The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

May 1999
 

31 May: The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) said Monday it had received reports of violations of the country's week-old cease-fire. "UNOMSIL continues to receive reports of violations or attempted violations of the cease-fire which could place the peace talks in Lomé in jeopardy," UNOMSIL said in a statement. No details were given. Meanwhile, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo accused the rebels of violating the cease-fire by establishing roadblocks near Okra Hill, on the main highway out of Freetown. "He says that the rebels established these roadblocks after the cease-fire and therefore it was a violation, and very significantly he said that this had cut off a large number of his troops from being resupplied by road," said BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. "And so he found the situation unacceptable and was demanding publicly that the rebels should get out of that position immediately, otherwise he would force his way through when and if he needed to resupply his troops." Asked whether there was independent confirmation of Mujakperuo's claims, Doyle responded that there was independent confirmation that rebel forces were in the area as of last week. "What’s not clear is how many of them were in the area before the cease-fire and how many of them are there now," he said. "It’s quite possible in the thick jungle of Sierra Leone to hide several thousand people, several thousand armed men even, in the forests and the bush around the roads." Doyle called ECOMOG's threat to use military force to clear the highway potentially the most serious threat to the cease-fire, which he said had so far "more or less" been holding. "There have been incidents over the last week, but not very serious ones," he said. "This is really the first test for the United Nations monitors here, the small group, to see if they can defuse this situation."

ECOMOG soldiers have used force to quell student demonstrations at Fourah Bay College, the BBC reported on Monday. Students there have been demonstrating for the past week over a lack of water. In a BBC Focus on Africa interview, FBC Principal Professor Victor Strasser-King gave his version of events and defended the ECOMOG action. "Last Saturday morning, about 11:30, a large number of students numbering about 150 stormed my compound, smashed down my front door — the door leading to my sitting room — demonstrating for adequate water," he said. "They ran riot around my compound, they destroyed my generator, they damaged cars and vehicles parked in the compound, and I came out, tried to talk to them. They refused to listen, they threw missiles at me." Strasser-King said he felt the question of water was a pretext for something else. "And that something else I believe is about a bus, a bus that was donated to the college by the government, by the Ministry of Education," he told the BBC. "Though the bus was donated to the college, the students commandeered it. They beat up the driver and took the bus from him. And it’s still with them."  Strasser-King said the ECOMOG unit involved in putting down the disturbances was itself based on the college campus at Mount Aureol. "ECOMOG soldiers are on campus as part of a national security network," he said. "Sierra Leone is in a state of war. Nobody would allow a situation to deteriorate to the point where it would escalate beyond control." Strasser-King acknowledged the students were themselves not a threat to security. "I am saying that the actions of the students could threaten security," he said. "The students have a right, but others also have rights. It is not part of students’ rights to run riot in the campus. It is not part of students’ rights to destroy private property. I am a citizen of Sierra Leone. The staff members are all citizens of Sierra Leone. And they all have rights."

Government and RUF negotiators met along with Togolese mediators Monday in joint committees on political affairs, military affairs, and humanitarian affairs.

President Kabbah arrived in Beijing, China on Monday for the start of a week-long state visit at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, the Sierra Leonean delegation includes Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment Dr. Harry Will, and other government officials. Kabbah and his entourage will also travel to Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Shanghai.

The human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take immediate steps to protect more than 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. It called on the UNHCR to move the refugees, who are in camps close to the border, to safe locations inside Guinea. "The refugees, who are fleeing the civil war in Sierra Leone, live in refugee camps close to the border — some as close as half a mile away. Since March 1999, these camps have frequently come under attack by Sierra Leonean rebels. Dozens of civilians, including Guineans and refugees, have been killed, mutilated, and abducted during these attacks," HRW said in a statement. There have been five attacks on camps in the Forecariah area since March, resulting in the deaths, abductions, or mutilation of refugees and the burning of their houses. "Most attacks have been short raids conducted overnight. Their aim is apparently to abduct refugees, steal supplies, and instill terror," HRW said. "It is a long-standing, fundamental principle that refugee camps should not be located close to international borders with a war raging just on the other side," Rachael Reilly, HRW Refugee Policy Director, was quoted as saying. "These refugees should not have been settled so close to the border in the first place. Their location leaves them completely vulnerable to armed attacks and abduction, and they must be moved immediately." HRW said it had called upon the UNHCR to move the refugees in June 1998, in accordance with international law, and not to settle new refugees too close to the border. So far, it said, only 10,000 had been moved. In contrast, the UNHCR has transported up to 2,000 Kosovar refugees per day to safer locations within Albania, the human rights group said. "UNHCR requested $4 million to move refugees in Guinea to safety but has yet to receive the entire budget. In Albania, UNHCR has recognized that moving the refugees away from the border with Kosovo is a priority. It has essentially unlimited funds for the move."

30 May: Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa has denied a statement attributed to him Sunday by the Associated Press (AP) that the Sierra Leone government had agreed to the RUF demand for the immediate release of Corporal Sankoh, according to a diplomatic source close to the talks. "Sierra Leone's Justice Minister Solomon Berewa said Sunday that his government was prepared to release the infamous rebel leader Foday Sankoh. Berewa, who a day earlier said Sankoh would be released only if a peace accord was reached, said the reversal was 'the price to pay to bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone'," the AP said in its report. Government negotiators so far have publicly maintained the position outlined in their briefing paper for the talks, which says Sankoh could be freed "within the judicial and constitutional process if this is the price to be paid for lasting peace in Sierra Leone." The source added that the previously announced government position on Sankoh still stands.

29 May: Peace talks in Lomé, Togo remained stalled Saturday over the issue of freedom for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, with both sides publicly continuing to stand by their previous positions. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said the talks would not progress until the matter was resolved. "We are waiting for a clear position from the government," he said. "It is a matter of great importance...and it is unfair for us to continue to advance the peace process as unequal partners. While Corporal Sankoh remains in chains, in effect we all are." Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, in a statement issued to the press, said that the government delegation did "not wish the progress of the dialogue to be delayed by the failure to make a statement on the issue of the release" of Corporal Foday Sankoh. "The Government of Sierra Leone reaffirms that it has taken the decision that if the release of Corporal Saybana Sankoh is the price to be paid to bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone, it will take appropriate legal steps to grant him absolute and free pardon. This decision still stands unaltered, and it will be honoured," Berewa said. Meanwhile, Sankoh himself held 30 minutes of talks with the government delegation. Afterwards, he told journalists he was "disappointed" at not being granted his immediate freedom, but said the RUF would remain in the talks. "I and the entire movement...are disappointed that I cannot be granted immediate and unconditional release," he said. "Nevertheless, in the interest of lasting peace, my delegation will proceed with the dialogue." A diplomatic source close to the talks said Saturday the two sides would begin substantive consideration of the draft agreement on Monday. He added that the government delegation had formally tabled its own draft at Saturday's meeting.

Planned mass demonstrations in Freetown to mark the inauguration of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo were called off at the last moment for security reasons, government officials said on Saturday, citing fears that rebels would use the occasion to infiltrate the capital. "We would have loved for thousands of people to crowd Freetown streets to celebrate the inauguration of General Olusegun Obasanjo," a presidential aide said. "We are still in a war situation in this country and cannot afford the security risk of the rebels using the crowds to infiltrate Freetown again and unleash mayhem in the capital as they did in January." State radio had been urging people for the last week to take to the streets to celebrate Nigeria's return to civilian rule, and to urge Obasanjo not to withdraw Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force. Meanwhile, in his inaugural address, Obasanjo said Nigeria would press for a resolution of the Sierra Leone conflict through diplomacy. "Nigeria has over the years played an active role in ECOMOG for the restoration of peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Our national interest requires the establishment and maintenance of peace and stability in the West African region. Specifically in the case of Sierra Leone we shall endeavour to ensure a quick resolution of the crisis by dialogue and diplomatic means," he said. "We shall pursue a dynamic foreign policy to promote friendly relations with all nations and will continue to play a constructive role in the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity, the Commonwealth and other international bodies. We shall continue to honour existing agreements between Nigeria and other countries."

28 May: Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations met for about an hour on Friday, while government negotiators handed RUF delegates a document outlining their negotiating position. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said the two sides were expected to meet again on Saturday. Meanwhile, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh demanded his immediate release, and said it must be "unconditional" in order for peace talks to progress. While present in Lomé, Sankoh still faces an appeal of his conviction and death sentence on treason charges in Freetown. "I must be released now. I cannot remain in chains. It is below me," Sankoh said in an interview with the Associated Press. "When you are in chains, you are condemned. It is more than being abused. It is unacceptable." RUF delegates have pressed for Sankoh's release through several plenary sessions of the talks since the two sides first met face-to-face on Wednesday night. Despite several reports on Thursday which implied government negotiators had acceded to the RUF's demand they agree to free Sankoh before discussing other substantive issues, government negotiators have so far not gone publicly beyond their previously stated position that Sankoh could be granted his freedom "within the judicial and constitutional process if this is the price to be paid for lasting peace in Sierra Leone." According to Reuters, this would leave Sankoh with two choices: to withdraw his appeal and accept a presidential pardon, or to pursue his appeal in court. "If the appeal is withdrawn Kabbah doesn't have to worry about due process before freeing Sankoh," said RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley. "But if you receive a  pardon then it is the death sentence that is quashed, not the conviction." The RUF is concerned that a conviction might prevent Sankoh from holding political office in the future. Sankoh's aides met with his British legal defence team to try to solve the dilemma, Reuters reported. Koffigoh said Friday that the Sierra Leone government had agreed to free Sankoh subject to approval by the country's legal system. However, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who leads the government's delegation, insisted Friday that Sankoh would not be released unless the two sides reached a peace agreement. "The issue should not be looked at in isolation, and only if a conclusive peace deal is reached," he said.

Senior ECOMOG officers have complained to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) about the slow deployment of United Nations military observers to monitor the five-day old truce between the government and the rebels. The BBC said ECOMOG expressed disappointment that not a single U.N. observer had been deployed outside of Freetown. The rebels have expressed similar concerns. "A U.N. official conceded that unless the organisation began deploying military observers soon, it was in danger of giving Sierra Leoneans the impression that it was ineffective," the BBC noted.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has cancelled plans to attend the inauguration of Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo, according to a press release issued by Liberia's Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism on Friday, because of what he called "recent credible intelligence reports of military activities on the border with Sierra Leone." Instead, Vice President Enoch Dogolea will lead a high-level delegation to Abuja, Nigeria. According to the press release, Taylor "cannot leave the country in the wake of the threat to national stability to the nation." A Taylor-owned newspaper, the Patriot, said Friday that security forces had been placed on full alert, and alleged "a massive movement of military contingents on the Sierra Leonean side" of the border was currently taking place. The paper said Defence Minister Daniel Chea and Joint Security Forces Chairman Eddington Varmah had been directed "to ensure that all military personnel currently on assignment at the Liberian border with Sierra Leone are logistically equipped in fulfillment of this alert order, and to deal decisively with any situation that may ensue." These latest allegations follow charges by made by Taylor earlier this month that ECOMOG was plotting to overthrow his government. They also follow charges made last week by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo and Sierra Leone's Finance Minister, Dr. James Jonah, who alleged there were "credible reports" that rebel forces were preparing a cross-border offensive from Liberia into Sierra Leone.

27 May: Sierra Leonean government and RUF negotiators in Lomé have agreed in principle to free RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said following talks between the two sides on Thursday. "The principle of the release of Foday Sankoh has been accepted by the two parties," Koffigoh said. "All that is left is the modalities of this release in order that it conforms with Sierra Leonean law." Sankoh's appeal of his conviction and death sentence on treason charges is still before the Appeals Court in Freetown. The Sierra Leone government has previously insisted that Sankoh, who was allowed to travel to Togo for internal consultations with his RUF commanders and for the current peace talks, should return to Freetown to continue with the appeals process. In its briefing paper for the talks, entitled "Reaction by the Sierra Leone Government to the RUF Recommendations/Proposals," the government said that President Kabbah "has always said that he would not hesitate to grant Cpl. Foday Sankoh his freedom within the judicial and constitutional process if this is the price to be paid for lasting peace in Sierra Leone." "We are very happy," said RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley. "Progress has been made and is being made." A source close to the government's delegation accused the RUF of turning the talks into a virtual "circuit session" of the Sierra Leone Appeals Court, with Sankoh's lawyer's present as unaccredited observers at four plenary sessions in which the RUF's demand for his immediate release were discussed. "The RUF delegation notwithstanding previous assurances, including one to (Togolese President) Eyadema, is insisting on the immediate release of Sankoh," he said. "Sierra Leone delegation response is that this constitutes a pre-condition. It wants to have the question deferred and have both sides deal with the two controversial issues — power sharing and the RUF's idea of a transitional government. The talks have reached a virtual impasse over this obviously procedural issue." He said the RUF had reneged on a promise given to the government delegation on Wednesday night, held under the auspices of the Inter-Religious Council, that there be a 48 hour "truce" on the matter.

Prior to Thursday's session, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who heads the government's negotiating team, told reporters that the talks were expected to focus on the RUF's proposal for a four-year transitional government. He told reporters that the two sides and the mediators and agreed Wednesday night that negotiations would be carried out in small committees, with plenary sessions between them. "We've adopted a very loose procedure to maintain the informality of the talks," he said. The talks were convened Thursday morning, but were immediately adjourned after the RUF raised the question of freedom for Sankoh. The issue was raised at a plenary session attended by mediators from the government of Togo, the United Nations, and the Organisation of African Unity. The mediators then met separately with government negotiators as they formulated their response. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said the RUF had only asked the government to clarify its position on Sankoh's freedom. "You can't expect the man to negotiate with his jailers while he's shackled and chained," said Golley, and in a separate interview, "We have always said that the release of Sankoh is of paramount importance, but not a pre-condition for the talks.''

The cease-fire in Sierra Leone which came into effect on Monday appears to be holding "as well as could be expected," BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle reported on Thursday, quoting officials of the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL). On Wednesday, ECOMOG Press and Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade alleged that a force of some 3,000 rebel troops was on the move toward Lungi and Freetown. "The U.N. investigated this claim and confirmed that some rebels have been on the move," Doyle said. "But the U.N. also obtained a commitment from the rebel commander concerned that there will be no more provocations of this sort." He added that the situation remained tense because, with so few U.N. military observers in the country, there could be cease-fire violations they are not aware of. Freetown remains under strict curfew, and government soldiers and militia groups have set up numerous roadblocks to check for weapons. "Before the ceasefire officially came into effect, there was considerable military activity as the two sides tried to consolidate their positions," Doyle said. "Military actions of this sort sometimes have a momentum which is difficult to stop."

