The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

June 2001
 

25 June: Sierra Leone's RUF rebels are ready to face a proposed Special Court on allegations that they committed atrocities during the country's decade-long civil war, but want others to face prosecution as well, RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay said in an interview broadcast on Sunday over state television. "RUF fights along with the SLA, the national army, the CDF, Executive Outcomes – different, different troops have been in Sierra Leone through all this fighting," he said. "So all of these groups commit atrocities. In the interests of peace, international community can’t go with the RUF alone and leaving these other organizations that take part in the civil war in Sierra Leone." Sesay suggested that the amputation of hands and limbs had been carried out, not by the RUF, but by rebel Sierra Leone Army soldiers. "As far as we are concerned, we don’t fight with machetes, cutlass," he said. "They fight with machetes, cutlass, but we fight with arms. So a man who fights with arms, it’s not easy for an arm to cut someone’s hand. So the international community should not only blame the RUF, but the other people too committed atrocities."

24 June: RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi complained late Saturday that UNAMSIL had failed to investigate RUF complaints of attacks on its positions by pro-government CDF militiamen, and he threatened that the rebel group would suspend its participation in meetings with U.N. peacekeepers if UNAMSIL did not take action within four days. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web in Makeni, Massaquoi said a June 16th attack on RUF positions in Koinadugu District had resulted in the deaths of 23 persons including eight women and six children. Seven other persons, including three RUF fighters and four  women, were killed the same day in an attack on Woardu in Kono District, he said. "Five other people were wounded seriously including two children," he said. "These two children are currently with UNAMSIL in Kono. They are undergoing treatment there." Massaquoi described the attacks a "gross human rights violations."  "We refer to that as massacre of our people," he said. "We fought for them. We wouldn’t love to see them being killed like that. We have to take the issue with human rights organisations. We’ve done that with UNAMSIL." Reacting to a report that the Sierra Leone government may be considering the release of at least some RUF members detained since last May under the country's emergency regulations, Massaquoi questioned the government's basis for keeping them in prison. "It’s not credible to keep our people in prison for human rights abuses, because they too have committed a lot of human rights abuses," he said. "They are not a credible government to have our people kept in prison for human rights abuses."

22 June: U.S. President George W. Bush announced Friday his intention to nominate Peter Russell Chaveas, a career diplomat, to succeed Joseph Melrose as Ambassador to Sierra Leone. Chaveas, who received his undergraduate degree from Denison University and his masters from Rutgers, has served since 1997 as political advisor to the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. From 1994 to 1997 he was Chief of Mission in Malawi. At the State Department, Chaveas has held the posts of Director of West African Affairs and Director of Southern African Affairs, and he has twice served in the Bureau of International Organisation Affairs. Chaveas has held a variety of overseas posts, including Principal Officer in Johannesburg, South Africa and Political Officer in Lagos, Nigeria.

RUF rebels handed over 131 former child combatants, including two girls, to U.N. peacekeepers Friday in the eastern diamond-mining town of Tongo Field. Receiving the children for the U.N. were Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Operations and Management Behrooz Sadry and UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande. Three senior RUF commanders — Colonel Sama Banya, Colonel Molesky Kallon and Colonel Abdul Razak — also attended the ceremony, as did representative of child protection agencies. Responding to a plea from UNAMSIL's Child Protection Advisor, Bituin Gonzalez, Banya pledged that the rebels would hand over more children in the future, including girls. The children were later flown to Kenema, where they were handed over to child protection agencies. According to the Associated Press, the RUF issued a statement asking for the release of imprisoned members of the rebel group, including jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "As we in the RUF have demonstrated in many ways our commitment to the peace process ... the RUF would also appreciate that the government at this time think of considering our request for the releases of our RUF brothers, especially our brother Foday Sankoh," the statement said.

The Sierra Leone government is looking at the possibility of releasing at least some members of Sierra Leone's rebel RUF movement, Reuters reported on Friday, quoting Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. The RUF members, including commanders and former government ministers, were detained under the country's emergency regulations when the peace process collapsed in May 2000. "The government is going through the list of RUF detainees looking at those that the government can safely release," Berewa told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson. "Those who may have been said to have committed serious crimes will not be released automatically...I believe that very soon the government will be in a position to make a statement on some of them." Berewa also played down reports of clashes between RUF rebels and pro-government CDF militiamen. "Sierra Leone is now very near to the end of its war and I am sure that peace is now in sight," he said. "Whatever little skirmishes might take place between the RUF and the CDF in some areas, they should not be of much concern because you don't expect everything to end like a surgical operation."

