The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

June 1999
 

30 June: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has described as "completely false" a Reuters report on Wednesday which said the RUF People's War Council had accepted a draft peace agreement to end Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war. "(The report) is completely false in every possible way," Sankoh wrote the Sierra Leone Web. He did not elaborate. Reuters quoted a "senior United Nations official" for its report, who told the news agency that a peace accord was expected to be signed in Lomé by the end of the week. "The last obstacles to the power-sharing arrangement between the government and the rebels have now been cleared," the official said. "The RUF leader and other senior RUF officials have accepted four ministerial posts in the new Sierra Leone government and three deputy minister posts...The peace accord will be signed by the government and RUF this coming Saturday in Lomé, Togo." The official said diplomats who met with RUF commanders on the Sierra Leone-Liberia border had informed RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh that the RUF People's War Council had accepted the draft accord. A presidential aide told Reuters that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and a number of other West African heads of state were expected to be present at the signing ceremony, along with representatives of Britain and the United States.

The Sierra Leone government has increased the price of fuel, citing higher oil James Jonahprices, a fall in the value of the leone, and a nearly complete lack of foreign exchange at the Central Bank. Finance, Development and Economic Planning Minister Dr. James Jonah (pictured left) told Parliament on Tuesday that the official price of petrol would rise to Le 4,000 from Le 3,500 per gallon, while diesel would increase to Le 3,500 from Le 3,000 (Le 2,500 = $1.00). "Over the past few weeks the leone has been rapidly depreciating against the dollar. This, coupled with the fact of the unprecedented price hike in crude oil in the international market, has forced the government to effect the increases," Jonah told lawmakers. Minister of Trade, Industry and Transportation Alie Bangura (pictured right), defended the rises during a call-in show broadcast over state radio on Tuesday evening. "The government needed for 1999 $60 million to import rice and petrol. But the government found it impossible to find the money. Since January, after the rebel invasion of Freetown, the government, through the Central Bank, has been able to provide only $2.5 million for importers," Bangura said. "Commercial banks thus have not been able to provide their customers with the needed dollars or sterling, and they have had to go to the black market to get what they need to bring in rice and petrol at cut-throat prices."

Postal workers in Freetown, who launched an indefinite work stoppage earlier this week in protest over low salaries and benefits, ended their strike on Wednesday. Leaders of the Union of Postal and Telecommunication Services refused to disclose whether their demands had been met, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. 

Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, in an apparent reversal of government policy, on Tuesday urged Sierra Leone Army soldiers who had defected to the rebels to come out of the bush and help rebuild the military. Khobe made the appeal in an address to soldiers' wives at Wilberforce Barracks. As reported by BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers: "A release from Defense Headquarters called on soldiers who want to continue in the service to do so, while those who chose to opt out should also honourably choose the disarmament and mobilisation and resettlement programme," Rogers said. "Contrary to widely held view, the chief of defense staff disclosed under deafening applause that nobody has banned the Sierra Leone Army and nobody can ban it. General Khobe also addressed the issue of payment of the entitlements. He said Defence Headquarters is working out their duty and pension so that they can be fully resettled and re-integrated into the society. Khobe called on the soldiers' wives to appeal to their husbands to come out of the bush as war pays nobody, adding that all I have seen is destruction, loss of lives, and the misery it causes."

Boat owners said Wednesday Sierra Leonean men were being refused entry to Guinea by sea in the wake of a number of cross-border attacks by rebels. A spokesman for the A.G. Nicholas ferry service, which makes daily trips from Freetown to Conakry, said tickets purchased by adult males were cancelled and refunded on Wednesday.

29 June: Mediators said Tuesday they expected RUF leaders to approve a draft peace agreement in time for its signing this week. On Saturday, a three-member RUF delegation headed by People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers left Lomé for Sierra Leone to submit the agreement to RUF commanders for approval. "We are waiting for this group to come back from the bush," a mediator told Reuters. "We are hopeful that they will bring answers that will allow things to go ahead. I think the accord can be signed this week." Freetown's Concord Times newspaper, quoting diplomatic sources in Lomé, said Monday that RUF officials in Kailahun had expressed reservations about a lack of specificity in what cabinet seats would be allocated to the RUF, and the status of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, who is currently appealing his conviction and death sentence on treason charges. A source close to the mediators told Reuters on Tuesday it was expected that the Sierra Leone government would free Sankoh from a treason conviction and death sentence after the signing of the accord. "The two processes are separate but will most likely take place at the same time," the source said. "It is the expectation that Sankoh will eventually return to Sierra Leone." On Monday, a source "close to the presidency" told Reuters that President Kabbah was scheduled to fly to Lomé on Tuesday for a possible signing ceremony on Wednesday. However, mediators said Tuesday that Kabbah was not expected until later in the week. 

The commander of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), Brigadier-General Subhash C Joshi, said Tuesday that UNOMSIL had received no reports of cease-fire violations by the RUF. On Monday, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima quoted Kamajor leaders who alleged that over 1,000 RUF fighters had attacked their positions over the weekend, and captured the diamond-mining town of Tongo. The Kamajors claimed they had filed a complaint with UNOMSIL alleging cease-fire violations. "I have not received any reports from our representatives in Bo town of any cease-fire violation by RUF," Joshi said.

300 postal workers have gone on strike in Freetown in protest over low wages and benefits, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Tuesday. Sariwa Tarawally, President of the Union of Postal and Telecommunication Services, said workers were pressing for higher salaries, promotions, and medical benefits. "They have not taken the welfare of the workers seriously all these years," Tarawally said. Postal workers' salaries currently range from $10 to $20 per month. Meanwhile, hospital porter staged a "go-slow" work action to protest a three-months arrears in pay. Some have reportedly resumed their regular work hours after the government began paying them on Monday. Health and Sanitation Minister Ibrahim Tejan Jalloh assured the hospital porters that their wages would be paid in full by the weekend, but appealed to them to understand the government's financial position. "We are currently fighting two wars, economic and military," he told them.

28 June: President Kabbah is scheduled to fly to Lomé, Togo on Tuesday to sign a peace accord with the RUF on Wednesday. "President Kabbah is expected to leave Sierra Leone tomorrow for Togo where he will meet both RUF and his government delegation and sign the peace agreement on Wednesday," a senior presidency official told Reuters. The official said that the two sides "had agreed peace in principle." Signatories to the agreement will reportedly include Britain, the United States, Nigeria, the United Nations, and ECOWAS.

In an interview on state radio late Sunday, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said an "arrangement reached" during the negotiations would allow the rebels "participate in ministerial positions just like any political party." Berewa did not say how many portfolios would be allocated to the RUF, but said "all arrangements reached in the talks will last up to the time of elections in Sierra Leone." Sources close to the mediators have told journalists that the RUF would receive four ministerial and three deputy-ministerial positions in the cabinet under the agreement. Berewa said RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh would head a nine-member Mineral Resources Commission to be created under the accord, which would supervise the mining industry. "It will ensure that the country's diamond and gold will not go to individuals," Berewa said. He stressed "it was not correct" that the Commission "will be run by the RUF," but would be made up of two officials appointed by the president, two others by parliament, three by the civil society, and two by the RUF." Berewa said security would be guaranteed by the ECOMOG force and a new national army. "We have now agreed that any time there is a dispute in Sierra Leone, it should not be solved through war," Berewa said.

The Kamajor militia has lodged a complaint with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), alleging cease-fire violations by the RUF in the east of the country. According to BBC Bo Correspondent Prince Brima, Kamajor commanders say over 1,000 rebels attacked their positions over the weekend, and captured the diamond-mining town of Tongo without resistance. "The Kamajors have however forwarded a protest to the authorities and the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone for prompt action to be taken or they would respond in like manner and recapture their former positions," Brima said. There has been no independent verification of the Kamajor claims.

The Kamajor militia pledged over the weekend to stop recruiting child soldiers and to send home those already enlisted, state radio reported on Monday. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman signed a seven-point action plan at a two-day European Union-sponsored workshop in Bo, which calls on the militia "to desist from initiating child combatants into the Kamajor society and to ensure that children will no longer be enlisted into any armed force." Norman also heads the Kamajors and is coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), a coalition of ethnically-based pro-government militias. The Kamajor action plan is to be initiated at both the district and the chiefdom levels. "Children already initiated will have to be reunified with their parents," Norman said. He added that formal screening procedures will be put in place for new CDF members, and warned initiators  to "stop the rampant initiation of able-bodied men." Workshop participants urged aid organisations "to do everything possible to provide support to ex-child combatants in the form of education and non-formal skills training." Last October, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimated that there were some 4,000 child combatants in Sierra Leone. Of these, 2,500 were believed to be serving with the rebels, while the remaining 1,500 were enlisted with the Kamajors.

The BBC has paid an undisclosed amount in damages to former foreign minister Dr. Abass Bundu, after the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on 27 February broadcast an e-mail letter from a listener describing him "as a terrorist responsible, with others, for destabilising his country." The BBC subsequently apologised to Bundu for airing the letter. Bundu's solicitor, Nick Braithwaite, called the allegations "entirely false," and told a London High Court that Bundu had "constantly sought peace" throughout the Sierra Leone conflict. Bundu was forced to leave Sierra Leone, Braithwaite said, but in exile had continued to "work vigorously for resolution of the current conflict through dialogue." The BBC said it had paid a "suitable" sum in damages and to cover Bundu's legal costs. BBC solicitor Jonathan McCoy said said the defendants had moved as quickly as possible to mitigate the damaged caused to Bundu, and again apologised for broadcasting the e-mail, "which makes totally unfounded and damaging allegations against him."

27 June: A three-member RUF delegation headed by People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers left Lomé, Togo for Liberia late Saturday aboard a Nigerian plane. The delegation, which was accompanied by mediators from Nigeria, Togo and Liberia, is expected to return to Sierra Leone, where it will submit a draft peace agreement to RUF officials on the ground. "An agreement has been reached," a source close to the mediators told the Agence France-Presse on Sunday. "Sankoh has asked that he be given time to explain the terms of the agreement to his base in Sierra Leone." The source refused to elaborate on the terms of the draft agreement, but the Sierra Leone government is reportedly offering the RUF four ministerial and three deputy-ministerial appointments. RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, who originally wanted the vice presidency, is reportedly being offered the chairmanship of an independent commission to control the exploitation and exportation of minerals in Sierra Leone. An official announcement of the accord, along with full terms of the agreement, will be made after Sankoh has discussed the details with his commanders in the bush, the source said.

26 June: Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators are close to a peace agreement, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and other sources close to the talks told Reuters on Saturday. Sankoh, who along with Sierra Leone government negotiators met late Friday night with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in the northern Togolese town of Pya, said earlier that he considered the negotiating phase effectively over. "I think we have come to the end of the negotiations. It is just a matter of getting a mandate from my people, that is the People's War Council, the High Command of the combatants," he said. "Then I think we'll come to a final conclusion." However, various sources have given conflicting reports. The Agence France-Presse, quoting an official Togolese statement, said Friday night's talks between Obasanjo and negotiators from the two sides had failed to achieve a breakthrough, while a source close to Togo's foreign ministry told the Associated Press that the peace talks had been completed and a draft peace plan prepared. Reuters, quoting sources close to mediators at the Lomé peace talks, said the RUF had accepted the government's latest offer of four cabinet posts and three deputy-ministerial positions. At a pre-departure press conference around 3:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Obasanjo said he had seen an unwavering commitment on the part of the two delegations to help bring about lasting peace in Sierra Leone as soon as possible, BBC correspondent Ebow Godwin reported. "The facilitators say that the Sierra Leone government has agreed to undertake legal and constitutional measures to enable the RUF to join a broad-based interim government of national unity through cabinet appointments," Godwin reported. "It appears the facilitators have managed to get around (the question of  how many cabinet seats should be allocated to the RUF) by getting the government of Sierra Leone to raise its offer from three to four ministerial appointments to the RUF. And then three deputy ministerial appointments, bringing the total of this number to seven." Godwin added that mediators had added some additional "concessions and innovations" to a draft peace agreement, including the setting up of an independent commission to control the exploitation and exportation of minerals in Sierra Leone. "It is expected that this vital commission will be allocated to the control of the RUF," he said.

Rebel forces failed to carry through on a commitment to release 350 hostages, most of their children, citing a deadlock at the Lomé peace talks over the issue of power-sharing, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Saturday. The hostages were to have been freed on Monday. Under the cease-fire agreement which took effect on May 24, both sides were to release all non-combatants and prisoners-of-war.