A three-day parliamentary conference of Mano River Union member states opened in Monrovia on Thursday without the Sierra Leonean delegation. According to the BBC, no official reason was given for the Sierra Leoneans' absence. Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Kemoh Salia Gbao, told reporters that parliamentarians in Sierra Leone take decisions on their own, and they owe no one any explanations. The Chairman of the Liberian Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Thomas Nimley, said their Sierra Leonean counterparts had given an undertaking to attend, and he couldn't understand why they weren't there. "If the problem is transportation, we only want the word that they are ready to come and we will send a plane for them," he said. Liberian President Charles Taylor, in his address to open the conference, called the Sierra Leonean delegation's absence "regrettable."

ECOMOG Brigadier-General John Onu said Thursday that rebels had overrun the town of Bamoi, killing one ECOMOG soldier and wounding three others in recent days. He threatened massive retaliation of rebel forces attacked ECOMOG bases near Freetown. The rebels have denied the accusations.

26 May: After delays which were blamed on procedural issues, direct talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF finally got underway in Lomé, Togo on Wednesday, with both parties saying they expected negotiations to last late into the night. Wednesday's talks were expected to center on a timetable for the negotiations, with substantive talks to begin on Thursday. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh urged the two sides to "scrupulously adhere to the letter of the cease-fire," and to "take advantage of the atmosphere of new-found confidence, openness, and mutual understanding" to remove any obstacles that might jeopardise the talks. "It is true that the signing of the cease-fire is a decisive stage in the peace process, but considerable efforts are yet to be made if we are to reach the goal of achieving peace in Sierra Leone," he said. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said both sides were "being driven by a realisation that we have to bring about peace," adding "I don't see any coldness or stiffness between us so far." His description was echoed in a BBC interview by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who leads the government delegation. The atmosphere in the conference room, it was quite cordial as you would expect," Berewa said. He declined to discuss the government's response to the RUF's call for the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, a blanket amnesty for rebel fighters, and a transitional government. "Naturally, I won't like to disclose this at this time on the ground that it is a very critical stage in our discussions. I will rather hold it back yet until the discussions get under way," Berewa said. "You know, these things are quite delicate. I won't like to begin to tell the world what our position is on this or that at this stage." Berewa assured the BBC that the government was serious about reaching a settlement. "We are quite prepared to do things which will lead to the conclusion of peace, to an agreement that will bring peace to Sierra Leone. That's what we are here for," he said. The Associated Press quoted Berewa as complaining about rebel cease-fire violations. "They don't seem to be taking the cease-fire seriously. We don't want the process to be jeopardised," he said. Golley dismissed the allegations, and contended the cease-fire was "holding, despite minor infractions." In a German language report, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), reported Wednesday the government had ruled out any power-sharing arrangement with the rebels, but quoted Berewa as telling journalists that a "generous" amnesty was conceivable for rebels who laid down their weapons. The DPA quoted Solomon Y.B. "Pa" Rogers, who heads the RUF delegation, as calling for the government to drop all charges against RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh "as a sign of its earnest desire for peace." Sankoh is currently appealing his conviction and death sentence on treason charges in Freetown. After that, Rogers said, "everything else can be discussed."

The Sierra Leone government has said it lacks the authority to form a transitional government — a key RUF proposal —  according to a 13-page document which outlines the government's position in the peace negotiations. The RUF has called for a transitional government which would last four years, during which time it would transform itself into a political movement. "The government lacks the power to accede to the RUF's proposal for the setting up of a transitional government in place of the present government for a period of four years or for any other period," the document said. "The government itself is a creature of the 1991 constitution. It derives its powers and authority only from that constitution." The government also rejected a proposal for a new constitution, but said it would consider amending the present one. The document said the government would "not hesitate" to release RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, but would only do so "within the judicial and constitutional process." The government will also agree to examine an RUF proposal to grant a blanket amnesty to rebel fighters, taking into "consideration gross human rights violations committed against the citizens of this country." According to the document, the government would agree to recognise the RUF as a legitimate political movement. The RUF "should realise that the eight-year old conflict has devastated the entire infrastructure and economy and destroyed whole settlements now left in ruins," the document said.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, in an interview on Tuesday with the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS), pledged his loyalty to RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, but warned that the rebels would abandon the cease-fire if Sankoh were not unconditionally released within two weeks time. "Foday Saybana Sankoh is the undisputed leader of the RUF. I am just a soldier, a battlefield commander. I never take unilateral decisions," Bockarie told the NINJAS. "The decision for us to go on the offensive in two weeks time if our leader is not released has been a collective one." Bockarie rejected speculation that he had ambitions to take over the leadership of the RUF, but he claimed that Sankoh was acting under duress. "If a free Foday Sankoh stands in front of me today and tells me to do anything, I say anything, I will run to do it, but he is being forced to say things, and we as the RUF do not want this," he said. "Let the government free him and all others they are holding to show that they are genuine that they want peace and reconciliation."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) appealed Wednesday for safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations to all people in need in Sierra Leone, following Monday's cease-fire agreement between the government and the rebels. The WFP estimates that some 2.6 million people, more than half of the country's population, are beyond the reach of relief intervention, with many of them believed to be living in desperate conditions. "We hope the cease-fire pledge to allow safe and unhindered access to all people in need will be quickly implemented by all parties to the conflict," the WFP's Regional Manager for Coastal West Africa, Paul Ares, said in a statement. "We ran out of food last month in Kenema. As a result, 51,000 displaced people in the town and nearby Blama received a two-week food ration in April instead of the usual one-month ration." Food stocks in Bo, where the WFP is feeding some 10,000 displaced people, are expected to be depleted by the end of the month. If the cease-fire is observed and safe access is given to aid agencies, WFP will be in the position of quickly replenishing our food stocks and feeding the most vulnerable people living in Sierra Leone’s interior," Ares said.

Officials of the Professional Drivers Association said Wednesday that trucks had resumed travel on the Freetown-Kenema highway following Monday's cease-fire. "Today a total of fifteen trucks left Freetown on the same route to Bo and Kenema," an official said.

Three British military officers have arrived in Freetown to help the Sierra Leone government rebuild its army, and to assess the country's defence needs, state radio reported on Wednesday. Three other high-ranking British officers are expected to arrive in June to help restructure the Sierra Leone Ministry of Defence.

ECOMOG Press and Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade accused rebel forces Wednesday of a massive troop build-up which, he claimed, was reminiscent of rebel moves prior to January's attack on Freetown. "Our understanding of the cease-fire is that there is a frozen movement," Olukolade said in a BBC Focus on Africa interview. "That means that one is not supposed to move from his position as at the cease-fire moment. However, since yesterday, possibly before, the rebels have engaged in massive movements. In fact, we are aware that they have built up a strength of over 3,000 rebels with a convoy of petrol tankers at Makeni, and they started moving up from Makeni toward Kambia. That movement started two days ago and it has continued." He said he believed the rebels intended an eventual attack on Lungi, and accused them of attacking the town of Bamoi, southwest of Kambia, on Tuesday, killing an ECOMOG soldier. "We are aware also that they are building up a massive force at Rukupr. They have not stopped it; they have kept building more," he said. "And, eventually, from the trend of this movement, we know that their target is to move closer to Lungi and Freetown. Why we find it disturbing again is that this was the trend in January when they prepared to attack Freetown. They came with truckloads of petrol tankers with which they used to set houses on fire. If they have started that kind of movement now, when they ought to be at their positions and not to move, if that is what is going on, then we have a reason to be disturbed." Olukolade said ECOMOG had taken the issue up with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). "We believe that they should be called to order because ECOMOG will not take kindly to these violations," he said. "We will not allow our positions to be usurped in any way, especially when we are making efforts to encourage them to see reason with the peace move." Olukolade expressed disappointment that following a confidence-building meeting between the two sides on Tuesday, that the rebels had engaged in what he termed "mischievous moves behind the scene."  "If they continue to use the opportunity of the cease-fire to build up against our strategic positions, we cannot be expected to be watching while we are being endangered, and that is a threat to the peace process that we are concerned about," he warned.

25 May: Face-to-face negotiations between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF failed to get underway in Lomé, Togo, on Tuesday, but the peace talks were officially opened with a prayer by the Catholic Bishop of Makeni, George Biguzzi, and a moment of silence by RUF delegates in memory of the victims of the country's eight-year long civil war. In opening speeches to gathered diplomats and ECOWAS officials, the two sides gave an indication of their respective positions. "Contrary to the stories which are being spread about us, we are determined to engage in dialogue," said RUF delegation leader Solomon Y.B. "Pa" Rogers, who is chairman of the People's War Council. "We are calling on the government to prove their good will by releasing Foday Sankoh and by declaring a general amnesty for all Sierra Leone combatants." Rogers said the RUF was committed to the peace process. "We of the RUF have decided on our own that we must bring about peace in our beloved motherland," he declared. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who is leading the government's delegation, highlighted atrocities committed by rebel forces in his address. "The amputees, the people who have been mutilated, cannot contribute to peace," he said. "The criminal acts of arson in burning down businesses ... cannot contribute to development." Berewa, however, expressed optimism about prospects for peace. "As we commence this dialogue, we are encouraged by the fact that areas of agreement between RUF and the government are continuing to grow," he said. "Our task now is to work arduously to broaden the areas of agreement between us and proceed quickly to conclude a sensible, fair and enduring settlement." The negotiations are now expected to begin on Wednesday. The delay was attributed variously to differences between the two sides over procedures, and wrangling by ECOWAS foreign ministers over how to respond to last months' coup in Niger before they took up the issue of the Sierra Leone peace talks.

The Sierra Leone government's eight-member delegation to the Lomé peace talks is headed by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. Sylvester Rowe will act as coordinator and spokesman for the delegation. Rowe, who is a member of Sierra Leone's U.N. delegation, retired from the United Nations Department of Public Information in 1997, where he was Deputy Director of the Media Division. Also included in the government delegation are loyalist Sierra Leone Army (SLA) Colonel Tom Carew and National Security Advisor Siaka Mansaray.  Solomon Y.B. "Pa" Rogers heads the RUF's ten-member negotiating team. Rogers, a 55-year old former civil servant, is Chairman of the People's Peace Council (the RUF's war council). RUF legal representative Omrie Golley, a lawyer who has long lived in London, is expected to serve as spokesman for the RUF side. Also negotiating for the rebel side are Brigadier Mike Lamin (RUF), former AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Pallo Bangura, Colonel Idrissa Kamara (SLA), and Major Agnes Finoh (RUF).

ECOMOG officers, accompanied by United Nations military observers and journalists, met with AFRC/RUF rebel troops Tuesday at the town of Mapath, about 40 miles from Freetown, and agreed to respect the cease-fire which went into effect on Monday. According to the Associated Press, 100 pro-government troops and as many as 1,000 rebels took part in the meeting, which officials said was held to examine confidence-building measures. "The atmosphere under a big mango tree just after Okra Hill about 40 miles from Freetown was tense, as dozens of AFRC/RUF rebels approached senior ECOMOG officers, U.N. military observers, and a team of journalists," BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported. "The rebels, some dressed in full military uniforms, were very suspicious and uneasy as they sang the religious song, "Have faith in God; Wonderful things could happen to you if you have faith in God." Ojukutu-Macaulay said the rebels were led by Lieutenant-Colonel George "Junior Lion" Johnson. "As the meeting progressed, the talks became intense, with a mountain of mood swings which created a frightening atmosphere, especially as scores of rebels started entering from the bush," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "The rebels told ECOMOG that they want the world to know that they are not going to violate a cease-fire, and that they are ready to release all prisoners-of-war, but only after the government has released their own prisoners-of war. They requested for humanitarian assistance for their prisoners and other abductees, which included Guineans, Nigerians, and Malians, whilst pointing out the civilians captured and still with them are comfortable and reluctant to leave." According to Reuters, ECOMOG commanders maintain that they are not holding any rebel prisoners. Brigadier Ibrahim Sillah Sesay said the rebels would abide by the cease-fire, and rejected charges made Monday by ECOMOG Press and Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade, who accused the rebels of violating the cease-fire. "Let the world know that we have been looking out for peace long ago," he said. "The Sierra Leone Army are still united with the RUF and we are working as one unit. Whatever decision is taken at the ongoing peace talks between the government and the AFRC/RUF rebels, we are committed to such a decision. For that reason let me now endorse our commitment to peace for our beloved country." Sesay said the rebels were prepared to reopen roads under their control connecting Freetown with cities in the interior. "We support the reopening of the Freetown-Port Loko-Kambia highway and the Freetown-Makeni-Kono highway," he said.

President Kabbah will visit China from May 31 to June 6 at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao announced in Beijing on Tuesday.

Eleven people were killed overnight on Saturday at the Guinean town of Tassin in a cross-border attack by Sierra Leonean rebels, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said on Tuesday. He said a UNHCR mission was immediately sent to Tassin, which is also the site of a Sierra Leonean refugee camp. According to an initial report, ten of the victims were Guinean civilians and the eleventh a Guinean rebel, Janowski said. Thirteen Guinean soldiers wounded in the raid have been evacuated to Conakry. Tassin is one of seven camps which are due to be relocated further from the border area. This latest attack was the fifth reported in the Forecariah area this year.

24 May: A cease-fire signed last Tuesday between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in Lomé, Togo officially went into effect on Monday, as the two sides traded claims of cease-fire violations. ECOMOG Press and Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade told the BBC that several ECOMOG positions came under attack at about 2:00 a.m. Monday morning, "even including this place that is unquestionably under our control." Said Olukolade: "They attempted to dislodge our troops in places that we occupy with an intent to claim that it had belonged to them all along." He said the attacks took place along the Waterloo-Kenema stretch of highway and was particularly intense around Mile 91, where he said rebel troops "broke in from nowhere" from the Magburaka area. "Up till 5:00 a.m. this morning we were under intense attack from all these directions in places where we control, including even Koidu that is under our control, they attempted to take all these places," Olukolade said, adding that the rebel attacks were "stiffly resisted, contrary to their expectation." He warned that ECOMOG "will not accept a situation where under the guise of cease-fire some rebels want to take over positions that have been indisputably ECOMOG defence positions." The United Nations Integrated Regional Informational Network (IRIN) quoted Olukolade as saying the rebels would give up fighting as soon as it became clear to them that ECOMOG would not give up its positions. "We still have hopes for the cease-fire," he said. "We want it to work." In Lome, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo told Reuters he had received reports of rebel attacks on his forces after the cease-fire went into force, but said attacks around Masiaka and Kenema had stopped. Meanwhile, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh rejected the ECOMOG claims and told the BBC it was his own forces who were being attacked by pro-government troops. "It’s all lies, it’s all lies," he said. "My men are not on the offensive, they are on the defensive. In fact they are attacking our position at at Magbass, that is the sugar cane factory, and Tongo. I received the report this morning, but I am not going to complain. Anything that is happening, I did not have to see the ECOWAS Executive Secretary. But later on I think that things will come under control. My men our committed to our cease-fire." Earlier, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Sankoh as saying he was "looking into the reports" of the attacks. "It takes time to ensure that a cease-fire is respected," he said. "Some of my men don't even have bush radio or vehicles." Sankoh assured the BBC that he was receiving reports from his military commanders in the field. "I have my bush radio here. I have all information every day, every morning, every evening. I am communicating with my men in the field. There is no point to say 'how have you managed to know?'. I am getting information every day, every night. So all this are lies, the spokesman for ECOMOG, what he has been saying over the air." Responding to a question on whether his commanders in the field would still obey his orders, Sankoh responded: "I think there is no need people started thinking that whether Sankoh is in control. I’m full in control of the situation." RUF Brigadier-General Mike Lamin, also in Lomé, told the Associated Press ECOMOG had tried to capture villages and roads linking government strongholds in eastern Sierra Leone. "But we have repelled them. We have sandwiched them. So we are ready for the talks," Lamin said. The BBC quoted the RUF as saying ECOMOG had attacked two rebel positions with helicopter gunships. Despite the charges of truce violations, both sides say they are committed to the cease-fire agreement.