5,893 combatants have disarmed in Sierra Leone since May 18, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. The number includes 1,834 RUF fighters, 3,940 pro-government CDF militiamen and 119 ex-SLA/AFRC. 

21 June: Sierra Leone Army Training Director Colonel Gabriel Mani and five co-defendants appeared before a Freetown Magistrate's Court on Thursday, charged with 19 counts of weapons violations stemming from a June 9 raid by police and United Nations peacekeepers on his Juba Hill residence, the BBC reported. 39 persons were originally arrested, and several caches of arms and ammunition were seized during a seven-hour search of Mani's compound. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, Mani complained that friends and family members had been prevented from visiting him at the Pademba Road Prison. The defendants were denied bail, but Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who is acting as prosecutor in the case, agreed to allow Mani to be transferred into military custody, Fofana said.

Lawmakers in the United States introduced legislation in both houses of Congress Thursday aimed at curbing the trade in so-called "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in countries such as Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The proposed legislation, known as the Clean Diamond Act, would prohibit the import of rough diamonds and diamond jewelry from countries which have not implemented a forgery-proof certification system to authenticate the origin of the rough stones. Those violating the law would be subject to civil and criminal penalties, including the confiscation of contraband gems. For significant violators, their assets in the U.S. could be frozen. The bill also authorises the appropriation of $5 million to assist countries which would face financial difficulties in implementing a system of controls on diamonds. The law would take effect six months after its enactment. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Tony Hall, a Democrat, and Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican, who backed an earlier version of the bill which stalled in committee last year. On the Senate side, the bill was submitted by Senators Russ Feingold and Mike DeWine. In a Washington, D.C. press conference on Thursday, Hall noted that the compromise bill enjoyed the support of congressional leaders, the diamond industry, human rights groups and non-governmental organisations. Sierra Leonean Ambassador John Leigh hailed the proposed legislation, and pledged that the Sierra Leone government was resolved to do everything possible in the implementation phase of the law. But he added that "this is just the beginning of a difficult process," noting that past performance by the diamond industry had often fallen short of its promises.

20 June: The RUF has accused pro-government CDF militiamen of attacking its positions in Sierra Leone's northern Koinadugu District, news services reported on Wednesday. According to the Associated Press, rebel spokesman Gibril Massaquoi said CDF militiamen had attacked Lelewah and Woodu villages, occupying the two towns until reinforcements forced them out on Tuesday. He claimed that at least 39 persons had been killed, including 35 civilians and four RUF combatants. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. Reuters quoted Massaquoi as saying the RUF had lodged a complaint with the United Nations peacekeeping force, UNAMSIL. The UNAMSIL military spokesman, Major Mohammed Yerima (pictured right), confirmed that the RUF had been in contact with U.N. peacekeepers over the matter. "UNAMSIL has received reports from the RUF that on the 17th June Civil Defence Forces Kamajors attacked their position at Yirima village, killing three RUF and a number of civilians, but UNAMSIL has not got any comprehensive report as for now," Yerima was quoted as saying, adding: "UNAMSIL peacekeepers are investigating the matter."

Some RUF rebels might soon be absorbed into the restructured, British-trained Sierra Leone Army, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday, quoting a senior defence official. "Recent events present us with a new dimension — some RUF people who gave up weapons want to join the Sierra Leone Army," the official said. "This could be a stabilising factor, so we are happy to receive a number of them, who have been carefully screened, into the SLA, although not too many — say a couple of hundred."

The United Nations has extended the deadline for nominations to Sierra Leone's proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. The Commission, the creation of which was mandated under the 1999 Lome Peace Accord, is being established to provide an impartial record of human rights abuses committed during the Sierra Leone conflict. It will address the issue of impunity and will provide an opportunity for victims to tell their stories in an effort to promote reconciliation and prevent a repeat of the abuses. Four members of the TRC will be Sierra Leonean nationals, and three will be selected from international community. The spokesman said that the Selection Committee, chaired by the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, was particularly interested in soliciting nominations from Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora. Nominations may be submitted by anyone either within or outside of Sierra Leone.

19 June: A day after the Liberian government suggested it would take legal action against countries seeking to enforce a United Nations travel ban against Liberian officials and others accused of providing support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, the country's Lebanese community said it would push to have the names of Lebanese nationals deleted from the list, the Reuters news agency reported. "We are initiating various actions to have the names of Lebanese citizens removed from the list," the World Lebanese Cultural Union of Liberia said in a statement. The group's leader, George Haddad, is among those covered by the ban. "Lebanese citizens have been in Liberia for more than 110 years and in all these years we have restricted ourselves to business," the statement said. "Our relationship with the government of Liberia has been and continues to be merely the pursuit of legitimate business activities and the contributions we make to education or social services either as individuals or as a community."