25 June: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Friday that a negotiated end to the Sierra Leone's civil war was in sight, and assured Sierra Leoneans that Nigerian troops would remain with the ECOMOG force until peace was guaranteed. "Within a few weeks I believe that Sierra Leone will start to live in peace and I am optimistic about that peace," Obasanjo said. "Since and after the elections in Nigeria I have committed my country to Sierra Leone, to seeking peace for your country, which means that our Nigerian troops will stay in Sierra Leone as peacekeepers...I don't see how troops can leave Sierra Leone." Obasanjo was due to fly to Liberia later on Friday, and then on to the northern Togolese town of Kara, where he was expected to hold talks with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited victims of atrocities on Friday, including some young girls she said had been "held as virtual sex slaves." She said one way the United Nations could help in the short term was in documenting human rights violations as a step toward establishing accountability. "The grievous violations of human rights that have taken place in Sierra Leone have wrecked the country," Robinson said. "The human rights situation and needs of Sierra Leone...exceed those of Kosovo, and yet the international community pays more attention to Kosovo than Sierra Leone." She said she hoped "to underline the message that the atrocities committed here — especially against women, children and other civilians — fly in the face of the international conscience and are intolerable." Robinson told journalists she had held talks with rebels at Okra Hill, on the highway connecting Freetown with the provinces. She said she hoped the rebels would sign a nine-point Human Rights Manifesto which was agreed with the Sierra Leone government on Thursday. She added that she had been in contact with RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley and officials of the RUF in Togo, and through U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo would ensure that the Manifesto reached the RUF. "I am more determined than ever to ensure that we focus international concern and attention on Sierra Leone," Robinson said. The former Irish president announced that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would visit Sierra Leone on July 8.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone, Kingsley Amaning, and his aides met with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on Thursday to work out modalities for access by humanitarian groups to rebel-held areas of the country. "The purpose of the meeting was to work out concrete arrangements whereby collaboration in the field could be established," Amaning said. He said the RUF had designated Josephine Tengbeh as its representative to the Implementation Committee, which will ensure that humanitarian agencies have safe and unhindered access to people in need. The Sierra Leone government will be represented by Kanja Sesay. In Freetown, discussions continued on the composition and timing of a planned assessment mission to the RUF stronghold of Pendembu in Kailahun District, a humanitarian source said.

24 June: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, on the first day of her two-day visit to Freetown, signed a nine-point Human Rights Manifesto on Thursday calling for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war atrocities. Under the agreement, the U.N. will also help establish a human rights information clearing house and analysis facility in Sierra Leone. The manifesto included a pledge by the Sierra Leone government to raise the age of military recruitment to 18. The document was signed for Sierra Leone by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sama Banya, and by civil society leaders. Robinson said during the ceremony that the international community was "appalled over the violence that has taken place" in Sierra Leone. "The atrocities committed in Sierra Leone, especially those against children and women are intolerable for the international conscience," the former Irish president said. Referring to the peace talks in Lomé, Togo, Robinson urged that the "peace process will be based on protecting human rights." Robinson said her visit was not a one-time trip, but heralded a greater commitment to Sierra Leone by the international community. "From my discussions today with representatives of government, with President Kabbah, with the Commission on Democracy and Human Rights and the NGO forum, there is an absolute commitment to human rights. It came out loud and clear," Robinson said. "It’s as though having really gone to the bottom in suffering, in poverty, and this country wants to rebuild on the right values, and I believe it needs the international support and encouragement and the international community must have a similar concern to that expressed at the moment in Kosovo. And there has been at least the same degree, more loss of life, more suffering, and more mutilations and violations of basic human rights, rape of young girls as young as ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. And it’s time that we displayed the commitment to the dignity and worth of all human beings, and did more for Sierra Leone."

Negotiations between Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations continued in Lomé on Thursday, while RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh called for a "more inclusive" government. On Wednesday, Sankoh rejected a government offer of three cabinet seats and a formula for power-sharing within the framework of Sierra Leone's constitution. After the initial offer was rejected, government negotiators raised their offer to four cabinet seats and four deputy ministerial portfolios for the rebels, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).  Liberian Star Radio reported that the latest compromise proposal had been suggested by mediators, and would include two ministerial posts and two deputy ministerial portfolios for the RUF, together with a phased withdrawal of ECOMOG following the reconstitution of the Sierra Leone Army. The new army could include members of the Kamajor militia, the RUF, and the AFRC, Star Radio said. The government originally offered Sankoh the chairmanship of a proposed Commission for Management of Strategic Resources and Reconstruction, but reportedly withdrew the offer at a plenary negotiating session on June 21. Sankoh is insisting the RUF be given the vice presidency. "We are not rejecting this offer, but all I can say is that we want a real transition government, a more inclusive arrangement with all political parties and all political forces...We do not want to enter into an SLPP government," Sankoh said on Thursday, adding: "We will continue to negotiate...I remain optimistic."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (pictured left) will make official visits to Togo, Sierra Leone and Liberia on Friday, a Togolese official said on Thursday. President Kabbah first announced Obasanjo's visit in his speech opening Parliament on June 11. The Togolese official said Obasanjo's shuttle diplomacy was expected to move peace negotiations forward at a critical juncture. Meanwhile, mediators in the peace talks met Thursday with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema to brief him on their talks with Sierra Leone government leaders in Freetown on Wednesday. "We have reached a crucial stage as we move toward a conclusion of the process," United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo told journalists after the meeting. "There are two stumbling blocks which the negotiations have come up against, and we want to overcome them at all costs, and that is why we came back to meet President Gnassingbe Eyadema. President Eyadema, as the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), instructed the mediation committee to travel to Freetown to meet with President Tejan Kabbah and his government, and to explain our position." Okelo characterised the discussions with President Kabbah as "fruitful," and said the mediators had then proceeded on to Monrovia to brief Liberian President Charles Taylor on the progress of the talks. "Following our audience with President Gnassingbe Eyadema, it was agreed that the two remaining issues could be overcome, and that we should now prepare to move toward the conclusion of the peace process, and to have the peace agreement signed as quickly as possible," Okelo said.

Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh warned Thursday against a hasty pullout of ECOMOG troops from Sierra Leone. Koffigoh, who heads the committee mediating the Sierra Leone peace talks, warned of the security consequences if ECOMOG were to leave before peace were restored to the country. "This idea is that if ECOMOG should pull out hastily, it is likely to create a vacuum," Koffigoh told Libreville Africa No 1 (Gabonese state radio). "It should be a planned departure, which should go together with the strengthening of internal security by the Sierra Leoneans. This, therefore, is the underlying idea. It means that unless a formula is devised to bring in additional troops and define a new mandate for ECOMOG, the force will continue to play its role. This idea is gaining ground, and it is no longer attracting scathing criticisms."

Sierra Leone demobilsed 254 soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army on Thursday, as part of an internationally financed demobilisation plan. "You now have the right to live with your people and contribute to nation-building," Vice President Albert Joe Demby told the group at a ceremony in Freetown.

The OAU Commission on Refugees called on the international community on Thursday to pay as much attention to refugees and internally-displaced person in Africa as they do in other parts of the world. In a press release following a one-day meeting in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, the Commission said the situation of internally displaced persons on the African continent, especially in Angola, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, was "very critical and pathetic." The Commission urged donors to provide food, medicine, and clothing to those affected.

Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia are calling on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to issue them identity cards. Heixon Abdul, a member of the refugee group's welfare committee, told Liberian Star Radio that Sierra Leonean refugees were constantly being harassed by Liberian security personnel, especially at checkpoints. Without identity cards, Abdul said, refugees could not be easily identified, even by security assigned at UNHCR. He said they encountered difficulties each time they visited the UNHCR office.  UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Carolina Van Buren said the refugees' identity cards had already been prepared, and had been turned over to the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) for approval.

23 June: Only a day after Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh announced that mediators were in Sierra Leone only to obtain a "few adjustments to the peace agreement to be signed," RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has rejected a formula for power-sharing within the framework of Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution, as had been demanded by Sierra Leone government negotiators. "We are still demanding for a transitional government. The RUF leadership will never back down. We’ll never back down, I repeat," Sankoh (pictured left) told the BBC. "We’ll never agree to (a government offer of three cabinet seats). We are asking for a transitional government for a period of four years whereby the RUF Sierra Leone shall nominate members to an expanded cabinet of 18, as proposed by the board, but with the differences that the vice president should be offered to the RUF Sierra Leone." In response to an interviewer question as to whether the government offer was "more than generous" given the RUF's conduct in Sierra Leone, Sankoh replied: "This is not a matter of conduct. This is a matter of peace. For us to have everlasting peace, we are to form a transition government whereby all political parties and civil society will participate with the RUF, and not for us to join any SLPP government in Sierra Leone. The RUF will never, I say again we will never join any SLPP government in Sierra Leone and will not accept any three cabinet posts." Sankoh said any agreement would have to be acceptable to the RUF. "If they really mean business, they want to give peace to the people of Sierra Leone, they have to listen to us to continue negotiating till we get something which is accepted by the RUF and all the civil society behind the rebel line," he said. "Nine year war, you cannot offer three or four cabinet posts to an organisation that has fought to liberate our people from poverty. Listen, we are a force to be reckoned with." Sankoh indicated that it was not his intention to shatter hopes for a peace agreement. "It is not that. It is because they tried to force us to admit to their own proposal. They have to listen to us," he said. "They have to give us chance. We are here to negotiate and we are prepared to negotiate."

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson is due to begin a two-day visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday to support the peace talks and to begin documenting atrocities committed in the country's eight-year civil war. According to a U.N. statement, the former Irish president will visit survivors and sites of atrocities to draw attention to the plight of children, women, and other civilians who have borne the brunt of the violence. A U.N. official in Freetown said Robinson would launch of a "Human Rights Manifesto for Sierra Leone" during her visit. "This represents a commitment by the government, local human rights groups, UNOMSIL and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to promote and advance the cause of human rights in Sierra Leone," the official said.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) said Wednesday that the visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to Freetown "provides an excellent opportunity to encourage the inclusion of human rights at every stage of efforts to meet the political, humanitarian, peacekeeping and reconstruction needs" of Sierra Leone. In a letter to Robinson, AI said "the human rights challenges facing Sierra Leone remain great and this visit should encourage a coherent and concerted approach to human rights by the various U.N. departments and agencies responding to the immediate and longer-term needs of Sierra Leone." AI noted that one of the aims of the High Commissioner's visit was to obtain "tangible commitments regarding the prevention of abuses and accountability of perpetrators." The organisation added that despite the cease-fire and continuing peace negotiations, there was still the risk of a resumption in hostilities and of further killings, mutilations, rape, and abductions. "This is an opportunity for Mary Robinson to repeat her public condemnation of atrocities against civilians and to call on rebel leaders to respect international humanitarian law," Amnesty International said. "We are concerned that the peace agreement under negotiation in Lomé may, as in Abidjan in 1996, prevent those who have been overwhelmingly responsible for gross human rights abuses from being brought to justice...the victims’ right to truth, justice and reparation must be taken into account."

The New York-based human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) has charged that "rebel forces in Sierra Leone systematically murdered, mutilated, and raped civilians during their January offensive," while pro-government forces and ECOMOG "also carried out serious abuses, although to a lesser extent, including over 180 summary executions of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and suspected collaborators." In a press release timed to coincide with the visit to Freetown on Thursday by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, HRW's Africa Division Executive Director, Peter Takirambudde, urged Robinson to mobilise international support for the investigation and punishment of Sierra Leone's war criminals. "This is not a war in which civilians are accidental victims," Takirambudde said. "This is a war in which civilians are the targets. The crimes against humanity described in this report are unspeakably brutal, and the world must not simply avert its attention from the crisis. The U.N. and its members states must show that the rights of all human beings are of equal value." HRW cautioned against granting amnesty to human rights violators as a condition of peace in Sierra Leone. "Conflict in Sierra Leone has been so tenacious precisely because of this cycle of impunity," Takirambudde said. "Those responsible for torture and mutilations should not walk away scot-free." In a new 60-page report, "Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation and Rape: New Testimony from Sierra Leone," the human rights group documents the extent of human rights violations during the January rebel attack on the capital. "Human Rights Watch calls on all parties to the war, but especially the RUF rebels, who have been guilty of the worst abuses, to respect international humanitarian law as laid down in the Geneva Conventions and its protocols," the HRW statement said. "In particular, parties to the conflict must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and desist from targeting civilians for attack...While the international response to the Kosovo crisis has demonstrated how quickly and forcefully it can react to a human rights catastrophe, Human Rights Watch noted with concern the stark contrast with the lack of international response that these appalling atrocities committed in Sierra Leone have received. Eight years of war there have left over 50,000 dead and one million civilians displaced.

