructions such as 'cut foot,' 'cut one hand,' 'cut two hands,' 'scalp the head,' and 'kill the person,'" the AFP reported. Isatu Kanu, a secondary school student whose left hand was amputated by the rebels, described how the system worked. "The victim is punished according to what is written on the piece of paper. When you are caught, you are usually taken to a machete point (chopping block) where you are asked to pick up one of these papers and what is written on it is your fate," Kanu said. Aid workers brought Kanu on Thursday to Connaught Hospital where other victims corroborated her story. "The rebels ransacked our houses, taking away all valuables and food and then used machetes to strike us," said one man who had lost both hands in an attack on his village near Makeni. "I don't even know what happened to my wife and two children as everyone ran for his or her life." Amputation victims arriving at Connaught Hospital have stretched the facility beyond its capacity, according to senior nurse Theresa Gbawo. "Beds have become a problem. The capacity of the hospital is 220 in normal times but with the current wave of atrocities, the hospital occupancy has increased to between 250 and 270. "Extra beds have to be put along corridors and any open space," she said. Father Ercole Marcelli, Regional Superior of the Xaverian fathers in Sierra Leone, said four or five civilians were being mutilated every day in some districts. "Far-off villages are prone to attack. (The rebels) have no value for human lives and it is about time they end the brutality," he said.
28 May: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Project Director Bailor Jalloh said Thursday that AFRC/RUF rebels had burned, tortured, and maimed hundreds of people since the junta's ouster by the ECOMOG force in February. Rebels have hacked off the arms and legs of civilians, mostly women and children, Jalloh said. Another tactic has been to force villagers to watch as entire families are burned alive inside their homes, he added. He said the atrocities had prompted the visit of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for children, Olara Otunnu, who arrived in Sierra Leone Wednesday and is visiting villages where rebel massacres have occurred. More than 300 maimed civilians had been treated at hospitals in Freetown and Makeni during the past month, Jalloh said. Hundreds or possibly thousands died before reaching medical facilities. "The atrocities have been going on for some time but are now more severe," Jalloh said. "The difference is, in the past, children were not targeted. Now they are."
Rebels attacked the town of Sadugu early this week, mutilating and killing civilians, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Nearly 60 villagers died when they were thrown into a fire. Survivors said the rebels told them they were being punished for supporting the restoration of President Kabbah's civilian government.
Seven former junta soldiers appeared in court on Thursday, charged with aggravated burglary while participating "actively in the destruction of lives and property during an attack" on Bo. Prosecution witness Sandy Darbor alleged that the accused, who were attached to the AFRC's brigade headquarters in Bo, stormed several houses in Bo, armed with rifles and grenades, and held several residents including Darbor and a paramount chief at gunpoint. "They then carted goods and cash worth millions of dollars," Darbor told magistrate Herbert Davies-Cole. The soldiers fled the advancing ECOMOG troops, but were identified by witnesses at an ECOMOG base near Freetown where they were detained, the magistrate was told.
Nigerian First Lady Maryam Abacha has donated ten plane loads of relief supplies to Sierra Leone, worth some $5 million. Abacha said was donating the aid, which includes medical supplies, food, and blankets, in her capacity as leader of the African First Ladies Peace Mission. In a statement to the people of Sierra Leone, she stressed the importance of focusing on the needs of women and children in efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation.
British government minister Clare Short said Thursday that the international community's failure to pay attention to military reform in Sierra Leone may have contributed to last year's military coup. In a speech to the Dispatches from Disaster Zones conference, Short said the coup could have been avoided if the army had been scaled down and been made politically accountable. The international community had taken "plenty of action to try and bolster the government" of President Kabbah, but "there was a failure to carry out security sector reform. If we had done more of that there probably wouldn't have been a coup." She added that Sandline International's role in Sierra Leone was "very marginal" to the "true story" of what had happened in the country. "Since the coup we and others worked very strongly to restore legitimate government. Sandline is very marginal. It isn't the true story...The great irony is that the Nigerian military restored democratic government."
27 May: AFRC/RUF rebels have partially or completely destroyed 36 towns in Koinadugu District, witnesses and aid workers told a meeting of the Koinadugu Relief and Rehabilitation Task Force in Freetown on Tuesday. 9 of 11 chiefdom headquarters towns had been targeted, speakers said. In the latest reported raid, junta forces attacked Fadugu, in Kasunko Chiefdom."Komdembala, the Diang Chiefdom headquarters town, was overrun a day earlier and many people were either killed or had their arms and hands amputated," one witness said. Another witness said the towns of Falaba, Sinkunia, Musaia-Mongo Bendugu, Krubonia, Bafodia and Yiffin had all been partly or totally destroyed. Health and Sanitation Minister Dr. Ibrahim Tejan-Jalloh, who comes from Koinadugu District, said "everything will be done to alleviate the sufferings of the people and protect them from junta atrocities." The meeting was told that a number of amputees and wounded civilians had been brought to Connaught Hospital in Freetown "in a terrible state." Medical sources told the AFP that "many amputees were admitted to the hospital on Monday," but gave no further details. A Medecins sans Frontieres official said amputees were being brought to the hospital "almost on a daily basis especially from the north." She added that there had been approximately 250 cases in the past 40 days, although not all of them were amputees.
The charity Oxfam, in its Emergency Bulletin issued on May 27, said it has ruled out working in "the eastern provinces" due to insecurity. "Expatriate staff are travelling by air to reach Bo and Kenema as the roads are considered unsafe," the bulletin said.
26 May: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an urgent appeal for funds on Tuesday on behalf of some 22 million people fleeing wars and conflicts around the world. High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said contributions received from the international community so far this year only cover half of the agency's $1.1 billion budget. In the UNHCR's "Programme Appeal: Global Overview," Ogata said the agency might have to cut back its operations in many critical areas. "UNHCR depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions to finance its activities, but the resources available to us have become increasingly scarce and unpredictable," she said. "I realise that donor countries are under pressure to reduce public spending, and I deeply appreciate their continued support. But I am very worried about the effect on refugees if we are forced to continue to cut back our programs. Predictable funding is essential for our work." One of the groups most immediately affected by the cutback would be some 200,000 Sierra Leonean refugees sheltering in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Ogata said the UNHCR was racing against time to provide food and relief items to the refugees before the rainy season made the roads impassable.
President Kabbah told the BBC Tuesday that he would be willing to hold discussions with the RUF if it would bring peace to Sierra Leone. "We were talking, I was talking with the RUF until their leader, Foday Sankoh, decided there was no need to talk anymore. I am prepared to talk to anybody as long as that would bring about peace to Sierra Leone. And what I want is sustainable peace. You see, we don't have enough time. We have already said that. This point in time, as the poorest country on earth, we should be concentrating our attention on developing the country. There is a lot of good will out there, but nobody will spend his money on us if they are not satisfied that the place is safe and secure for people to come and operate." Kabbah said he would be willing to talk to AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, but only as an individual. "(Koroma) is a Sierra Leonean. He may have committed all types of criminal offences and so on. That does not mean that I should not talk to him. There is nobody in this country as such that I will say that has any credibility that has designated him as a spokesman. No, I will talk to Sierra Leoneans, I will talk to him as a Sierra Leonean, but not as a representative of any group." Responding to a question on how much longer he would be dependent on the presence of the ECOMOG force, President Kabbah said this depended on a number of factors, including when ECOMOG would complete its "mopping up operation" against AFRC/RUF rebels, and the result of consultations on what type of security structure Sierra Leone would need. "After those consultations, we will have to identify funding to be able to select and train people," he said. "Therefore, it will depend on how soon we can accomplish all those. And also, to some extent, it will depend on how successful I will be in convincing my colleagues in ECOWAS so as to agree to continue to provide assistance to us." Kabbah deferred comment on the future shape of the country's security forces, saying that any proposals he might make should be subject to consultations and internal debate. "I believe this is important because when the people know precisely the type of security system we have in place, they will cooperate with you, and particularly so when they believe that they had an input in the formulation of that system. And in this way I think we may be able to come up with something that will be more cost-effective and very efficient."
The Sierra Leone government's first priority is "security, security, security," President Kabbah said in a BBC World Service interview on Tuesday. "I had enough time to reflect what the weaknesses were, what the problems are in our country, and the security implications of those problems, and I am therefore paying a lot of attention to see to it that the people of Sierra Leone will never experience what happened on 25 May," he said. "I am preoccupied with security at a point in time to make sure that the people and my country have adequate security, and dont forget that this country has for a very long time been mismanaged or misruled, and because of that we are very, very poor, when in fact we have no business being poor. In the present world it is terribly expensive to have a good security system in place. So, therefore, this in itself is a very, very heavy responsibility." Kabbah said that while the ECOMOG force had been very helpful to Sierra Leone, ECOMOG could not provide a long term solution to Sierra Leone's security needs. "Those countries that are contributing to ECOMOG assignment in Sierra Leone at the moment have their own responsibilities, and they have limited resources, and they have their own problems," he said.
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Tuesday that ECOMOG aircraft have been conducting daily bombing raids on rebel strongholds "for some time" to flush out junta supporters. The areas targeted to far are primarily between Makeni and Kabala. Shelpidi said he had no information on AFRC/RUF casualties, but said he had received reports that rebel fighters were running out of ammunition and supplies, and were raiding villages to sustain themselves.
Some 48 AFRC/RUF rebels were killed Sunday after ECOMOG bombarded rebel hideouts around the town of Gbaray, in northeastern Sierra Leone, according to local journalists quoted by the AFP on Tuesday. About 60 rebels gave themselves up at Camp Charlie, a RUF base on the Freetown-Bo highway, witnesses said. ECOMOG has reportedly sent 300 "crack troops" to the east "to flush out retreating junta forces," the AFP said, quoting "sources in the capital."
The Sierra Leone government called Tuesday for a stop to all diamond mining until a new mining policy is promulgated. "Since all rebels have been driven away from the mining areas and Government has asked people to stop mining until an appropriate mining policy is formulated, ECOMOG will treat anyone caught mining as a rebel," the statement said, adding that the formulation of a new mining policy would be completed within the next ten days.
ECOMOG has warned Freetown residents that it will be exploding bombs abandoned when junta forces retreated from the capital in February.
25 May: European Union (EU) foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have agreed to a European code of conduct on arms sales for EU member countries. Under the agreement, EU governments will consider eight criteria when deciding whether to approve arms exports. Countries may not grant an export license if there is a "clear risk" that the arms may be used for internal repression, or in situations where arms exports would "provoke or prolong" armed conflicts. Other criteria include the buyer's human rights record, regional stability, security of EU member states, and the buyer's attitude towards terrorism. Before an EU country allows exports which have been turned down by another member country within the past three years, it must first consult with the country which denied the license. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who chaired the meeting, described the agreement as a "real achievement," but acknowledged that the new code of conduct would not have applied to the British "Arms to Africa" involving the alleged illegal shipment of Bulgarian arms to Sierra Leone, because the firm involved, Sandline International, had not applied for an export license.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said in Harare Monday that African unity has been reinforced through efforts to solve the many conflicts which afflict the continent. In a speech to mark Africa Day, Mugabe, who is the current OAU chairman, said the new unity was "reflected in the common resolve to maintain democratic governments as well as independence and territorial integrity...What is important and significant, though, is that rather than render us divided and helpless, these conflicts have seen Africa galvanized and spurred in efforts to resolve them." Recalling last year's coup in Sierra Leone, Mugabe said, "Our joy and celebration today is all the more resounding when we recall that the travesty perpetrated by the military in Sierra Leone on this occasion last year has been successfully overturned and a just and elected government reinstalled." Mugabe welcomed conflict resolution and trade initiatives, saying they would enhance Africa's position in the emerging global village with economic, political, defence, and security issues.
24 May: British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook will press for a European code on arms sales when he chairs a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, PA News reported. The announcement follows an investigation into allegations the Foreign Office knew of arms shipments to Sierra Leone by Sandline International, a London-based mercenary firm. Talks have been going on since the controversial measures were first proposed, but this will be the first time it will be discussed at the ministerial level. "I wouldn't want to give the impression that we are confident we will get it agreed but we are still looking for a very big political push to get it agreed," said a Foreign Office spokesman. "It remains our ambition to get it agreed before the end of our presidency (at the end of June)." Differences remain on how the final code should look, and ministers have been heavily lobbied by pressure groups. Amnesty International, BASIC, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Saferworld and the World Development Movement have expressed concerns that the initiative "still falls short of its objective of setting high common standards governing arms exports."