18 June: The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Abdul O. Bangura, died on Friday following a short illness, according to state radio and local press accounts. He was 72.

The Liberian government has threatened to strike back against countries seeking to enforce an international travel ban on Liberian officials and others accused of supporting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday. The ban, which was imposed by the United Nations Security Council in May, covers 130 government officials, military commanders, businessmen, and non-Liberians, not all of them based in Liberia. Heading the list is President Charles Taylor, his wife, his son, and two of his former wives. "Those affected have indicated their intention to request the competent courts to demand any evidence of individual wrongdoing and to provide compensation for damages," Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan said in a letter to the Security Council. The threatened action comes just a week after a Liberian request for a temporary suspension of the U.N. arms embargo — another key component of the sanctions — to help government troops to combat rebels in the country's northern Lofa County. In his letter, Captan alleged that the U.N. list contained erroneous information, such as incorrect dates of birth and misleading titles, and that it listed persons as spouses who were now divorced. The foreign minister, who is himself on the list, also complained that the large number of names from the foreign ministry was "impairing Liberia's capacity to conduct its foreign policy." In addition, he said, the list "heavily targeted the Liberian economy," scaring off potential investors and damaging in particular the logging industry, Liberia's largest employer. Meanwhile, the current manager of Liberia's shipping and corporate registry, Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) said Friday it had filed suit against its predecessor, International Registries Inc. (IRI) over allegations made by IRI last month that LISCR was a "major source of Liberia's income for...financial and military aid to rebels intent on overthrowing the government of Sierra Leone." LISCR denies the allegations. A similar charge was made last December by the U.N. Panel of Experts investigating the link between illicit diamond sales and arms in Sierra Leone. LISCR chief executive officer Yoram Cohen said he rejected the U.N. report. "Let's see any of the Panel of Experts making those accusations in the U.S. where we can get jurisdiction over them," he said.

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande told the BBC Monday that during a stopover in the eastern diamond mining town of Tongo Field RUF commanders there had assured him of their commitment to the peace process. "Colonel Banya, who is the brigade commander, was there to meet me at the helipad and all of his commanders were there," Opande said. "They reassured me that they are committed to peace and they are going to work for peace. And as a sign of their commitment they told me that they are ready to disarm as soon as disarmament arrangements have been made." Opande also pointed to the RUF's freeing of a captured CDF combatant as a hopeful sign for the easing of tensions. But Opande said U.N. deployment in Tongo would have to wait until the next contingent of peacekeeping troops arrives in Sierra Leone. A Pakistani contingent has begun arriving, but it will not be complete until August. "Unfortunately (deployment in Tongo) will have to wait until I get the manpower," Opande said. "If I had them now today, I would go and deploy them right there today. I wish I could have the manpower that I needed."

17 June: When veteran police officer Keith Biddle took over in July 1999 as Inspector-General of Sierra Leone's beleaguered police force, he inherited a department which had been substantially depleted by years of war and attrition, and undermined by  a culture of corruption, fueled by successive governments which had systematically starved the police of even basic resources. Today, the British-born Biddle faces the daunting task of reforming the institution while at the same time preparing to extend police authority into areas of the country until now under rebel control. Asked to assess how things are going, Biddle pauses to choose his words carefully, while the sounds from the street below flood through the open window of his fourth-story office. "It's not growing worse," he says. "Improvement? Yeah, there's improvement. We've got more integrity inside the force, particularly at the senior levels." 

16 June: A nine-member World Vision assessment team which returned this week from Kono District has found "huge needs" among the local population. According to World Vision, up to 80 percent of Kono's pre-war population may have fled their homes due to fighting there in recent years. According to figures obtained by the Sierra Leone Web from the government's Central Statistics Office, the 1985 census put Kono's population at 389,657. The CSO estimates that the district's population in 1990 was just over 420,000. The World Vision team estimated that 90 percent of the buildings in Kono had been damaged or destroyed, including schools, health clinics and homes. This was especially true in the Kono headquarters town of Koidu, they said. Already tens of thousands of Kono District residents have returned, either from fleeing fighting in the Guinea border area or encouraged by recent moves to disarm RUF rebels and members of the pro-government Donso militia. More are continuing to arrive every day. "Healthcare and schooling are practically non-existent in Kono now, and people are surviving on a diet of bananas and wild yams," World Vision said, adding that farmers lacked seed rice as time was running out for the planting season.