Early Monday morning, Reuters reported that Freetown was calm, with no flights by ECOMOG jets or helicopter gunships, or the sound of gunfire from the fringes of the city. Germany's Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), quoting state radio, also reported early Monday that the cease-fire appeared to be holding.

In an address to the nation on Sunday evening, President Kabbah said that if the country failed to achieve a peace settlement this time, the future for Sierra Leoneans would be bleak. "I am fully aware of the serious doubt that the overwhelming majority of you have about entering into an agreement with the rebels," he said, adding that the RUF and their allies had failed to live up to past agreements. "Despite this consideration I believe it my political responsibility to take the necessary risk for peace and to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt my government's strong commitment to the search for a lasting peace in our country." Kabbah pledged his government would abide by the cease-fire agreement he signed in Lomé, Togo last Tuesday. "I believe there are many positive signs for peace," he said. Kabbah warned that "While I am fully committed to finding a solution to the crisis in our country through dialogue, neither I nor ECOMOG would turn a blind eye to any action by rebels if it endangers all our lives and property."

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said Sunday that government and rebel negotiators had made informal contact in Lomé, Togo a day ahead of peace talks between the two sides. "We are in the same hotel. We are one big family. They are our brothers, we can't avoid them," he said. Golley said the RUF delegation would consist of about seven top officials, headed by Solomon "Pa" Rogers, chairman of the RUF's war council. The government delegation is being led by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa.

ECOWAS foreign ministers met in Lomé, Togo on Monday to discuss how to deal with recent coups in Guinea Bissau and Niger, which they say could undermine their efforts to restore peace in Sierra Leone. "It is time to bring an end to coups which only tarnish the image of our sub-region," ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Lansana Kouyate said in the opening session. "We are fighting to establish legality. It's the same thing we are doing in Sierra Leone...If we are silent it will continue."

The Sierra Leone government has imposed new regulations on burials in Freetown cemeteries following an ECOMOG warning that rebels might try to hide weapons in freshly dug graves, the BBC reported on Monday. For that reason, no burials are being allowed without clearance from military authorities.

In a BBC interview recorded earlier and broadcast on Monday, RUF representative and legal representative Omrie Golley said he was confident the RUF would honour the cease-fire agreement. "We have been speaking to most of our military commanders in the field who are aware of the contents of the cease-fire," he said. The RUF is a unified body, certainly from a military point of view, and we are confident that things will go very well from our side." Golley said the RUF was "very much conscious of the fact" that Sierra Leoneans wanted peace. "That is why we are here in Lomé. And that is why I would like to assure the people of Sierra Leone that insofar as the RUF is concerned we will try to negotiate with the government in good faith, and a settlement which hopefully will bring lasting and sustainable peace to our country." Golley rejected a suggestion made by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo that the RUF, backed by Liberian troops, was planning to launch a cross-border attack into Sierra Leone. "We deny that we are in cahoots with the Liberian government to invade our country," he said. "In fact our position, once we have been informed by our military commanders in the field, is that Guinean troops have been shelling positions during the course of the past day or two in Koindu from positions in Liberia. So the position is quite the reverse from what the commander is saying."

In a pre-recorded BBC interview broadcast on Monday, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer expressed optimism about the peace negotiations: "We are hopeful. Indeed we can’t afford to fail, and we believe we will not fail," he said. "We believe that this time there is a realisation on all sides that we need to achieve peace, because without peace there can be no development. And I believe at this time the rebels probably are more aware of the need for a peaceful settlement than they have been in the past. With the posturing of the international community, we hope that the message would have gone round to them that they cannot achieve power through force of arms and that we have to find a peaceful means of resolving these issues. So we hope that that will happen this time." Spencer said the increase in military activity ahead of the cease-fire was the result of rebel forces attempting to strengthen their negotiating position by trying to gain ground. "We hope that come the cease-fire taking effect, all of that would come to a halt." Spencer dismissed a suggestion from the RUF side that the government and the rebel group should be considered as equals. "I don’t see how that can be the case," he said. "The Government is representing the people who elected it, and that is the majority of Sierra Leoneans. The government has a legal status, it has a constitutional position. And the government is going to be negotiating on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. It has gone with a mandate. So I don’t see how the government of Sierra Leone can be considered to be equals with the rebels. I don’t think they are really serious about that."

23 May: The first contingent of a government delegation to the peace talks in Lomé, Togo, departed from Freetown on Saturday, according to Sierra Leonean officials. The group was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sahr Matturi. A second group, headed by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, left on Sunday. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh met Sunday with RUF officials in advance of the ECOWAS Committee of Six Foreign Ministers on Sierra Leone which will meet on Monday, and the talks between the government and the RUF which are due to begin Tuesday. Meanwhile, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said the RUF was prepared to observe a cease-fire beginning on Monday. "We are ready for the cease-fire. At least on our part," he said.

22 May: The Sierra Leone government believes that rebel forces are preparing to launch a cross-border offensive from Liberia, Finance Minister Dr. James Jonah told the BBC on Saturday. He described the reports, which initially came from ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, as very credible. Jonah said the RUF leadership had lost control of a faction which did not want peace. According to Germany's Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) news service, Jonah said the government trusted the assurances of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, but feared that because of his long absence the imprisoned rebel leader had lost control over his troops. He pointed to RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie as opposing the peace process, the DPA reported. Jonah said the government considered the peace talks, which begin Tuesday in Lomé, Togo, to be the best chance of ending the country's civil war. The government would be attending them in hope, if with some skepticism, he said, adding that the people of Sierra Leone were exhausted and wanted peace, but not at any price.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, accused the U.S. government and media Saturday of virtually ignoring the Sierra Leone conflict. On Tuesday, Jackson brokered a cease-fire agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, which is due to take effect on Monday. Jackson said a lack of concern for Africa had allowed the war to be "fought in the dark" since the conflict started in 1991. "We jumped in to protect the Albanians being driven out of Kosovo, but Africans have to defend themselves," Jackson said in Chicago. He called for increased aid to Sierra Leone, saying that the country's soldiers had little incentive to stop fighting because the army is their only source of food and money.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has reinstated all cabinet ministers and heads of public corporations he sacked on May 14 for failing to attend ceremony to end three days of of fasting and prayer for those who died in a raid on the town of Voinjama. Taylor said petitions and requests for forgiveness and clemency, including those from religious leaders and diplomats, had been taken into account, the BBC reported. He added that the decision to reinstate the officials was not a sign of weakness, but an exercise in prudence. 

21 May: Rebels attacked pro-government troops around Port Loko on Wednesday and Thursday, state radio said on Friday. "Several ECOMOG positions in Port Loko District have come under rebel attack,'' the radio said. "ECOMOG has repelled the attack and inflicted heavy casualties on them." ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade claimed pro-government forces had "massive casualties" on the rebels. "These unprovoked and surprise attacks on ECOMOG positions are being carried out by the rebels in a way that deliberately puts innocent civilians ... in the firing line," he said. Olukolade accused the rebels of deliberately trying to kill their civilian prisoners before Monday's cease-fire takes effect, which requires the release of non-combatants and prisoners-of-war. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim.

Two United Nations officials arrived in Sierra Leone on Friday ahead of a larger group which will monitor the cease-fire due to take effect on Monday, according to a a U.N. statement. "Some members of the U.N. Monitoring Group have started arriving in Freetown beginning with two from the United Kingdom who arrived this morning," the statement said. "About 26 more monitors are scheduled to arrive in the coming week to be followed by several others as required...The Ceasefire Monitoring Group will deal with such matters as access for humanitarian assistance to the suffering people; the release of all prisoners of war and abductees; violations of the ceasefire accord, and so forth." Earlier this month, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer insisted that "no less than 1,000 U.N. troops must be in the country before the government agrees to any cease-fire." However, the cease-fire agreement signed in Lome, Togo on Tuesday only said the two sides would request the deployment of U.N. military observers "as soon as possible," but made no reference to how many observers should be deployed.

The Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has protested the arrest in Freetown of two journalists: Observer Managing Editor Jonathan Leigh and The Democrat editor Joseph Mboka. Leigh was arrested by ECOMOG officers on May 17, according to the RSF because of an article which criticised the ECOMOG force and certain Nigerian soldiers' cultural observances. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which also reported Leigh's arrest on the orders of ECOMOG Major Tanko, said Leigh was detained because of a May 17 article which reported that Tanko and troops under his command had conducted a search for weapons at #1 Short Street in Freetown. Leigh is currently being held at Cockerill Military Barracks. Mboka was arrested on May 18 for an article he published on fighting in Kabala. RSF called for ECOMOG Press and Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade to make a public statement about Leigh's detention, "and to release him if he is being detained because of a press offence...noting that ECOMOG has the right to publish a response when it considers an article is wrong, but...that the organisation should not bring journalists before courts for merely using their right to inform." Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) quoted Olukolade as saying Thursday that Leigh's arrest was not connected to his practice as a journalist, but said ECOMOG had evidence that he was collaborating with the rebels. He said Leigh had been under surveillance for some time, and that evidence had been collected   with regard to his rebel connections which, Olukolade said, was jeopardising ECOMOG operations in the country. "Lt. Col. Olukolade however maintained that should ECOMOG be satisfied that the editor’s activities will not in any way jeopardise ECOMOG’s operations, he will be released without delay," SLENA reported.

A United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Emergency Report issued on Saturday, covering the period through May 13, said that delivery of humanitarian supplies to Bo and Kenema remained a "critical problem" for the WFP and the Committee on Food Aid as the Freetown-Bo-Masiaka highway was still closed to non-military traffic. To ensure continued delivery of food supplies to some 66,320 beneficiaries in camps and feeding centres around Bo and Kenema, the WFP has identified a charter vessel to transship food and other relief supplies to Bo via Nitti Port.  The vessel will also be operated on behalf of other donors, including CARE, WFI, and CRS, the report said, adding that funds had yet to be raised from donors. In Kenema, WFP food supplies are expected to run out by the end of May. WFP staff members participated in a government-led humanitarian assessment mission to Songo, on April 29. "Residents had either fled to Freetown and Waterloo or had been hiding in the bush in anticipation of the rebel seizure of the area since last December," the WFP said. There are currently about 15,000 registered and unregistered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Waterloo. In collaboration with the Inter-Agency Food Committee, the WFP carried out a population verification of over 9,000 registered IDPs living at the Waterloo IDP camp, the report said, noting that as the area had been secured by ECOMOG troops, people displaced by the fighting were returning.

Police in Germany have arrested eight suspects in connection with Wednesday night's attack on four Sierra Leonean asylum seekers at a refugee hostel in the town of Kutenholz-Aspe. Two of the Sierra Leoneans were reportedly injured slightly by broken window glass while making their escape. "We found two of the suspects with air- and spring-loaded weapons, along with military helmets, gloves and baseball bats, as well as a scarf with the inscription ‘skinhead,’" a police spokesman said.

20 May: Heavy fighting between pro-government troops and rebel forces was reported around Kenema on Thursday, four days before a cease-fire signed between President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in Lomé, Togo was due to go into effect. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade told the BBC that rebel forces attacked ECOMOG positions at Mano Junction on Wednesday evening, but said they were "effectively repelled." Shortly afterward, he said, another group of rebels launched a massive attack on Kenema from various directions. "Apparently they intended to take ECOMOG by surprise, but eventually ECOMOG was able to overpower them and the situation is effectively under control," Olukolade said. "ECOMOG regained its full control of Kenema and environs. So the rebels have been effectively repelled with lots of casualties on their part." He gave no casualty figures for ECOMOG, but said there was "not much that is of any serious consequence."  Witnesses told Reuters they had heard explosions in the city centre, but Olukolade dismissed the reports. "There could not have been reason for that, because (the rebels) were checked before they could have any access into the city of Kenema," he said. "It is not unlikely that people who heard the engagement in the suburbs felt that it took place in the middle of the city. They were not able to achieve that, even though apparently it was their intention." Olukolade said he doubted whether the rebels had the capacity to launch a fresh attack against Kenema this weekend, but added "even if they do ECOMOG will not be caught in any form of surprise." Earlier, Olukolade told reporters that ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen were being backed by jet fighters and helicopter gunships in ongoing fighting. Aid workers said frightened civilians were attempting to flee from both towns. A "senior government official" told Reuters that the latest rebel offensive raised doubts about the cease-fire accord. "It shows that the rebels are not sincere about peace and that they cannot and should not be relied on," the official said. "The government must be wary about whatever peace agreement it signs in Togo with the rebels, or we might end up like the Guinea-Bissau government."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies returned to Sierra Leone on May 17 to resume operations on behalf of tens of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance, an ICRC statement said on Thursday. The ICRC was expelled from Sierra Leone in January at the insistence of ECOMOG officials who accused the organisation of aiding the rebels with their communications, a charge the ICRC has denied. In the first phase of resuming operations, the Red Cross will assess overall needs, but will give immediate priority to urgent action such as providing shelter for Internally Displaced Persons in Freetown, and supplying clinics in several districts with basic equipment. The Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) operates three health centres in Freetown: at the National Stadium (west), Home Street (central), and Bailor Barrie's compound (east) which are staffed by trained nurses and volunteers, as well as two first aid teams at Connaught Hospital, which has a functioning blood bank. "The ICRC, working with the SLRCS, will handle emergency relief, health services, the dissemination of humanitarian law and the restoration of family links, while the International Federation will set up blood bank systems, carry out feeding programmes in schools and kindergartens, provide support for SLRCS activities and help the National Society build up its operational capacity," the statement said.

Four Sierra Leonean asylum seekers were attacked overnight Wednesday at a refugee hostel in the town of Kutenholz-Aspe, Lower Saxony, Germany. According to police, about ten black-clad, helmeted and masked attackers shouting racial epithets and wielding clubs forced their way into the dwelling just before midnight. Apparently alarmed by the noise, the four Sierra Leoneans were able to escape through a window and flee the upper storey apartment. Police said the perpetrators then proceeded to destroy the furniture. A German woman living on the ground floor and a neighbour were threatened with a gun when they tried to block the assailants from entering. Police are now conducting a search for the attackers, who fled in three cars.