An 11-member ECOWAS delegation met Tuesday in Monrovia with Liberian President Charles Taylor. The delegation, which had earlier met with President Kabbah in Freetown met with Taylor behind closed doors. Taylor called off a planned visit to Lomé, Togo after learning that the ECOWAS delegation would visit Monrovia, Liberian Star Radio reported.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has offered $300,000 for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. UNESCO Director-General Frédérico Mayor de Saragossa made the announcement Tuesday following a two-day visit to Conakry where he met with President Lansana Conte and opened a UNESCO office in the Guinean capital.

22 June: A high-level diplomatic delegation led by Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh met in Freetown with Sierra Leone government officials and RUF delegates on Tuesday in an effort to hammer out details of a peace accord. While President Kabbah and his ministers met with the two groups behind closed doors, Foreign Minister Sama Banya told reporters that the rebels were demanding six cabinet posts, while the government was prepared to offer only two. The rebels had also "dropped their request" for the position of vice president for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, Banya added. However, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer told reporters that the RUF was still demanding eight ministerial portfolios, while the government was prepared to offer them three, according to BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle. "That was described by Dr. Spencer as another compromise by President Kabbah towards the rebels, and the United Nations people and other mediators seem to believe that this will be announced and that there will be a peace deal signed, according to Ambassador Okelo of the United Nations, within days," Doyle said. According to Spencer, President Kabbah would himself decide on which "substantive posts" to offer the RUF. "It is the prerogative of President Kabbah to appoint ministers and it is therefore not right for the RUF to demand any particular position," Spencer said. He added that those appointed would need to be confirmed by a parliamentary committee. "There will be a sort of nomination process but names have certainly not yet been put to posts and, indeed, the RUF are being offered specific posts, as I understand it," Doyle said. Koffigoh himself appeared optimistic Tuesday about the prospects for a peace accord. "Sierra Leone is on the road to peace," he said. "We are only in Sierra Leone for a few adjustments to the peace agreement to be signed." The diplomats were due to leave Freetown late Tuesday. Also attending the meeting were United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, ECOWAS Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate, representatives from the OAU and from the ECOWAS Committee of Seven on Sierra Leone. The U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Joseph Melrose, and the British Deputy High Commissioner to Ghana and Togo, Craig Murray, attended as observers.

China has donated $9.25 million to fund housing and agricultural programmes in Sierra Leone, state radio said in Freetown on Tuesday. Officials said some of the money will be put into a fund to purchase building materials, which will then be provided on credit to persons whose homes were destroyed during the rebel invasion of Freetown in January. Agricultural projects will include rice production projects and the provision of farm equipment, fertilizer, seeds and training, the radio said. China also intends to assist Sierra Leone in building low-cost housing by providing experts and staff to work with the country's housing corporation.

21 June: The Sierra Leone government has agreed "in principle" to allow the RUF a role in a future national unity government, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said on Monday. "The principle of the participation of the RUF has been accepted, but their level of participation is still posing a problem," Koffigoh added. "The rebels are demanding a certain number of cabinet portfolios that the government is refusing to agree to." Koffigoh, who heads the committee mediating the Lomé peace talks, refused to say which or how many cabinet positions the rebels were demanding. However, a diplomatic source close to the talks told the Sierra Leone Web that the latest "revised proposal" submitted by the RUF called for the rebel group to be given eight cabinet portfolios and the post of vice president. Sierra Leone government negotiators in return have offered the RUF two cabinet posts and two deputy ministerial portfolios. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who heads the government delegation, reportedly described the demand for the vice presidency as a ploy to deliberately pervert the constitution of Sierra Leone. "Their demand, which we reject, can be described as an attempt to take over the government. We will resist it," the source quoted Berewa (pictured right) as saying in a plenary session of the talks. "It is now apparent that those who claimed to have been fighting for the people, were in fact fighting for themselves and in their own personal interest." Berewa was quoted as saying that the government offer was not a sign of weakness but a sincere desire to give the RUF the opportunity to ease its way into participatory governance adding: "If what we offered you is not accepted, it is just unfortunate. What is not just won’t last." Berewa ended by withdrawing the government's offer to appoint RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh as head of a proposed commission on postwar reconstruction and rehabilitation. [The quotes were provided by the source, and have not been independently verified.] In an attempt to break the impasse, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema met with Sankoh on Sunday and Monday, and Koffigoh is reportedly set to lead a high-level diplomatic mission to Freetown on Tuesday. According to the the diplomatic source, Koffigoh will be accompanied by ECOWAS Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate and representatives of the United States and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, an official in Lome said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo would arrive in the Togolese capital on June 25 to lend his support to mediation efforts.

The United Nations has received encouraging pledges from donors for the demobilisation and disarmament of combatants in Sierra Leone, U.N. officials said on Monday. At a donors conference convened by Britain at the United Nations in New York in June 17, Britain pledged $10 million and the World Bank promised just over $9 million. According to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), the total cost is estimated at between $35 and $40 million. At the meeting, a European Union representative said a $30 million humanitarian aid and rehabilitation package was being finalised for submission to member countries. The European aid plan would cover major programs including governance, health, roads, and electricity. The donors meeting was attended by Britain, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, the European Union, the World Bank, and United Nations agencies. "The United Nations and the rest of the international community are ready to assist peace in Sierra Leone in the event that peace talks in Lomé between the government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are successfully concluded," a U.N. statement  said. Britain has agreed to convene another donors conference, possibly at the ministerial level, once a peace accord has been signed.

The World Bank has released $35 million to Sierra Leone to rebuild roads in Bo, Kenema, and Makeni, Transport Ministry Technical Coordinator Shamsu Mustapha said on Monday. He said $22 million would be in the form of a grant, while the rest would be loaned to private contractors. The money will also finance new fending around Lungi International Airport, which is to be extended in order to allow larger planes to make night landings. Mustapha, who met with World Bank officials in Guinea over the weekend, said: "We were able to convince the Bank that the security situation in Sierra Leone has improved considerably, after which they gave the green light."

Thirteen villagers were killed by lightning at Senbehun village, and three others suffered shock when lightning hit their farm over the weekend, police said on Monday. Five others were reported killed by lightning in the area in the past three weeks.

20 June: The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) supervised the freeing Saturday of 11 members of a group of 14 rebels detained last week by the ECOMOG force. The 11 were handed over Saturday at Okra Hill, on the main highway leading out of Freetown. Three more rebel soldiers under the age of 18 were turned over to UNICEF. An ECOMOG spokesman originally said the 14 had surrendered to the ECOMOG force. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley rejected the ECOMOG claim, and accused the force of abducting the rebel troops as they were on a "sensitisation campaign" in a rebel-held area to explain developments at the peace talks to the civilian population. In a BBC interview on Wednesday, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo acknowledged that the rebels had not surrendered to ECOMOG, but claimed they had contacted ECOMOG to discuss "confidence-building" and to clarify their position in the cease-fire. "The captives have been treated very well," UNOMSIL said in a statement. "The captives were keen to inform their own people how well looked after they had been in Freetown and how committed all parties are to peace." UNOMSIL described the release of the detained rebels as a confidence-building move, and urged all sides to make further releases.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata flew to Kenya Sunday to highlight the plight of some 7.2 million refugees in Africa, in observance of African Refugee Day. According to the UNHCR, Sierra Leone leads the continent with some 400,000 refugees, mostly in Guinea and Liberia, with an additional one million internally displaced persons. Ogata told the BBC that Kosovo had initially attracted more attention because of its emergency nature, but said the U.N. still devotes 50% of its resources to African refugees. However, an estimated 15 times more money - $1.60 - is spent daily on each refugee from Kosovo compared to only 11 cents spent on each African one. Ogata said she wanted African Refugee Day to remind the world about the continent's refugee problems. "This year especially, while much of the world's attention is focused on the refugee crisis in Kosovo, let us not forget this important African anniversary and its enduring meaning for refugees all over the world," she said. She added that many African countries faced long-term refugee burdens which had been a severe hardship on their already impoverished economies.

The Civil Defence Forces (CDF) high command has accused RUF rebels of abducting five Kamajor militiamen along the highway linking Freetown to the provinces. According to BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima, the CDF has filed a protest with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), alleging that the five were abducted on Tuesday while travelling in a commercial van on the Waterloo-Masiaka highway. "They further alleged that another Kamajor militiaman, dressed in full Kamajor traditional attire, was identified at the checkpoint by a woman who was with the rebels. The Kamajor militiaman was apprehended by the rebels and was summarily executed," Brima said. The Kamajor National Director of War, Moynina Fofanah, has called on UNOMSIL to prevail on the rebels to free the captured Kamajors, adding that if his men were not released the militia would have no choice but to mobilise a military force to free them. "According to the document sent to the U.N. Observer Mission, the RUF, since the declaration of the cease-fire on the 24th of last month, have erected checkpoints on the main highway between Bo and Freetown and between Waterloo and Mile 91, checking identity cards of commuters traveling on commercial vehicles," Brima said. "The checks are being carried out to flush out any Kamajors, who are not allowed by the rebels to use the highway. The rebels are only allowing ECOMOG troops to use the main highway."

19 June: Rebel forces in the Lunsar area have released 50 civilians, most of them children, and are promising to free about 350 more on Monday, Director of the Makeni Diocesan Caritas Ibrahim Andrew Sesay told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) on Saturday. "The majority of the hostages, after a march of several days, could hug their own relatives in Freetown between Thursday and Friday," Sesay said (translated from Italian). Sesay added that ECOMOG had released 14 rebels held since last week, including 11 adults and 3 children. He said the minors were being cared for at a hospitality center at Lakka, assisted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and COOPI (an Italian NGO), while the adults had been turned over the the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). "As far as they are concerned, the rebels promised that on Monday they will release about 350 people, especially children and 6 ECOMOG soldiers who are being held prisoner in their hands."

United States Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice, in a letter to Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema on Friday, urged that Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators work to reach "a good and robust accord, rather than be tempted by an accord that won't last." Eyadema (pictured right) is hosting the peace talks in Lomé, Togo in his role as chairman of ECOWAS. U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joseph Melrose, who is attending the talks as an observer, said Friday he had discussed with Eyadema how to take advantage of the cease-fire which took effect on May 24 to "end up with a happy ending of peace in Sierra Leone."

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, called Saturday for equal humanitarian relief efforts in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, while his Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition collected medical supplies donated by area hospitals to equip field hospitals in both regions. "In Kosovo, we promised a multibillion-dollar plan for reconstruction, for Sierra Leone $15 million for humanitarian aid; it's a tale of two continents and that is just not right," Jackson said at a press conference. "There's a tremendous burden, a moral obligation upon our government and people of good will to submit products and services to Sierra Leone. A human rights policy must measure human rights by one yardstick."

18 June: 14 rebel soldiers held by the ECOMOG force have been turned over the the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), an ECOMOG spokesman said on Friday. "We have been receiving pressure from UNOMSIL since the arrival of the 14 rebels to hand them over," the spokesman said. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley had accused ECOMOG of abducting the rebel troops as they were on a "sensitisation campaign" in a rebel-held area, explaining developments at the peace talks to the civilian population. In a BBC interview on Wednesday, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo acknowledged that the rebels had not surrendered to ECOMOG, but claimed they had contacted ECOMOG to discuss "confidence-building" and to clarify their position in the cease-fire. He added that he expected they would return to their positions. The ECOMOG spokesman said Friday that ECOMOG believed the men had come to spy on its positions that said UNOMSIL should not return them to the bush, Reuters reported.

A day after businesses, schools, and government buildings in Freetown were closed by residents protesting a proposed power-sharing agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, the government said it would "continue to respect the wishes of all peace-loving Sierra Leoneans in the search for lasting peace in the country." Friday's statement said "the government delegation at the peace talks in Togo is fully aware of the views of the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans and they are being taken into account in the deliberations," adding: "Whatever peace agreement is signed in Lomé will not violate the fundamental principles which Sierra Leoneans had fought hard to maintain."

Rebel forces released 21 children this week at Kontakuma, a senior ECOMOG official said on Thursday. The children, aged 7 to 15, had been held by the rebels at Lunsar, and walked some 15 miles to Kontakuma wearing white headbands as a symbol of peace. Meanwhile, the promised freeing of 240 hostages by rebels which was announced earlier in the week by Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi was delayed due to a misunderstanding with the ECOMOG force, according to Father Antonio Guiotto, Provincial Superior of the Xaverian Missionaries. He said their release would now likely take place on Saturday or at the beginning of next week at the very latest. "The rebels promised to keep their word and consign the hostages to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) and to the Director of the Makeni Diocesan Caritas, Ibrahim Andrew Sesay," Guiotto told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA).