RUF leaders expressed concern Saturday over the reintegration of ex-combatants after they are demobilised during a meeting in Makeni Saturday with the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji. Adeniji met with senior rebel commanders, including RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay, to discuss progress made so far in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process. RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi also raised the issue of the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court, which would be mandated to try those deemed most responsible for serious breaches of humanitarian law committed since November 1996. Adeniji assured RUF leaders that UNAMSIL would provide workshops to educate them on the organisation, functioning and composition of the TRC and the Court.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Saturday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1750 / 1975. [£] 2485 / 2805. Frandia: [$] 2010 / 2200 [£] 2600 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2120 / 2200 [£] 2700 / 3000.

15 June: Approximately 195 RUF combatants had handed over their weapons through Thursday in Lunsar since disarmament resumed in the northern town on Tuesday. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, flew to Lunsar on Thursday to witness the ongoing disarmament exercise, where he met with RUF officials and toured the new DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) centre which is being constructed about a mile from the town. Adeniji also visited the towns of Mange and Kambia, where rebel and pro-government forces disarmed last month.

A U.N. inter-agency mission was due to visit Kambia District this week to assess humanitarian needs there in the wake of the recent disarmament of both rebel and pro-government combatants, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. The WFP has also started joint food distributions with the International Committee of the Red Cross to 4,250 farm families in Port Loko District's Maforki Chiefdom, and will undertake post-distribution monitoring of similar projects in Koya Chiefdom. Between June 6-12, the WFP distributed 970 tons of food to 93,303 beneficiaries in Sierra Leone, and is currently distributing 21 tons of food to 1,932 displaced persons, amputees and war wounded in Freetown. Starting on June 14, the agency is also planning to begin distribution of 128 tons of food to 8,834 displaced persons at the Port Loko camp who are deemed to come from unsafe areas. The WFP also began this week the distribution of 63 tons of food to 9,925 children assisted  under the school feeding programme at Mile 91. The agency also visited 45 schools in Daru and reported an enrollment of 7,888 children. The WFP delivered four tons of food to Daru for 350 child ex-combatants residing at the Interim Care Children run by the child welfare agency Save the Children. According to the WFP report, the agency has pre-positioned food at the Lunsar and Moyamba DDR camps for 1,000 ex-combatants at each site. Three new campsites are expected to be established within the next ten days at Koidu, Bonthe and Mathora.

14 June: UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured left), accompanied by U.S. Charge d'Affaires Michael Bajak and senior UNAMSIL officials, visited Kono District on Wednesday to inspect the construction of a DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) centre currently under construction in the town of Yengema. When complete, the centre will house some 1,120 rebel and pro-government combatants, UNAMSIL said in a statement. Disarmament in Kono and Bonthe Districts, which was to have been complete by the end of June, has stalled due to a delay in the construction of disarmament camps to accommodate the ex-combatants. In nearby Koidu, RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay and CDF commander Colonel Batten assured the visiting delegation that they were prepared to begin disarming their combatants. Later Wednesday, Opande met with RUF officials at Tongo, where the local commander, Colonel Sama Banya, told him that the combatants would abide by the decisions of United Nations peacekeepers.

13 June: A total of 40 RUF combatants, including two children, handed over their weapons to United Nations peacekeepers in the town of Lunsar by the end of the day on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. The ex-combatants turned in general purpose machine guns, AK-47 rifles and FN rifles, which were then disabled by U.N. military observers. Meanwhile, the statement said, 227 pro-government CDF militiamen were disarmed Tuesday at Sandaru in Kailahun District, and were airlifted to a disarmament camp at Daru. The ex-combatants turned in 52 assorted weapons, 77 magazines, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 38 hand grenades, one smoke grenade, and five RPG bombs.

12 June: Disarmament of RUF combatants in Sierra Leone's northern Port Loko District resumed Tuesday in a brief ceremony at the Murialdo Secondary School in Lunsar. The disarmament process stalled earlier this month while Sierra Leonean authorities struggled to construct new DDR camps to receive the sudden flood of ex-combatants waiting to hand over their weapons. Based on figures provided last month by the RUF, the United Nations estimates that some 1,500 rebel combatants remain to be disarmed in Port Loko District, and hundreds were expected to arrive for Tuesday's ceremony. But despite the presence of UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and two senior rebel officials — local RUF 5th Brigade commander Colonel Molesky Kallon (pictured right) and RUF Chief of Security Colonel Augustine Gbao — only nine armed rebels showed up to hand over their battered but serviceable machine guns and AK-47s to U.N. military observers. The weapons were immediately disabled with a sledgehammer. UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima insisted that Tuesday's low turnout was not a cause for concern, saying that the rest of the combatants were expected to disarm in the next few days.