23 May: United Nations lawyers, in a legal opinion issued Thursday, said that selling arms to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone did not violate Security Council sanctions. The opinion was delivered by the U.N.'s most senior legal committee in New York, acting on a request from the U.N. sanctions committee, and followed the British government's decision not to prosecute Sandline International for allegedly breaching the U.N. arms embargo established by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1132. Reacting to the legal opinion, a British Foreign Office spokesman said "it was a complex issue and officials will be studying the judgment carefully." Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, and Foreign Office Permanent Under Secretary Sir John Kerr had all maintained that any arms sales into Sierra Leone would violate the U.N. embargo.
A demonstration in Freetown drew in support of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha Saturday drew fewer than 200 people, Reuters reported. The Sierra Leone People's Party had called for the demonstration in recognition of Abacha's role in restoring the country's civilian government. In contrast to the thousands who turned out last weekend in support of British High Commissioner Peter Penfold, witnesses said the pro-Abacha marchers were met with indifference.
British charities, led by Actionaid, have accused the Foreign Office and the Department of International Development (DID) of cutting humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone after last year's military coup. Actionaid said political aims had taken precedence over humanitarian needs. The DID acknowledged that aid budgeted for Sierra Leone had been slashed from £12 million to £ 1 million, but maintained that the cut was necessary because it was not permitted not give bilateral aid to the illegal regime. DID had judged that no humanitarian crisis existed in Sierra Leone, a position disputed by Actionaid.
22 May: The United States will provide $3.9 million in logistical support to the ECOMOG force "to support ECOMOG's efforts to bring an end of RUF atrocities," a diplomatic source disclosed on Friday. The contribution, which is effective immediately, includes helicopters, trucks, communications equipment, field kitchens, medical equipment and supplies, the source added.
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi issued an amnesty Friday to AFRC/RUF fighters still on the run, guaranteeing their safety under the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war if they stopped fighting and surrendered. Addressing a delegation of Sierra Leonean refugees, Shelpidi warned the rebels to take advantage of this latest offer and to cease atrocities against civilians. He said the rebels were fighting a losing battle because only two districts -- Kono and Kailahun -- had yet to regain normalcy. Shelpidi deplored the "cold attitudes" of the international community both in providing logistical support to ECOMOG and humanitarian assistance to victims of rebel atrocities. What the international community did in one day for former Yugoslavia could sustain ECOMOG and the people of Sierra Leone for months, he claimed.
Thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in southwest Guinea may be cut off from food supplies unless relief efforts are stepped up, U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) regional manager Paul Ares said in a statement issued in Monrovia on Friday. Ares said 42,000 of the 200,000 Sierra Leoneans who had sought refuge in Guinea since early March were in remote areas likely to be cut off by the rainy season over the next six weeks. "If we are not able to move more food during the next two to three weeks, thousands of refugees will go hungry in July," Ares said. The WFP has issued a joint appeal with the UNHCR for 30 four-wheel drive trucks to transfer refugees to better camps and to ensure the continued delivery of relief supplies to refugees sites. The two agencies are currently relying on 14 trucks operated by GTZ, a German development organisation.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy called Friday for strong international action to protect children who have been victimized by AFRC/RUF rebel troops. "The depravity of the atrocities has been escalating, as evidenced by recent news stories describing how 17 civilians, including women and children, were brutally tortured and mutilated, some suffering amputations of their hands, ears, breasts and genitals," the statement said. In the past two weeks 300 people, many of them women and children, had been treated for wounds inflicted on them by rebels operating in Kono District and in the Northern Province, the statement said, adding that he actual toll could be even higher, since the 300 known casualties represented only those who were able to reach a hospital. "The children of Sierra Leone have had three strikes against them during these long years of civil conflict," Bellamy said. "First, they were made into child soldiers; then they became targets during recent atrocities; and now they are largely forgotten by the international community."
At the opening of Parliament on Friday, President Kabbah said deplored atrocities being committed against civilians by AFRC/RUF troops. He said the rebels, "not wanting Sierra Leone to exist as a nation," were destroying the country's resources, including mines, infrastructure, and government buildings. Kabbah added that ECOMOG had expelled the junta and restored security in most parts of the country. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe will put together guidelines for the establishment of a new national army, Kabbah told Parliament. This will ensure that the national defence system will be manned by competent and disciplined people who see the military as a noble profession and not a means to achieve their selfish objectives, he added. Kabbah said the government will "create a superior nationwide intelligence system that will provide full and accurate information on the security situation in the country." He reminded Sierra Leoneans that the downturn in the national economy was due to the decline in production and the destruction of the infrastructure. While the country was expecting progress in some areas with international support, he pointed out that Sierra Leone can advance economically and socially only through the efforts of Sierra Leoneans. Kabbah told Parliament that his government will introduce a law establishing an independent income tax authority.
21 May: British Foreign Office ministers knew in advance of ECOMOG's "planned military intervention" in Sierra Leone, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook disclosed on Thursday. Cook said the Foreign Office had received a telegram from High Commissioner Peter Penfold on February 6, which was copied to his private office and to that of Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd. A report by Martin Hickman in the British PA News incorrectly implied that the Foreign Office was notified well in advance of the military action: "The Foreign Secretary's private office knew in advance about the planned military coup in Sierra Leone...The telegram was sent on February 6, several weeks before President Kabbah, the democratically elected leader of Sierra Leone, was restored to power," the newspaper reported. ECOMOG's military intervention in Freetown began on the evening of Thursday, February 5.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Thursday it would move quickly to distribute nearly $6.5 million in programme grants announced by the United Nations Foundation, a group set up to administer a $1 billion gift to the U.N. by Cable Network News (CNN) founder Ted Turner. The grants announced include $2.8 million for a three year Guinea worm eradication project in Africa, $1.1 million to demobilise child soldiers in Sierra Leone, $1 million to fight measles and Vitamin A deficiency in Nigeria, $860,000 for work on maternal mortality and Vitamin A supplementation in East Timor, Indonesia, $500,000 for child malnutrition and food safety in Sierra Leone, and $200,000 to protect children from worms and intestinal parasites in Vietnam.
Over 300 Sierra Leonean refugees are on their way home from Liberia, the Liberian Star News reported Thursday. The repatriation is being sponsored by the Sierra Leone Embassy in Monrovia. Ambassador Wilfred Kanu said the ECOMOG force provided transport assistance for the refugees. He said the UNHCR had declined to assist on the grounds that it was not yet ready to begin repatriation.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi issued a joint communiqué Thursday calling on African countries suffering internal strife to try to restore peace and stability to their countries. The communiqué, released at the end of a three day meeting in Kampala, expressed strong support for countries in the region to try to find lasting peace and stability. The two presidents welcomed the restoration of democratic rule in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and called for progress in finding a solution to the conflict in Somalia.
Nord Resources Corp., a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile Ltd., announced Thursday that it had received the remaining $14.7 million of proceeds it was due from its Overseas Private Investment Corp. civil strife insurance claim of $15.7 million. The company said it used most of the money to restructure Sierra Rutile's debt. Sierra Rutile owes $34.2 million to development banks, half of which is guaranteed by Nord Resources. The statement said the restructuring of debt was an important step in its plans to refinance and reopen the mine.
A Liberian eye specialist, James Yeleyon, has disputed claims by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to have eradicated River Blindness in West Africa, Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday. Yeleyon, who has worked in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, said many people in West Africa still suffer from the River Blindness, which is caused by Philaria worms. He praised WHO efforts to fight the disease, but suggested a massive distribution of drugs which are effective against the disease. Yeleyon currently works at Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Nimba County, Liberia.
Nine political parties in Lofa County, Liberia have called for the postponement of municipal elections there, citing the security situation and lack of funding. They claimed the influx of Sierra Leonean refugees was a threat to free and fair elections in the county, and expressed concern about the Lorma-Mandingo feud. However, ECOM Chairman Paul Guah said the elections will go ahead, as the constitution makes it mandatory to hold a by-election for a vacant seat in the legislature within 90 days.
20 May: The United Nations Security Council issued a presidential statement Wednesday calling for an immediate end to the violence against civilians in Sierra Leone, and expressing grave concern about reports of foreign military support for AFRC/RUF rebels. The statement called on all states to observe relevant Security Council resolutions and avoid destabilising the situation in the country. The statement welcomed efforts by the civilian government since its return from exile, and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender to the ECOMOG force.
Guinea has extradited 48 members of Sierra Leone's military government to Freetown to stand trial. According to a Ministry of Information news release, those sent back included AFRC Secretary-General Colonel Abdul Karim Sesay, Freetown City Council Chairman Dr. Wiltshire Johnson, and former Secretary of State for Transport and Communications Osho Williams. Upon arrival in Freetown, the 48 were taken to Wilberforce Military Barracks for questioning. In a press conference in Freetown, Col. Sesay called on forces loyal to the former military junta to end their resistance and surrender to ECOMOG. He appealed to them to stop their campaign of terror, which has resulted in the death and mutilation of scores of civilians.
Former NPRC Attorney-General Claude Campbell collapsed in court Tuesday after his request to be tried without a jury was turned down. Campbell had argued that "the adverse effects of radio, TV, and newspaper publications" would so influence the jury that a fair trial would be impossible. Attorney-General Solomon Berewa objected to the application, saying that Campbell "should not be frightened" by the adverse pretrial publicity. "The jurors are human beings, and the trial judge will advise them not to take account of what they saw during junta rule such as the burning of houses, killings and maiming of innocent people," Berewa said. After Judge Alhaji Rashid ruled that he had "failed to produce sufficient argument of law to convince the court," Campbell collapsed in the dock.
Rebels holding out in Kono District have completely devastated the city of Koidu, London Times journalist Sam Kiley told the BBC "Network Africa" program on Wednesday. "Koidu has effectively ceased to exist as a city in a way that you or I would understand it," Kiley said. "Every single structure -- and I mean every single structure -- everything, from chicken coops to hotels, has been reduced to rubble by the RUF/AFRC forces as they withdrew ahead of the Nigerian-led advance. They burned down every single building. I have covered a large number of cities that have been very badly damaged during conflict, but this is a city that has been annihilated." Kiley said most of Koidu's estimated 100,000 population had fled into the bush and to surrounding villages. "A few are now filtering back to Koidu proper, about 6,000 people, but they are filtering back to a city that really doesn't offer them very much hope at all. There is nowhere to sleep, there isn't any kind of shelter from the rains that have just begun, and they now face a very miserable future of trying to rebuild lives from the ground up, quite literally." Kiley said the government was cooperating with NGO's to bring medicine and food into the district, but that serious security concerns still remained. Kiley reported a brief firefight between ECOMOG troops and rebels who mounted a hit-and-run attack on the city during his visit to the area on Wednesday. "The rebels are continuing their reign of terror not very far beyond the city limits," he added.
An ECOMOG spokesman said Wednesday that the ECOMOG force is in "effective control" of all district capitals in the country. "There is no doubt that we are in effective control of these of these areas and our presence is undisputed," the spokesman said. He added that ECOMOG held the key towns Daru, Segbwema, Pendembu, Mobai, Kailahun, Buedu, and Koindu in Kailahun District and maintained it was "just a matter of time" before the border town of Bomaru--from where the RUF launched its rebellion in 1991--was captured. The spokesman said ECOMOG was "appalled over the wave of amputations on innocent civilians," but denied that Sierra Leone was degenerating back into civil war. "It is unreasonable to think so," he said. "As far as we are concerned and with the reports available so far, there is no problem for us in any of the districts in the country, as we are pursing the war according to the schedule of the ECOMOG commander."
Burkina Faso's foreign minister has denied accusations by Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea Monday that his country was "the main supplier of arms, ammunition and food" to AFRC/RUF rebels. "Our people have problems with water. With such a situation, we are not going to find the means to get involved in a country as far away as Sierra Leone," Foreign Minister Ablasse Ouedraogo said. "Do you think we have the means to support a rebellion with such financial obligations lying ahead?...We say that in the case of Sierra Leone, it is intolerable to seek legality through force, one must use dialogue. Perhaps that is the cause of the opposition levelled against Burkina and Liberia"
United Nations military liaison officer Brigadier General Subhash Joshi said Wednesday that the cities of Bo, Kenema, and Makeni were "quite ready to start the process of disarmament and demobilisation." Joshi said he intended to position military liaison officers in the three areas shortly to work with ECOMOG and Sierra Leone government agencies.
The head of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International has disputed British Foreign Secretary Robin Cooks' account of events in the so-called "Arms to Africa Affair." Tim Spicer told the BBC Sandline had received no "red letter warning" over his company's proposal to supply arms to the government-in-exile of President Kabbah. Of Cook's assertion Monday that Sandline had been warned it risked violating the U.N. arms embargo, Spicer said, "I would say my recollection is somewhat different to that which has been articulated already," regarding a January 19 meeting at the Foreign Office. "We spoke to the Foreign Office," Spicer said. "I spoke to the British High Commissioner, the government's representative, and we touched base with the State Department in the United States." He acknowledged that he had no evidence the information had reached the ministerial level, but said: "If one has conversations with senior (Foreign Office) officials, one assumes that fits in with normal procedure in that ministry." Spicer also disputed a Foreign Office claim that a Sandline helicopter serviced by the H.M.S. Cornwall was being used for humanitarian purposes. Spicer said it was also being used for military missions. "The helicopter was there to support ECOMOG. Its task was to provide tactical air mobility. They need to transport troops," he said. "I believe (British officials) knew of its presence but were not concerned with the detail." Spicer promised to cooperate with the independent inquiry being conducted by Sir Thomas Legg, QC.