Sierra Rutile Limited has shipped its first cargo of rutile from Sierra Leone since April 1996, Minister of Mineral Resources Mohammed Swarry Deen said on Friday. Deen said a cargo ship carrying 7,000 metric tons of rutile, or titanium dioxide, left Moyamba on Thursday, destined for the U.S. state of Mississippi. The shipment came a day after U.S.-based Nord Resources Corporation, a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile Limited, announced an agreement to sell its interest in the company. Operations at Sierra Rutile's mine at Mokanji were halted in 1995 following an RUF attack. Sierra Rutile Limited's other owner, Australian-based Consolidated Rutile Ltd., is also reported to be seeking a buyer for its interest in the company.

The Group of Seven (G7) major industrial nations meeting in Cologne, Germany agreed on Friday to a U.S. proposal triple their current debt relief efforts to help the world's poorest, most indebted nations. Under the plan, the participating countries would be eligible to reduce their debt payments to 10 percent to 20 percent of government revenue, which could reduce their annual obligations by as much as 25 percent. However, the debt forgiveness advocacy group Jubilee 2000 estimated Friday that only 16 poor countries would benefit significantly from the new deal. 11 countries, including Sierra Leone, Togo, Senegal, Cameroon, Benin, Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Niger, and Tanzania, would see little or no reduction in their debt service payments, the group said. Laos, Zambia and Rwanda will benefit the most under the agreement, with their debt service payments expected to fall by between half and two thirds. Ethiopia, Mozambique, Malwai, Mauritania, Uganda and Guinea-Bissau could see their debt service payments fall by between one third and half, while Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Chad, Honduras, Mali, and Ivory Coast could save between 20 and 33 percent.

Diplomats in Lomé, Togo said Thursday that Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators are discussing the issue of "to what extent or degree the government of Sierra Leone will be prepared to integrate the army of rebels in the political setup of the country within a democratic and constitutional framework," BBC correspondent Ebow Godwin reported on Friday. He said the two delegations held consultations on Friday in an attempt to narrow the differences between the RUF, which is reportedly still holding out for ten ministerial portfolios in a proposed twenty member cabinet, and the government, which has reportedly offered the RUF two ministerial portfolios along with other appointments. "We have requested the government to raise its offer higher a bit and the RUF to lower its bid a little," Godwin quoted diplomatic sources as saying.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer told the BBC Friday that while the government was prepared to make concessions to the rebels and to include the RUF in public life, "the government position is that the government cannot accept a power sharing arrangement or a transitional government." Spencer said the peace talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in Lomé, Togo were centering on how the RUF could be involved in running the affairs of the country. "Apparently, the general public seemed to have interpreted that to mean that the government had accepted the question of transitional government or power sharing, which implies that the rebels and the government are going to share power. That is not the case," he said. Spencer added that there were "many positions" which the RUF could occupy. "I believe that certain offers have been made to them," he said. "I am not at liberty now to specify exactly what has been offered to them, but the offers are such that they will be involved in the running of the affairs of the country. That is what is being offered, but they seem to be insisting that in fact, their position seems to be that they want a cabinet of about 20 ministers, and that they should have about 10 of those ministers. Now, that just doesn't make sense. It cannot be acceptable." Spencer said that while he thought it was still possible to reach an agreement, he argued that there were certain "fundamental principles" which had to be accepted first. "One of them is that first of all, it has to be accepted that getting into political office has to be by the will of the people, one. Secondly, that the basic democratic principles should not be violated. Sierra Leone is striving to become a democratic state. We cannot start going backward. Now, if those principles are accepted, and the RUF accept to get into office through legitimate means, then of course, in the interim period while we are moving into the next elections, then the government has offered to find ways of including them in the running of the affairs of the state, and those details are being discussed."

Nigeria has temporarily halted further deployment of troops to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone to create a conducive atmosphere for the peace talks underway in Lomé, Togo, Nigeria's Acting Director of Defence Information, Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella, said on Thursday. In addition, Tella said, "It is not possible for the military to move soldiers outside the country without the consent of the president and the National Assembly."

17 June: A one-day "stay in" to protest a proposed power-sharing agreement between the government and the RUF closed markets, schools and government buildings in Freetown and Bo on Thursday, and paralysed public transportation in the capital. The protest was organised by the Civil Society Movement, a coalition of groups representing labour unions, teachers, human rights groups, market women, drivers and transport associations. "This is a pressure move to the ongoing peace talks in Lomé, Togo, indicating that Sierra Leoneans are against power-sharing," one official of the movement said. "We're fighting for democracy. We cannot see democracy being tampered with by rebels who have destabilised the nation." On Wednesday Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, who heads the mediation committee at the peace talks in Lomé, told reporters that Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators had agreed to share power, adding that it was no longer a contentious issue at the talks. "We don't want the government to sign any document which will be contrary to the fundamental principles of our democracy," protest organisers said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor, who last week announced what he described as a "new initiative" to further the peace process in Sierra Leone, will draw upon the Liberian experience to impress upon RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh the need for a negotiated settlement, Liberian Ambassador to the United States Rachel Gbenyon-Diggs said on Thursday. "I believe that the initiative that he’s taken is not new, as President Taylor has always been in the forefront of pushing a peace initiative," Gbenyon-Diggs told the Sierra Leone Web. "He has always advocated for a negotiated settlement of the war in Sierra Leone. He believes that, bearing on the Liberian experience, even though he agreed with the ECOWAS that the military force should continue their efforts, but that there should be a negotiated peace initiative at the same time, and Liberia has always taken a strong role in its membership on the Committee of Five. Now President Taylor’s strength that he brings to the negotiation is that his past association with Foday Sankoh has given him some insight into Foday Sankoh’s character, into how he can bring to bear his influence of that friendship on showing Foday Sankoh that he, Taylor, as an example had to sit down at the peace table and had to negotiate the peace in Liberia. And a negotiated peace holds better than the spoils of war." Gbenyon-Diggs denied accusations made by the international community that Liberia was backing the RUF. "There was never a time that Liberia was backing the RUF rebels militarily," she said. "I believe that this pernicious rumour was put out to cause Liberia some embarrassment — and it has. It would be so easy to verify whether Liberia — by the international community, because I’m sure there’s someone who keeps tabs on arm controls, I mean arms and ammunition that is going into Sierra Leone. It is something that is easily verifiable, and you call the international community and challenge the international community. Our legislature has asked them ‘show the evidence,’ and they tell us they are protecting a security source, or an intelligence source. I feel it unconscionable that the death and atrocities that are being carried against the Sierra Leone people, that the U.S. intelligence sources could be paramount to those." Gbenyon-Diggs said there has been a definite warming in relations between Liberia and Sierra Leone, but said last week's appointment of Macdonald Bowen as Liberia's Ambassador to Sierra Leone was more a sign of improved security in Freetown than of change in relations between the two countries. "President Taylor has always tried to reach out to President Tejan Kabbah because we know that our well-being is inter-linked to Sierra Leone," she said. "There can be no peace and stability in Liberia without there being peace and stability in Sierra Leone." She added that reviving the Mano River Union — the sub-regional grouping of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — would be the "saving mechanism" for the sub-region. Gbenyon-Diggs said she looked forward to a resumption of family visits and business ties between the two countries following a negotiated settlement of the Sierra Leone conflict, with "the Liberian and Sierra Leonean people living together in love, in brotherhood, as it behooves us as Africans." Said Gbenyon-Diggs: "Now we have always as Africans solved our differences around a palava hut, a conference table, a dialogue. Fighting with weapons which we do not produce — we do not manufacture the ships that bring them to Africa, and people intend to put the onus on us to prevent their use. The onus should be put on the west. They are the producers, the manufacturers of the ships, they are the shippers. And I think that if they can put an arms embargo on Liberia, officially, certainly they can do a better job monitoring the arms that go in to promote these wars."

16 June: Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators have moved closer to a peace accord after agreeing to govern together, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said on Wednesday. Koffigoh, who heads the mediation committee, predicted that an accord could be reached as soon as the weekend. He said the government delegation had agreed to a key rebel demand that the rebels be integrated into a "united national government" in which the RUF would have a say on major policy issues prior to new elections. Koffigoh said the remaining points to be worked out were the degree of rebel participation in the transitional government, and redefining the future role of the ECOMOG force in the rapidly-changing situation in Sierra Leone, especially following the signing of a peace agreement. Koffigoh stressed that neither side had been unnecessarily intransigent over the question of power-sharing. "I must make it clear that both sides have made, and are making, concessions which have brought success so far to the talks in the maintenance of a cease-fire, the release of prisoners-of-war, and humanitarian supplies in Sierra Leone." Koffigoh said he believed President Kabbah was committed to peace. "Otherwise, he wouldn’t have released (RUF leader) Corporal Foday Sankoh to come to Lomé for peace negotiations," he said. "However, we hope that the Sierra Leonean government will make final concessions as we reach the final conclusions." Regarding Sankoh, Koffigoh declared: "I do believe that Foday Sankoh is aware of the situation in his country, and that he also, for the sake of peace, can make some more concessions." Koffigoh's optimism was echoed by RUF spokesman and legal advisor Omrie Golley, who said Wednesday's talks were progressing smoothly. "We hope to quickly arrive at a definitive conclusion to this work no later than Friday," Golley said. Koffigoh told reporters that the two delegations had retired temporarily to hold consultations with their leaders on the new proposals.

RUF spokesman and legal advisor Omrie Golley on Wednesday accused forces supporting the Sierra Leone government of cease-fire violations which, he said, could endanger of peace talks underway in Lome, Togo. Golley (pictured left) said ECOMOG had abducted 14 rebel fighters who are being held at Wilberforce Barracks, and rejected ECOMOG's assertion, as reported by Reuters on Monday, that the rebels had turned themselves in as a confidence-building measure. "These Omrie Golleywere people that were abducted around Loko-Masama," Golley said. He added that the 14 had been "on a sensitisation campaign" in a rebel-held area area north of Freetown, explaining developments at the peace talks to the civilian population. "They got to a security checkpoint where they were promptly apprehended by ECOMOG who disarmed them and put them in detention in Wilberforce Barracks," Golley said. "This is a clear violation of the cease-fire agreement." While Golley termed the ECOMOG action a "provocation," he said the incident appeared to have no material effect on the peace negotiations. Golley also accused Guinean troops of massing at Koindu inside the Sierra Leone border. "This too is a clear violation of the cease-fire," Golley said. "We want to make it clear that while we remain committed to the cease-fire we will not allow our positions to be attacked...We don't want the whole peace process to be derailed."  On Tuesday, Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assifat Diasseny announced that the Guinean army had been given a mandate to pursue Sierra Leonean rebels who had been raiding border villages, and to destroy their bases.

In a separate BBC Network Africa interview, RUF spokesman and legal advisor Omrie Golley rejected claims by the Guinean Ministry of Defence that RUF troops had been involved in attacking border villages within Guinea. "We categorically deny that we have been going into Guinean territory and attacking villages as they say," Golley said. "We are committed to the peace process, we have been going on with this for quite some time now. We are committed to it, but we will not allow our positions to be attacked, and the remarks attributed to one of the Guinean Government officials is unfortunate. They have been amassing troops for a considerable period of time in the Koindu area of our country just inside the Guinean border, and this also is in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement signed on the 18th of May. So we view these developments with very serious concern and we hope that the international community would take note of this concern and take appropriate action to deal with it." Golley denied that the cross-border raids had been carried out by RUF troops. "Our forces are very well disciplined and they have not been crossing into the Guinean side of our border," he said. "I'm saying is that our troops have not been the ones committing these dreadful acts." Golley told the BBC that the RUF had not been involved in any clashes with Guinean troops in the border area. "I think (the Guinean government is) misinformed," he said. "I very much regret damage that has been done as they claimed to their villages with loss of lives and property, but I can state this is not being inflicted by RUF military personnel, and we condemn these acts on Guinean territory...We are interested in peace, we are not interested in war with Guinea."

ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo (pictured left), in a BBC Major-General Felix MujakperuoNetwork Africa interview on Wednesday, acknowledged that a group of 14 rebel soldiers had not surrendered to ECOMOG, but said they had approached the ECOMOG force to clarify their position regarding the cease-fire. "What really happened is that they came to our position, saying that they want to discuss what they called confidence-building, and the commander there said he is not having that mandate to discuss with them," Mujakperuo said. "So, he took them to a higher headquarters, who took them to us, and we are trying to see what they wanted, and we'll be discussing." The ECOMOG force commander described the rebel soldiers as being in very bad shape. "We also tried to arrange that we make them comfortable and, if possible, let them see their family," he said. "We had to feed them very well and give them blankets and buy shoes for them because they came barefooted. For the past two days, they tried to discuss with them. I have not been totally briefed on what they wanted, but I know they told me they want to know their position in this peace plan." Mujakperuo said the rebels were not surrendering. "It looks as if they still want to go back," he said. He added that when the rebels were ready to return ECOMOG would give them back their guns "because we want to show goodwill that is going to bring peace instead of fighting and killing themselves." Said Mujakperuo: "Well, if the people say they want peace, and we are negotiating peace, I want to do that one as a goodwill for them to know that we are not enemies, for them to encourage others to come so that the problem can be sorted out once and for all."

Nord Resources Corporation announced Wednesday it had reached an agreement to sell its 50% stake in Sierra Rutile Limited to an affiliate, MIL (Investments) S.A.R.L. The purchase price, according to a company statement, is to be comprised of a cash payment of $1,250,000, a 5% interest in the acquiring company, the release of Nord Resources from its guaranty obligation of approximately $6 million in debt to Sierra Rutile Limited by a group of development bankers, and the redemption and cancellation of MIL's stock interest in Nord Resources, currently representing approximately 29.7% of the company's issued and outstanding shares. The transaction is subject to several conditions, including approval by the shareholders of the other company, which is expected to take place in August. Sierra Rutile's mine at Mokanji has been closed since it was attacked by rebels in Dr. W. Pierce Carson1995. "In view of the Company's limited financial resources, the Board of Directors determined that it would be prudent to divest of Sierra Rutile," said Nord Resources CEO Dr. W. Pierce Carson (pictured left). "Factors important in the Board's decision included the significant ongoing holding costs of maintaining and protecting the mine site, the debt owed by the Company to the development banks, the large additional investment that would be required to return the mine to production, and the continuing uncertainty surrounding the political and security outlook in Sierra Leone."

The European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) announced Wednesday that the EC will contribute Euro 5 million to fund humanitarian aid for displaced persons within Sierra Leone and for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International, in a press release issued Wednesday along with its 1998 annual report, spoke of "large-scale and gross human rights abuses...committed throughout the year by the rebel forces of the ousted Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the armed opposition Revolutionary United Front (RUF)."

15 June: RUF negotiators in Lomé threatened Tuesday night to suspend the peace talks after alleging a violation of the cease-fire by Guinean troops at Koindu, according to a diplomatic source close to the talks. He said the RUF was claiming the Guineans had crossed the border into an RUF zone of occupation. "The RUF delegation said that the situation was serious to the extent that it summoned its commanders present here at the peace talks to leave Lomé to return to the field to attend to the present crisis," the source said. The RUF action followed an announcement Tuesday by Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assifat Diasseny, who told journalists in Conakry that the Guinean military now had a full mandate to pursue Sierra Leonean rebels who had been raiding border villages, and to destroy their bases. Diasseny denied, however, that Guinea had effectively declared war on the RUF. "What we are doing is guarding our sovereignty and our territorial integrity," he told BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sillah. "The facilitators (in Togo) are appealing to the RUF not to suspend the talks. They assured the RUF that they were not minimizing the seriousness of the situation, but that it could be handled at the diplomatic level," the diplomatic source continued. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, who is chairing the mediation effort, said he would contact the Guinean government regarding the alleged violation, the source said.

Earlier Tuesday, Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators issued a statement saying the two sides had "agreed to consult their respective bases" on the question of "the degree of participation of the Revolutionary United Front in a wider national unity government." The two sides were also expected to consult on the issue of the future deployment and role of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. Tuesday's statement said the remaining "fundamental" questions still unresolved included the RUF's "involvement in decision-making in political and administrative affairs in Sierra Leone," and ways of "maintaining and guaranteeing peace after a peace accord is signed."

Rebel forces near Masiaka have promised to release 240 civilian abductees by Bishop George BiguzziWednesday, Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi (pictured right) told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency on Tuesday. "The rebels have promised to free 240 people, including women and children, by tomorrow," Biguzzi said. Diocesian Caritas Director Ibrahim Andrew Sesay, who met with the rebels Monday at their camp near Masiaka, said they had promised to free the hostages as a gesture of their intention to respect the cease-fire, which provides that both sides release their abductees and prisoners-of-war.

The managing editor of the Independent Observer newspaper, Jonathan Leigh, surrendered to police in Freetown on Tuesday morning, according to the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS). According to their report, Leigh was accompanied to police headquarters by Sorie Fofanah, the vice president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). On Monday, Fofanah told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he was "prepared to hand over Jonathan Leigh if only his security could be guaranteed." Police Commissioner James Kanyako said that Leigh's security would be guaranteed. "As long as the matter is now under the purview of the police, Leigh has nothing to be afraid of. We are still investigating the matter," Kanyako said. On Thursday, ECOMOG troops led by Major Tanko raided the Independent Observer's offices at No. 1 Short Street and arrested six persons — editor Sorie Sudan Sesay, staff writer Jerry Tryson, administrative manager Baibai Sesay, two unnamed journalists and a secretary — after displaying a cache of arms and ammunition which ECOMOG officials said they discovered in the newspaper's office. The AFP said several documents attributed to the NINJAS, which government officials describe as being sympathetic to the RUF, were also discovered. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), however, said the documents displayed by ECOMOG on Thursday consisted of letters from former Expo Times newspaper editor Ibrahim Seaga-Shaw. The Expo Times was closed in February 1998 after the government branded it an "RUF newspaper," and Seaga-Shaw fled into exile. In a letter to ECOMOG on Friday, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claimed it had reliable information from a number of witnesses that "security forces themselves planted the weapons in order to implicate Jonathan Leigh."

A Swiss-based humanitarian agency, Action by Churches Together (ACT) has said it needs an additional $20,000 to provide food, clothing, medicines, school fees and shelter to 300 Sierra Leonean war refugees in Mauritania. In its appeal Monday, ACT said two thirds of its $60,000 project to care for the refugees was provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but was "too limited to address all the needs of the refugees." The group said 100 of the refugees were in "dire need of immediate" help. The refugees, who started arriving when the war in Sierra Leone broke out in 1991, had "no means of earning a living," ACT said.

14 June: Mediators at the Lome peace talks, chaired by Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, have formally presented the Sierra Leone government delegation with a proposal for appointing RUF members to the cabinet, according to a diplomatic source close to the talks. He said the proposal, which was derived from a list circulated by the RUF over the weekend, called for four ministerial posts to be given to the rebels, including two senior cabinet positions in either foreign affairs, justice or finance; three deputy ministers, and one resident minister. "The team of facilitators from the United Kingdom, United States, Libya, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, the U.N. and ECOWAS, sometimes referred to as the Bureau, are still working on other possible posts for the RUF in parastatals and the military," the source said, adding: "The Government is expected to reject this proposal outright." According to a second diplomatic source the proposal, an informal discussion paper, called for the RUF to receive only one senior cabinet position. The mediation group for the talks consists of ECOWAS, the U.N. and the OAU, with a number of governments and civic groups being accredited as observers.

Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh told reporters late Sunday that a deadlock in talks between Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators had been eased on Saturday when the two delegations agreed to consider each other's positions. He said the agreement followed pleas from Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadama and other mediators from the OAU and the U.N., who held separate meetings with the two delegations. "While we feared continued deadlock, there is a glimmer of hope," Koffigoh said. "The discussions are going well." He added that they would resume on Monday. The BBC, citing "well placed sources," said Monday that efforts were being made to achieve a compromise on the issue of a transitional government. "On the question of power sharing, the sources said that the two delegations are considering fresh proposals aimed at reopening the voter registration list," the BBC said. "This will enable the rebels, most of whom have fought in the bush for nine years, to comply with provisions of the constitution which require that ministerial appointees must be registered voters." In addition, a proposal to create an independent minerals commission to control the production, management and export of the country's mineral resources has been put before the two delegations, the sources added. Mediators are also trying to breach the gap between the two sides on the issue of RUF participation in a transitional government. In a proposal tabled over the weekend, the RUF is demanding the post of vice president, 10 ministerial portfolios in a new 20 member cabinet, 4 of 11 deputy-ministers, 11 parastatals, 6 top diplomatic posts, the Resident Minister-North, the Mayor of Freetown, and the Head of the Post War Reconstruction Commission.

A unit of 14 rebels, including former soldiers loyal to the ousted AFRC military junta, turned themselves in to the ECOMOG force, Reuters reported on Monday. The group's leader, Captain Mohamed Kargbo, told reporters at Wilberforce Barracks that their surrender was "to assure ECOMOG, the government, and the people of Freetown...that we are committed to peace." He said his group was among the rebels who met with ECOMOG officers on May 25 at Mapath, near Okra Hill, on the highway linking Freetown to the provinces. An ECOMOG officers said the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) had requested the 14 be released in accordance with provisions of the cease-fire agreement, which calls for the release of prisoners-of-war. He said, however, that ECOMOG had decided to hold them for now. Meanwhile, UNOMSIL said Monday that the RUF had released 12 civilians, 11 of them children, abducted during the rebel attack on Freetown in January. The 12, consisting of a mother and her three children, along with 8 others between the ages of 11 and 15, were turned over to ECOMOG at Okra Hill. Six of the children have been reunited with their families. The other two, a pregnant 13-year old girl and a boy who is believed to have been used as a child soldier, have been sent to the Lakka orphanage.

12 June: In response to a request by the ECOWAS chairman, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, that the RUF elaborate on the structure of the transitional government they are demanding, RUF negotiators in Lomé have proposed a list top posts to be held by the rebels, according to a diplomatic source close to the talks in Lomé. The RUF has reportedly proposed a 20-member cabinet for a transitional government, with 10 of the ministerial portfolios going to the RUF. The RUF said it wants the post of vice president and 4 of the 11 deputy-ministers including those of Defence and Finance; 6 of the top diplomatic posts including Ambassador to the United States, Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, High Commissioner to Nigeria, and Ambassador to Liberia; 11 parastatals, including the Governorship of the Bank of Sierra Leone and the Heads of Port Authority, SierraTel, State Lottery, Roads Authority, National Shipping, Mining and General Service, Sierra Leone Airlines, National Insurance Company, Commercial Bank, and Customs and Income Tax. The RUF also wants one of the three Resident Minister posts - for the North - as well as Mayor of Freetown and Head of the Post War Reconstruction Commission. According to the source, the RUF is also continuing to insist on the immediate release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, who still faces an appeal of his treason conviction and death sentence in Freetown. In view of these new developments, the source said, the talks may be on the verge of a breakdown. A "high-powered Nigerian delegation" is expected from Abuja to join the talks on Saturday, the diplomatic source added. Until now, Nigeria has been represented at the talks by its Ambassador to Togo. In an interview later Saturday with the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS), RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh confirmed details of the RUF report. "Yes, yes yes. It's true. Everything Mr. Andersen wrote of is true. Those are the positions the RUF wants in the Transitional Government," Sankoh was quoted as saying. He told the NINJAS, however, that he disagreed with the assessment that the talks were in danger of collapse. "If the peace talks did not break down when Berewa and SLPP refused to set me free, this will not now break down the peace talks," he said. "No, No. These are our demands and they are not unrealistic as some might say,"

Mediators held separate talks with Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations in Togo on Saturday in an attempt to break the deadlock over the issue of a transitional government. The mediators, who include Togolese government officials and United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, have spent all week shuttling between the two sides, Reuters reported.

Liberia has named a new Ambassador to Sierra Leone, apparently indicating an improvement in relations between the two countries. State radio said Macdonald Bowen, 47, served as Director-General of the General Services Agency in Monrovia before his ambassadorial appointment to Freetown.