International donors who met this week in Paris are being asked to provide $31.5 million over the next two years to help fund Sierra Leone's programme to disarm and reintegrate combatants in the country's decade-long civil conflict. Only $6 million remains in the fund, which is due to run out in August. "There has suddenly been an incredible increase in the momentum of demobilization," said Peter Harrold, the World Bank's Country Representative in Sierra Leone, who chaired the two-day conference of the Sierra Leone Multi-Donor Trust Fund. According to the Associated Press, Harrold said that because progress in disarmament had come so quickly, donors would need time to discuss aid — although several had expressed interest immediately. "We did not expect donors to come along and say, 'I'm ready for one million dollars'," he said. Meanwhile, the World Bank said in a statement released after the meeting that Sierra Leone should qualify for substantial debt relief by the end of the year. The statement noted that the Sierra Leone government had drawn up a three-year economic recovery and poverty reduction programme in consultation with the Bank and the International Monetary Fund. "It was anticipated that debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative for Sierra Leone would be in place by December 2001," the statement said.

Colonel Augustine Gbao, the RUF's Chief of Security, lounges in the shade at Lunsar's Murialdo Secondary School and complains to a Bangladeshi peacekeeper about the deployment of Sierra Leone Army troops in the country's northern Kambia District, where rebel forces disarmed just last month. "According to the second Abuja Agreement, these guys were not to deploy in these towns. They were to deploy in border towns," he says. "And now they are occupying Kambia, Madina, Rokupr – this baffles us." Gbao warns that if the soldiers provoke his men, the rebels might fight back. "It is better you people try to handle this situation," he tells the peacekeeper. "What was agreed upon, let them move by it. We are not fools."

Over 300,000 children under the age of 18 are fighting in conflicts around the world at any given time, according to a new report by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The report, which was issued in London on Tuesday, said 120,000 children were involved in conflicts in Africa, and it cited Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda as countries where the practice was particularly widespread. Since last month, Sierra Leone's RUF rebels have released over 800 child combatant to U.N. peacekeepers. But the Coalition also expressed concern over the use of child soldiers by the pro-government CDF militia. According to the report, up to 30 percent of CDF combatants in some areas are between the ages of seven and 14.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has finally succeeded in evacuating 130 vulnerable Liberian and Guinean refugees from the RUF-controlled town of Kailahun, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The group was taken to government-controlled areas for urgently-needed medical assistance. The evacuation took place at the end of a two-day mission to three rebel-held districts in eastern Sierra Leone, with the cooperation of UNAMSIL and the RUF. The mission, which was aimed at assessing the situation of Sierra Leonean returnees and Liberian and Guinean refugees in RUF-controlled areas, found that many thousands of the had settled in the towns of Kailahun, Buedu and Koindu over the past several months as a result of insecurity in Guinea and Liberia. The UNHCR described the situation for the returnees and refugees as critical, with food shortages and an almost complete lack of medical, educational and sanitation facilities. "Although UNHCR will not be able to be fully operational in these RUF-controlled areas until the security situation improves, the agency is exploring ways of easing the suffering of returnees and refugees," the spokesman said.

11 June: Sierra Leone's RUF rebels have released 59 more children associated with their fighting forces, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday. The children, including four girls, were handed over to U.N. peacekeepers on Saturday at a brief ceremony in the eastern RUF stronghold of Kailahun. This latest release brings to 828 the number of children freed by the rebels since May 25, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The children were then flown by the U.N. to an interim care centre in Daru operated by the child welfare agency Save the Children.

9 June: A senior military officer was among 39 persons detained early Saturday morning following a cordon-and-search operation by members of the police Special Security Division and U.N. peacekeepers. Colonel Gabriel A. Mani, the Sierra Leone Army's Director of Military Training, was arrested along with 24 SLA security guards and 14 civilians after a seven-hour search of his Juba Hill residence. Police Senior Assistant Commissioner Francis A. Muna, who briefed reporters at police headquarters on Saturday afternoon, said police and peacekeepers discovered three separate caches of arms and ammunition on the compound, consisting of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, bombs and machine guns. Muna said police were now investigating to determine whether Mani had the authority to possess the weapons in Freetown, which has been designated a weapons-free zone. He declined to disclose what led authorities to search the compound, saying only that it "intelligence-driven."  But another senior police source hinted that the tip-off had come from within the ranks of the military itself.