Britain on Thursday welcomed the cease-fire agreement reached between the government and the RUF on Tuesday, and urged both sides to respect the deal. "Britain has been at the forefront of efforts to secure a lasting peace in Sierra Leone. It is important now that all sides honour all the provisions of the agreement," Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd said in a statement. "I hope that all rebel factions will now commit themselves to the peace process and end the fighting and atrocities which have blighted the people of Sierra Leone for so long." The South African Foreign Ministry also issued a statement Thursday welcoming the cease-fire pact. "South Africa recognizes the democratically-elected government of President Tejan Kabbah," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "The South African government recognizes the urgent need for all Sierra Leoneans to commence a dialog aimed at national reconciliation in a country scarred by war."  The statement called on all parties to commit themselves to making the most of the historic opportunity.

A scheme linking U.K. and Sierra Leonean schools, an initiative of the British High Commission in Freetown, was launched at Severn Road Junior School in Cardiff on Friday. "In the wake of widespread destruction and devastation in Sierra Leone, the Scheme will enable schools in the UK to assist their link schools in Sierra Leone through the provision of books and teaching materials," a Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement said. A task force in Freetown comprising representatives of the British High Commission, the British Council, the Ministry of Education, the heads of primary and secondary schools, and parent/teacher associations will identify schools in Sierra Leone to be linked to their counterparts in the U.K., according to the statement.

19 May: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a statement issued Wednesday through his spokesman Manoel Almeida E Silva, welcomed the cease-fire agreement signed by the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on Tuesday, which he said would help to "create an atmosphere conducive to the success of the peace talks" set to begin on May 25. Annan also said he would take steps to strengthen the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to assist in implementing the agreement. "I call on the RUF, the Civil Defence Forces, the Government and the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) to adhere strictly to its terms," Annan said, adding: "I now intend to initiate immediate measures to strengthen UNOMSIL to play its role in implementing the agreement. The Secretariat is sending a military assessment team to Sierra Leone to draw up plans for an expanded presence, which we would then submit to the Security Council for approval in the event of a lasting peace agreement between the Government and the RUF."

The United Nations Security Council discussed the situation in Sierra Leone during a closed-door session on Wednesday. In a statement issued after the meeting, current Council President Denis Dangue Rewaka of Gabon welcomed the cease-fire agreement, and urged all parties to comply with its terms. Rewaka said the Council was also deeply concerned with the deterioriating humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone.

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley told the BBC Wednesday that the RUF is committed to carrying out the cease-fire agreement it signed in Lomé, Togo on Tuesday. "What we’ve signed with the government is a cease-fire agreement that includes (the issue of the release of prisoners-of-war and non-combatants)," he said. "At this moment in time both sides are trying to put together lists of those that are now being held which fall within this category." Golley said the RUF was looking to the United Nations to deploy observers to monitor implementation of the agreement. "This is an issue that they’ve been involved with for quite some time, and they frequently informed us of their readiness to move in with United Nations personnel as quickly as possible," he said. "We expect them to adhere to this, and to ensure that the cease-fire is properly honoured, and that they would obviously also help with this issue of humanitarian relief going to all people in our country." Responding to a suggestion that guaranteeing safe and unimpeded access to humanitarian organisation would be difficult prior to deployment of U.N. observers, Golley responded: "When you negotiate, you negotiate in good faith. As long as there’s good faith on both parties to this agreement, all efforts should be made to ensure that the agreement works. We are very much dependent on the United Nations to provide these personnel, but that is not to say that we are not going to do our part, certainly on the part of the RUF, to help the process and to move it along very speedily."

Following Tuesday's signing of the cease-fire agreement President Kabbah stressed the need to move ahead quickly with the peace process. "I have to say this: that it is our resolve to put this behind us," Kabbah said in a BBC Network Africa interview broadcast on Wednesday. "We must do everything that is possible to make sure that when it comes to the dialogue between the RUF and the government, that we should make sure that that does not last more than 10 days, because the difficult decisions have been taken today, and recorded in this document." RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, also interviewed by Network Africa, said the delay until Monday in implementing the cease-fire was "for us to inform our commanders in the war front. Especially for the RUF, we have to inform the commanders and give them time so that they will be able to put the modalities to observe the cease-fire." Asked to describe the mood in the closed-door negotiations which led to the cease-fire agreement, Sankoh termed it "Brotherly, brotherly, not friendly, but we are brotherly. As Africans, they were good." He repeated the RUF's proposal for a four-year transitional government, during which time the rebel group would transform itself into a political movement. Sankoh rejected a suggestion that the elected civilian government would not find it easy to share power in a transitional government. "Listen, you wait and see. Nobody can tell us anything about constitution, democratically elected government this time," Sankoh said. "What the people are after is they want peace in Sierra Leone, and we have put our cards on the table and negotiate for a peaceful, everlasting, genuine peace in Sierra Leone." Responding to an interviewer's question as to whether Sierra Leoneans would be able to accept RUF commanders "who have committed these atrocities to come and rule over them in a transitional government," Sankoh shot back: "You have a proof that my movement committed such atrocities? You people are making a big mistake. Are you a mouthpiece of the SLPP? You should be neutral. Don't come to a conclusion that this and that pointing fingers at one man...All those who are involved in war have committed atrocities, not only the RUF. What about ECOMOG, what about Kamajors? Listen, the people want peace. When there is peace, there will be no committing atrocities."

18 May: President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh signed a cease-fire agreement in Lomé, Togo on Tuesday which will take effect as from Monday May 24. The agreement was brokered by the U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson under the auspices of Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who is mediating the conflict in his capacity as ECOWAS chairman. Under the agreement, the two sides pledged to maintain their present positions from May 24 and to refrain from any hostile or aggressive actions which could undermine the peace process, and committed themselves to begin good-faith negotiations in Lomé not later than May 25. The two sides also agreed to "guarantee safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organisations to all people in need, establish safe corridors for the provision of food and medical supplies to ECOMOG soldiers behind RUF lines, and to RUF combatants behind ECOMOG lines," and to the immediate release of all prisoners-of-war and non-combatants. The document also requested that United Nations military observers be deployed in Sierra Leone as soon as possible "to observe compliance by the Government forces (ECOMOG, the Civil Defence Forces) and the RUF, including former AFRC forces." The cease-fire agreement was signed by Kabbah for the Government of Sierra Leone and Sankoh on behalf of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, and was witnessed by President Eyadema, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General Francis Okelo, Organisation of African Unity representative Adwoa Coleman, and Rev. Jackson. After the signing ceremony, Kabbah and Sankoh held hands as Rev. Jackson offered a prayer "for the crisis in Sierra Leone to be resolved." Eyadema urged the two sides to respect the "new accord," noting: "It is easy to sign agreements but more difficult to respect them." President Kabbah predicted that negotiations between the government and the RUF would bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone by early June. "For Sierra Leoneans, war should now be against ignorance, poverty and disease," he said. Sankoh called on the international community to ensure that both sides lay down their arms. "Today is a memorable day for Sierra Leone," said Sankoh. "I call for my brothers to be patient and for a lasting peace to be implemented." Both Kabbah and Sankoh agreed to request OAU observers to ensure that both sides lived up to the agreement.According to the BBC, President Kabbah and Rev. Jesse Jackson, accompanied by Chief of Defence Staff Maxwell Khobe and Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, arrived in Lomé at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Kabbah drove with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema directly to the presidential residence, while Jackson proceeded to the 2nd of February hotel for a three hour closed-door meeting with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "We are working towards a cease-fire in Sierra Leone so that the violence can end, reconciliation can begin in Sierra Leone, so that we can have economic development in that war-torn country," Jackson told reporters after the meeting. The cease-fire agreement was announced Tuesday evening. "There is a real desire to promote a process of dialogue," the two sides said in a joint statement.

U.S. President Bill Clinton welcomed the the signing of a cease-fire agreement by President Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh on Tuesday, calling it "an important first step towards peace." In a statement issued from the White House, Clinton observed that the Sierra Leone conflict had killed tens of thousands of people, caused half a million more to become refugees, and uprooted one fifth of Sierra Leone's population. "With the continued commitment and engagement of both parties, the cease-fire and the confidence-building measures outlined in the agreement today can pave the way for the negotiation of a durable peace agreement," Clinton said. "I welcome the agreement as a step toward providing for guaranteed safe and unhindered access by humanitarian agencies to all people in need, and hope that the world might soon witness an end to the needless suffering of Sierra Leone's people. I urge all parties to implement the agreement in good faith."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended food distribution in eastern Sierra Leone due to lack of security on major roads and an acute shortage of relief food in Kenema, the BBC reported on Tuesday. BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima quoted the principal of St. Joseph's Secondary School in Blama, Michael Samba, as saying over 18,000 people were sleeping in dilapidated classrooms or in chicken houses and piggeries on the school compound. About five children were said to be dying there every day. At Gofor, over 10,000 people, mainly displaced persons from Kailahun District, were now said to be living without food. "In another related development, over 6,000 displaced in Bo yesterday stormed the offices of the (Minister of State for Southern Province) Foday Sesay and the offices of the World Food Programme to register their dismay over the non-supply of relief food," Brima reported. "However relief food, especially bulgur wheat, is being sold brazenly by unscrupulous businessmen and businesswomen at the Bo and Kenema markets."

At least two villagers were killed and nine injured when several hundred rebels launched a cross-border attack on the Guinean town of Moussay early on Sunday, Guinean radio reported on Tuesday. It said the attackers, who entered the town from a river border crossing near Kambia, burned down houses and stole food before withdrawing. Authorities in nearby Forecariah have responded by stationing soldiers in the Moussay vicinity and reinforcing the civil defence force. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said tension was high, was some villagers suspected Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea of supporting the rebels.

17 May: Substantive peace talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF are due to get underway in Lomé, Togo on May 25, following a meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Six Foreign Ministers on Sierra Leone on May 24, according to a source close to the Sierra Leone government. He said the revised schedule was submitted in a letter to President Kabbah from Togolese President and current ECOWAS Chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema.

U.S. President Bill Clinton is reportedly appealing to President Kabbah to attend personally next week's peace talks with the RUF, and has sent his Special Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to meet with Kabbah at the African-African American Summit in Accra, Ghana on Tuesday. Kabbah, who is reportedly attending the conference at Jackson's urging, left Freetown for Accra on Monday. According to a source close to the Sierra Leone government, Kabbah will address the conference on the theme "Democratic Governance and Partnership for Development," which is expected to include an initial reaction to RUF peace proposals submitted to ECOWAS last week, especially on the idea of a transitional government. Jackson is expected to ask Kabbah "to attend the talks with rebels in person and also for the government delegation to be more flexible in dealing with some of the rebel demands," a diplomat in Freetown told Reuters. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who will head the government delegation to the talks, suggested that Kabbah might attend at least part of the negotiations in Lomé. "At some point in time he is certain to go there if a peace agreement seems likely," Berewa said. Meanwhile, Kabbah told reporters at Kotoka International Airport in Accra that he planned to fly to Lomé on Tuesday for direct talks with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. According to the Ghana News Agency, quoted by the Xinhua news service, Kabbah welcomed the RUF's decision to transform itself into a political party. ""The people of Sierra Leone are tired of war and conflicts which have had a devastating effect on them," he said, adding: "for the past eight years all governments have been fighting the rebels." He said that while in Ghana he would hold discussions with Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings on the situation in Sierra Leone.

Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo will need to seek early parliamentary approval to keep his country's troops in Sierra Leone, according to the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay. The newspaper said over the weekend it had obtained a copy of the country's new constitution, which had so far been kept secret, and would publish it on Monday. According to ThisDay, the head of state will have to secure parliamentary approval to deploy troops abroad and to declare war.

Liberian President Charles Taylor on Monday accused ECOMOG of training men in Sierra Leone to overthrow his government. Taylor claimed ECOMOG's former base at Bushrod Island was to play a key role in the attack, and that the ECOMOG force had already infiltrated the capital. "ECOMOG, in collaboration with some Liberians, has planned to launch a naval operation to seize the arms to be used by Liberians to overthrow the government of Liberia," Taylor said. "Intelligence reports have confirmed that former ECOMOG soldiers who served in Liberia have returned here in mufti to prepare for such an operation against this capital." Taylor told journalists that certain unnamed West African countries which had helped end his country's civil war now wanted the Liberian government to be subservient to them. "It will never happen. It will never happen," he said. "Yes, you helped bring peace to our country, but we are a nation." Last week, Taylor's radio station, KISS-FM, quoted him as saying Liberian authorities had discovered a plot to overthrow him with an attack to be staged from the ECOMOG base. Taylor reportedly deployed troops at the Bushrod Island base to protect 20 containers of arms and ammunition which ECOMOG had collected while disarming combatants prior to the Liberian elections. Taylor claimed Monday that the seized weapons were the property of Liberia. They did not belong to ECOWAS or the United Nations, he said, adding "and no one will take them except by force." Taylor threatened to take military action to defend the weapons. "Those that are damaged will be destroyed, and those that are useful will be cleaned and put down in preparation for the Armed Forces of Liberia. That is the agreement," he said. "We will be fools not to protect those arms. In fact, I will reinforce the (former ECOMOG) base." According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the 1996 peace agreement signed by Liberia's warring factions in Abuja, Nigeria stipulated that the U.N. and ECOWAS were to decide what to do with the more than one million surrendered weapons. Relations between Liberia and ECOMOG have deteriorated recently, with successive ECOMOG commanders accusing the Liberian government of supporting rebel forces in Sierra Leone, a charge Liberia has denied. Last month, Taylor accused Guinea of harbouring rebels loyal to former faction leader Alhaji Kromah who, he alleged, were behind the April 22 attack on the Liberian town of Voinjama. Guinea has rejected the charges.

16 May: A "senior diplomat based in Freetown" confirmed in a Reuters interview on Sunday that peace talks between the government and the RUF have been postponed for what he said were logistical and security reasons. He said the talks will begin in Lomé, Togo on May 24. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said he would lead the government delegation, which would leave as soon as the RUF's proposals for a settlement, contained in a 59-page document entitled "Lasting Peace in Sierra Leone: the Revolutionary United Front (RUF/SL) Perspective and Vision," had been fully examined. "We are looking forward to going to Togo and facing the rebels. But they spent three weeks preparing their position. It is only fair that we are allowed a few more days to prepare ourselves for the talks. We are certain to be in Lomé by the end of next weekend," he said.