11 June: Peace talks in Lomé have reached an impasse over RUF demands for the formation of a transitional government in which they would share power, and the RUF's insistence that ECOMOG troops leave Sierra Leone within 14 days after the signing of a peace agreement, the BBC reported on Friday. In his address to open Parliament on Friday, President Kabbah said he was opposed to a pullout by ECOMOG until security could be assured. "The bitter experience including the gross human atrocities, which have been committed in the course of this conflict, behooves on us the necessity of ensuring the highest level of physical security of all our people in every district, town and village of this country," Kabbah said. "The security shield provided by ECOMOG, albeit temporarily, will not be prematurely removed. While its mandate and concept of operations will be reviewed, ECOMOG will remain in Sierra Leone for some time, and in one form or the other, to assist in the protection of our citizens, humanitarian aid workers, and United Nations military observers." Kabbah expressed optimism that the peace talks in Lomé, Togo were approaching consensus "which should bring to an end, once and for all, the conflict that has brought death and destruction to thousands of our people during the past nine years," adding: "The prospects for lasting peace are now greater than they have ever been since 1996." In an allusion to the RUF's call for the setting up of a transitional authority to government Sierra Leone while the rebel group transformed itself into a political movement, Kabbah said his government had "been guided by the imperatives of political inclusion and the enhancement of political participation...is to increase opportunities for participation without destroying the very foundations of our democratic institutions." He expressed the hope that the comprehensive agreement which would emerge from the Lomé talks "will among other things create such opportunities and facilitate processes for political participation and representation."

United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said Friday that the Mediators Committee had informed Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema that peace talks would continue until a positive result was achieved. ''We came out of the discussion with the conviction that the time is ripe for peace to be restored in Sierra Leone,'' Okelo said. ''In other words, I think that if the Sierra Leoneans miss this opportunity, it might not present itself again. It's now or never.''

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to extend the mission of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) by an additional six months. The Council resolution stressed that "an overall political settlement and national reconciliation are essential to achieving a peaceful resolution of the conflict." The Council welcomed talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in Lomé, Togo, and urged the parties to "demonstrate flexibility" in resolving the conflict. If the negotiations led to a peace agreement, the Security Council said, it was prepared to modify UNOMSIL's mandate and increase the number of military observers.

President Kabbah told Parliament on Friday that new Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo would pay a two hour visit to Sierra Leone on June 25. "We shall have an opportunity to express our gratefulness and appreciation on the 25th of June 1999, when we expect the Head of State in (Nigeria) to visit us," Kabbah said. "I would like to take this opportunity to invite as many Sierra Leoneans as possible to welcome him." Nigeria contributes the bulk of troops to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. Obasanjo has said he would like to pull Nigerian troops out of Sierra Leone as soon as the security situation permits.

A three-member British military advisory team is in Sierra Leone to help restructure the country's Ministry of Defence and to set up a National Security Agency, a defence official said on Friday. The advisory mission will last at least a year, the defence official said.

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, said Friday he would try to increase the awareness of the need for humanitarian relief in Sierra Leone. "Tomorrow we are mobilising medical resources to send to Kosovo and Sierra Leone," he said in Los Angeles. "Sierra Leone shares of horrors of Kosovo but not the hope. There is no public outcry against the violence, no commitment for aid to reconstruct the country."

10 June: Hard-line ministers are threatening a cabinet revolt or even to impeach President Kabbah if he accedes to an RUF demand to share power in a transitional government, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing unnamed senior officials. "At least half of President Kabbah’s cabinet…have made it clear to the president they are not prepared to surrender the principles of democracy because of rebel threats to re-start hostilities if they are not give cabinet posts," one aide said. "If President Kabbah violates the constitution by accepting to sharing power with the rebels in the present peace talks, it only requires a fifty percent majority vote in parliament to begin impeachment proceedings and a two-thirds majority to impeach him," a cabinet minister was quoted as saying. Officials said consultations had already begun among lawmakers for the start of impeachment proceedings if Kabbah gave in what they consider to be undue international pressure, Reuters added. The RUF is calling for a four-year transitional government in which it would participate while it transforms itself into a political movement. The government has insisted it lacks the power to set up a transitional authority outside of the constitution. Last week, the RUF reportedly rejected an offer by government negotiators of ministerial portfolios within the current cabinet.

An ECOMOG cordon-and-search team led by Nigerian Major Tanko raided the No. 1 Short Street headquarters of Freetown's Independent Observer newspaper on Thursday morning, then emerged with arms and ammunition which the searchers said were found in the newspaper's office. Two journalists, editor Sorie Sudan Sesay and staff writer Jerry Tryson, along with a Nigerian office secretary, Francis Iluebulen, were arrested. A senior police officer told BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay that the raid followed a tip-off from a member of the public. "I understand that on their arrival at the Independent Observer offices, some bitter exchanges between two reporters and some ECOMOG personnel took place whilst some other members of the newspapers office were busy destroying documents," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "However, after a thorough search of the fourth floor offices, a quantity of arms and ammunition, communication handsets and various letters from overseas were removed from the offices by ECOMOG and displayed in front of the building, with some of the newspaper staff sitting on the ground half naked. Amongst the cache were AK-47 pistols, and a large quantity of pistol magazines." The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the seized weapons included seven AK-47 rifles, three grenades, ten anti-aircraft cartridges, and ten pistol magazines. The Independent Observer's managing editor, Jonathan Leigh, was arrested on the orders of Major Tanko on May 17 after — according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) — his newspaper reported that Tanko and troops under his command had conducted a search for weapons at No. 1 Short Street, where a number of newspapers and businesses are housed. "Today, after the discovery of arms and ammunition in the Independent Observer’s offices, I understand from police sources that the managing editor, Mr. Jonathan Leigh, is a wanted man," Ojukutu-Macaulay concluded. The CPJ confirmed Thursday's arrests, and added that Leigh had gone into hiding. Thursday's CPJ press release alleged that Leigh was originally detained last month on suspicion he had passed on sensitive information to the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS) internet website, which the government accuses of being sympathetic to the RUF. "During the raid on the newspaper office, ECOMOG reportedly found letters containing sensitive information, addressed to Leigh, sent to him by Ibrahim Seaga-Shaw, former editor of the now-defunct Freetown-based "Expo Times" newspaper," the CPJ said. "'Expo Times' was closed after being branded an "RUF newspaper" by the Sierra Leone government in 1997, and Seaga-Shaw fled into exile."

Sierra Leone announced measures Thursday to ban the import of chicken and mayonnaise from Belgium, the Netherlands and France following a scandal over the discovery of the toxic chemical dioxin in Belgian food, according to state radio. "The veterinary unit of the agriculture ministry is now closely monitoring the importation of these food items into the country," the radio said, adding that the objective was "to prevent meat, butter and mayonnaise infected with dioxin from infiltrating the Sierra Leone consumer market." Industry officials said 70 percent of such imports came through the Netherlands, while the rest was imported primarily from Belgium, France and other continental European countries.

G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Cologne, Germany issued a statement Thursday supporting the peace process in Sierra Leone. "We support the consolidation of the peace settlement in Sierra Leone," the statement said. "It is vital that the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions should be fully respected, and we encourage all efforts to resolve conflict which threatens the development of African countries and the stability and security of large parts of Africa."

Liberian President Charles Taylor held talks in Tripoli late Wednesday with Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi. "I am here to brief Khadafi on the situation in Sierra Leone," Taylor was quoted as saying.

Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh denied a BBC report that Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema had urged Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators to make concessions and agree to a power-sharing arrangement, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA). Eyadema only asked both parties to make concessions on political issues without reference to the power-sharing question, Koffigoh said. He added that three days ago he had thought the talks were deadlocked, but said there was now a new optimism following Eyadema's personal intervention.

9 June: Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema urged Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators Wednesday to agree on some form of a power-sharing agreement in order to reach a peace accord. Eyadema, who is mediating the talks in his capacity as chairman of ECOWAS, met separately with the two delegations early Wednesday to discuss the key issue of a transitional government in which the RUF would play a role. "In light of this stumbling block, President Eyadema is getting directly implicated by giving advice on how both sides can make concessions," said Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Koffigoh. Discussions were expected to resume Wednesday afternoon in plenary session. Koffigoh said he expected a peace accord to be signed in Lomé "shortly." RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh suggested the talks could last for some time beyond the informal deadline this week, and he blamed government negotiators for the deadlock. "After eight years of fighting, why should the negotiations only last ten days? We should be encouraged to continue talking," Sankoh said after meeting with Eyadema. "The RUF is talking about a transitional government, which is the only way to lasting and genuine peace in Sierra Leone. The government is talking about the constitution, which will not solve the problem of Sierra Leone." Sankoh repeated the RUF's call for a four year transitional government. The Sierra Leone government has maintained, per its briefing paper for the talks, that "the government itself is a creature of the 1991 constitution (and) derives its powers and authority only from that constitution." Government negotiators argue that the government therefore lacks the authority to create a transitional authority outside of the constitutional framework.

Francis Okelo, the United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone and spokesman for the mediation committee, briefed Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema Tuesday on the progress of the peace talks and the state of the cease-fire in Sierra Leone. "Concerning the negotiations proper, we reported to the president that they are generally going on very smoothly between the two sides," Okelo told reporters. "The parties concerned — that is, the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF — have agreed all the issues regarding humanitarian operations, socio-economic matters, and human rights. As direct consequence of these agreements, it appears that some humanitarian organisations have started to operate to bring relief to the people in Freetown in particular and Sierra Leone in general. The cease-fire monitoring group has already been set up and it is working in line with the directives contained in the cease-fire agreement that was signed here in Lome." Okelo said the cease-fire was generally being observed, except for some isolated cases of violations by both sides. "We also informed the president that on the political matters we have agreed on 50 percent of the issues that we have been discussing," he said. "There are a number of issues on which we need to consult further."

Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assifat Diasseny said Wednesday that Guinean troops killed between 300 and 400 members of a breakaway rebel faction in cross-border reprisal raids last week. "Our soldiers entered far into their lines, identified the rebel posts and then conducted their punitive operation, and the result was that many rebels died and lots of damage done around the villages they were occupying," he told Radio France International. "I can tell you that since that day we have once again sent reinforcement troops to prevent the rebels from repeating their attacks." Diasseny added that the Guinean armed forces were being assisted by civil defence committees operating in the border villages. "We are therefore working hand in hand with these committees and they are doing their job consisting in giving information and also resisting when the need arises," he said. The minister expressed the belief that the Forecariah area was now secure. "We believe that with the punitive measures we have taken, and that we have to continue to take, we think that the rebels will no longer be able to come near our borders, and even less loot our villages," he said. Meanwhile, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh rejected Guinean assertions that some members of the RUF had formed a dissident faction, the Sierra Leonean People's Army, and were launching raids into Guinea. "There is no fighting going on, nor is there any dissidence within the RUF. We are more united than ever before," he said.

Sierra Leone and Libya will revive their joint commission and strengthen ties in all areas, according to a joint communiqué issued at the end of President Kabbah's   three-day official visit to Libya on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor flew to Tripoli on Wednesday to hold talks with Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi on the crises in Sierra Leone and the Great Lakes region. Taylor is accompanied on the trip by Cyril Allen, the secretary-general of Taylor's National Patriotic Party, and Lewis Brown, a presidential political advisor.

The U.S.-based international relief and development organisation CARE said Wednesday it had delivered 800 tons of food to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Bo and Moyamba Districts since April 29. "CARE has transported food by air, land and sea to most effectively meet the needs of the people and to avoid fighting," the agency said in a press release. CARE said it had also distributed food and emergency relief supplies to more than 13,000 IDPs at Yele, which came under attack last month. CARE also distributed non-food emergency supplies in Southern Province in May, including 4,000 blankets and materials for the construction of temporary shelters. The construction materials, which included 20,000 feet of heavy-duty plastic sheeting, were donated by the United States Agency for International Development. "In March, CARE delivered the first shipment of non-food emergency relief supplies overland from Freetown's main port to Bo. The relief supplies helped nearly 6,000 families left homeless after their houses were burned or destroyed during battles between ECOMOG and the rebels," the statement said. CARE also said it had delivered 100 metric tons of seed rice in the south of the country. "Families were unable to plant food crops when they were forced to eat their rice seed for food or replacement seed was unavailable from their traditional sources, because of continued fighting," the agency said.

The Nigerian government has published a list of missing  funds and illegally money and property by the late Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha and his aides totalling more than $1 billion. Included were holdings by Abacha in Sierra Leonean oil refineries worth $420,000 and by his former security adviser Ismaila Gwarzo valued at $140,000.

Attorney Yig'al Shapira left Israel for Sierra Leone Tuesday night to represent Ya'ir Klein, who is due to go on trial in Freetown soon on charges of supplying arms to the rebels. Klein, an Israeli reserve colonel, is also wanted in Colombia where he has been convicted in absentia of arming and training the Medellin drug cartel.

8 June: Peace talks in Lomé have bogged down over the RUF's insistence on a transitional government, United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said on Tuesday. He added that mediators were trying to narrow the differences between Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators. "The two sides are agreed on military and humanitarian issues and are agreed 50 percent on the political question," Okelo said. "But some problems remain, notably on the government, and we are trying to see how the RUF can participate in it." He told journalists that negotiators still had to work out "a progressive withdrawal" of ECOMOG troops which would follow the signing of a peace accord.