British Defence Secretary George Robertson, in a written response to parliament, has said his office first became aware of the Customs and Excise Office investigation of Sandline International on April 24, when it received a copy of a letter from the company's lawyers protesting the investigation. Sandline claimed its activities had Foreign Office approval. "The first my private office knew of the existence of the Customs and Excise investigation into the involvement of Sandline International in operations in Sierra Leone was the afternoon of April 24, when they received a faxed copy of the letter from SJ Berwin and Company to Mr. Cook," Robertson said. In Parliament Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair defended Foreign Secretary Robin Cook from a Conservative charge that he had "given the impression of misleading" the House. "He corrected the facts as soon as he knew of them," Blair responded, adding that "all this" would be looked at by the independent inquiry headed by Sir Thomas Legg, QC.
Some 50 junta supporters were killed over the weekend when the Kapra militia attacked a rebel base in the Mandaha forest, about 30 miles from Makeni, local journalists reported. Missionary sources said the rebels then attacked the nearby villages of Kassassi and Mabuya, mutilating some 17 civilians including mothers and children, and burning 10 houses. A message attached to one of the mutilation victims warned that ECOMOG had "90 days to quit Sierra Leone or the rebel operation 'No Living Thing' will continue with intensity."
Sources at Connaught Hospital in Freetown said Wednesday that six people had been admitted after having their eyes gouged out by AFRC/RUF rebels in a village near Kabala. Some of the victims had their arms cut off and were stabbed in the back.
Plans are underway in Freetown for a march on Saturday in support of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha. "We want to bring to the forefront the achievements of the Nigerian leader in fighting for peace in the sub-region," said Alimamy Kamara of the Sierra Leone-Nigeria Brotherhood. "We expect a massive turnout to show the world that we do not hide our support for General Abacha."
The state-owned Daily Mail newspaper called Tuesday for the arming of civilians. In a front page editorial, the newspaper called for "township and village people to organise themselves into strong self-defence groups. Let them be given the appropriate training and weapons to defend themselves. The civil defence forces must be beefed up to serve as vanguard and as supplements to ECOMOG."
Minister of Political and Parliamentary Affairs Abu Aiah Koroma has warned that illicit diamond mining in the east is fueling the violence in Sierra Leone. "Allowing illicit miners at this point in time is a recipe for junta rebels and their civilian supporters to stay and harass the people of Kono, Kailahun, and Koinadugu Districts," Koroma said, adding that he had witnessed illicit mining in several areas. "I have brought these developments to the attention of ECOMOG authorities and civilians who have joined in committing such acts are not different from RUF and junta bandits and they should be treated as such," Koroma added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society are conducting a joint operation to distribute some 180 tons of upland seed rice to 60,000 people in seven chiefdoms in Tonkolili and Kenema Districts, the ICRC said in a statement released in Geneva. The distributions are due to begin May 30. Each recipient will also receive a food ration to ensure proper use of the seeds, the statement said. "Thanks to the good results achieved with last year's agricultural programmes, many farming families can still live on their reserves, provided they were able to save them from looters", said Helene Cunat, ICRC relief coordinator in Freetown. "But if the seed is not planted now, there could be serious food shortages in the second half of this year." The seed was purchased locally to ensure optimum results and to help the economy recover. A distribution of swamp rice seed to 170,000 people in Tonkolili, Kenema, Kailahun, and Pujehun districts is currently being planned and is scheduled to start in late June.
19 May: A Nigerian C-130 Hercules military transport plane flew ambulances, food, and other relief aid to Freetown Tuesday in an operation spearheaded by the wife of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha. "The aid has come from Mariam Abacha and the family support programme in the Ministry of Women's Development of the Nigerian government," a Nigerian ECOMOG commander said. An official statement quoted Mariam Abacha as saying that the items were "for the relief of the pain and agonies of the victims of the nine-month terror unleashed on Sierra Leone" by the military junta.
Liberian President Charles Taylor acknowledged Tuesday that Liberians were fighting alongside AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, but denied ECOMOG allegations of Liberian government involvement. "Those Liberian fighters in the Sierra Leone crisis are involved on their own," Taylor said. "Liberian fighters from many of the former warring factions have been involved on their own in the Sierra Leone crisis for the past several years, long before the junta forces even ousted President Tejan Kabbah, a fact well known to ECOMOG." Taylor said he had called on the United Nations, the OAU, and ECOWAS to send observers to Sierra Leone to investigate the charges. In the meantime, Taylor called on Liberian security forces "to be vigilant and arrest any militiaman or sympathizers who may attempt to operate in the territory of Liberia." Taylor also called for "speedy deployment of ECOMOG forces on the Sierra Leone side of the Liberian border in order to discourage any cross-over activities from either side of the border."
The British Foreign Office received five separate intelligence reports on Sandline International's operations in Sierra Leone before officials formally notified the Customs and Excise Office, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook disclosed Monday. Cook said the reports referred to "Sandline, or companies associated with Sandline, and to the supply of arms or military equipment." The reports "were seen by officials but not by ministers," he added. Cook told parliament that Sandline director Tim Spicer had met with with the Deputy Head of the Africa (Equatorial) Desk on January 19. At that meeting, Cook said, Spicer had said he believed someone else was planning to transport guns to Sierra Leone, and asked whether it would be legal. However, the Foreign Office did not alert Customs to their concerns until February 18, at a meeting of the Whitehall committee called the Restricted Enforcement Unit.
18 May: British Attorney-General John Morris has accepted a recommendation by British Customs and Excise Office investigators not to press charges against the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International for allegedly violating the U.N. arms embargo. "Even though offences may have been committed, the particular circumstances leading up to the supply affect the fairness of the case to the extent that any prosecution could well fail and would certainly not be in the public interest," the Customs report said. The decision now clears the way for an independent inquiry promised by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. Cook said in a statement that the inquiry will focus on "what was known by government officials (including military personnel) and ministers about plans to supply arms to Sierra Leone after 8 October 1997; whether any official encouragement or approval was given to such plans or such supply; and, if so, on what authority." Cook has named the retired Permanent Secretary of the Lord Chancellors Department, Sir Thomas Legg, QC, to lead the investigation, and has promised to make the final report public.
ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen have captured the town of Ngandorhun, in Kono District, after a four day battle, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Monday. The area had been used by the AFRC/RUF rebels as a staging area to launch ambushes along the Makeni-Kono highway, and to infiltrate into Kailahun District, Brima said. "Hundreds of people arriving in Kenema from Ngandorhun Town told me this morning that junta forces, after the fall of Ngandorhun last weekend, have now resorted to attacking of villages and killing of innocent people. Thousands of people fleeing the area are now in Daru Town, where they are taking refuge. But the situation at Daru Town is serious, as there are no aid agencies to supply relief items, while the ECOMOG troops have been helping the people with food from their ration." Brima added junta troops at Buedu, in Kailahun District, had been routed by ECOMOG after a three day battle in which 48 rebels were killed and a large cache of arms captured.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned Monday of an "alarming" increase in the number of mutilated civilians in Sierra Leone. In a 12-page report issued in Abidjan, MSF said that between April 6 and May 4, 115 injured people were admitted to Connaught Hospital in Freetown. More than 20 of these had one arm crudely amputated; 4 had lost both arms after being attacked by AFRC/RUF rebels in Kono District. 20 suffered from gunshot wounds, and 23 more had "deep lacerations, cut tendons, or broken forearms resulting from machete blows." Two women had been sexually assaulted, with objects having been inserted into their vaginas, the MSF said. Only one of the patients was a combatant, a member of the Kamajor militia. The rest were civilians: "farmers, traders, diamond miners, housewives," according to the report. Most of the victims said they had been awakened by armed men posing as ECOMOG troops come to "liberate" them. Once they left their houses they were attacked by the rebels, who made them stand in line and set them one by one in front of a wooden block. "Sometimes an initial mark would be made to show where to amputate. Some attackers took the amputated parts with them. Women were raped, men stripped naked and forced to "make use of" their wife or sister," the report recounted. The attackers invariably told their victims to tell ECOMOG about the atrocities. Before cutting off one or both ears, the rebels told their victims "they would no longer be able to listen to ECOMOG or the government."
Sierra Leone's three largest commercial banks -- Barclays Bank Ltd., Standard Chartered Bank Ltd. and Union Trust Bank Ltd. -- have agreed to pay interest on deposits for the ten months they were closed during military rule, Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Mike Carrol said Monday. Barclays, which holds over 70 percent of Sierra Leone's deposits and loan accounts, will pay 3 percent interest. Standard will pay 7 percent, and Union Trust 8 percent. The banks had originally said they would pay no interest for the period they did not conduct business. The banks also agreed to reduce the interest on loans and overdrafts for the period from the 22 percent they had originally demanded. "They also informed customers in the same letter that if they pay back their overdrafts and loans now or in the next month or two then the customers will pay no interest on those loans or overdrafts," Carrol said. Bankers said Sierra Leone's Central Bank had recently allotted funds to each of the banks to help cushion them from losses on deposits during the crisis. "It is not free money. They gave the banks the money based on the value of treasury bonds each has deposited with the central bank," a senior banker said. Central Bank sources put the amount of the bailout in the millions of dollars.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), in a report issued in Rome on Monday, said 147,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived at the Guinean town of Gueckedou. Refugees have been registered and located in 20 of the 70 camps in the area. The WFP has positioned more than 3,000 tons of food in Gueckedou, and deliveries are being stepped up in anticipation of the rainy season, which will hamper road transport. Food is arriving by truck from Conakry, and from Liberia and Ivory Coast by by a special cross-border operation granted by government authorities. The Liberia-Guinea border has been closed for the past seven years. The WFP said its operations in Northern Province have been seriously hampered due to the security situation around Makeni. Cross-border operations continue from Conakry to Kambia and Makeni.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook disclosed Monday that Britain had "secretly" financed Radio 98.1, the clandestine radio station used used by President Kabbah's exiled civilian government to mobilise support in Sierra Leone for the restoration of democracy. The British role in funding the station had been reported in diplomatic circles for a number of months. Cook said the £60,000 station was set up in Conakry, Guinea. Ministers were advised not to reveal its location because of fear of reprisals against Britons, Cook said. The broadcasts showed that Britain had given more than moral support to the civilian government, Cook said. "Nobody in Sierra Leone believes there is any political scandal in the conduct of the British Government towards their country. They are delighted to be rid of a savage military regime which killed their sons and raped their daughters," he added.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in Freetown is providing 23 tons of food commodities for 3,500 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone who have registered for voluntary repatriation with the UNHCR. The group will be taken to Monrovia by ship starting on May 24. More than half of the Liberian refugees living in Bo have signed up for repatriation; the rest will be relocated to Waterloo Camp near Freetown.
Guinean security forces have arrested dozens of AFRC/RUF rebels who crossed the border with Sierra Leonean refugees, the AFP reported on Monday, citing a "reliable source" in Gueckedou. The source said dozens of rebels, led by Major Mohamed Conteh, were captured in Guinea after escaping a Kamajor ambush in Sierra Leone. The soldiers were arrested when they were found not to be refugees or when civilians leaving Sierra Leone informed on them as they crossed the borders or arrived in camps. Guinea closed its border with Sierra Leone in December, but has allowed in refugees escaping fighting in Sierra Leone. Guinean authorities have accused fighters from both Sierra Leone and Liberia of crossing the border.
Refugees arriving in Guinea on Monday accused Liberia and Burkina Faso of helping AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Coordinators at the Kolomba Refugee Camp told the AFP that the two countries were backing rebel fighters. Refugees at the camp, which shelters some 25,700 people, said Liberian fighters could be seen among former junta soldiers. The rebel fighters are reportedly operating from northern Liberia and western Guinea, forming what refugees called "the triangle of fear" in eastern Sierra Leone. The refugees alleged that Burkina Faso was the main supplier of weapons, munitions, and food to the rebels, the AFP reported.