The RUF has dropped as a precondition for peace talks the unconditional release of its leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, Radio Lomé (Togolese state radio) reported on Sunday. Following a meeting with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Sankoh said he was determined to negotiate, and that he was prepared to declare a cease-fire in the Sierra Leone conflict. "Our discussion with the Head of State was fruitful," Sankoh said in an interview. "As you are aware, we are here to negotiate. We are not going to constitute an obstacle. I think that our fighters should really trust us, and I know they trust us. We have come here to discuss and begin peace talks and we are going to do it, not to please anybody or the international community and the United Nations. We are going to do it for our own people and because we had made a commitment that these negotiations should come under the auspices of President Eyadema, and we will not jeopardize the negotiations. We are here to negotiate...I am here in Lomé, and for the meantime I am breathing fresh air, and I have not come here as a tourist. I have come to negotiate." Sankoh said he had informed President Eyadema of the RUF's intention to declare a cease-fire. "It is now left for the Freetown government to make a similar decision so that things go on well," he said. "Our people are suffering. A cease-fire is in the interest of the people. We are even prepared to allow humanitarian organisations to go behind the rebel lines, even the government side where they are operating. I think we have no problem with the cease-fire. We are ready at any time to declare a cease-fire."

President Kabbah has eased a deadline for newspapers in Sierra Leone to pay outstanding taxes or cease publication after meeting with a delegation from the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) on Friday, state radio said on Sunday. Kabbah ordered "the shifting of all deadlines" for newspaper registration  and advised the SLAJ delegation to hold discussions with the Income Tax Department "to work out modalities for the payment" of their arrears. SLAJ president Frank Kposowa, who chaired the delegation, reportedly told Kabbah that the tax demands on publishers represented an increase of nearly 400 percent. "This is an unrealistic tax assessment by the ministry of finance. We are committed to pay taxes to government, but such an increase is at variance with the economic realities of the country," Kposowa said. Kabbah replied that the "government is financially constrained and needs money to carry out its programme for the development and security of the country," according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Six of the more than fifty newspapers currently printed in Freetown fulfilled the requirements and were granted permits to publish by the Ministry of Information. They were identified as the Pilot, the National, the Herald Guardian and the Standard Times, along with two new papers which are expected to begin publication in the near future: Wisdom and Super Sports.

15 May: Direct peace talks between the government and the RUF, which were expected to begin on Monday, have been postponed, according to a source close to the Sierra Leone government. He said the delay has apparently come at the behest of Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema who, in his capacity as ECOWAS chairman, has called a meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Six foreign ministers on Sierra Leone for May 24.

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday urged rebels in Sierra Leone to begin negotiating a peace settlement with the government, and to bring the country's civil war to an end. The Council also condemned "killings, atrocities, destruction of property and other violations of human rights and international law perpetrated on civilians by the rebels in recent attacks." Council members also urged both sides to stop fighting during negotiations, and called on the international community to abide by a U.N. arms embargo.

In a statement released on Saturday, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had confirmed reports of scores of atrocities committed against Sierra Leonean civilians in recent fighting. "In the regions of Port Loko and Masiaka, approximately 30 miles northeast of Freetown, Human Rights Watch has taken testimonies of survivors who describe decapitations, amputation of hands, mouths and ears, and scores of abductions of children and women by the RUF rebels," the statement said. "While these atrocities are the most serious since the January 1999 rebel offensive against Freetown, it is consistent with a long standing pattern of human rights abuses committed against the civilian population by rebel groups, and also by Sierra Leonean government forces and their surrogates. HRW based its conclusions on statements taken from residents of Madigba, Masimra, Ropart, Mangarma, Masumana and Magbany. "All the witnesses interviewed described widespread looting of property and burning of houses by the rebel forces during the attacks on villages. Those whose villages had been occupied by the rebels also described a pattern of forced labor and intimidation," HRW said, noting that the rebel actions constituted crimes against humanity. Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director for Africa at Human Rights Watch, called for human rights to be at the top of the agenda when the government and the RUF begin their peace talks. He urged the international community to put pressure on the rebel and government negotiators to stop the crimes against humanity.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has reinstated six of thirteen sacked ministers a day after he dismissed most of his cabinet for missing a ceremony to mark the end of three days of national fasting and prayer. Two of the six are currently on official visits in the United States. Not reinstated were Foreign Affairs Minister Monie R. Captan, National Defence Minister Daniel Chea, Justice Minister Eddington Varmah, Rural Development Minister J. Hezekiah Bowen, Youth and Sports Minister Francois Massaquoi, Energy Minister Jenkins Dunbar, and Posts and Telecommunications Minister D. Maxwell Kaba.

14 May: Rebel forces attacked ECOMOG positions near the town of Songo overnight on Thursday, an ECOMOG officer said on Friday. Freetown residents reported hearing the sound of artillery and mortar fire from the eastern outskirts of the capital. "Yesterday rebels attacked ECOMOG troops close to Songo and we repelled them after hours of fighting," the officer said. BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, who visited Songo on Friday, described the town as calm. "Everybody is going about their business, particularly ECOMOG soldiers and the other loyal troops fighting alongside ECOMOG," he said. "What I was told by the major in charge of Songo town itself was that yesterday some rebels actually made attempts to attack ECOMOG positions at Makolo-Songo Junction. What happened was ECOMOG engaged the rebels in a gun battle assisted by the Alpha jet and the two gunships...The result is that 30 rebels were killed, while one was captured and is now presently hospitalised." According to Reuters, the ECOMOG officer claimed his troops had inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers, who he said were trying to bypass Songo to infiltrate Freetown. He made no mention of ECOMOG casualties. Reuters quoted military sources who said fighting in the area was continuing. Freetown’s Progress newspaper reported Friday that ECOMOG troops were continuing to shell positions in and around Songo to prevent the rebels from passing their positions. Ojukutu-Macaulay reported that the clash occurred after ECOMOG pressured the rebels on two fronts, from Port Loko and Waterloo, during its operations to open the Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway. "As a result, the rebels were trapped at the Magbini village, which is near Rugbe Bridge along the Masiaka-Lunsar Highway" he said. "What I learned today when I arrived at Songo was that ECOMOG had been shelling those areas as well to actually mop up those towns and villages the rebels are still trapped in." Ojukutu-Macaulay attributed rebel successes in the area to the fact that most of those "trapped within the Freetown-Masiaka highway" were members of the former Sierra Leone Army who were very familiar with the terrain "which one cannot say for ECOMOG, and as a result of that, even though they are trapped they can find ways and means to bypass ECOMOG, like what they did at the Makolo-Songo junction, and make attempts to attack ECOMOG positions." Ojukutu-Macaulay also reported that commercial vehicles had begun plying the road to Bo through Songo. "Today I saw over seven fuel tanks heading for Bo and Kenema. The roads are now open and people are going about their normal business," he said. Pro-government forces recaptured Songo and other towns along the highway as far east as Masiaka late last month. Since then, there have been conflicting claims as to who controlled the Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway. On Tuesday, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo acknowledged that ECOMOG had not succeeded in opening the road to civilian traffic. "We, our troops have been passing in but I don’t think it is safe enough for civilians to pass," he told the BBC.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, in a press conference in Lomé, Togo on Friday, condemned atrocities in Sierra Leone and said the RUF would set up an internal inquiry to investigate allegations made against its fighters. Sankoh said that, in taking this major step towards peace and reconciliation, the RUF was acknowledging that atrocities had been committed in Sierra Leone's civil war. "We declare in the clearest terms that the RUF condemns totally and unreservedly all the brutal atrocities that have been committed or are being committed in Sierra Leone," he said. However, Sankoh denounced what he described as an unwavering propaganda campaign to blame all the atrocities committed in the war solely on the RUF. He said the rebel organisation was currently taking steps to deal with the question, and he invited the international community to send observers to monitor the process of the internal investigations. Sankoh attributed the reports of atrocities in part to his absence from the RUF due to his two years of imprisonment in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. "During the absence of leadership, something will always go wrong," he said.  Sankoh also again called for a transitional government in Sierra Leone, while indicating that this did not necessarily require a power-sharing arrangement between the RUF and the government. "The major current problem is to know what will be done after the signing of a peace agreement in Sierra Leone," Sankoh said. "That is why we prefer the formation of a transition government, but this does not mean that we want to share power with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. We have proposed the formation of a transition government so that all the sections of the Sierra Leonean society can participate in the running of the country's affairs. This proposal, we believe, will lead to a lasting political settlement of the crisis in our country."

Liberian President Charles Taylor dismissed 13 of his ministers on Friday, including Foreign Affairs Minister Monie R. Captan and National Defence Minister Daniel Chea, who had frequently defended his government against allegations of involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict. An Information Ministry press release said Taylor had sacked the ministers for failing to attend an official program marking the end of three days of national fasting and prayer. Taylor was quoted as saying that any official who did not know God would not serve in his cabinet. Also dismissed were Commerce and Industry Minister Brahima D. Kaba, Education Minister Dr. Evelyn S. Kandakai, Director General of the Cabinet Blamoh Nelson, Minister of State Without Portfolio Augustine J. Zaizay, Rural Development Minister J. Hezekiah Bowen, Youth and Sports Minister Francois Massaquoi, National Security Minister Philip Karmah, Agriculture Minister Dr. Roland C. Massaquoi, Land, Mines and Energy Minister Jenkins Dunbar, Justice Minister Eddington Varmah, and Posts and Telecommunications Minister D. Maxwell Kaba. Most heads of public corporations and autonomous agencies were also dismissed. A number of ministers who presented valid excuses were allowed to retain their positions, the Information Ministry statement said. The only minister to be present with Taylor at the ceremony was Information Minister Joe Mulbah.

Sierra Leonean newspapers went to press on Friday despite the expiration of a government deadline requiring them to register or cease publication. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has set up an eight-member ad hoc committee to deal with the issue, and says it wants to discuss the new regulations with President Kabbah. "We were taken by surprise over Friday's deadline and we hope the government can give us some more time," said SLAJ Secretary-General David Tam-Baryoh. The newspapers were also hit with a new 382-percent tax increase, which editors described as "exorbitant." An Information Ministry official defended the new regulations: "The papers realise they must register by law and also pay their taxes which many have not done for years," the official said. Information Minister Julius Spencer said the "ministry is only trying to ensure that there is some sanity in the print media and for newspaper institutions to register in accordance with the law." He said the issue of suspending licenses was "not even raised." There are currently over 50 tabloid newspapers published in Sierra Leone. Half have never registered, while the other half have not done so since 1996. Opposition parliamentarian Osman Kamara on Thursday urged the government "not to do anything that would result in muzzling the press," adding "Any attempt to stifle the press will be tantamount to weakening the foundations of democracy."

16 traders have appeared in Magistrates Court in Freetown, charged with selling their wares in prohibited areas of the capital, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. Police sources were quoted as saying more traders were expected to be charged as the crackdown to drive illegal traders from Freetown's main streets — including Wilberforce, Garrison, and Sani Abacha Streets — continues. A week ago, hundreds of petty traders demonstrated against what they described as police brutality toward them. The traders have insisted that the markets across the city to not have the requisite facilities and are not large enough to house them. "Furthermore, the traders argue that the government has failed to implement the Trade Act of 1967, which bars foreigners from trading in retail. But what is happening now is that Lebanese merchants and other foreign nationals not only do wholesale trading, but have been competing with locals in retail trading as well," Fofana reported. He said one reason given by the authorities for the crackdown is the increased number of road accidents on streets which have been declared no-trading areas, and which are "overwhelmed by hawkers and vendors."

Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, said Friday that politicians should avoid dividing the country's new military force along ethnic and regional lines. Politicians should "stop trying to bring tribal sentiments into the recruitment process" for the Sierra Leone Regiment, he told reporters in Freetown. "Since Sierra Leone faces a common threat, there is need for the unity of purpose and channeling of all effort towards overcoming a common problem," Khobe said. "There are thousands, even ten thousands of young men and women prepared to fight to defend their country." Khobe added that the nation must pay its soldiers well and take care of them "if they are to remain loyal and committed." He also called for a more modern, career-oriented army, and recommended competitive exams for officers.

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman said the rebellion appears to have "intensified in the north," although the rebels were not heavily armed, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday.

13 May: United Nations Special Representative Francis Okelo has protested to Sierra Leone's Information Ministry over "a wave of press criticisms" over a call for a cease-fire during talks between the government and the RUF, due to begin next week. In a letter to Information Minister Julius Spencer dated May 7 and made public on Thursday, Okelo demanded that Spencer use his position to defend the U.N. and to offer guidance to the public and the press over the role of the U.N. in the peace process in Sierra Leone. "Further to our very useful telephone conversation this morning, I am writing to reiterate our disquiet at the recent wave of press attacks on the United Nations, and on me in particular as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in the context of the ongoing national debate on the cease-fire proposed by President Eyadema of Togo as the current chairman of ECOWAS," BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay quoted the letter as saying. "He said what is more disturbing about these attacks is that they appear to be fairly well orchestrated, unrelenting, and narrowly focused, and there does not seems to be any official restraint on this trend," Ojukutu-Macaulay added. Last week, the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) issued a press release stating that the cease-fire proposal under consideration for Sierra Leone had been proposed by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema in his capacity as ECOWAS chairman. According to the statement, the proposal was transmitted to President Kabbah by ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, while Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Koffigoh presented the same draft to the RUF delegation in Lomé. "The concern of the United Nations, as expressed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ambassador Okelo, is that the dialogue process should be given a fair chance to succeed, and every effort should be made by the parties concerned to support and not to jeopardize it," the UNOMSIL statement said. "It is in this context, that the parties to the conflict are being encouraged to exercise military restraint voluntarily for the duration for the talks, to facilitate the free movement of the civilian population, and to give humanitarian organizations unhindered access to the suffering people."

Three journalists of the New Storm newspaper who were arrested by CID officers on May 5 have been released on a combined bail of Le 5 million (about $2,400), the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on Thursday. New Storm publisher Ahmed Kanneh, editor Thomas Gbou, and news editor Mohamed Massaquoi were charged under provisions of the 1998 Emergency Press Law with publishing an alarmist report. In the article, the newspaper alleged that ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Majakperuo had spoken to RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie by telephone, and reported that during the conversation Mujakperuo said he would not listed to Bockarie. ECOMOG, in a May 5 press release, denied that the conversation had taken place and said the New Storm article implied that Mujakperuo did not want to see peace in Sierra Leone, the CPJ recounted.

Rebels killed seven people and mutilated two others when they attacked a village near Masiaka in search of food on Wednesday night, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said on Thursday, citing local journalists. There has been no independent confirmation of the report.

The Malian government has come under increased pressure to recall its troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, the BBC reported on Thursday. Criticism by opposition leaders, the public, and the independent press has grown following a clash with rebel forces at Port Loko last week in which a number of Malian soldiers were killed. "Commander Abdoulaye Koulibaly, spokesman for Mali's Armed Forces, refused to confirm or deny reports that seven Malian soldiers were killed at Port Loko," the BBC reported. "Nor would he comment on reports that 17 Malians had been taken prisoner by the rebels and that three Malian armored cars had been destroyed. He did deny RUF claims in a Malian press that ECOMOG had launched the attack."