Barely three months after the United Nations Security Council strengthened an arms embargo against the Liberian government for its alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, Liberian President Charles Taylor has asked the Council for a temporary lifting of the ban to enable his country to defend itself from attacks by armed groups operating in Lofa County. In a letter to the Security Council which was circulated on Friday, Taylor alleged the dissidents were being backed by the governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone, in violation of a United Nations call on the three countries "to prevent armed individuals and groups from using their territory to prepare and commit attacks on neighboring countries." Taylor said the U.N. arms embargo had "impaired Liberia's capacity to defend itself against external armed aggression," and asked the Council to "grant a limited waiver of the arms embargo to permit the government of Liberia to import essential military supplies for the sole purpose of its self-defence."

8 June: An advance party of 265 Pakistani peacekeeping troops arrived at Freetown's Lungi International Airport on Thursday, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. The full contingent of more than 4,000 troops is expected to arrive in stages beginning on 12 July and continuing through 22 August. They will temporarily be headquartered at Hastings until the arrival of the main contingent. The Pakistanis will be joined later this year by a battalion of some 800 Nepali soldiers, bringing UNAMSIL's strength close to its authorised limit of 17,500 troops.

The disarmament of combatants in Kono and Bonthe Districts is on temporary hold, awaiting construction by the NCDDR of disarmament camps, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. "We don’t have disarmament camps as of yet set up in those two districts, and one is being established Yengema in the Kono District," the spokesperson said. "NCDDR has done a reconnaissance of the area and they have located a site, but some work needs to be done to prepare the camp to receive ex-combatants. So as soon as it’s ready, we are ready." The spokesperson added that there were roughly 2,500 RUF fighters and 1,500 CDF militiamen in Kono. The disarmament of both rebel and pro-government combatants in the two districts is due to be completed by the end of the month. Meanwhile, the NCDDR is preparing a disarmament camp at Lunsar, to complete the disarming of combatants in Port Loko District. Disarmament in Kambia District is complete.

A member of Sierra Leone's RUF rebel movement will attend next week's meeting in Paris of the Sierra Leone Multi-Donor Trust Fund, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, the RUF's Chief of Administration and a member of the rebel group's Political and Peace Council, will join Finance Minister Peter Kuyembeh, Presidential Affairs Minister Momodu Koroma, NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, and NCRRR Commissioner Kanja Sesay. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General will head a high-level U.N. delegation. Donor countries and international institutions which have indicated they will attend include Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Norway, Switzerland, China, the Canadian International Development Agency, the U.N. Development Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Monetary Fund, the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organisation, and the OECD. The meeting will be chaired by the World Bank representative for Sierra Leone, Peter Harrold.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1750 / 1975. [£] 2485 / 2805. Frandia: [$] 2010 / 2200 [£] 2600 / 2900. Continental: [$] 2120 / 2200 [£] 2700 / 3000.

7 June: Members of the United Nations Security Council called on the international community Thursday to make more funds available for refugees and displaced persons in West Africa, and particularly in Sierra Leone, at an upcoming donors conference in Paris on June 11-12. In a statement read out by Council President Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh, who also heads the Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee, Council members endorsed the UNHCR's three-phased approach to move refugees away from dangerous border areas, to provide greater protection for those who choose to remain in the volatile region, and to arrange for the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. Council members urged all parties to ensure the human rights and security of refugees and displaced people, as well as the safety of humanitarian workers. The statement also urged the governments of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to enter into dialogue aimed at promoting peace in the sub-region. 

6 June: The United Nations Security Council's Liberia Sanctions Committee issued a list of 130 persons Tuesday subject to an international travel ban for the Liberian government's alleged role in supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Although the sanctions resolution, which came into effect last month, called for a ban on travel by senior Liberian political and military officials and their families, not all of those named Tuesday are Liberians — or even based in Liberia. Heading the list is President Charles Taylor, his wife Jewel, his son, and two former wives. Vice President Moses Blah, Foreign Minister Monie Captan, Defence Minister Daniel Chea and Armed Forces of Liberia commander Brigadier-General John Tarnue, are also prominent. Included as well are timber industry officials, who have been accused of funneling money into the illicit arms trade, and a number of foreigners, including exiled former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, and several international arms dealers who allegedly have ties to Taylor. Meanwhile, Taylor (pictured left) has again lashed out at the U.N. sanctions, which includes an embargo on the sale of Liberian diamonds, on his private radio station KISS-FM. "Sanctions are terrible. It hurts our people," he said. "We are beginning to see the effects. As a result of the sanctions, the Liberian government is losing income due to the ban on exportation of diamonds." Taylor repeated his allegation that the sanctions were part of an effort to bring down his government. "The accusation against Liberia by the international community is intended to destabilise this government, make the country ungovernable and reduce the state to anarchy," he said.