17 May: The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) expressed concern on Sunday at the worsening plight of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. "Since early March more than 160,000 Sierra Leoneans have crossed the Guinean border," said WFP Regional Director Paul Ares in a statement issued from the WFP's regional headquarters in Abidjan. The statement said many of the refugees arrived in Guinea suffering from ailments attributable to their ideal hiding for weeks or months in the bush. "During the past two weeks, 27 Sierra Leonean refugees died of respiratory diseases, diarrhea, malaria, or malnutrition," the statement said. The 27 included 16 children under the age of 5. "We are very concerned about the growing number of refugees, especially children, dying from diseases and malnutrition a few days after their arrival in Guinea," Ares said. "More than 1,600 children have been admitted to health clinics and therapeutic feeding centers in the last two months and this number is rising sharply." The statement said that the WFP has stepped up food deliveries to southwestern Guinea to cope with the influx of refugees. "WFP has now positioned in the region more than 3,000 metric tons of food, enough to feed 250,000 people for one month," it said.
Leaders of the "Group of Eight" (G8) countries ended their summit in London Sunday with an agreement in principle to support a "speedy and determined" extension of debt relief for some of the world's poorest countries. The accord is likely to offer conditional relief to selected countries, most of them in Africa, provided they pursue approved economic policies and root out corruption. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the G8 leaders had agreed on specific measures to lift the debt burden on highly indebted poor countries and for nations recovering from war, provided they managed their economies better. U.S. President Bill Clinton said the United States supported "a strategy for the highly indebted poor countries that says we know we should do debt relief, but it won't do any good unless they do things to help themselves." G8 leaders said they were encouraged by "the new spirit of hope and progress in Africa," and promised a "real and effective partnership" to help African nations overcome the acute challenges which exist on the continent. The leaders pledged to work to achieve at least primary education for children everywhere, to improve health care for mothers and children, and to reduce poverty. The G8 leaders said they would support "democracy and good governance", take action against corruption, and would target their development aid towards encouraging reform. For African countries emerging from war and conflict, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was a promise of additional assistance. "We also need to consider further ways to respond to the exceptional needs of poor post-conflict countries as they rebuild their political, economic and social systems, in a manner consistent with democratic values and respect for basic human rights," the communiqué said.
Directors of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International are unlikely to face criminal charges in connection with the so-called "Arms to Africa" affair, several British newspapers reported on Sunday. According to a story in the Daily Telegraph, Attorney-General John Morris reviewed the Customs and Excise Office report into the allegations on Friday, and concluded that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. "Ministers have been told that the Customs and Excise investigation into the activities of Sandline International concluded that there are insufficient grounds to mount a criminal prosecution for breaking a United Nations arms embargo in Sierra Leone," the newspaper said. The Customs investigation reportedly found that Sandline had technically breached the U.N. embargo, but that the issue had become so confused and politically sensitive that it would be difficult to proceed. The report also said that it was not clear whether the sanctions imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1132 were meant to apply to the civilian government-in-exile. The resolution "urges all states to provide technical and logistical support to assist ECOWAS to carry out its responsibilities." Sandline is reportedly basing its defence on the contention that it provided "technical and logistical support." The Sunday Times, quoting "senior" Whitehall officials, said the case against Sandline has been "fatally undermined" by evidence showing "contacts and conversations" between Sandline officers and Foreign Office officials. The sources said Prime Minister Tony Blair's public dismissal of the so-called "Arms to Africa" affair as "overblown" had also seriously undermined any chance of successful prosecution. The attorney-general's office has declined comment on the Customs and Excise Office report, but the attorney-general could make a decision on whether to press charges against Sandline by early next week.
Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov denied Saturday that his country had supplied arms to Sierra Leone or to Sandline International, and insisted that Bulgaria had not broken the U.N. arms embargo. According to the British Guardian newspaper, the apparent contradiction with evidence supplied to the Customs and Excise Office investigation "may be explained by the fact it is believed the 30 tons of equipment flown out of a Bulgarian military airport was in fact sold direct to Nigeria for end-use there. This would not have breached the UN sanctions."
Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Jonah has denounced Lord Avebury, the Liberal peer who first alerted the British Foreign Office to allegations that Sandline International had breached the U.N. arms embargo. Avebury is "a totally discredited man in Sierra Leone," Jonah told the British Observer newspaper. Meanwhile, the charity International Alert, for which Avebury works as a consultant, has been criticised in an independent investigation as lacking "credibility and transparency" in its dealings in the Sierra Leone. The investigation was conducted by the Norwegian human rights organisation, the Michelsen Institute, following a complaint by President Kabbah that International Alert's practices may have prolonged the Sierra Leone conflict. International Alert, which set itself up as a mediator in the Sierra Leone conflict, claimed in a grant application to the European Commission that it had negotiated the release of British hostages and succeeded in bringing the RUF to the negotiating table. The report concluded that International Alert's involvement in the hostage negotiations had left it "vulnerable to accusations of being unprincipled and partial" to the AFRC over the civilian government of President Kabbah. The report said the charity had been further damaged by reports that it "unconditionally supported" the RUF demand that the Sierra Leone's elections be postponed. "Many in the international community (believe) that International Alert was working as an adviser (to the AFRC), not a neutral facilitator, in the peace process," the report concluded. International Alert has called the allegations "grossly unfair and unjustified," saying it made a "concrete contribution" to the peace process. Lord Avebury also rejected the allegations, and said he was contemplating legal action against James Jonah.
Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Jonah said Saturday that Prime Minister Tony Blair played a direct personal role in framing British policy toward Sierra Leone. Jonah said Blair had "surprised" the government-in-exile with his personal knowledge of human rights abuses being perpetrated by the junta. "We discovered that it stemmed from his father's strong links with the University of Sierra Leone," Jonah said. Blair's father, Leo Blair, visited Fourah Bay College several times in the 1960's to lecture in law and administer exams, Jonah added. Durham University, where Leo Blair was a lecturer, is affiliated with Fourah Bay College. Jonah said Blair had personally invited President Kabbah to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit last October. It was that summit which reportedly led Sandline International to conclude that arms sales to the exiled civilian government would not violate the U.N. arms embargo. "I think it would be a shame if any harm to U.K. officials came of this ('Arms to Africa Affair)," Jonah said. "Sandline played a most modest role in the liberation of Sierra Leone. When the documents were subpoenaed by customs I think they panicked. This is one of the things that the British should be proud of even if they did work with the Sandline."
16 May: Several thousand people marched through the streets of Freetown, Bo, Makeni, and Kenema on Saturday to demonstrate their support for British High Commissioner Peter Penfold for his role in restoring Sierra Leone's civilian government. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told the BBC Saturday that Penfold was a friend of Sierra Leone who helped focus world attention on what was happening. Penfold has been recalled to London to answer questions about his knowledge of the operations of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, which allegedly shipped arms to Sierra Leone in violation of the U.N. embargo. Shops and markets closed during the demonstration, which was organised by trade unions and civic groups. Troops from the ECOMOG force patrolled the streets. "We are on the watch for infiltrators who would want to use this as an opportunity to cause trouble," an ECOMOG soldier said.
Sierra Leone's Handicapped Amputees Society, a local NGO, said it has recorded 260 mutilation cases, including 10 month old babies. A U.N. official said that those who reach the hospital represent the tip of the iceberg. Large numbers of people die before they can reach medical assistance, the official said. The medical charity Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) said 160 patients had been admitted to Connaught Hospital in Freetown. The MSF said many of the victims had to have limbs amputated because of infection.
The trial of alleged junta collaborators continued in Freetown on Saturday. Among those appearing before Justice Abu Bakarr Rashid were former President Joseph Saidu Momoh and Attorney-General Abiola Manly-Spaine. A United Nations observer attended the trial. Correspondents quoted by Liberian Star Radio described the condition of the deposed junta officials as "pathetic" and said that most were in bad condition. After brief legal arguments, the case was adjourned until Monday.
15 May: Thousands of people are expected to take part in demonstrations Saturday in support of British High Commissioner Peter Penfold. Penfold has been recalled to London to answer questions about his knowledge of the operations of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, which allegedly shipped arms to Sierra Leone in violation of the U.N. embargo. In Sierra Leone, Penfold is considered a national hero. He has been formally thanked by Parliament which, in a unanimous resolution, "expressed profound gratitude to the government and people of Britain for their sympathy and total solidarity to the people of Sierra Leone to oust the junta."
The Sierra Leone Parliament passed a unanimous resolution Friday thanking the British government for supporting the country's struggle for democracy. The resolution also condemned British peer Lord Avebury, who notified the Foreign Office of allegations that Sandline International had violated the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone, for "attempts to tarnish the image of the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, officers of the British Foreign Office, the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, and President Kabbah by alleging that these parties colluded in securing the services of Sandline International and mercenaries to restore the government of Tejan Kabbah in Sierra Leone."
14 May: Flags in Freetown flew at half mast in memory of Sierra Leone's late First Lady Patricia Kabbah, who was buried on Thursday. Troops from the ECOMOG force guarded the long funeral procession as it wound through the streets of Freetown. Many people wept openly as the procession passed. Throughout the day, radio and television stations carried lengthy tributes and messages of condolence from government ministries, churches, mosques, organisations, and ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Thousands filed past her body at the parliament building Thursday morning before it was removed to St. Anthony Catholic Church. On Wednesday night, thousands of people attended a vigil at the national stadium, some weeping openly as the events of Patricia Kabbah's life were recounted. Thursday was declared a national holiday in memory of the late First Lady. Patricia Kabbah, a lawyer by profession, died May 4 in London where she was recovering following cancer surgery.
British Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sir John Kerr told the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Thursday he believed Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd had been briefed about a Customs and Excise Office investigation of Sandline International in early March, prior to a parliamentary debate on Sierra Leone on March 12. Earlier this month, Lloyd told parliament he had been unaware of the allegations until May 1, later amending that to mid April. The committee asked Kerr why, if the investigation had begun as early as February 18 and confirmed by letter on March 10, the briefing to Lloyd would not have contained the information. "I believe it did, but in a general way," Lloyd said. "It wouldn't have been prominent because at that stage there were no allegations against the Foreign Office and no sign at all that we would be where we are today." Lloyd said the substance of the briefing was that British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold had taken part in a three-way meeting with President Kabbah and Sandline. Kerr acknowledged that he could not be absolutely certain the briefing referred to the customs investigation. "I thought myself that the briefing would have contained news of the alleged sanctions busting by Sierra Leone," he said. "I cannot be sure if that would have said it had been passed to Customs and Excise." Kerr later checked the briefing pack and issued a statement saying there was no mention of the customs report. "It mentions reports about a possible deal by President Kabbah for Sandline services. But it does not mention arms shipments; and, as I thought, it does not say that one such report had already been passed to Customs and Excise." Lloyd issued a statement maintaining that he had known nothing of the investigation when he took part in the March 12 parliamentary debate. "I was not then briefed, told, advised or in any other way informed either orally or in writing either of alleged arms shipments or of the Customs and Excise investigation," Lloyd said.
13 May: ECOMOG and the Kamajor militia are fighting a fierce battle with AFRC/RUF rebels for the town of Kailahun, ECOMOG spokesman Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said in Freetown on Wednesday. "Heavy fighting is now going on for the last but strongest rebel stronghold of Kailahun," Okunlola said. "Scores of men, most of them rebel fighters, have died defending the town in fighting which began over the weekend." Okunlola said ECOMOG troops, backed by thousands of Kamajors, were advancing on the town from inside Sierra Leone, but that the heavy forest in the area was slowing their advance. He said Guinea had closed its borders to prevent rebels from fleeing into that country, but could not confirm a report in the independent Messenger newspaper which said 6,000 Guinean troops were advancing on Kailahun from the Guinea border. Kamajors reaching Freetown said they had captured Buedu on Monday, and spoke of corpses littering parts of the forest and nearby roads and villages.
AFRC/RUF rebels have massacred more than 200 civilians in five villages in northern Sierra Leone, according to Father Ercole Marcelli, Regional Superior of the Xaverian fathers in Sierra Leone. "Two hundred civilians were killed and at least one hundred had their bodies mutilated over the past three days," Father Marcelli said on Wednesday. The massacre took place at Yelfi, in Koinadugu District, and also affected the towns of Bendugu, Kawakia, Kondawawa, and Kantata. Father Marcelli said there is growing tension among civilians in Makeni. "The Catholics in the Missions of Lunsar, Kabala, and Makeni has been on alert since many days," he said. "Especially Makeni is teeming up with displaced people from the affected areas. These people are going there at a rate of 300 a day." He said the humanitarian situation in Makeni was deteriorating, and that it was absolutely necessary to increase the supply of food and medicines and to improve sanitation. Makeni Government Hospital is full of injured people and many have already been transferred to other hospitals in Freetown. "The influx of displace people into the cities has been caused by the recent border closure by neighbouring Guinea," Marcelli said. "The massacres which started again at the beginning of this week confirm how far Sierra Leone is from a definitive conclusion of the conflict," he added.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended embattled Foreign Secretary Robin Cook during a question and answer session in Parliament on Wednesday, and dismissed the "Arms to Africa" controversy as "a lot of hype" which had been overblown by the media. Blair said his government had aided President Kabbah, but not with arms, drawing a distinction between "proper" and "improper" assistance. Blair said it would have been wrong for Britain to breach the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone under any circumstances. Cook has ordered an independent investigation into what the Foreign Office knew about the activities of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, but this will not begin until a Customs and Excise Office investigation is complete.