Civilians who have fled rebel-held Makeni have spoken of atrocities and human rights violations, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Thursday. It quoted one resident who said top rebel commanders were "living in splendour" in certain areas of the town, including Mabanta and Lunsar Roads. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

The British parliament's nine-member Intelligence and Security Committee has criticised the British government for failing to provide High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold with secure communications following the May 1997 coup. The Committee said there were "elements of farce" about attempts by the Foreign Office to provide Penfold with a secure fax and satellite telephone after he withdrew to Conakry, Guinea, which it said were a "contributory factory" in poor intelligence reporting prior to the February 1998 military action by ECOMOG to restore the civilian government. The report said a secure fax and security cabinet sent from London arrived in packing cases so large Penfold determined they would not fit through the hotel room door, and had them returned. A satellite telephone provided by the Foreign Office could not be made to work properly, so diplomatic staff had to rely on one purchased locally. An arrangement was made to send secure telegrams to Conakry through Bonn to the German Embassy, but these could take from three to seven days to arrive. Penfold was unable to respond by telegram because the process was "too slow and demanding" on the Embassy. "Our view remains that the Foreign Office's response to the situation was not what it should have been," the Committee report said. "The situation was then allowed to drift, however, and our High Commissioner was left in an undesirably exposed position for an extended period. Mr. Penfold was in possession of considerable information on the local situation, but was left unable to transmit securely this information back to the Foreign Office, and could not be consulted on intelligence assessments being produced in London...We believe that this was a serious failing in the system." A Foreign Office official, however, disputed the Committee's assessment. "When the decision was taken on how the High Commissioner should be provided with communications, it was envisaged his stay in Conakry would only be temporary," the official said. "Clearly it is difficult to supply secure communications for someone who is operating from a hotel bedroom, particularly when sensitive material is involved. The report does not bring out the fact clearly that Mr. Penfold was able to send frequent, detailed reports to London by fax and was also in the U.K. on several occasions. He was well plugged into the Whitehall debate."

12 May: Direct peace talks are set to begin in Togo on Monday between the Sierra Leone government and RUF rebels, Reuters reported on Wednesday, quoting United Nations officials. The officials said the U.N. planned to airlift representatives of the government and the RUF to Togo next weekend. President Kabbah and his cabinet were said to be meeting Wednesday to consider the RUF's position paper, which was submitted to ECOWAS on Tuesday following three weeks of internal consultations in Lomé.

The RUF is calling for a transitional government, the removal of foreign troops, and a blanket amnesty as conditions for a peace settlement in Sierra Leone, the BBC reported on Wednesday. RUF leader Foday Sankoh elaborated on the demands in a BBC Focus on Africa interview. "Well, these are one of our preconditions," Sankoh said from Lomé, Togo. "If you could remember, you look into the Abidjan Peace Accord, the RUF is prepared to transform ourselves to a political movement. You know, we have a political agenda, that is why. So we need to participate in any general election when there is a peaceful settlement. That is why we say the transitional government for some time — it can be three years or four years — while the RUF is transforming itself to a political movement. Then we can participate in any general election or any local election in Sierra Leone." Sankoh dismissed a suggestion that the composition of a transitional government might pose difficulties. "No, it will not create any difficulties. I think the only thing, the government should be flexible," he said, adding: "The RUF is serious and we are committed to peace. That is why if you could remember almost two weeks ago we made a proposal to the current chairman of ECOWAS for us to declare a cease-fire, to create a peaceful atmosphere before any negotiations or during negotiation. It’s left with the government to make positive response to that our proposal which we made to His Excellency, President Eyadema. And he made a proposal [to] which we made a positive response." Sankoh said the RUF proposals did not constitute preconditions which could derail the peace process. "Listen, these are just proposals, it’s not a working document," he said. "But now we have to meet with the government. People should not be incensed or trying to...RUF is committed to peace and we will do all what is in...the Almighty Allah will help us to do something to give peace to our people."

Meanwhile, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the RUF wants to see "a new political and social landscape" in Sierra Leone, but that the rebel group had no specific preconditions in advance of talks with the Sierra Leone government, which he said could begin as early as next week. However, the RUF is suggesting "a transition government that would have a life of four years and would oversee the peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process." In his Independence Day address last month, President Kabbah challenged the RUF to contest elections, to be held next year. Golley said government officials had not yet responded to the RUF proposal, but said the government had "failed to win the war and have failed to bring peace in our country. Given those realistic circumstances, they have to be realistic in...that fundamental changes need to take place." He added that the RUF expected their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, to be freed. "The man must be free, and our own position is that this is a prerequisite for the talks to succeed and the talks to continue," he said.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo called Tuesday for a halt in offensives by pro-government troops and rebel forces so that a cease-fire could be implemented. Okelo said the cease-fire would be "necessary as no country would like to send its military personnel as observers into a country where fighting was raging." Okelo also told government officials and aid agencies, that the RUF was unhappy about the government's recent purchase of two helicopter gunships from Ukraine.

Catholic priest Father Dominic Kargbo, who escaped from rebel-held Makeni last week, has described life in the city since it was captured by rebel forces in December. According to BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers, Kargbo decided to remain in Makeni to help residents "both materially and spiritually." Kargbo was quoted as saying that he faced an uphill task from the beginning, because his church and the entire Catholic Mission were looted. Rosaries and other church materials were openly on sale in the market, he said. "He said the food situation in the town is desperate, and everybody has had to resort to various ingenious ways to keep alive," Rogers reported. "About the only food that is easily available is beef, and that is because the rebels have been looting cattle from the local herdsmen and killing them. Other foods like the staple rice are impossible to get. Rice, when you find (it), is on sale at Le 16,000, or $7 U.S. dollars a cup." Kargbo said harassment was a daily reality for Makeni residents, and that he had been forced to go into hiding. "When things became unbearable, and he could find no way of escaping by himself, he negotiated his escape with a rebel commando who drove him to Kamakwie town, from where he continued his journey on foot until he reached government controlled areas," Rogers said.

A planned visit to Sierra Leonean refugee camps outside of Monrovia by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Kemoh Salia Bao, was abruptly cancelled on Wednesday morning at the behest of the Liberian government. Bao said that although the embassy had informed the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the proposed visit, he received a letter from the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) on Wednesday asking him not to go. Bao said he was to have delivered a message to the refugees from President Kabbah, urging them to remain law-abiding, and also to distribute some gifts to them. "Besides, I thought this was one way of easing the tensions between our two countries," he added. Alexander Kulu, who heads the LRRRC, acknowledged canceling the visit, explaining that for security reasons the ambassador's visit did not meet with the approval of the Liberian government. Since the refugees had fled from various parts of Sierra Leone, some were likely to be hostile to the Kabbah government, he said. "If we had allowed the ambassador to go ahead with this visit, and had he encountered any problems at the refugee camp, the international community would have held us responsible," Kulu added.

Life in Port Loko has substantially returned to normal following last weekend's clash between Malian ECOMOG troops and rebel forces, BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Wednesday. "One had to look very closely to see any evidence of the nine-hour battle between the Malian contingent and the rebels last Friday night through Saturday morning, and there are thousands of people going about their normal business," he said after a visit to the town. ECOMOG has still declined to comment on casualties, but Ojukutu-Macaulay said ten civilians were reported killed during the fighting, along with an unknown number of rebel troops. "What I was told by one Malian soldier was that as they continued to fire at the rebels, killing them in dozens, they keep on appearing," he said. "He said to me, at one stage, 'It seemed as if I was fighting devils.' Because the more they killed the rebels, they seemed to be appearing from nowhere." Ojukutu-Macaulay said pro-government forces were working on trying to open the highway leading to the provinces "because there are thousands of people stranded right across the country from Songo on to Masiaka....People are stranded, there is no food, there is a problem with water. So, ECOMOG is really trying to see if they can open the roads, but at the same time taking into consideration the trenches which the rebels dug as they were being pushed from their positions by ECOMOG." He characterised the current offensive by pro-government forces as "trying to push the rebels far away from Freetown, so as to protect the seat of power." In response to a question as to whether ECOMOG had accepted that it could not retake all of Sierra Leone, Ojukutu-Macaulay replied, "That is impossible."

11 May: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on Tuesday presented the RUF's  proposal for ending the Sierra Leone conflict, entitled "Lasting Peace in Sierra Leone: RUF Perspectives and Vision" to Togolese President and current ECOWAS Chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema. The presentation ceremony, which followed 21 days of RUF internal consultations in Lomé, Togo, was also attended by a delegation from Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, and officials of the United Nations and the OAU. "As I stand here, I am a prisoner. I’m a prisoner of peace, but I’m in full control of my organisation," Sankoh said. "For this reason, we are here to show the international community that we are prepared to negotiate."  According to BBC Lomé correspondent Ebow Godwin, Sankoh promised Eyadema the RUF would not let ECOWAS down, adding that the RUF did not believe in pursuing a military option to the Sierra Leone conflict. "We believe in a negotiated settlement," he said. The Chairman of the RUF War Council, S.Y.B. Rogers, then announced what he called the RUF's only pre-condition for talks. He called for Sankoh's unconditional release, to allow him to participate fully in the negotiations. "Our leader should be freed unconditionally. I am appealing to you for this condition to be fulfilled," Rogers said to Eyadema. Sankoh, who is currently appealing a conviction and death sentence in Freetown on treason charges, was granted permission by the court last month to travel to Togo for consultations with his field commanders. The government has insisted that Sankoh return to Freetown after the consultations were complete. Eyadema responded that the RUF demand for Sankoh's unconditional release prior to negotiations was unrealistic, but would be "one request among others" to be decided at the negotiating table. "Concessions on both sides need to be made," he added. The government has hinted that President Kabbah might pardon Sankoh in the interest of ending the country's civil war. "There are all kinds of parameters," Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told the BBC on April 19. "And the parameters will allow us to achieve sustainable peace once he gets back here — in the interest of everybody." On Tuesday, Kaikai said the "government has all along given assurances that justice will be fair to all, including Sankoh." Meanwhile, Eyadema advised the RUF of the necessity for give and take during their forthcoming negotiations with the Sierra Leone government. "The Sierra Leonean people have suffered for too long and must be given a much-needed break," he said. He also reminded the RUF that those who today were prepared to provide them with weapons would not be around to help when the time came for the reconstruction of Sierra Leone. "It is easier to destroy than to rebuild," he noted. Eyadema also spoke of the necessity of implementing a cease-fire as a confidence-building measure essential for successful negotiations. He expressed the hope that a cease-fire could be in place before negotiations between the RUF and the government began.

ECOMOG troops repelled a rebel attack on Kabala after heavy fighting on Saturday and Sunday, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said Tuesday. He said he could not be precise as to rebel losses, but Reuters quoted ECOMOG officers as saying about 45 rebels were killed. Olukolade claimed there were no ECOMOG casualties. There was no independent verification of the report.

Hundreds of people who fled a rebel attack at Port Loko over the weekend have arrived just outside Freetown, aid workers said on Tuesday. "They are mostly malnourished women and children seeking temporary shelter in the town," one aid worker said. "They need food, medicine, blankets and mats. Many showed signs of severe strain due to walking long distances on foot. Some had thorns stuck to their shredded clothes as they had brushed through dense bushes," said another aid worker.

ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo denied Tuesday that his troops had stepped up military pressure against rebel positions because the ECOMOG did not support a cease-fire between the government and the rebels. "You will understand that before I took over command, the RUF were in Freetown and Freetown was not safe," he said. "They were just in the outskirts of town. So what I am doing is to push them away from Freetown environs so that we can be safe there. Secondly, during their invasion they had blocked some of the highways leading to the eastern part of the country of Kenema and Bo. So, we are trying to open the highway so that there can be free movement of people and services. Now, people in those provinces cannot come to town, especially Bo and Kenema. So, that is what we are doing. We are not pushing them because we don't want peace. Moreover, it has also been known that there was this two-track approach to the solution to the problem. There was this [approach] which is already adopted by the ECOWAS heads of state and I understand recently even the Security Council adopted it, that is, peace and military pressure. So, I only try to put a little bit pressure on them. But, in actual sense, most importantly, we want to keep them at bay from Freetown and try to open up the highway to Bo and Kenema." Mujakperuo acknowledged that ECOMOG had not yet been able to open the highway to civilian traffic. "We have been able to (open it) to some extent except...between Masiaka and Mainatehun," he said. "Although people have been passing in, but I don't think it is safe enough for civilians to pass. We, our troops have been passing in but I don't think it is safe enough for civilians to take the risk. But when we are in full control between Masiaka and Mainatehun, then the road to Kenema and Bo is open."

A Sierra Leonean man has been released in Cyprus after nine months of illegal detention, the Cyprus Mail reported on Tuesday. He was jailed for having entered Cyprus without a passport.

Malian officials have acknowledged that at least seven of their soldiers serving with the ECOMOG force were killed in fighting with rebel forces near Port Loko over the weekend. Three others were reported missing. The officials claimed rebel casualties were high. Mali contributed 428 troops to the ECOMOG force in late February. At the time, authorities said the Malian contingent would perform peacekeeping duties only, and would not take part in combat. On Monday, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley claimed that 17 Malian soldiers had been captured in what he described as an ECOMOG attack on rebel positions at Port Loko. Media and diplomatic sources reported a rebel attack on Port Loko overnight on Friday, which was eventually repelled by pro-government troops after heavy fighting. The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported that at least 15 soldiers and civilians were killed in the rebel attack on Port Loko, with the number of injured unconfirmed. MISNA, which described Port Loko as one of the strongholds of loyalist forces, added that the rebels had reportedly abducted several children "with the intent of enrolling them in their forces."

10 May: RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley on Monday called on Mali to withdraw its troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, and said that Malians would not be acceptable as peacekeeping troops after their involvement in fighting at Port Loko over the weekend. "Over the past couple of days our positions in Port Loko were attacked by Malian troops,'' Golley said. "We were very disappointed because we thought the Malians were involved in peacekeeping, not offensive actions." He said their presence in Sierra Leone was "inconsistent with peace" and they should leave. Golley said 17 Malian soldiers, including a Lieutenant-Colonel Kuyateh, had been captured during the attack. Reuters, the BBC, and the Agence France-Presse all described a rebel attack on Port Loko, which was eventually repelled by ECOMOG troops. Golley said, however, that it was not clear who was in control of the town.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer has given newspaper publishers until the end of the week to complete registration of their papers. Only newspapers that pay their outstanding taxes will be allowed to publish, he said. Meanwhile, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa warned the print media Monday of two offences under the Public Emergency Regulations of 1999: "Publishing of Disturbing Reports" and "False Reporting." As reported by the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), Berewa said Publishing of Disturbing Reports included "the publication of any report or statement which is likely to cause alarm or despondency, or is prejudicial to public safety, the tranquility or the maintenance of public order," regardless of whether it was true, i.e. "the justification or truth of such a statement or report could not amount to a defence." The offence covered all reports relating to adverse reporting on the war or operations of government forces, he said. False reporting was defined as "the publication of any report statement or rumour which the publishers know to be false or have not verified with the appropriate authorities to ascertain whether such item is likely to cause alarm, fear or despondency in any part of Sierra Leone, or is prejudicial to public safety, public tranquility or the maintenance of public order," SLENA said.