Two Sierra Leone Transport Corporation buses carrying some 200 passengers reached Bo and Kenema on Monday for the first time since rebel forces cut the highway linking Freetown with the provinces in January. "There was jubilation by the people of Bo and Kenema when the buses arrived yesterday," a company official said. For its part, the Professional Drivers Association said its members "were delighted that the cease-fire is being observed." Said one driver: "We see (the rebels) either sitting or standing beside the roadside, and many times they just wave us on."

United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Kinglsey Amaning said Tuesday that the newly-formed Implementation Committee (IC), which he chairs, had discussed an initial list of priorities drawn up by humanitarian agencies. The three areas identified were safe transport of food to Bo and Kenema, access for assessment missions to the north, northeast and northwest, and a nationwide polio immunisation campaign co be conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The Committee was set up Thursday after government and RUF negotiators agreed to allow "safe and unhindered access" by humanitarian agencies to areas under their control.

Former ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi was one of eleven top-ranking Nigerian officers whose retirements were announced by the new Nigerian government on Monday. An official statement issued by the presidency said the retirements were voluntary.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has welcomed an agreement by the Sierra Leone government and the RUF to allow access by humanitarian agencies to areas under their control. The UNHCR estimates there are 400,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia, with more than one million internally displaced persons within Sierra Leone.

"To escape the civil war in Sierra Leone, more than 300,000 people have fled into neighboring Guinea and another 100,000 into Liberia. The war's extreme brutality has attracted some international notice, but no Western power is particularly interested in helping the refugees," Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote Tuesday in a Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Kosovars Aren't the Only Refugees." "The contrast with Kosovo is striking," Roth said. "This year UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) launched an emergency appeal for $8 million for Sierra Leone refugees. So far, the agency has received only $1.3 million. But in Kosovo, UNHCR is spending an estimated $10 million a week. Since the Serbs began lobbing shells into Albanian villages, aid groups have been working feverishly to move the refugee camps further from the border. Meanwhile dozens of Sierra Leoneans have already died in rebel attacks on their camps in Guinea, some of which are less than a mile from the border."

7 June: A consignment of 146 tons of World Food Programme (WFP) relief food reached Bo on Monday — the first such shipment to the interior since rebel forces cut the Freetown - Bo highway in January. The food was shipped from Freetown on Friday to the southern port of Nitti, where it was loaded onto trucks. "We are glad that this food arrived safely in Bo," said Paul Ares, WFP's Regional Manager for West Africa. He added that more than 60,000 people in Bo and Kenema depended on the aid. The current shipment is enough to feed 40,000 people for a week.

Vice President Albert Joe Demby has encouraged the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to extend its operations to reach civilians trapped behind in desperate need of food and medical attention, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. The ICRC Head of Mission, Beat Moismann, assured Demby that the ICRC would work with the government to meet the humanitarian needs of those affected by the war.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello, commended Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators for Monday  for their agreement to allow access by humanitarian groups to areas under their control. He urged both sides to ensure the agreement's immediate and effective implementation. Vieira de Mello said at least 2.6 million people, or 55 percent of Sierra Leone's population, lives in areas inaccessible to humanitarian areas because of insecure conditions. "He expressed the hope that the agreement would enable the United Nations to have access to those in desperate need of assistance and ensure the safety of aid workers and the security of humanitarian relief goods," a U.N. statement said.

The Catholic Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi, said Saturday that Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators in Lomé, Togo were close to an accord, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Monday. Biguzzi, who along with other members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council has been helping to mediate the Lomé talks said that some obstacles still remained, particularly regarding the country's future and the participation of the RUF in the government. He told MISNA a final draft of the accord was due this week, with the final signing date to be established thereafter. Biguzzi left Lomé for Rome on Sunday, where he will attend a week-long conference before travelling to the Holy Land along with twelve priests of the Makeni Diocese, MISNA reported.

President Kabbah held talks in Libya Monday with Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi. Kabbah and his entourage arrived at Tripoli International Airport on Monday afternoon following a week-long state visit to China.

Representatives of Sierra Leonean civil society groups helping to mediate peace negotiations in Lomé, Togo expressed concern Monday about the apparent slow pace of the talks. The delay was "having deep psychological impact on the people of Sierra Leone who are anxious to have sustainable peace in order for them to start rebuilding their shattered lives," the group said in a press release. The civil society representatives noted progress made by Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators, including the cease-fire agreement, commitments to release prisoners-of-war and non-combatants, and to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance. But the representatives also said they were concerned at the RUF's insistence that all ECOMOG troops be withdrawn from Sierra Leone shortly after the signing of a peace agreement. "The people of Sierra Leone have made it abundantly clear that such withdrawal will not augur well for their security and protection," the statement said. "These fears must be strongly countenanced by both parties. Moreover, the early withdrawal of ECOMOG troops will affect regional security and go against the spirit of African hospitality and solidarity." The civil society representatives argued that any agreement concluded between the government and the RUF must "ensure the attainment of lasting peace and security, facilitate genuine reconciliation and forgiveness, promote investor confidence for rapid socio-economic development, protect, promote and preserve the sovereign rights of the people, strengthen democratic principles, processes and institutions, and lay the foundation for Sierra Leone to once again regain its rightful place among civilised nations of the world."

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Monday that he was trying to use his influence with the RUF to end Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war. "The situation in Sierra Leone has burdened all of us for a very long time," Taylor said in Abidjan following a succession of consultations with the presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. "Some of us have borders with Sierra Leone and there is the problem of refugees." Taylor confirmed that Liberia's economy has suffered as Western countries have disassociated themselves from his government, which they accuse of backing the RUF — a charge Taylor has denied, although he has acknowledged a previous association with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "We are known in the past to have some association or friendship with Foday Sankoh," Taylor said. "We believe that if that friendship that existed several years ago still exists we could have some influence in getting him to understand that this is the time for peace. I went to see...President Gnassingbe Eyadema to lend support to the process that he has undertaken, and for it to be made very clear that Liberia supports the present initiative." Taylor said he sent a special envoy to the peace talks in Lomé "to convince everyone that we are interested in seeing peace prevail." He added that both sides must make concessions. "No side can win this war. No side has a monopoly of ideas, and the process of peace is absolutely necessary," he said. Taylor also called on Britain to stop weapons shipments to Sierra Leone. Britain has committed to helping train and equip a new Sierra Leonean army, and has sent seven military advisors to Sierra Leone to assist with the training. "I discourage the British from sending any new arms to Sierra Leone," Taylor said. "It is important that the cease-fire hold in Sierra Leone and no factions be rearmed for new attacks."

In a separate interview with BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle, Liberian President Charles Taylor said he was working to bring about a peaceful settlement of the Sierra Leone crisis. "One of the principal things that we are doing right now is to get the message across very clearly and in the strongest possible way to the RUF that everybody is fed up and that they must pursue the political process," Taylor said. "Whatever diplomatic support that they could rely on in the past with Liberia could disappear if they do not take the direction of peace." Taylor denied accusations leveled by the international community, including the United States, Britain, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, ECOWAS, and the United Nations Security Council, that his government has been backing the rebels in Sierra Leone. "(The U.S. and Britain) do not have the evidence because it does not exist," he said. "No one can look at the past friendship that we have had with Foday Sankoh, before even the crisis started in Sierra Leone, as the proof to what they are talking about. There is no such proof, and I urge them, very strongly, to bring the satellite photography, bring the intelligence report, any information, bring it. I do not think it is going to happen because it does not exist." Describing himself as a "man of peace," Taylor attempted to explain his change of heart. "You know I am a new breed of educated and, I am going to praise myself, smart African leaders," he said. "The old days when the major countries came in, dictated their policies and just carried about, and you were supposed to be such a great leader.... African leaders have a mind of their own, and I didn't waste all my years in school just to come to be dictated to by individuals. I have got a mind of my own, the Liberian people have minds of their own. So, there is a time to fight, and you know, Winston Churchill, once said that we can have peace added to the power of power or the power of wisdom. But, when you look into that, sometimes it takes the power of power to bring about the power of wisdom, and in the final analysis, the power of wisdom is better than the power of power. So, right now it is wisdom."

6 June: President Kabbah ended his seven-day visit to the People's Republic of China on Sunday and has departed for Sierra Leone, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. During his stay, Kabbah met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee Li Peng, and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji. Besides Beijing, Kabbah and his entourage visited the cities of Shenzhen, Wuhan, and Shanghai.

Liberian President Charles Taylor held talks with government leaders in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast over the weekend on his announced "new initiative" to help end the war in Sierra Leone. Taylor also held talks with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema on Friday and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Saturday.

5 June: The Guinean army on Wednesday sent a "punitive expedition" into Sierra Leone, killing about 100 rebels belonging to the so-called Sierra Leonean People's Army (SPA), a breakaway faction of the RUF, the Agence France-Presse reported on Saturday. Guinean troops raided the SPA rebel base at Madina Johnson, five miles from the Guinea border in northwestern Sierra Leone, the AFP said, quoting "informed sources." During a recent raid on the Guinean town of Tassin, the rebels left behind notes threatening to attack all the villages along the border. Several towns, including Malifou, Tana, Tassin, Kollahire, and Moola, were subsequently raided by rebels who looted property and burned homes. The SPA has also been implicated in an attack on the town of Malifou, on the bank of the Kolente River. Malifou was reportedly destroyed and its 400 residents forced to flee. At nearby Tassin, ten people were killed in one night, including one rebel. Documents found on his body described the SPA as a force of some 1,000 poorly-armed dissidents from the RUF who control an area between Kambia and Kamakwie. During the raid on Tassin, villagers recognized some of their attackers as being Sierra Leonean refugees from the camp at Moola. Six were later arrested and are being held at Forecariah Prison. The SPA is believed to be responsible for the deaths of twenty people, including five soldiers, and of causing substantial property damage during raids into Guinea since April 18. Mamadouba Bangoura, the administrative head of Forecariah, called on the international community to assist residents displaced by rebel cross-border attacks. "The villagers cannot return home without food and without seed," he said. "If the fields are not planted right away, famine will be inevitable in the coming months." Bangoura warned that no rebel raid into Guinean territory would go unpunished. "Guinea is not at war with Sierra Leone, but we will hunt the perpetrators down to their nest," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor, as part of his announced "new initiative" to help end the war in Sierra Leone, held talks in Abuja Saturday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. In a joint communiqué, the two leaders expressed concern at the number of African conflicts, and praised the work of ECOWAS and its chairman, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, for working to bring about a resolution to the crisis in Sierra Leone. Before leaving Nigeria, Taylor told journalists that the situation in Sierra Leone affected Liberia, and said he was resolved to work with ECOWAS to bring peace to that country. "The situation in Sierra Leone is like nose and eye," Taylor said. "What is happening in Sierra Leone is dreadful and is affecting Liberia critically. I have promised my elder brother here that we will work. I am just coming from Togo where I met with the chairman of ECOWAS. I have named a special envoy (D. Mooseley Cooper) to the peace talks between the rebels and the government — he is former Liberian foreign minister  — to be there on a daily basis that anything that is talked that I can help with, I will be prepared to do so."

4 June: Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators reached agreement Thursday to allow humanitarian aid to reach starving civilians in the provinces. "All recognised humanitarian agencies will have guarantees of free access to all zones under control of the respective parties to ensure effective flow of humanitarian assistance," the two sides said in a joint statement. Under the agreement, the government and the rebels will set up by next Monday a joint implementation committee which will include Sierra Leonean civil associations, international aid agencies, and the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone. The agreement came as U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo warned that the humanitarian crisis was worsening. "The situation in Sierra Leone is very grave," he said on Friday. "Now we are entering the rainy season and many people have no shelter, so the humanitarian situation is very acute." Okelo said there were about 150,000 displaced persons in Freetown alone, with only about 30,000 of them in government camps. Meanwhile, a diplomatic source close to the Lomé talks said Friday that all committees, except for the Political Committee, had concluded their deliberations on the respective articles of the draft peace treaty. He said the RUF discovered Friday that by accepting "yesterday, the legitimacy of President Kabbah's government, it was in effect dropping its proposal for a transitional government." The RUF was now questioning the legitimacy of the Kabbah government, he said, and maintaining that the 1996 elections which brought President Kabbah to power were flawed. He added that the RUF was insisting on the formation of a transitional government, but said RUF negotiators had so far made no proposal as to its composition. The source said RUF negotiators rejected "a major political concession" made by the government delegation on Thursday, but gave no details. The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS), quoting a "top rebel spokesman," reported Friday that government negotiators had offered the RUF two of fifteen ministerial portfolios. The offer was rejected by RUF delegation leader Solomon Y.B. Rogers, who insisted that the current government be dissolved and replaced by a new transitional interim government, the NINJAS reported.