Two Amnesty International representatives will visit Sierra Leone from May 14 to 27 to obtain detailed information on the human rights situation in the country. The representatives, Dr. Stephen Ellis, director of the African Studies Center at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and AI staff member Teresa Kordeczka, will meet with President Kabbah and a range of other people, including members of the military, the legal profession, and non-governmental human rights organisations.
An ECOMOG soldier in Freetown wounded five civilians while trying to shoot an escaping rebel suspect, victims said. He had earlier stopped a crowd of about 400 youths from lynching the man.
Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai was quoted by the London Times newspaper Wednesday as saying the Sierra Leone government will re-examine mineral concessions and may demand that some agreements be renegotiated. "Diamond and gold concessions and mining operations have been ordered closed until we have done a thorough investigation of the circumstances of how and why these concessions were issued, and what Sierra Leone stands to get out of them," Kaikai said. "If the deals look like we are not going to benefit from our own resources, the concessions will have to be renegotiated."
12 May: Bishop George Biguzzi denied Tuesday reports that AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma had offered to surrender to the Catholic Diocese of Makeni. "I have not contacted with Johnny Paul Koroma," Biguzzi said, adding that any reports of contact by Koroma, whom he does not know personally, are "rumours and speculation." The claim was made by an officer of the ECOMOG force on Saturday. If Koroma wants to surrender, he should inform the president, who has the last and final word, Biguzzi said, adding that as a religious person, he would follow the directives of the presidency in the interest of the country. The bishop said that people in his diocese were still suffering from rebel attacks. Only on Monday, rebels burned down houses in several villages, killing some people and injuring others, he said. A report issued by the Lagos bureau of the Xinhua news service said Koroma had been "confirmed to be on his way to surrender" to the Catholic mission, citing an ECOMOG statement issued on Monday. The statement said ECOMOG was "not interested in dead bodies," and was interpreted as an indication that Koroma and his men would not be killed if they turned themselves in, Xinhua reported.
ECOMOG troops in Kailahun District have captured the town of Koindu, ECOMOG sources said on Tuesday. They said ECOMOG units attacking from Guinea, and backed by the Civil Defence Forces, drove the rebels from the town Monday after a week-long battle in which more than 130 people died. ECOMOG officers said most of the dead were rebels, but also included were civilians caught in the fighting. "So far we have found about 130 bodies, including those of women and children," an ECOMOG commander said in Freetown. He said about 30 rebels had been captured, including a number of Liberian fighters from President Charles Taylor's former NPFL militia. ECOMOG commanders said they were also in full control of Koidu, in Kono District.
Sierra Leone's Labour Congress and civic groups on Tuesday called for pro-British demonstrations for Saturday to express their appreciation for Britain's role in restoring the civilian government. "Every working person will demonstrate in every corner of Sierra Leone free of fighting... to show support for the British government and its High Commissioner Peter Penfold for what they did in helping to free us from the yoke of the military junta," said Hassan Barrie, one of the organisers. Businesses in Freetown are expected to close. "On Saturday, we will desert the markets to demonstrate. Nothing will be sold in any market in the country until after we have demonstrated," said Grace Palmer, Secretary-General of the Market Women's Association. Representatives of the various groups described British High Commissioner Peter Penfold as a hero. Penfold has been recalled to London for questioning in the "Arms to Africa" investigation. "Peter Penfold is a national hero in Sierra Leone. We want him to come as High Commissioner in Sierra Leone. Then we will put him in a hammock and carry him around the streets of Freetown," Barrie said.
The U.S. State Department has called for "an immediate end to the violence being wreaked on the civilian population of Sierra Leone" by the RUF and deposed military junta. In a statement issued on Tuesday, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the U.S. ambassador in Freetown and State Department officials had visited survivors, and learned of entire villages being slaughtered or mutilated by rebel forces in what the RUF calls "Operation No Living Thing." The United States "strongly condemns the rebels' horrific actions and urges rebel leadership to order an immediate end to the senseless slaughter, mutilation, and torture of the rural civilian population in Sierra Leone," Rubin said. In an apparent reference to Liberia, Rubin noted that there were "distressing rumors" that the AFRC/RUF rebels were being assisted by other governments. "Although we cannot confirm these rumors, it should be clear that any government or other party which is found to be helping the rebels to prolong the tragedy in Sierra Leone will face the strongest condemnation of the United States and the international community," Rubin warned.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Judith Kumin said Tuesday that there are now more than 500,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia. Kumin said in Geneva that 56,000 refugees have arrived in Guinea, and 150,000 in Liberia, within the past year. She said some of the refugees had been mutilated, while others had been repeatedly raped by AFRC/RUF fighters holding out in eastern Sierra Leone. Over the past week, she said, 13 civilians had arrived in Freetown with arms or legs hacked off by the rebels. In Guinea, several women had managed to flee after being gang-raped over a period of months. In one UNHCR-run camp at Koonin, a field officer reported that an adult and four children died of starvation and disease on their arrival, Kumin said.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook took the offensive Tuesday against Conservative Party members who forced him to make a statement before Parliament on alleged Foreign Office involvement in arms shipments to Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International. Cook continued to deny that he or his ministers knew of the Sandline operations, and said he would not take lessons from a party which had been implicated in a breach of the U.N. arms embargo on Iraq. "Sierra Leone is no Iraq. In Iraq a brutal dictator is still in power and still producing artillery shells on machine tools exported to him with the full connivance of the party opposite," Cook said. He also defended his foreign office staff. "In all the papers on this affair, I have found no evidence that officials in the Africa department were involved in any kind of conspiracy with Sandline or gave any prior approval to any breach of the arms embargo," he said. Cook repeated to Parliament that he had first learned of the affair on April 28. Earlier in the day, the British government released a letter from President Kabbah, who said he had received no military backing from the British government. "I recall during the Commonwealth meeting in Edinburgh (in October), Mr. Tony Lloyd remarking that while the British government would continue to give diplomatic and other support to my government, it could not provide it with lethal materials or weapons," Kabbah said in the letter. "As far as I was concerned, the matter was closed." Minister of Information, Broadcasting, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying that the weapons delivered by Sandline were in the possession of the ECOMOG force, and would not be paid for by President Kabbah's government. Spencer rejected suggestions that Kabbah had done anything wrong in asking Sandline to import the weapons, despite a U.N. embargo on arms sales to Sierra Leone.
British Foreign Office officials warned the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International not to breach the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone, a "cabinet source" told the Guardian newspaper Monday night. Officials had acted "quite properly" in their dealings with the company, the source maintained.
ECOMOG task force commander Maxwell Khobe has been promoted to brigadier-general, according to a statement issued by ECOMOG headquarters in Monrovia and quoted by the official News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). The statement said that Khobe's promotion, which was approved by Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, was in recognition of his courage and excellent performance during the operation that ousted the AFRC military government in Sierra Leone. Khobe was decorated with his new rank by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi.
11 May: ECOMOG troops reportedly killed 150 AFRC/RUF fighters and captured 30 more Monday in heavy fighting in Kailahun District. The battle started on April 30 when ECOMOG launched a full-scale offensive into Kailahun District from across the Guinean border. After Monday's fighting, a number of junta supporters fled across the Liberian border, a Kamajor commander said. A Kamajor spokesman said the militia will soon be pursuing rebel troops into Liberia because "it is being used as a safe haven." He warned that any rebel attacks on villages in Guinea would be disastrous.
The body of Patricia Kabbah was flown back to Freetown on Sunday night, accompanied by Sierra Leone's High Commissioner to Britain, Cyril Foray. On Sunday afternoon, Sierra Leoneans in London attended a mass for the late First Lady at the Metropolitan Church of St. George in South London. She will be buried in Freetown on Thursday.
British Conservative Party Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard has called for a public independent inquiry into the "Arms to Africa" controversy, saying that unanswered questions must be dealt with openly and quickly. Howard claimed Foreign Secretary Michael Cook had failed to provide answers about the extent to which ministers knew what was going on. "He is not answering the questions which are at the heart of this matter -- who knew what when?" Howard said. "This is an enormously serious matter -- a coup mounted in a West African country apparently with the support of a Royal Navy frigate and, it is alleged, with the approval at least of officials in the Foreign Office. If ministers didn't know anything about this then it must mean the Foreign Office was completely out of control, but it is inconceivable they didn't know and that is why we must have answers to these questions." Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at a London college, said the affair had been overblown. "Let us just make one thing completely clear. Of course, it is the case that nobody should be involved deliberately in breaking a U.N. arms embargo," Blair said. "Don't let us forget that what was happening was that the U.N. and the U.K. were both trying to help the democratic regime restore its position from an illegal military coup." Blair praised British High Commissioner Peter Penfold, saying he had done "a superb job last year in dealing with the consequences of the military coup and working closely with the regime of President Kabbah...That is the background, and people can see that a lot of the hoohah is overblown."
Two policemen deployed at President Kabbah's residence were "active junta members who distressed thousands of people," the Concord Times newspaper reported on Monday. Police arrested one of the officers, David Dumbuya; the other, Augustine Bai, is still at large. The newspaper said the two were recognised by Bo residents who had come to pay their respects to the late Patricia Kabbah. The two were alleged to have been deployed as part of the AFRC's security forces in Bo.
Guinean authorities have released the names of 41 Sierra Leonean soldiers being held in Guinean jails, security forces in Freetown said on Monday.
Finance Minister James Jonah, who formerly served as Sierra Leone's United Nations Ambassador, said Monday that the U.N. arms embargo was aimed only at Sierra Leone's military junta. Jonah said that both the allegations against the British government and the role of the mercenary firm Sandline International had been exaggerated. "I do not want to comment on internal British politics, but as far as I know there is nothing that was done by the British government in Sierra Leone, or with President Kabbah, that they should be ashamed of," Jonah said. "Having read what Sandline is saying now, and knowing the facts of the situation, perhaps they are exaggerating their role, because I know of no instance when we were directed by any official of the British government to Sandline. If anything, the link as I know it was through someone else." Jonah said most of the credit for restoring the civilian government should go to the ECOMOG force. "There is an attempt to minimise the victory of ECOMOG, to make people believe that they only succeeded because Sandline came along. This is just not true." Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer also minimized the British role in the arms deal. "The president entered into an arrangement with Sandline. I don't believe he consulted with the British government in any formal way," Spencer said. He maintained that the arms, which arrived a week after the military junta had been ousted, would have been used to restore the legitimate civilian government and thus were not subject to the U.N. sanctions. "(U.N. Resolution 1132) "as far as we understood, it was aimed at getting the AFRC out of power," Spencer said, adding "we did not see it at the time" as applying to the civilian government. "Everybody acknowledged that Kabbah was the elected president of Sierra Leone all the time. No one said there was a (legitimate) government in Freetown, where a group of bandits had seized power. The legal niceties of whether or not the resolution applied to us were academic. Our country was being destroyed. People in Sierra Leone were being murdered, raped, and terrorised." Spencer said Sandline was linked to another security firm, Lifeguard, a spin-off of Executive Outcomes which was contracted to protect a hydro-electric plant being constructed in the northwest. "Sandline was involved in Sierra Leone before (the arms deal), so I don't think (President Kabbah) would get in touch" with British High Commissioner Peter Penfold, he said. "Sandline offered to help well in advance, but the president did not want to involve them," Spencer said, adding that Sandline had approached President Kabbah shortly after the May 25 coup. He said President Kabbah had not discussed Sandline's role with Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd when he arrived as part of a Commonwealth delegation in March, and that he may not even have discussed the operation with ECOMOG. Sandline's only involvement prior to the arms shipment was the leasing of a MI-17 helicopter and pilot used by ECOMOG. The weapons delivered by Sandline had probably been used by the ECOMOG force, Spencer said.
SLBS (state radio) reported Monday that Sierra Leone's Labour Congress has called for a meeting of all civic and professional groups on Tuesday to prepare for a protest march in support of British High Commissioner Peter Penfold.
Sierra Leoneans born in the year 2025 will have the shortest life expectancy in the world, with babies born in that country likely to live an average of 51 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted in its annual report released on Monday. The current life expectancy for Sierra Leoneans is only 38 years. Residents of Iceland, Italy, Japan, and Sweden can expect to live the longest, with the life expectancies of babies born in those countries predicted to be 82 years. Progress in Sierra Leone and other African countries depends partly on the provision of safe water and improvement in health care for mothers and children, the report said. AIDS, emerging infectious disease, and resurging tuberculosis will continue to pose health hazards into the next century, the WHO noted.
Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi called on Libyans Saturday to make substantial investments in sub-Saharan African countries, emphasizing that these nations were of geographic and strategic importance to Libya. "They are rich, so we should help in developing their resources so that they serve the interests of their peoples as well as our own interests," he said. "Libyans should now promote investment projects in Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and even in Sierra Leone in the context of intra-African cooperation."
10 May: Freetown residents demonstrated in support of British High Commissioner Peter Penfold Sunday, following calls by SLBS (state radio) and private radio stations for Sierra Leoneans to turn out in tens of thousands to rally on his behalf. Penfold, who has been recalled to London to face a Customs and Excise Office investigation into British involvement in the "Arms to Africa Affair", was called a "hero" and a "saint", while British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was described as "the most hated man in the country," according to a report in the London newspaper The Times. "How does Cook think we were going to get rid of Koroma? With sticks and stones, bows and arrows?," asked Daily Mail managing editor Siaka Massaquoi. "Penfold is a hero for every person in this country and we cannot understand why the British appear to be backing the junta. Does Cook think that these killers should have stayed in power?"
The British newspaper Sunday Times has published photographs it said prove British involvement in an operation by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International aimed at toppling the AFRC military regime. The photographs show Royal Navy engineers from the British frigate HMS Cornwall repairing a Russian-built MI-17 military helicopter used by Sandline to ferry troops and equipment to the war zone. The British government on Sunday rejected the newspaper's interpretation of the photos. "It is true HMS Cornwall was deployed to Sierra Leone to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the people," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said, noting that the warship did not arrive in Sierra Leone until March, after the operation to restore the civilian government was over. "It is nonsense to imply that HMS Cornwall was involved or took any part in the coup," he said. "HMS Cornwall was undertaking humanitarian tasks. In order to undertake that mission it had to fly helicopters around Sierra Leone and to do that, it needed permission from ECOMOG." He added that Royal Navy pilots required information on trouble spots, and that the source of this information was ECOMOG, whose air operations were being run by Sandline. "In order for the ship to carry out its important humanitarian task it had to have this information," the spokesman said, adding "HMS Cornwall spent two hours repairing the aircraft. Although it was being flown by Sandline, it was an ECOMOG helicopter." In a BBC interview on Sunday, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook dismissed the newspaper's claims. "The photographs you see in the papers are photographs of the helicopter of the commander of the West African military forces (ECOMOG)," he said. "Indeed it is a helicopter that was on contract to Sandline, but it was on the ship not because HMS Cornwall was cooperating in any kind of mercenary activity. It was on the ship because the West African commander was cooperating with HMS Cornwall in its humanitarian effort." Cook said allegations of British government involvement in what the press is calling the "Arms to Africa Affair" were "totally false." There was not a "shred of evidence" that government ministers had approved Sandline's activities, adding that he and his junior ministers would quit if an independent Customs and Excise Office investigation determined they had done anything wrong. "If ministers are found to have been at error, if they have knowingly misled the House of Commons ,or if they have adopted the wrong policy, then they must take the consequences," Cook said, adding, "I accept that, but I know I have nothing to hide." Cook denied a report that Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd had offered to resign. "No, it's quite wrong. There has never been any question of Tony Lloyd resigning," he said. Cook said that criminal lawyers had been retained to represent Foreign Office officials named in a letter from Sandline's lawyers, but that this was a "perfectly normal thing for a department to do where its officials form part of an investigation" and should not be seen as an admission of guilt. "One thing that does distress me about the papers today and yesterday is that some of them are treating as proven fact allegations which have been made against officials," Cook added. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that there would be resignations if necessary. "If, in the pursuit of the policy of helping President Kabbah, any wrongdoing has been committed, that will be discovered and punished as a result of inquiries that have been set up," he said.
The Sunday Times also alleged that Sandline gave a detailed briefing, including tactical plans and a map, to Whitehall defence intelligence staff, who report to Defence Secretary George Robertson. Sandline is alleged to have airlifted 35 tons of Bulgarian-made weapons into Lungi Airport in February, while the airport was under ECOMOG control. The shipment, which consisted mainly of AK-47 rifles, arrived after ECOMOG troops had captured Freetown, and were locked in bunkers instead of being distributed to the Civil Defence Forces Sandline had been training for a planned operation to seize the capital. "The counter-coup got rid of the military junta but it helped install a Nigerian puppet government," an unidentified "senior American official" was quoted as saying. In response, a U.S. State Department official on Sunday referred to "a long series of public statements by the Department making clear the United States' strong support for the Kabbah government."
A second British firm is being investigated in connection with allegations of illegal arms shipments to Sierra Leone, the Observer newspaper reported on Sunday. The British Customs and Excise Office is now investigating Sky Air Cargo Services UK, a London-based company which operates a single Liberian-registered Boeing 707 aircraft based in the United Arab Emirates. On February 21, the plane loaded a cargo of weapons in Kano, Nigeria and handed them over the Nigerian ECOMOG troops at Lungi Airport, where Sandline International mercenaries were assisting ECOMOG and training the pro-Kabbah Civil Defence Forces. By the time the arms arrived they were no longer needed, because ECOMOG had captured Freetown ten days before, the Observer noted, adding that because of the delay in the arrival of the weapons, there is now a dispute between the Sierra Leone government and Sandline over payment. Air Sky's director, Syed Naqvi, said his company provided documentary evidence to customs investigators last month to prove that the flight was legal. Naqvi claimed he was unaware of the nature of the plane's cargo.
A senior British Foreign Office spokesman has rejected suggestions that British officials believed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132 -- which barred arms sales to Sierra Leone -- referred only to the AFRC military government. Referring to three documents issued by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International -- one from the Commonwealth Heads of Government last October, a Foreign Office daily bulletin in January, and comments by Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd -- the spokesman said the Foreign Office was clear that the ban applied to Sierra Leone as a whole. "It makes no distinction between the good guys and the bad guys," he said, adding that claims of Foreign Office complicity in the Sandline operation were "complete nonsense."
Aid workers transported 18 amputees from Karina to Connaught Hospital in Freetown Saturday, after AFRC/RUF rebels hacked off their hands on Thursday. They said they were told they had been targeted because they belonged to President Kabbah's Mandingo ethnic group. Witnesses said 18 more villagers were killed and 30 mutilated in similar attacks on Friday. "As long as there are groups of rebels moving about, we will continue to hear about atrocities committed against civilians," presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said.
9 May: AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma has offered to surrender to Catholic Bishop George Biguzzi, a senior ECOMOG officer said on Saturday. In a message sent to the bishop through envoys, Koroma said he would surrender to Biguzzi, but that he feared for his life and the lives of his family from ECOMOG. "Johnny Paul Koroma has sent emissaries to the bishop and also contacted by VHF radio to say that he wants to surrender but only to Bishop Biguzzi and not directly to ECOMOG," the officer said in Freetown. Church officials declined comment, but ECOMOG commanders said it would guarantee the safety of Koroma, who has apparently taken refuge in the Loma Mountains. The officer said ECOMOG troops had attacked 350 junta loyalists near Kabala this week, killing over 30 of them including rebel third-in-command Dennis Mingo, called "Superman." The 350 formed the hard core of Koroma's bodyguard, he said.
Over 100 people have been killed in rebel attacks around Makeni since Thursday, according to a report in the government-owned Daily Mail newspaper. Aid workers say as many as 200 people have had their arms or legs hacked off by junta loyalists, who accused them of supporting the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "The junta rebels attacked Mabanta yesterday, about seven miles from Makeni, and other towns and villages around the capital," one aid worker said by telephone. "They shot dead at least 10 people and chopped off the arms of several more." Aid workers said Makeni was filling up with frightened civilians, some of them suffering from horrific machete wounds.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on Saturday rejected allegations about Foreign Office complicity in helping the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International to evade the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone. "I have nothing to hide and I'm determined there will be no hiding place for the facts," Cook said at a Westminster press conference, adding that no ministers had misled parliament over the affair. "Nobody anywhere has found evidence to suggest ministerial involvement...There has been no ministerial approval, no policy decision which could in any way be held to have provided prior approval of post approval for Sandline's activities." Cook acknowledged the serious allegations raised in a letter from Sandline's lawyers, but noted that the allegations had not been substantiated. "The mere fact that these allegations are made does not make them true," he said. "I do think press and public would be right to suspend judgment until we have the considered judgment of the full, fair and open investigation I have promised." Cook said there was no evidence of an "organised conspiracy" to support Sandline's operations in Sierra Leone. "Let us be clear about what the Foreign Office has done. It was the Foreign Office that first referred these allegations to Customs and Excise for investigation," Cook said. "Since we initiated that investigation, we have given full, open and active cooperation to the Customs investigation. Secondly, since we received the lawyer's letter making allegations about officials in the Foreign Office, we have committed ourselves to an investigation by someone from outside the Foreign Office into the handling of this case within the Foreign Office. I have given a public commitment that the report of that investigation will be published so everyone can see the results of that investigation and can see the facts for themselves."
Liberian President Charles Taylor, in his first public reaction to reports that Liberian nationals have been captured while fighting alongside AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, called on Wednesday for an international investigation into the allegations. Taylor called on the United Nations, the OAU, and ECOWAS to send observers to monitor the situation. Information Minister Joe Mulbah said an escalation of the war in Sierra Leone would pose a danger to Liberia. Any Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were there on their own and should be arrested, Mulbah said in an interview on Radio Monrovia.
8 May: At least 20 people have been killed by AFRC/RUF rebels in northeastern Sierra Leone, and 30 more who suffered crude amputations in the attacks have been admitted to Makeni Government Hospital, Catholic church sources and survivors said Friday. Most of the victims were said to be from Ndaraya, Worodala, and Karina, about 30 miles from Makeni. Witnesses said 10 people were killed in Ndaraya and eight in Kareena, adding that the attackers also burned down many houses in the villages. A Catholic priest from the area said he had no details from Worodala, other than that 12 houses had been burned down. "The rebels cut off the arms of our townsmates, telling them: 'You're Kabbah supporters. Now we have cut off your arms we'll see how you vote for Kabbah in the next election,'" a survivor quoted the rebels as saying. Church sources say ECOMOG has sent trucks carrying troops and several hundred Kamajor militiamen to flush out the rebels in the north. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has denounced the killings, mutilations, and rapes by junta loyalists and RUF fighters. "Victims have reported women and children being rounded up, locked into a house which was then set alight. Women have been raped and have suffered other forms of sexual assault. Men who refused to rape members of their own family were reported to have had their arms hacked off," Amnesty International said.
The government-owned Daily Mail newspaper reported Friday that RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie has been shot and seriously wounded at Daru, in Kailahun District. "Bockari was trapped in an ambush Wednesday set up by civil defence forces," the newspaper reported. "He sustained serious gunshot wounds but managed to escape to his base at a small village, Gbehu, deep in the forest some seven miles from Kailahun Town." There has been no independent confirmation of the report. The Daily Mail alleged that Bockarie had been trading coffee and cacao for arms and ammunition in Liberia.
The British mercenary firm Sandline International said Friday it had received British government approval to train and supply arms to militias supporting Sierra Leone's exiled civilian government, in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo. Sandline lawyer Richard Slowe released a letter sent to British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook which said that Britain's High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, had first suggested to President Kabbah that he approach Sandline for help in regaining power. The letter named five senior diplomats and two military officers the company claims had been briefed about the operation. Sandline was "led to believe that clearance was given at Head of Department level," the letter said. "Sandline was involved quite openly and with the full prior knowledge and approval of Her Majesty's Government, with an operation which involved assisting, with both personnel and military equipment, the restoration of the lawful government of Sierra Leone, which was the express purpose for which sanctions were applied in the first place. Far from any offence having been committed in these circumstances, it would merit serious criticism that one department of government (Customs and Excise) should be investigating, to the considerable inconvenience and distress of our clients, a matter which was conducted with the knowledge and approval of another department." The company also alleged that the U.S. State Department and Pentagon had been kept informed and had approved the deal. According to the letter, State Department Country Desk Officer for Sierra Leone and the Gambia Michael Thomas communicated "the U.S. government's full support for Sandline International's involvement" to Philip Parnam, a diplomat at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.--a charge rejected by State Department sources. A State Department official acknowledged on Friday that Sandline had kept in touch with the State Department following the coup, but denied the company's assertion that Thomas had indicated support for Sandline activities in Sierra Leone. "The State Department has asked the British government to take a strong lead in soliciting logistical and technical support for ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone, as requested by three U.N. Security Council resolutions," the official said. U.S. State Department Spokesman James Foley said Friday that Sandline had periodically contacted the department "and commented on the situation in Sierra Leone, but provided no information on arms shipments. A State Department official told Sandline that "meeting with them did not endorse what they were doing," Foley said. "Sandline provides security for private mining and construction interests, including an American mine in the Sierra Leone countryside," Foley added. "I would note that Sandline employees were among the few expatriates who remained in Sierra Leone after the coup and kept in touch with State Department officials, as was perfectly legitimate for them to do and for us to do on our side."