5 June: Following the violent overthrow of Sierra Leone's civilian government in May 1997, Johnny Paul Koroma spent a turbulent nine months as chairman of the AFRC military junta. Then, after the junta's collapse in February 1998, he spent nearly twice that length of time as a prisoner of the RUF's notorious field commander, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, in the country's eastern Kailahun District. These days, Koroma shows up to his office at Freetown's Miatta Conference Center in a suit and tie, where as chairman of the government's Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, he works to encourage reconciliation in a country which has suffered ten years of civil war. 

Following a two-week five-nation visit to the West African sub-region, Canada's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone said Tuesday there was cause for "guarded optimism" in progress toward peace. But in a statement released in the Canadian capital Ottawa, David Pratt said that given the country's recent history and the many failed peace agreements, it was too early to reach any conclusions about lasting peace. "The real test for the peace process will be the disarmament of the RUF and CDF in the diamond areas of eastern Sierra Leone," Pratt wrote. "Here, the RUF is under a separate command and while U.N. forces have a toe hold in the district of Kono, there have been numerous reports of clashes between the RUF and the CDF related to diamond mining activities." Pratt, who during his trip to Sierra Leone visited U.N. peacekeeping troops in Kenema and a displaced camp at Nyandema, also expressed concern for the estimated one million refugees in West Africa. On the humanitarian level, the statement said, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has provided nearly $20 million in various kinds of assistance since 1999, while Canadian troops in IMATT (the International Military Advisory Training Team) have worked with British trainers to help rebuild the Sierra Leone Army. "(The Canadian forces) struck 2,500 'ghost' troops off the payroll," Pratt said. "They have helped take corruption out of the pay process. They have re-structured the logistics system and are reforming army pensions and survivor benefits. They are also instructing the Sierra Leone Army in jungle warfare."

A meeting between government and United Nations officials and CDF militiamen Monday in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District appears to have defused for now tensions between pro-government and rebel forces who have clashed there repeatedly in recent weeks, UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured left) told reporters on Tuesday. The meeting, which was held in the Soa Chiefdom headquarters town of Kainkordu, 19 miles east of Koidu, was attended by UNAMSIL deputy force commander Major-General Martin Agwai and Chief Sansie Kwigba, chairman of the CDF for Kono District. "(The Donsos) have now agreed that they will ensure that there will be no more ceasefire violations and no more movements until disarmament and demobilisation kick off in Kono, which is going to be simultaneous between the RUF and the CDF," Opande said. "And this is the next obstacle we have in front of us. In other words, the most pressing task today for us is to disarm the RUF and CDF in Kono District." Earlier Monday, Agwai and Sierra Leone government representatives addressed RUF and CDF combatants, including CDF women leaders, in Koidu as part of the confidence-building process. Opande said there were about 3,000 combatants in Kono — 1,300 from the CDF and the rest from rebel forces. "When the (disarmament) camp is ready in Yengema, we will make sure that both parties disarm simultaneously," he said. "The CDF and the RUF will be put into the same camp." Opande said that while UNAMSIL had not completed its deployment in Kono, U.N. peacekeepers were there to stay. "I can assure that we are not going to leave Kono tomorrow or today," he said. Meanwhile in Sierra Leone's northern Port Loko District, where combatants began turning in their weapons last month, Opande said the disarmament at Lunsar and Kabata was still not complete due to a lack of local facilities. He said construction of a disarmament camp at Lunsar would be complete by June 10, to accommodate RUF combatants waiting to be disarmed.

4 June: RUF rebels in Sierra Leone's eastern town of Kailahun have released 178 more children associated with their fighting forces, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Monday. The children, including 40 girls and two infants, were airlifted to Daru where they were handed over to UNICEF and Save the Children. The agencies will care for the freed children while efforts are made to reunite them with their families. Initially, UNAMSIL reported that 150 children had been freed, but subsequently said 25 children arrived in the town after the helicopter had left. According to a UNAMSIL spokesperson, it is expected that the final number of children to be freed from Kailahun, Koindu, Buedu, Kwiva and Pendembu will be known by June 7.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which last week completed the evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's volatile "Parrot's Beak" region, now says it has access to 192,000 refugees in that country — a far cry from the agency's estimate of 446,000. But despite years of bitter dispute with other agencies who have claimed the UNHCR estimates were far too high, a spokesman for the refugee agency insisted that the original figures had been approximately correct. "In any census exercise you have margins of error, but I don't believe we were too far off," Fatoumata Kaba told BBC correspondent Rory Mulholland. She said that inflated figures for the Kolomba camp at the tip of the Parrot's Beak, where the agency found only 3,000 refugees instead of the expected 25,000, was due to inaccurate reporting by non-governmental organisations and local authorities. But other refugee agencies have warned in the past that the numbers were inflated by multiple registrations, with a single refugee often holding multiple ration cards. Mulholland noted that in addition to the 192,000 refugees the UNHCR now says it knows about, 55,000 had been repatriated to Sierra Leone, while "at a generous estimate" 30,000  might have returned home by themselves. "Yet the UNHCR is not raising the alarm about the 200,000 who have apparently gone missing," he said. But Kaba said that now the relocation exercise was complete, the agency would try to determine how many refugees might actually be missing. Asked by Mulholland whether the UNHCR still believed the refugee crisis in Guinea to be the world's worst, Kaba replied: "You must understand that that was said because of lack of access. In no country recently has the UNHCR experienced such lack of access for humanitarian workers."