The RUF is set to deliver its peace proposals to ECOWAS on Tuesday, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said on Monday. "We will be delivering our document to Togo's President Gnassingbe Eyadema tomorrow, who will then likely hand it over to the Sierra Leone government," Golley said.

In a joint statement issued by the French Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, the French government announced last week is will donate 40 military vehicles to the Guinean contingent of ECOMOG troops serving in Sierra Leone.

9 May: Rebels attacked the town of Port Loko at around midnight on Friday, killing at least ten civilians, burning several homes, and abducting an unknown number of residents including schoolchildren, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Saturday. Hundreds of residents have fled the town. A woman whose hands were amputated is believed to have been flown to Freetown, the BBC added. By dawn, ECOMOG forces counter-attacked, repelling the rebel advance. Reuters quoted a Western diplomat as saying "The rebels made a surprise attack on the skeleton Malian and Nigerian troops manning the town, and it was a bloody battle."

About 300 Sierra Leoneans marched in New York on Saturday to demand increased support for their country. The demonstrators marched from Sierra Leone United Nations Mission to the Nigerian Mission and in front of U.N. headquarters. The rally was meant to "focus heightened attention on the crisis in Sierra Leone in the light of the attention being given to Kosovo,'' Obai Taylor-Kamara, one of the organisers, said in an interview. ''We don't begrudge the Albanians in Kosovo but we only feel that Sierra Leone too be given fair attention,'' he added. Sierra Leone's U.N. Charge d'Affaires, Foday Dabor, said Sierra Leone needed more attention because the humanitarian situation there was worse than in Kosovo. ''We need humanitarian support. We need to rebuild half of Freetown that was destroyed during rebel invasion, and we need logistic support for ECOMOG,'' he said. He added that the international community also had to prevail on Liberia and Burkina Faso to stop backing the RUF. Meanwhile Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told graduating seniors at Howard University in Washington, D.C. that he had made the search for peace in Africa a priority. "I have made peace and progress in Africa a priority of my tenure as secretary-general not only because I am an African but because I believe that the United Nations cannot rest until all of Africa is at peace," Annan said. "Conflict in Africa, as everywhere, is caused by human action, and can be ended by human action. But that action requires imagination, persistence, patience and, above all, will."

Nigerian military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings called Sunday for increased logistical support for ECOMOG, and urged the international community to provide assistance and support to the force. In a communiqué issued at the end of a three-day visit to Ghana by the Nigerian leader, the two commended ECOWAS for its efforts to resolve the conflict in Sierra Leone, and paid tribute to countries providing troops to the ECOMOG force.

7 May: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on Friday rejected what the Associated Press described as government conditions for a cease-fire, but pledged to continue the peace process. "With the will of God Almighty, we will be talking peace soon," Sankoh told the AP by telephone. "We won't discuss retreating from anywhere before we even get to the negotiating table." The AP claimed President Kabbah was demanding the rebels vacate highways and diamond producing areas they control before talks. The demands that rebels "vacate all economic areas and the highway leading to the provinces for vehicular traffic" prior to a cease-fire were made by a group of paramount chiefs Monday after President Kabbah promised not to take any cease-fire decision without the involvement of the chiefs. The government has set no pre-condition on talks, and said Monday it was willing to accept a cease-fire conditional on the United Nations sending 1,000 truce monitors to Sierra Leone [next article]. According to the AP, Sankoh has agreed to the government's call for truce monitors, although he did not mention numbers. He also said his forces would allow civilian and humanitarian agency vehicles to travel freely on roads under rebel control. Sankoh acknowledged that pro-government forces had pushed the rebels out of some positions. "Oh, let them gain ground," he said. "We want to talk more about peace right now. But don't worry, we are strong."

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Friday the government was willing into a cease-fire agreement with the rebels conditional on the United Nations sending 1,000 truce monitors to Sierra Leone. "The Sierra Leone government is willing and ready now to accept a cease-fire any time the U.N. troops arrive in the country to begin to implement the cease-fire," Spencer said. "We are ready to sign a cease-fire if the peacekeeping troops arrive before peace talks begin between us and the rebels or when the talks have already begun. But...no less than 1,000 U.N. troops must be in the country before the government agrees to any ceasefire." Spencer said he expected RUF leaders to end their internal consultations in Lomé, Togo over the weekend and that their position paper should reach the government by early next week. "As soon as we receive this document we are sending our delegation straight to Togo to begin the talks with them,'' he said.

Three journalists were arrested in Freetown on Friday for a story which appeared on Wednesday claiming that ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo had refused to talk to RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie about agreeing to a cease-fire. BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay identified the three as Ahmed Bob Kande, Thomas Bowe, and Mohamed Massaquoi. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade issued a "strongly worded statement" denying that Mujakperuo had held any telephone conversation with Bockarie since assuming command of the ECOMOG force. Meanwhile, the Progress newspaper reported Friday that its Deputy Editor, Mohamed Karim, and the Editor of the Champion newspaper were detained briefly at ECOMOG headquarters "following their probe into a story on a Lebanese family." The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS) reported Saturday that two journalists of the New Storm newspaper were being held at the Central Police Station for a story the newspaper published on Thursday.

The Sierra Leone government has expressed concern about the humanitarian crisis faced by people who were returning to "their liberated but devastated towns and villages" after having fled into the bush to escape rebel onslaughts. In a statement issued by the Office of the President on Friday, the government called on the RUF to allow the delivery of relief supplies as a confidence-building measure. "Government considers that the need to facilitate the delivery of large-scale emergency relief to these innocent civilians should be the first credible confidence-building measure the parties to the conflict can take at this stage of the peace process," the statement said. "The RUF rebels, on their part, should also give the matter priority consideration. Failure to do so now could delay the search for comprehensive and sustainable peace in our country." The government said it was also concerned that prolonged internal consultations by RUF leaders had already delayed substantive negotiations between the government and the rebels. "Last month, the Sierra Leone judiciary allowed the RUF leader, Cpl. Foday Sankoh, to travel to Lomé under United Nations auspices, for consultations with other members of his organisation, on the understanding that their meetings would last for about six days. However, today, two weeks later, the consultations are still in progress," the statement said. "In order to ensure that Government and the RUF address, face-to-face, and as a matter of priority, the need to facilitate the delivery of emergency humanitarian relief in several parts of the country, as well as other preliminary confidence-building measures, Government would like the RUF to conclude its internal consultations soonest. Any further delay could have a negative impact on the peace process as a whole."

Irish missionary Brother Noel Bradshaw of the Order of Christian Brothers and Sierra Leonean priest Father Dominic Kargbo, who were trapped in Makeni after rebel forces overran the city late last year, were released on Thursday. The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) said their release was apparently negotiated by the Muslim "military chaplain" who accompanies the rebel forces, and who supposedly lent his vehicle to transport the two clergymen to the Guinea border. Following their release they two stayed at Farmoria, Guinea and were expected to arrive Friday in Conakry. From there, Kargbo will be taken to Freetown while Bradshaw will return to Ireland. Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews on Friday credited the Honorary Consul-General of Ireland in Freetown, Dr. Wadi Abourd, and Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi for helping to secure Bradshaw's release. Last month Italian priest Father Vittorio Mosele, who was freed by the rebels on April 6, said Bradshaw and Kargbo had decided to remain in Makeni "to continue to help those in need."

6 May: ECOMOG commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo met with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in Lomé on Thursday to discuss a proposed cease-fire in Sierra Leone's civil war, according to Togolese and RUF officials. Details of the talks were not released. "Everyone wants peace, we too want peace," Mujakperuo said. "No one wants what is happening on the ground in Sierra Leone — killings, destruction of property, chaos — no one wants all that, and the sooner it ends the better for us all." RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley said Mujakperuo was seeking to open the main highways and roads to traffic, and to secure access to rebel-held areas by humanitarian groups. "Security concerns and issues relating to the de-escalation of tension are the issues that need to be clarified here," Golley said. He added that the two sides would each discuss the issues further. The RUF's internal consultations are set to end on Monday, and direct talks with the government could begin by next week, Golley said. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema as saying the RUF had agreed to a key government condition to "free up the main highways" — a statement which Golley denied. "The issue of opening the roads remains unresolved," he said, adding that the RUF had agreed to "consider the issue and hold more consultations." He said a number of questions needed to be clarified first, such as "who would provide security on the roads and who would man the checkpoints." BBC correspondent Ebow Godwin, who also attended the Eyadema press conference, understood Eyadema to say that "as a confidence building measure, the ECOMOG commander and the RUF rebel leader had agreed that safe passages should be created to make it possible for food supplies to be sent to RUF rebel combatants who have been actually stranded behind ECOMOG military lines."

RUF and AFRC rebel factions have reportedly clashed at Makeni over the question of whether to support the peace process, the Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday, citing witnesses who escaped from the city. The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) pointed to factional fighting in the north last month, and the local press has published reports that RUF commander Dennis "Superman" Mingo killed "Colonel Rambo" (AFRC Staff Sergeant "Rambo" Marah) in a dispute over the issue in mid April. The reports were based on the testimony of residents who fled Makeni, and have not been independently verified by journalists. "The town is now divided with one sector held by RUF strongman Dennis Mingo and the other by a former Sierra Leone army officer, Colonel Issa Sesay," the AFP quoted one man as saying.

Barclays Bank is preparing to cease operations in Sierra Leone, according to a Barclays executive quoted by Reuters on Thursday. He said that Barclays had offered to sell its single remaining open branch in Freetown to the government for the nominal price of £1. "The Barclays Bank group has decided to cease operations in Sierra Leone because of the instability created by the eight-year war in the country and its negative impact on the business climate,'' the executive said. A Barclays spokeswoman in London denied that the bank was pulling out of Sierra Leone, but would not comment on whether such a move was being considered. A senior official at Sierra Leone's Central Bank, however, confirmed that negotiations between the Barclays and the government were taking place. "We hope to wrap up the negotiations in the next few weeks and take over the bank,'' he said. "The government is under immense pressure to act quickly... and to calm the worries of the Sierra Leone business community when news of the decision to sell out hits the streets." The bank executive said Barclays had suffered huge losses since the May 25, 1997 coup. The bank was looted and Barclays ordered it closed until after the restoration of the civilian government in March 1998. The bank was again forced to close after the January 6 rebel attack on Freetown, and only reopened on March 15. Barclays currently owns 60 percent interest in its Sierra Leonean affiliate; 40 percent was sold to Sierra Leonean investors in the 1970's. The executive said Barclays was planning to sell 85 percent of its remaining interest to the government. "The remaining 15 percent will be distributed to the staff of the Sierra Leone branch under an employee share scheme. The Barclays Bank Sierra Leone Pension Fund will be dissolved and cash payments made to staff and pensioners,'' he said. Meanwhile, Standard Chartered PLC Chairman Patrick Gillam said Thursday that the bank expected big Year 2000 (Y2K) problems from its infrastructure suppliers and Africa and Asia. "There's no question that for a bank like us in emerging markets, the beginning of the Year 2000 and the extra day in February is going to cause a lot of problems,'' Gillam said. He told the group's annual meeting that while Standard Chartered's systems were fully Y2K compliant, third-party suppliers of utilities and other systems, as well as trading partners, might not be. "These problems could be quite bad in Africa,'' he said, adding the Y2K problems would not be so bad in the developed economies. Standard Chartered operates banks in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana, Ghana, Cameroon, Gambia, South Africa, Nigeria and Tanzania in Africa, as well as in most South Asian countries and in several nations in Latin America.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was expelled from Sierra Leone in January at the insistence of ECOMOG officials, will return to the country in the coming days. "We have been given the necessary security guarantees," ICRC West African spokesman Christian Frutiger said on Thursday.

Masiaka, which was recaptured by pro-government forces last week, has been nearly totally destroyed, Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi said after visiting the town. "What I saw was devastating: Masiaka was burned to the ground. Ninety-eight percent of the city was completely destroyed," Biguzzi told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). "The city no longer exists. The parish church was gutted by flames, as also the convent of the Xaverian Sisters who were evacuated earlier together with all the other nuns and missionaries. All the people escaped to the rural areas and now on the streets there are only soldiers of the ECOMOG." He said the real tragedy is unfolding a short distance from the town, where thousands are struggling to survive in sub-human conditions. "With my own eyes I saw children reduced to mere skeletons and elderly people on the verge of death," Biguzzi said, adding: "As witness to such a tragic scene of death and destruction, I renew my appeal for the reconciliation of the entire population of Sierra Leone, imploring respect for the civil population’s sacrosanct right to live." MISNA, quoting its own sources, reported that the rebels had taken many civilians hostage during the battle with pro-government forces.

The Sierra Leone Parliament passed a motion Wednesday calling on the international community to persuade the rebels to vacate "all economic zones and return to the original places they had occupied in May 1997." 

5 May: Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, during a parade and skills demonstration by soldiers recruited into the new national army, called on soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army fighting alongside the RUF to leave the bush and give themselves up. "I want them to come out," he said. "A lot of them have expressed the desire to come out, however they are afraid. There is nothing to fear, absolutely. They should trust me and come out. They will be protected. Nothing will happen to them. They are young men and women. Most of them are less than thirty. They have more than 70 years to live. They can make the best out of the remaining 70 years instead of wasting them in the bush."

RUF rebels attacked five towns near Kenema over the weekend, killing a number of persons and abducting others, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday. "At Nayahun Town, twelve miles from Kenema, seven people were killed, property looted, and ten men abducted when the rebels attacked the town," Brima said. "In Lilema town, the rebels launched a similar attack in which two people were reportedly killed and another group of men abducted." Similar attacks were reported in three other villages, he said. "It was only when the rebels tried to attack an ECOMOG contingent based at Mano Junction that they ran out of luck and were put to flight after suffering heavy casualties," Brima added. The Deputy Minister of Trade, Industry, Transportation and State Enterprises, Mohamed Daramy, who is also Chairman of the Civil Defence Force in Kenema District, condemned the rebel attacks and said they were evidence the RUF was not serious about the peace process, according to the report.

The United States has pledged additional aid for the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering told the Lagos Voice of Nigeria on Wednesday following a meeting with Nigerian military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar. "We talked about developments in Nigeria, in the region, and in the world as a whole," Pickering said. "We particularly talked about the future of West Africa and some of the areas of uncertainty including Sierra Leone. I made it clear that the United States could be doubling its support for Nigeria and ECOMOG."