The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has begun to deploy cease-fire monitors outside of Freetown, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said on Friday. Doyle described "burnt out vehicles, government army roadblocks, and abandoned villages" along the highway between Freetown and Masiaka, but noted that the cease-fire was beginning to work north of Masiaka, where "rebels carrying rocket-propelled grenades were allowing government troops to drive through areas under their control."

A Nigerian freighter carrying some 800 tons of United Nations emergency food  left Freetown for the southern port of Nitti on Thursday. The Bulk Challenge was expected to reach the port on Friday, where the food would be loaded onto trucks and transported to Bo, Kenema, and other towns that have been cut off from supplies since rebel forces cut the roads from Freetown in January. Meanwhile, about a dozen cargo vessels are waiting off Freetown, reluctant to dock for fear of mines or of the possibility of rebel attacks on the port. "Some of these ships have been sitting there on the high seas for the past week, afraid to dock...because of rumours that there are mines in the waters leading into the port," one official said. He added that there had also been heightened fear of rebel attacks after last week's tensions between ECOMOG and rebel forces over a rebel roadblock at Okra Hill, on the highway connecting Freetown with the provinces.   Additional ships loaded with food and other commodities were waiting at Conakry Port in Guinea, the official said. Meanwhile, ECOMOG Press information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade has given assurances that both the port and Sierra Leone's territorial waters are safe. That view was endorsed by the Sierra Leone Ports Authority Acting Divisional Head of Safety and Security, Alusine Osaio Kamara, who told Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) that security had been tightened at the Quay after the January 6 invasion to ensure the safety of all vessels using the port.  The Sierra Leone Ports Authority Acting Deputy Operations Manager, Alhassan Koroma, told SLENA that three containers were expected to arrive at the quay within the next few days.

Liberian President Charles Taylor arrived in Togo on Friday as part of what he said would be a new initiative to help end Sierra Leone's civil war. Togolese officials said Taylor flew directly to the northern town of Kara for talks with President Gnassingbe Eyadema. Taylor is expected to travel to Nigeria on Saturday to meet with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

3 June: Negotiations between Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations in Lomé continued in technical committees on Thursday, with the chief mediator, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, predicting that a peace accord could be finalised by next Wednesday. He told reporters that the committees would submit their report on Monday. "It will then be up to the proper authorities to invite heads of state to sign the accord," Koffigoh said on Wednesday night. On Wednesday, the two sides reaffirmed their support of the cease-fire agreement signed on May 18 which took effect on May 24. They also agreed to begin "the immediate exchange of prisoners of war and non-combatants," Koffigoh said. He added that the two sides had agreed to conduct the talks without intermediaries. "We hope that this direct dialogue ... will lead to positive results which will enable a move forward more quickly towards a solution and the conclusion of a peace agreement," he said. The two sides have yet to address the difficult issues of the RUF's call for a four-year transition government, during which time it would transform itself into a political movement.

Members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council accompanied a humanitarian convoy to the Okra Hill area on Wednesday to distribute relief food to residents displaced by recent fighting, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Thursday. "I departed from Freetown with five religious leaders with the task of delivering 200 sacks of rice to the displaced populations living along the road that leads north from the capital," Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi was quoted as saying [in translation from Italian]. "Ours was a small gesture of solidarity towards people strongly tried by a devastating civil war."

ECOMOG, in a press release issued on Thursday, claimed that rebel forces were continuing to violate the ten day old cease-fire which which went into effect on May 24. Rebel forces continued to "move out of their normal positions, burning towns, abducting people and looting," the statement said. ECOMOG said it disagreed with a finding by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) on Wednesday that rebels had dismantled roadblocks at Okra Hill, on the highway leading out of Freetown. Only one roadblock between Robat and Masiaka had been removed, ECOMOG said, while others remained in place. "Despite several reports to UNOMSIL drawing attention to continuous violations by the rebels, no significant work has been done to address the situation," the ECOMOG statement said. ECOMOG also claimed rebel forces had succeeded in "consolidating their violations in certain places by blocking roads between Mange and Kambia and moving en masse towards Mile 91." ECOMOG said it had also informed UNOMSIL of repeated rebel attacks on pro-government positions near Segbwema, where it said Kamajor militiamen had been killed and 14 children abducted. The statement also dismissed reports of the recapture of Makeni and rebel-held areas of Kono by ECOMOG troops as "another instance of imaginary stories being circulated by some media organisations."

The United Nations Security Council, following an assessment by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), has upgraded its security rating for Sierra Leone to Level 3, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA). The change means that U.N. personnel, who were withdrawn from Sierra Leone following January's rebel attack on Freetown, may now reside permanently in the country.

2 June: Sierra Leone government and RUF delegations met without mediators in Lomé, Togo on Wednesday after agreeing in principle to disarm and demobilise combatants, to reorganise and reunify the army, and to set up a joint cease-fire monitoring committee in Freetown, according to Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh. "The modalities of their application still have to be worked out," he said. Koffigoh said members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, along with representatives of civic groups, were also taking part in the talks. The two sides had chosen "to discuss as brothers the future of their country," he added. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley characterised Wednesday's talks as "informal among Sierra Leoneans."

The Paris-based medical group Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) spoke Wednesday of a new wave of killings and mutilations of civilians in Sierra Leone. In a statement quoted by the Associated Press, the MSF said it had operated on more than 170 persons for war-related wounds since April. Of these, 56 were recently wounded. Most were civilians, and many were women and children who suffered from gunshot wounds or who had their hands or legs cut off by machetes. "Ten had at least one hand deliberately amputated by machete," the statement said. 24 of 56 receiving surgical treatment at Freetown's Connaught Hospital were children. Most of the victims were from Masiaka and Port Loko, where pro-government troops and rebel forces battled from late April to mid-May. No new amputee victims have arrived at the hospital since the cease-fire went into effect on May 24. "There has been a marked increase in the number of civilians presenting themselves at the hospital having been deliberately mutilated," MSF spokeswoman Polly Markandya said. Many of the victims were unable to identify their attackers, but others said they had been attacked by rebel fighters. MSF believes that many more people may have been killed or injured and unable to get help, noting that the war has prevented relief workers from reaching most parts of the country.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Wednesday he was prepared to launch an initiative to end Sierra Leone's civil war. "The war in Sierra Leone is disturbing Liberia, just as it is disturbing Sierra Leone," he told members of his cabinet in Monrovia. "Liberia is going to step up the tempo in the Sierra Leone conflict. We should come up with a new initiative." Taylor said he would travel to Lome on Friday, where delegations representing the Sierra Leone government and the RUF have entered into their second week of talks. "It is absolutely important and necessary that the cease-fire hold and the war be brought to an end," he said. Taylor's government has been accused of backing the RUF, a claim which he has continually denied. "We have come under a lot of unnecessary criticism from the international community about our role in Sierra Leone," Taylor said.

ECOMOG has eased the curfew in Freetown by one hour, state radio reported on Wednesday. The curfew will now begin at 7:00 p.m. instead of 6:00, and lasts until 7:00 a.m. The announcement stressed that curfew violators would be arrested and sanctioned.

The Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway has reopened to traffic amid signs that the cease-fire is holding in at least that area of the country, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle reported on Wednesday after driving as far as the Rokel River bridge, six miles north of Masiaka. Doyle said he encountered rebel troops at a village near the bridge. "By that point I did have a ECOMOG officer in my car to show me the way," he said. "And we did drive through a village that was controlled by the rebels, and I saw small groups of relaxed-looking rebels with RPGs and rifles slung over their shoulders. We waved at them and they waved back. So quite clearly the cease-fire is beginning to work in that small part of Sierra Leone. The ECOMOG officer who was with me wasn’t at all worried. And so they’ve reached some source of modus vivendi and, as I say, the cease-fire is working in at least a small part of Sierra Leone." Doyle confirmed earlier reports that the town of Masiaka had been completely destroyed. "There isn’t a single building left standing apart from the mosque and the church, and there are burn marks over every building," he said. "There’s hardly a building with a roof on it. There’s no people there, because ECOMOG doesn’t allow ordinary civilians to go into the town because they fear they could harbour rebels in the way that they certainly did in January in Freetown and they have in other places. And so it’s completely devastated."

More than 100 children have died of measles over the past four months in Kenema District, MERLIN programme supervisor Sheikh Conteh said on Wednesday. He added that the epidemic was now under control. Conteh said infant mortality had been reduced due to an immunization programme, but warned that children in displaced camps were still threatened with malnutrition.

1 June: Rebel forces have removed their roadblock at Okra Hill on the main highway connecting Freetown with the provinces, according to United Nations military observers. A senior official of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) said a U.N. patrol had travelled along the road on Tuesday and the roadblock was no longer there. The presence of the roadblock, which would have prevented ECOMOG from resupplying its troops, drew a warning from ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo on Monday that if it were not removed, ECOMOG would force its way through, raising concerns for the week-old cease-fire. Earlier Tuesday, UNOMSIL said it had received assurances from the rebels that they would remove their roadblocks within 24 hours. Pro-government soldiers were quoted as saying that the roadblocks were protected by heavy machine guns. "We have complained to the U.N. Observer Mission in Sierra Leone and we are waiting patiently to get the rebels to clear the roadblocks," ECOMOG Press Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said Tuesday. "We will strike in the next few days if this fails." Meanwhile, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the government and the RUF were discussing measures to ensure that the cease-fire was maintained. He said negotiators in Lomé were discussing the "composition of a cease-fire monitoring team, what role the team would play, and where it would be deployed."

Fighting between government troops and rebel forces is continuing in eastern Sierra Leone despite a cease-fire which took effect early last week. BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported Tuesday that rebel forces attacked the town of [Fola], about two miles from Segbwema, at 1:00 a.m., killing two men and abducting 14. "According to the administrator of the Civil Defense Force in Kailahun District, Kenneth Semai, the rebels attacked their positions last night and it took two hours of fighting before they were repelled, leaving behind quantities of AK-47 rifles and RPG bombs," Brima said. "Semai further stated that the rebels also attacked [Yenwahun] in the Kailahun District and abducted 21 men, including the chief of the town, Bockarie Wai." Quoting a Kamajor commander, Brima said rebel forces had attacked the town of Bendu in Kenema District, burning the entire town and abducting 24 people. The commander, Nabiu Musa, claimed the Kamajors had responded to persistent cease-fire violations by the RUF by attacking and capturing the diamond mining town of Tongo on Monday. Rebel forces last recaptured Tongo in December. There have been no independent confirmation of the reports. In Kono District a spokesman for the Donso, Aiah Senessie, said the Kono ethnic militia now controlled most of the area between Koidu and the Guinea border, and was now battling for Koidu itself. In an interview with BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle, Senessie claimed that the Donso's gains predated the cease-fire, but said if given the necessary resources he hoped to be able to recapture the entire district. He told Doyle that a senior government army officer had given the Donso the equivalent of $20,000 over the past year to finance its campaign against the rebels.

ECOMOG has closed Fourah Bay College a student protest over the lack of water on campus turned into a riot. An ECOMOG spokesman said Monday's disturbances could provide cover for rebels trying to regroup and attack Freetown. The college's third term was due to start on Monday. College officials now say the reopening will be put off indefinitely. "For the time being, we are in charge of security in the country and anyone who threatens the security of the country we will put under control and fast," the ECOMOG spokesman said. Education Minister Dr. Alpha T. Wurie said the government had decided to back the ECOMOG action. "ECOMOG has taken a position we cannot reverse," he said. Meanwhile, student leaders accused ECOMOG soldiers of beating the students. "We were only demonstrating for the college authorities to provide a steady and adequate supply of water,'' one student leader said.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in an Emergency Report updated through May 25, said Tuesday that its operations in April and May were confined to Freetown, Lungi, Kenema and Bo, and the surrounding area of Southern Province because of security concerns and lack of road access. Assessments are currently being undertaken in newly-accessible areas of Port Loko District and in Kenema District. "As a consequence of the lack of access, it is estimated that a half of the total population of Sierra Leone has not been able to receive any humanitarian assistance since January," the WFP said. "In April, WFP food stocks in Kenema were depleted, and 51,000 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in the town and nearby Blama only received a two-week ration of food aid. In Bo, food stocks are expected to last only until end May."