3 June: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Guinean President Lansana Conteh clasped hands Sunday amid the rubble of what until recently was the thriving border town of Pamelap, in a meeting designed to underscore the recent dramatic improvement in the security situation along the border area. The encounter between the two heads of state came midway through a whirlwind tour by President Kabbah of his native Kambia District, long a rebel stronghold, only days after RUF forces in the area finished handing their weapons over to United Nations peacekeepers. As representatives of the Sierra Leonean and Guinean governments worked under the shade of a baffa to agree on the final text of a communiqué drafted earlier in Freetown, a source close to the presidency stressed that the meeting, aside from its symbolic significance, could be seen as a signal to Kambia District residents that it was now safe for them to return to their homes. 

Abubakar Jalloh recalls that he joined RUF rebel leader Foday Sankoh and his small rebel force shortly after they crossed the Liberian border into Kailahun District in March 1991. "They met us at the border, then we all crossed," he said. Under the nom de guerre "Colonel Bai Bureh," Jalloh warred against the government for ten years as commander of the RUF's 3rd Brigade in Kambia District. Last month, he became the first rebel commander to lead his men to disarm. 

2 June: Combatants in Kono and Bonthe Districts will be the next to be disarmed under a timetable agreed at the second meeting of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration. Representatives from the government, the RUF, the Civil Defence Forces, and the United Nations met in Magburaka on Saturday and agreed to proceed simultaneously with disarmament in rebel-held Kono, and in Bonthe, a stronghold of the CDF. The operation is expected to be complete by the end of the month. According to a UNAMSIL statement, disarmament of combatants in Port Loko District will be concluded by disarmament in Lunsar. The two sides agreed to disclose the numbers of their combatants in the respective zones by Monday, June 4. The Joint Committee will next meet at the end of June.

President Kabbah and his Guinean counterpart, President Lansana Conte, are due to meet Sunday along the two countries' common border, reportedly at or near the town of Pamelap. On Friday, according to the official Sierra Leone News Agency, soldiers from the two countries met in a ceremony at the nearby Balamuya cross point, as the Sierra Leone Army continued its deployment in the rebel-controlled Kambia District. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Tom Carew and British Forces Commander Brigadier Nick Parker joined SLA Brigade Commander Colonel M.A. Sesay for the ceremony, which featured both Sierra Leonean and Guinean troops in full battle gear. Colonel Kelfalla Camara represented the Guinean army.   

1 June: The Ad Hoc Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration is due to meet in Magburaka on Saturday, to review progress in disarming combatants in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia and Port Loko Districts, and to chart out a timetable for future disarmament, according to a UNAMSIL press statement. The committee, which comprises representatives of the government, the RUF, and the United Nations, first met in Freetown on May 15. Saturday's meeting will examine timetables and locations for the next phase of disarmament, the sensitisation process, the location of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) sites, and the release of child combatants.

Legal diamond exports from Sierra Leone have reached $17.3 million since a new certification system was introduced last October aimed at curbing the illicit trade in "conflict diamonds" mined in rebel-held areas, Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen said on Friday. This compares to only $1.5 million for the preceding year. "That clearly indicates that the use of certificates of origin for diamond exports has improved sales," Deen told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson. But the minister acknowledge that more needed to be done to prevent RUF-mined diamonds from being exported through the legal system, and to reduce the illicit trade. "We believe that some security measures that have been put in place...will have to be improved when there is peace to reduce smuggling further," he said. He added that new momentum towards peace had "helped tremendously" in efforts to reduce the illicit diamond trade.

Spanish authorities have given up hope of finding 15 would-be illegal immigrants from Sierra Leone and Nigeria after their boat capsized on Wednesday off the coast off the Canary Islands, according to the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. "They most probably drowned in the Atlantic," a spokesman said on Friday. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Thursday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1750 / 1975. [£] 2485 / 2805. Frandia: [$] 2000 / 2200 [£] 2600 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2100 / 2200 [£] 2650 / 3000.