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced Friday that it had stepped up food deliveries to the Guinean town of Gueckedou to cope with an influx of some 150,000 Sierra Leonean refugees fleeing fighting during March and April. The WFP said it had positioned 3,000 metric tons of food in Gueckedou, enough to feed 250,000 people for one month. The agency is now bringing in additional food from Conakry and from Liberia and Ivory Coast before the start of the rainy season, which will render most of the roads in the region impassable. In the last five days, the WFP headquarters in Abidjan has delivered at least 970 tons of various food commodities to Gueckedou with its 64 chartered trucks. Four trucks were sent from the Liberian town of Voinjama, marking the first time in seven years a food convoy has been allowed to cross the border from Liberia into Guinea. The border between the two countries is officially closed.
7 May: British Conservative Party Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard has called on Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa to explain himself or resign over claims he misled MPs about an investigation on the illegal shipment of arms to Sierra Leone. Howard said Thursday the Code of Conduct for Ministers stated it was "of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity." Ministers who knowingly misled parliament were expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister. "Mr. Lloyd has to my knowledge done neither of these things," Howard said. In Freetown, a government spokesman has called British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfeld "a wonderful friend of democracy and a hero." Penfeld has been recalled to London and is facing questioning this week on his knowledge of arms shipments to Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International. One Sierra Leonean newspaper has called for pro-Penfold demonstrations, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle reported, adding that, "While the prospect of demonstrations in favour of a British High Commissioner in the streets of the seaside capital, Freetown, may seem rather bizarre, it's a measure of how seriously Sierra Leoneans take this issue."
About 160,000 Sierra Leoneans have fled to Guinea since March 15, a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official said Thursday. The refugees, mainly women and children, were mostly from Kono District, the official said. Aid workers said that about 148,000 people had registered between March 15 and April 30, and had been given shelter in tents. 4,000 more were still waiting for help. Of the latest influx, 19 percent were children under five and 58 percent were women and children over six. When they arrived, most had bullet wounds or had lost limbs, medical sources said.
Rex Diamond Mining President and CEO Serge Muller, in a statement released on Thursday, said he had received assurances from the Sierra Leone government that the company's diamond claims are in no way affected by a ban on new mining permits announced Wednesday by Minister of Mineral Resources Mohammed Deen.
6 May: 20 persons charged with treason in connection with last year's AFRC military coup appeared in court Wednesday amid tight security. Traffic was diverted from nearby streets, and those entering the court were searched. The accused who appeared Wednesday included Brigadier (Rtd.) Leslie Lymon, who served as AFRC Secretary of State for Internal Affairs. No explanation was given for the absence of 3 persons due to appear in court in this first batch of treason cases. In all, 59 people have been charged with treason, while some face additional charges of murder and arson. Wednesday's hearing was largely procedural, during which the names of 49 potential jurors were read out. Two of those who appeared have not yet obtained legal representation, to which state lawyers say there are entitled free of charge.
The Sierra Leone government has banned the issuing of new mining permits for gold and diamonds with immediate effect, Minister of Mineral Resources Mohammed Deen said Wednesday. "The government has ordered the ban to stop the rebels from infiltrating the diamond and gold mining areas," Deen said. "It is also meant to stop their collaborators from continuing to mine to help the rebels with money or arms and ammunition. It is also meant to curb the smuggling of our diamonds." Deen added that the government will not issue any more licenses "until ECOMOG gives us the green light to do so."
43 persons mutilated by junta supporters were admitted to hospital in Magburaka on Monday, medical staff said on Wednesday. The victims included 23 and 5 children whose hands and ears had been crudely amputated. The aid agency CARE, which confirmed the attacks, said it has suspended operations in the area. CARE coordinator James Aroh said some 12,000 people who had fled fighting had settled in Masingbi, where food and medicine were in short supply.
The World Bank has earmarked $100 million in emergency support for Sierra Leone following the reinstatement of the country's civilian government, SLBS (state radio) said Wednesday. A World Bank delegation was in Freetown "to assess the security situation in the country following the suspension of the bank's programmes following the May 25 coup last year," the radio said, adding that the loan would be used for "capacity building, for the creation of job opportunities and for the improvement of the standards of the judiciary in the country." Senior Ministry of Finance officials confirmed that a World Bank team was in the country, the first such visit since the World Bank closed its office in Freetown following last year's military coup. Finance Ministry officials said no figures had been decided, although one official said it "certainly will be around the figure of the $680 million the international community pledged Sierra Leone to rebuild the country after the signing of the Abidjan peace accord in 1996." A Central Bank official said that while the government earned some revenue from customs duties and utilities, the mining sector was contributing nothing. "Since the government of President Kabbah was reinstated, the international community has only been making promises but nothing else, and the financial existence of Sierra Leone depends to a large extent on aid," the official said.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook promised parliament Wednesday that there will be an independent investigation into allegations that Foreign Office officials breached United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132 by assisting the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International to ship arms to Sierra Leone. "We have not and we will not condone any breach of international law," he told parliament. Cook said he will appoint someone from outside the Foreign Office to conduct the inquiry, after a Customs and Excise Office criminal investigation is complete. "At no point was any ministerial approval given for the activities of Sandline. Nor was there any ministerial discussion of the activities of Sandline, nor any meeting between ministers and Sandline," Cook told MPs, adding that he had "deep concern" about officials' handling of the case. Cook contradicted a claim by Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa, Tony Lloyd, who told the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday that he had only learned of the inquiry on Friday. Cook said Lloyd had been shown papers on the Customs and Excise investigation in mid-April. "I can say to you that what I said to the House today I said after full investigation of the paper trail and in consultation with Mr. Lloyd, who entirely agrees with what I said...However, he was not informed of the allegations by Sandline of Foreign Office contact until Friday (May) 1." Cook said he had himself not learned of the investigation involving Sandline until last week. "I was first informed of the Customs and Excise investigation on the evening of April 28 by a special adviser who had noted a letter to me from Sandline's solicitors," he said. "The next day, I minuted the Permanent Secretary, stressing the importance I attached to full and open co-operation with the Customs investigation." Earlier, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said any official or minister who breached U.N. Security Council sanctions forbidding arms sales to Sierra Leone would face disciplinary action. "But of course it is the case that people cannot possibly deliberately breach U.N. resolutions -- whether they are officials or ministers -- and if people are found to do so then disciplinary action will follow," Blair told parliament. Sierra Leone's Minister of Information, Julius Spencer, told the BBC Wednesday that if British officials had approved the arms sales, "the British people should be proud of that government because...it did something that changed the course of history for the better."
The British Independent newspaper reported Wednesday that Foreign Office officials met with officials of the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International shortly before it allegedly breached a United Nations arms embargo on Sierra Leone. The newspaper said Sandline director Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer met with the deputy head of the Foreign Office's Africa department five weeks before the weapons shipment in February. The two sides allegedly held three meetings, including one in the Foreign Office and one at Sandline's London headquarters. The Foreign Office has acknowledged that Sandline officials met with British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold, but has so far not said whether other officials had contacts with the firm. Newspaper reports say Sandline shipped 21 tons of Bulgarian guns and ammunition and provided training for Civil Defence Forces militias in an attempt to overthrow the AFRC military regime.
Funeral services for First Lady Patricia Kabbah will be held Thursday, May 14 at St. Anthony Catholic in Freetown. The First Lady will lie in state in the chamber of the Parliament on Wednesday and again before the funeral. She will be buried at Ascension Town Cemetery in Freetown. A condolence book has been opened in Freetown in memory Mrs. Kabbah. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said arrangements are being made to fly her body home from London, where she passed away on Monday.
5 May: The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has accused armed groups in Sierra Leone of carrying out a policy of terror against civilians. In a statement issued in Geneva, MSF said its surgical staff at Connaught Hospital in Freetown had treated 128 people since April 6. The number of wounded arriving from Kono District had increased in the past two weeks, according to the statement. "Among them are men whose upper limbs have been amputated by machetes. Some have had their ears cut off," it said. "Women have deep lacerations due to repeated attempts at mutilation. Many have bullet wounds." MSF coordinator Monique Nagelkerke said, "It is feared that these wounded are just the visible part of the iceberg and that the number of wounded deeper in the country could be much higher." The statement did not identify the armed groups, but refugees have accused AFRC remnant troops and the RUF of carrying out atrocities in eastern Sierra Leone. "These wounds are the result of a policy of terror imposed by armed groups on civilians," the MSF statement said. "Refugees report summary executions, mutilations, rapes and abductions and say the terrorized civilian population is hiding in the forest to escape systematic attacks by the armed groups." The MSF statement said that, of an estimated population of 500,000 in Kono, some 20,000 to 30,000 had fled to the west, while 70,000 had fled across the Guinea border.
The trials of 59 persons charged with treason in connection with last year's military coup will get underway in Sierra Leone's High Court, judicial sources in Freetown said Monday. The accused are to be tried in three batches, with hearings beginning on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Some of the accused also face charges of murder and arson. "We are seeking to reestablish the principle and respect for the law," Chief Justice Desmond Luke said. Luke said that guilty verdicts will be automatically appealed, first to the Court of Appeals and, if the appeal is unsuccessful, to the Supreme Court.
British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Minister Tony Lloyd was questioned Tuesday by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee about allegations that the Foreign Office cooperated with the London-based mercenary group Sandline International in evading U.N. arms sanctions on Sierra Leone. The civilian government-in-exile reportedly agreed to pay Sandline $10 million to arm and train the Civil Defence Forces in an attempt to overthrow the AFRC military regime, according to a story in the British Sunday Times on Saturday. "The Foreign Secretary was made aware of these allegations on Friday and he ordered the internal inquiry to begin at that point," Lloyd told the Committee. "I can tell you that there was no question of ministerial approval of being given for any such action." He denied Sandline's claim "as far as I am aware" that the Foreign Office had granted an export license for the deal, or that the firm had been given "a nod and a wink" by Foreign Office ministers, but promised to inform the Committee if he was wrong. "The first I knew of all this was on Friday night," he said. Lloyd admitted that he had limited knowledge of the affair, and said he had not discussed the matter with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, apart from a "brief conversation" over the weekend. "I am only aware of Sandline's activities in terms of what has been reported in the newspapers," he told MPs. "The difficulty I have at this stage is that I am not sure that the information I have at this stage is accurate or otherwise." Lloyd revealed that Foreign Office officials had referred the case to the Customs and Excise Office as long ago as February, but had failed to inform ministers. "It's possible they didn't see sufficient alarm bells ringing at that stage," he said. "It's my understood view that no minister in the Foreign Office knew." Lloyd promised the Committee that he would give them a memorandum within two weeks setting out what the Foreign Office knew about the arms deal. On Tuesday, the Times reported that Cook had been tipped off about the deal in February by Lord Avebury, who went to see a senior official in the Africa Department and subsequently wrote to Cook, after "studying" the Sierra Leone Web. "Yesterday the Foreign Office admitted that it was Lord Avebury's letter in February that had alerted the Foreign Secretary to the possible breach of the U.N. arms embargo," the Times said. The arms deal reportedly involved the purchase of weapons from Bulgaria, which were delivered to the ECOMOG force in Liberia. The arms deal was originally arranged between the Kabbah government-in-exile and Thai banker Rakesh Sakena, who agreed to underwrite the arms sale and to pay Sandline International to provide weapons, logistics, and intelligence for the counter-coup. A Sandline spokeswoman confirmed Monday night the involvement of Saxena, but said that a contract was later signed between President Kabbah and Sandline. She said Saxena had made an initial payment of $1.5 million to Sandline, but that a second payment of $3.5 million due for helicopters and heavy weaponry had not been paid.
ECOMOG troops have conducted an arms search in the eastern and western parts of Freetown, Liberian Star Radio reported on Tuesday. Fourah Bay Road and Guard Street Junction in the east, and Kroo Town and Anelaid Street in the west were cordoned off, and heavily armed ECOMOG soldiers prevented people from entering the areas during the search. Large caches of arms and ammunition were discovered at Kroobay, the report said.
West African Chiefs of Defence Staff meeting for a two-day ECOWAS conference in Accra, Ghana called on the United Nations Tuesday to provide logistics and military support in its effort to restore lasting peace to Sierra Leone. The chiefs of staff also called for the reinforcement of ECOMOG by 6,000 soldiers. Only 5 of the 16 ECOWAS nations -- Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali -- sent their military chiefs of staff to the meeting.
Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings called on the Sierra Leone government on Tuesday to show mercy to those accused of collaborating with the ousted AFRC military junta. "This is the time for reconciliation and diplomacy," Rawlings told ECOWAS nation chiefs of defence staff when they called upon him following their two day conference in Accra. He appealed to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to make a distinction between those who had stayed behind to oppose the junta and contain the situation, and those who had taken advantage of the situation to inflict carnage on the people. This, he said, would enable justice to prevail in the country. Rawlings said Sierra Leoneans needed to consolidate their democracy. "Some aspects of the battle has been won but the war is not yet over. Assistance is needed to consolidate what needs to be done. We need assistance. A lot has to be done," he said. U.N. special envoy Francis Okelo assured Rawlings of United Nations support for ECOWAS and ECOMOG in Sierra Leone. He said the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone was a shining example of ECOWAS can do on its own, and which the sub-region and Africa as a whole should be proud of. Democracy, Okelo said, has had to be consolidated and concretized to instill in the people the rule of law and order.
Sierra Leone's under-21 soccer team advanced to the second round of the 1999 World Youth Competition after a 2-2 draw with Liberia Monday at the SKD Sports Complex in Monrovia. Sierra Leone won the first leg of the competition two weeks ago in Freetown 4 goals to 3, eliminating Liberia on a 6 to 5 aggregate. Sierra Leone will now meet Mali in the second round of the competition.
The names of 27 journalists killed while reporting the news were added to the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial on Tuesday, bringing the total number of names on the monument to 1,000. Included was the name of Ismael Jalloh, a freelance reporter in Sierra Leone. The monument, which is located in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A., was dedicated in 1996 with the names of 934 journalists who died while covering the news. 39 names were added in 1997.
4 May: Patricia Kabbah, the wife of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, died Monday morning at the London Clinic, where she had been recuperating following cancer surgery. Mrs. Kabbah's body is expected be flown home to Sierra Leone, where she reportedly will receive a state funeral.
British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, has been recalled and ordered to cooperate with an enquiry into allegations that he asked the London-based mercenary company Sandline International to supply weapons and mercenaries to help overthrow the AFRC military regime. A foreign office spokeswoman said Penfold was to "remain in the U.K. to cooperate with the enquiry" being conducted by the Customs and Excise Office. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Sunday he wanted the Foreign Office to "cooperate fully and openly" with the investigation. "I do not want any suggestion of a cover-up," he said. "What I can confirm is that our own investigation quite clearly shows that there is no ministerial approval for any activity by Sandline, no contact by ministers with Sandline, no discussion by ministers with Sandline and we will robustly resist any claim that there was." Sandline International and its director, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Spicer, have insisted that they acted with Foreign Office approval. "Sandline and I understood and still believe that we were acting with the approval of Her Majesty's Government in assisting to restore President Kabbah, who had been overthrown last year in an unlawful coup by a military junta, and have been advised that accordingly no offence has been committed," Spicer said in a statement. "President Kabbah's government has at all times remained the only internationally recognised lawful government of Sierra Leone."
ECOWAS chiefs of army staff met for a two day conference in Accra, Ghana Monday to discuss sub-regional security and the future role of the ECOMOG force, following the reinstatement of Sierra Leone's civilian government. "We must seek to clarify a number of issues at this conference, (such as) a clear reappraisal or definition of ECOMOG's status in Sierra Leone," Ghana's Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho said in an opening address. He emphasized the importance of ECOMOG remaining in Sierra Leone. "This is because security there is from from normal, while some parts of Sierra Leone are still under bandit control," he said. Gbeho assured the delegates of his government's support for efforts at prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in Africa, and he congratulated ECOMOG for its efforts in reinstating the civilian government of President Kabbah. Gbeho said the Ghanaian government was willing to contribute to ECOMOG peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone, as it did in Liberia, but that there would have to be a clarification on the status and objectives of the force before Ghana would be willing to commit troops. "The dictates of our constitution require that the status involving the deployment of Ghanaian troops abroad must be clearly known," Gbeho said. "Some of these issues include a clear definition of ECOMOG's status in Sierra Leone, the objectives it seeks to achieve, the rules of engagement, the strength of the forces required, and the resources needed for the task." Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff Abdousalem Aboubakar said ECOMOG, after the successful establishment of peace and stability in Sierra Leone, would commence with the demobilisation of combatants in the conflict. This, he said, would be followed by a training program for the Sierra Leone armed forces, to improve upon the professional standard. "ECOMOG's most pressing problem in Sierra Leone is logistics. We need 6,000 more troops on the ground, we need trucks, tents, generator sets and military support," Aboubakar said. His comments were echoed by ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. "We have about 10,000 troops on the ground. We do need more troops and logistics to hasten the bringing of peace and stability," Shelpidi said. "The region is overstretched. Sierra Leone came too soon after Liberia." U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okello, said humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone had been slow in coming. "We (the U.N.) launched a three-month emergency humanitarian appeal for $11.2 million. The response for that has been rather poor -- $1.9 million has so far been received. The task of mobilising external resources to assist Sierra Leone is very urgent," Okelo said. "ECOWAS countries must do their part. I think that it is important that all the 16 ECOWAS countries come forward and contribute to the strengthening of ECOMOG in Sierra Leone, logistically and through manpower." Sierra Leone's Deputy Defence Minister, Sam Hinga Norman, also appealed for aid. "Our request to all member states is that those who pledged to come up with manpower and logistics will do so. We are also asking the International donors for assistance," he said. Only 5 of the 16 ECOWAS countries -- Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, and Mali -- sent their chiefs of staff. Ivory Coast sent its deputy chief of staff, while Togo and Sierra Leone sent deputy ministers of defence. The OAU and the United Nations attended as observers.
3 May: Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai denied Sunday allegations in the British press that President Kabbah's then government-in-exile had evaded United Nations Security Council arms sanctions, or that it paid $10 million to the London-based mercenary company Sandline International to train the Civil Defence Forces in Sierra Leone. "It is absolutely not correct at all: President Kabbah's government did not breach the Security Council's resolutions or any other resolutions for that particular matter," Kaikai said. "It is ironic for anybody to suggest that, knowing fully well that Mr. Kabbah fought very hard indeed to have the resolutions passed through the Security Council. I also wish to indicate that President Kabbah never paid any money to anyone whatsoever, nor did he hire Sandline to train a militia in Sierra Leone." Kaikai, while denying that the Kabbah government had hired mercenaries to help overthrow the AFRC, maintained that it would have been justified in doing so. "Let us assume that mercenaries did train people. Let us assume that for a moment. What was so wrong in having mercenary groups train people to help to bring back legality and constitutional order to a country? That is a very simple element of democracy. How could anyone who professes to embrace democracy take such a position or to be a propagandist for people who have bestowed so much insult and injury and atrocities on innocent civilians? We believe that what they were trying to do in bringing constitutional order was in the best interest for the society, was in the best interest of the citizens of Sierra Leone, and even if we did ask people -- which I do not believe we did, we did not do it -- there was nothing wrong in bringing about constitutional order to the country." Kaikai dismissed reports that the Kabbah government had granted $10 million in mining concessions to Sandline International, saying that the Sierra Leone government had engaged in "conversations" to "explore alternatives" on a number of issues. "Conversations were held to obtain help both internally and to have conversations about what ideas to get from external forces, ideas, not military hardware, not anything else whatsoever," he said. "We thought it was appropriate to engage in this type of conversations, especially when one takes into consideration the horrible atrocities what were committed by the junta on innocent civilians." Kaikai said "exploring alternatives" meant asking people not to support the junta, or to encourage people to engage in civil disobedience, "not the issue of having Sandline or anybody coming to engage in a type of activity that you are referring to in this case."
36 Liberians believed to be members of Liberian President Charles Taylor's former NPFL militia who fought alongside AFRC/RUF fighters, are being held at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, security officials said Sunday. Security sources said the Liberians were captured by ECOMOG in an ambush in Kailahun last week. "We have always said that some NPFL elements are fighting with the discredited junta forces and we now have adequate proof of the correctness of our story," said a security official, who brought the prisoners to Freetown in a heavily escorted convoy. This brings to 88 the number of suspected NPFL fighters captured in Sierra Leone, where ECOMOG has charged that the NPFL and another Liberian faction, ULIMO-K, have backed junta forces and have participated in atrocities against civilians.
2 May: The British government has launched an investigation into allegations that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office violated a United Nations weapons ban on Sierra Leone in an attempt to reinstate the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the British Sunday Times reported on Saturday. The newspaper identified Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Spicer, a former British army officer, and Peter Penfold, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, as backing a mercenary operation to overthrow the AFRC military regime. Penfold is accused of asking Spicer, a director of the mercenary group Sandline International, to help organize a coup to reinstate Kabbah. According to the report, the Kabbah government paid Sandline $10 million to train a 40,000 member Civil Defence Force. A search of Sandline's London headquarters turned up the $10 million agreement with Kabbah, the Sunday Times reported. A solicitor acting for Spicer and Sandline International, Richard Slowe from the firm S.J. Berwin & Company, confirmed that Sandline had supplied eastern European weapons to the ECOMOG force. "We have advised our clients, with the advice from no less than three leading counsels, that no offence has been committed," Slow said. A Reuters report said the lawyers claimed Sandline International had the backing of the British government, and that the company held a series of talks with the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials during the military operation. The Foreign Office denied Saturday that Ministerial approval had given approval to Sandline's activities. The Foreign Office said it it had suggested the investigation into Sandline International's role in Sierra Leone. "We can confirm that the (Foreign Office) contacted Customs and Excise some two months ago, suggesting that there should be such an investigation," an official statement said. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook "has made clear the importance he attaches to full and open co-operation, and has instructed that no action should be taken which might, in any way, prejudice that investigation," the statement added, noting that Sandline International had claimed foreign office approval of their activities. The Sunday Times reported that the inquiry began after a tip from MI-6, the British foreign intelligence agency. A spokesman for the Customs and Excise Office said the inquiry could result in the interviewing of Foreign Office officials. "The officers doing the investigation, if they feel it's appropriate to question Foreign Office officials or ministers, that will be done," the spokesman said.
President Kabbah and Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha have reportedly held a private meeting in Chad with Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi, who arrived in Chad Thursday for a state visit and to lead Friday prayers together with other heads of state, warned Chad's parliament Saturday against "America's plot against Africa" through the globalisation of the economy. Gaddafi also criticised France's military role in Africa, and warned France not to interfere in Africa's internal affairs. Chadian President Deby denounced the "pre-packaged democracy" being foisted on African nations, saying it was up to Africans to reflect on a different form of social organisation while preserving their "own values of freedom." Deby accused human rights organisations and the international media of orchestrating a campaign to stop the development of petroleum resources in Chad.
The head of the United Nations military observer mission to Sierra Leone, Brigadier-General S.M.C. Joshi, arrived in Freetown on Friday to assist ECOMOG with the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants. "The other nine military liaison officers -- two Russians, two Zimbabweans, two Kenyans, two Botswanans and one Briton -- will arrive over the weekend," according to a U.N. statement issued on Saturday. Joshi will be based in Freetown, while other members of the mission will be based in Bo, Kenema, Makeni, Koidu, and Lungi.
1 May: ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) said Friday they had captured more than 60 junta fighters in eastern Sierra Leone. 52 were said to have been captured by ECOMOG this week at Tombodu and Yomandu in Kono District, sources in Kenema said. Other reports said about 15 men were taken prisoner by ECOMOG and by a local CDF militia, the Kapras, at Madina Taindokom on the road linking Lunsar and Makeni.
Two exiled Sierra Leonean journalists in Canada, Lansana Gberie and Mohamed Bangura, have announced the creation of a fund to help rebuild Sierra Leone's media. The fund, set up in recognition of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, was established with the assistance of the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ). The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) will help with the distribution of the funds. The Hellman-Hammett fund of Human Rights Watch has contributed $20,000 and the Emergency Fund of European PEN has contributed $1,000. The funds will be distributed to over 40 displaced journalists. "Of about 40 newspapers which operated in the country before the coup, less than 6 survived, and they were forced to be compliant or to operate in an atmosphere of intimidation made all too real by the frequent arrest and detention of reporters who simply asked "sensitive" questions. At least 40 journalists fled the country, most of them living in almost total deprivation in neighbouring West African countries as refugees," a CCPJ statement said. Journalists are now returning to Sierra Leone, but many have found their equipment confiscated or destroyed. More than 35 journalists have so far been identified as in need of assistance. In addition, 22 newspapers have reportedly been banned by the civilian government on the grounds that they were not formally registered, according to the British group Article 19.
About 100 people are being treated for machete wounds at a mission clinic at Alikalia, south of Koinadugu, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Patrick McCormick said in Geneva on Friday. He said UNICEF had delivered medicines to the clinic to help the wounded, who had been attacked by junta loyalists. McCormick said there were no additional details, but added that the atrocities were among those denounced last week by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which reported that renegade junta troops were killing or mutilating civilians who refused to provide them with supplies as they retreated to the northeast.