A delegation of Sierra Leonean students met with Liberian President Charles Taylor on Wednesday and urged him to use his long-standing relationship with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to help end the conflict in Sierra Leone. According to a BBC Focus on Africa report, the head of the delegation, Egerton Macarthy, read out a statement saying the people of Sierra Leone were of the opinion that in order for peace to be achieved in Sierra Leone, Liberia would have to play a pivotal role. The students claimed the genesis of the war in Sierra Leone could be traced to Liberia, and that Liberia should not sit by and see Sierra Leone burned to ashes. Peace in Liberia had come not through the bullet but by the democratic process, they said, and Sierra Leone deserved the same. The students appealed to the RUF leadership through Taylor to release all students abducted by the RUF, and they asked Taylor to reopen Liberia's border with Sierra Leone. Taylor responded by saying he was touched by the student's statement and by their involvement in their country's problems. He added that he was as anxious as they were to see an end to the war in Sierra Leone.

A committee designed to investigate relations between the ECOMOG force and the public began operations on Wednesday. The committee, which includes ECOMOG officials, civilians, journalists, and lawyers, will provide a forum for those unhappy with the conduct of the force to voice their complaints. ECOMOG commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo said the committee would be a tool to improve the deteriorating relationship between ECOMOG and civilians. Following January's rebel invasion of Freetown, ECOMOG troops were accused — most notably in a United Nations report — of human rights violations, including conducting summary executions of suspected rebels and rebel collaborators. Mujakperuo said that while some of the complaints were true, others appearing in the media were fabricated. Nevertheless, ECOMOG wanted to "reverse the trend," he said. "The situation could be helped if the civilian population show some understanding while interacting with the soldiers, bearing in mind the divergence in cultural background and the normal phenomenon of battle stress following years of operation away from the comfort of home and family," Mujakperou added.

January's rebel invasion of Freetown killed some 250 police officers and destroyed 80% of the police stations in the city, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Kande Kangura said on Wednesday. He said some police officers were still unaccounted for. Of twenty patrol vehicles donated by the German government, only seven remain, he said, adding that records dating back to 1808 were destroyed in rebel-set fires. Kangura said rebels who broke into Freetown's main police headquarters seized "substantial amounts of cash which were unclaimed salaries for some up-country officers."

4 May: Reuters reported Tuesday that President Kabbah had rejected a cease-fire proposal advanced by the RUF, citing an unnamed "senior official." "The rebels must vacate the highways and mining areas," the official said. "Any cease-fire as demanded by the rebels on their own terms is unacceptable to the government, and the government will continue to uphold its twin track approach of diplomacy and force in pursuit of a solution to the crisis." The official said Kabbah's position had been spelled out in a letter to Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who is mediating the conflict in his capacity of chairman of ECOWAS. The contents of the letter have not been made public, and other sources have disputed whether it amounted to a rejection of the cease-fire. Information Minister Julius Spencer confirmed Tuesday that the Sierra Leone government had received a cease-fire proposal brought to Freetown by United Nations Special Representative Francis Okelo and ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, and said the government had responded to it. "The president has talked to the Togolese president, General Eyadema, who is also chairman of ECOWAS, and we have agreed on the conditions that need to be in place for a cease-fire to take effect," he told the BBC. Spencer said sufficient numbers of U.N. monitors would have be be in place to ensure that the truce was not violated. "We cannot simply say we are going to have a cease-fire today and it happens," he said. "There are so many things which need to be in place for that to happen. Effectively, in reality, like I said, we need to have a group of people in place who would monitor the cease-fire, because we know what the rebels have been doing in the past and we do not believe that we should simply say, yes, a cease-fire, and then things start going wrong and then everybody starts blaming everybody else. We want to be sure that when there is a cease-fire, whoever violates the cease-fire will be held accountable." Spencer said the government was waiting for the RUF to end its internal consultations so that peace talks between the government and the rebels could get underway. "We are waiting for them to come up with their position and very quickly after that government will send a delegation to meet them. It all depends on them," he said. "If they are staying in Lomé, and all they are doing is talking about their position and putting it down on paper, I do not think that they needed to take as long as they seem to want to take, but it is up to them. The ball is in their court, we are simply waiting, as soon as they are ready, we will send a delegation."

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley has accused the government of obstructing the peace process and intensifying the military offensive against RUF positions. He said that in addition to the RUF's cease-fire proposal, the Sierra Leone government had been handed a peace proposal by United Nations Special Representative Francis Okelo, who met with RUF leaders in Lomé last week. "Okelo showed us a draft document which he had prepared with ECOWAS and with input from the government of Togo. We were quite happy with the document and suggested some amendments," Golley said. "We're ready. The government is putting obstacles." He described the RUF's proposed amendments as mainly procedural. "First of all the guns have to be silenced. Positions have to be frozen. Then you move to a permanent cease-fire," Golley said. "The (U.N. draft) agreement dealt with the initial details. I am surprised that the government did not respond appropriately." Golley said the RUF would conclude its internal consultations next weekend, at which time the group's first document would be distributed internationally through the Togolese government.

The New York-based human rights monitoring group Human Rights Watch, in open letters to President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, has called on all parties to Sierra Leone's civil war not to recruit child soldiers, and to demobilise children already serving in their ranks. The group noted that "the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has made repeated international commitments to stop recruiting and to demobilize all children in pro-government armed forces, including the Kamajor civil defense forces." While commending the government for refraining from enlisting children into its new army, Human Rights Watch expressed "deep concern" that large numbers of children had been recruited by the Kamajor militia. "These children are being used as combatants, in direct violation of international law," said Jo Becker, Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued on Tuesday "The government has a responsibility to ensure that the Kamajors do not recruit children for military service." The group also noted that thousands of children had been recruited by the RUF during its campaign to topple the government. According to UNICEF, nearly 3,000 children were abducted or reported missing during January's rebel attack on Freetown, and many of them are believed to have been abducted by the rebels. Human Rights Watch cited recent testimony that some of the children were currently undergoing military training. We urge the RUF to immediately end its recruitment of children, and to release all children currently in its ranks," Becker said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been given permission to resume operations in Sierra Leone, according to a "senior government spokesman" quoted by Reuters. The ICRC was expelled in January at the insistence of ECOMOG officials who accused the organisation of assisting rebel forces with their communications, a charge the ICRC has denied. "The president and the government hold no grudge against the ICRC and want them to resume work in the country as soon as they can," the spokesman said. ICRC officials were quoted as saying that the organisation's Director-General for Africa, Pierre Wettach, had met with senior government officials and ECOMOG commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo. Officials of other agencies said they expected the ICRC to resume operations in Sierra Leone later this month.

Expo Times journalist Conrad Roy, imprisoned in Sierra Leone since February 1998, died in government custody on April 30, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement issued on Tuesday. According to the CPJ, Roy was transferred to Lakka Tuberculosis Hospital during the week of April 26, where he died from tuberculosis which he had contracted in prison. Although Roy was detained by the ECOMOG force in February 1998, he was not charged until December. On December 11, he appeared in Magistrates Court in Freetown to face charges ranging from treason to aiding and abetting the enemy to overthrow a legally constituted government. "During the month of December, Attorney General Solomon Berewa denied requests by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) to visit Roy in prison, stating that only the prisoner's parents - who reportedly live outside the country - have visitation privileges," the CPJ said. "During his detention, Conrad Roy was denied the opportunity to appear before the Investigation Committee set up to decide who should be charged with treason for activities occurring during the period of Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC)/ Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rule." On January 6 Roy, along with other prisoners, was released from Pademba Road Prison by invading rebel forces. He reported to the prison on January 10, in compliance with the government's order for prisoners to turn themselves in. The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (NINJAS) has disputed the CPJ report in part, claiming that Roy died in prison.

Guinean state radio reported Tuesday another incursion into Guinea by Sierra Leonean rebels, which took place on Friday. As described by BBC correspondent Alhassan Sylla in Conakry, "According to the report, RUF/AFRC rebels in the early hours of April 30 attacked the locality of Yefoula in the Gueckedou District. Latest reports from the area say there were no civilian casualties, but several houses were burned down by the rebels. Also, rice barns were attacked, and large quantities taken away as well as cattle and other livestock. At least 18 people were reportedly abducted, 15 of whom are now confirmed as Sierra Leonean refugees from a nearby refugee camp. The three others are said to be Guinean teenage girls." Sylla said Guinean authorities had moved quickly to prevent a backlash against the refugees, as happened last month at Mola in Forecariah District. "A meeting convened by the authorities admonished both the local community and the refugee population to keep watch in order to avoid a recurrence of this incident," Sylla said. "A civil defense force of mainly youths in the area has also been set up. The radio reported also that Guinean troop reinforcements have been sent to the area, and local people, who initially fled into the bush, are said to be returning to the town once again."

BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay on Tuesday described for the BBC's Focus on Africa programme conditions along the Freetown - Masiaka stretch of highway, after visiting the area with a group of other journalists on Monday. "We were actually stopped on three different occasions because of the trenches all across Freetown - Masiaka highway," he said. "And the towns, the villages to Masiaka, have been all burnt down. There are a lot of decomposed dead bodies on the highway, military and private vehicles that had fell into rebel ambush, and more devastating, over seven trenches twelve meters wide and over three meters deep, end to end, dug by forced labour, by civilians abducted by the rebels to prevent ECOMOG advancing to the rest of the country from Freetown." In a second broadcast, he said ECOMOG troops had fallen into "a deadly rebel ambush" at Okra Hill the previous day. "Thirty miles into the journey, it became clear that atrocities had taken place," he said. Ojukutu-Macaulay described Masiaka itself as "a deserted shell of gutted buildings and empty playgrounds, after a systematic house-burning spree by the rebels as ECOMOG was advancing...There is not one single building in Masiaka. The same at even Mansumana, which is 68 kilometers from Freetown." At Mansumana journalists met over 2,000 residents attempting to return to their homes after living for months in the forest. Ojukutu-Macaulay said ECOMOG had advised them to return to their villages, because attempting to relocate them to Freetown would present additional problems. "On our way back from Masiaka, more people are returning from the forest," he said. "They are looking very haggard, unkept, with skin rashes. In fact one of them told us that there are several thousand more up in the forest who are just too weak to come down to their various villages."

3 May: President Kabbah has ruled out agreeing to a cease-fire unless the proposal receives the support of traditional chiefs, state radio reported on Monday. "The government will not take any cease-fire decision without the involvement of paramount chiefs," the radio quoted Kabbah as saying. A delegation of chiefs called on Kabbah "not to accept any cease-fire proposal" until the rebels "vacate all economic areas and the highway leading to the provinces for vehicular traffic." RUF leaders conferring in Lomé, Togo agreed over the weekend to a cease-fire plan proposed by ECOWAS and the U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo. The plan, which Okelo said would serve as a "confidence builder," would allow for the free movement of civilians and give aid agencies and the government unhindered access to people. Kabbah said any such cease-fire would have to be approved by the government and ECOMOG, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has called on Commonwealth nations to endorse any actions taken by the United Nations Sanctions Committee against Liberia and Burkina Faso for their alleged roles in assisting the rebels in Sierra Leone, Nigeria's Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.

The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) said Monday it had received independent confirmation from "our MISNA sources" of the capture of Masiaka by ECOMOG and the Kamajor militia "sometime between last Thursday and Friday." MISNA cited the same sources as confirming that Makeni and "various sectors of the Kono and Kailahun Districts" remained under rebel control.

The Associated Press (AP), in a report Monday with a Masiaka dateline, said that about 100 buildings in the town had been destroyed by fire. The AP said at least 2,000 "emaciated and frightened" civilians who fled their homes in December emerged from the bush, heading for Masiaka and Masumana. ECOMOG Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Oken said most of the people had survived for five months in the bush with little shelter on a diet of wild yams and cassava. He said ECOMOG soldiers were sharing their food and water with the returning civilians, but added that supplies would soon run out if humanitarian assistance did not arrive soon. The AP said no aid workers were seen along the 40-mile stretch of highway recaptured by ECOMOG last week. "Sierra Leonean army machine-gun nests were set up periodically along the highway, which was rutted with craters and traveled heavily by ECOMOG military vehicles," the AP reported.

Paramount Chief Honoria Bailor-Caulker passed away April 27 at Holy Cross Hospital in Maryland, U.S.A. after an illness, the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington, D.C. announced on Monday. She was 76 years old. Bailor-Caulker was crowned at Shenge, Kagboro Chiefdom in Moyamba District on 18 December 1961 and was a member of parliament during the 1970s.

1 May: United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said Saturday that the RUF's internal consultations being held in Lomé, Togo would end soon, and would result in a peace proposal to serve as a basis for negotiations with the Sierra Leone government. "I am happy to announce that peace talks between Corporal Sankoh and his lieutenants are going well and will be finalised very soon in the form of a base document that will serve for discussions with the Sierra Leone government," Okelo said following a meeting with Togolese President and current ECOWAS Chairman Eyadema Gnassingbe.

Towns captured along the Freetown-Masiaka in ECOMOG's current military offensive along the Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway are being held by Sierra Leonean soldiers, BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Saturday. "All of these towns I went to today are actually under the command of ECOMOG with Sierra Leonean soldiers holding the grounds from Sumbuya right up to Mamama," he said. Ojukutu-Macaulay told of meeting some 200 civilians who had returned to Mile 36 on Friday after its capture by pro-government forces, only to meet burnt homes, destroyed roads, and bodies in wells. "It was very, very sad what I saw today at Mile 36, Mile 38, and Mamama," he said. "When I spoke to the head man at Mile 36, Mohamed Lamin Kargbo, he told me they’ve been in the bush for five months, and it was only yesterday afternoon that they heard vehicles plying the roads. And when he sent somebody to come and check, they discovered that these were loyal troops to the government. It was then that he actually brought down some of the people who were with him up in the bush. And since yesterday evening they have managed to bring down about 200 people. He told me that there are about 2,000 people still in the bush." Ojukutu-Macaulay said returning residents were coming across bodies lying on the roads. "For instance today at Mamama they buried thirteen corpses. At Mile 38 they buried eight. At Mile 36 where I first saw the first burial they buried three. Right through to Mamama there are corpses, and the civilians are actually going all out to bury them and to make sure that life can return back to some normalcy."

Eight beheaded corpses, including those of women and children, were found at the towns of Mamama and Magbantoso after ECOMOG captured the area on Thursday night, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade. Olukolade said he was unable to give figures on civilian casualties in the area recaptured by ECOMOG, but said dozens of rebels had been killed and others fled into the bush during the eight-hour battle for Masiaka.

Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar on Saturday solicited Canadian support for ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone. "Nigeria would welcome more support for ECOMOG operations from Canada," Abubakar told Canada's new High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ian Ferguson, who was presenting his credentials.