The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

July 2002
 

31 July: Freetown police have arrested ten women, all believed to be members of the Bondo Society, in connection with the death this week of a 14-year old girl as the result of a botched circumcision, the Reuters news agency reported. The girl was said to have been found lying on the ground and bleeding from the genital area. A post mortem investigation was performed at Freetown's Connaught Hospital. Meanwhile, police were searching for six more women suspected of involvement in the death of another girl whose body was thrown into a river after she died during a circumcision ceremony, the news agency said.

British welterweight boxer Tony Cesay, who wore Sierra Leone's colours at the Commonwealth Games to honour the country where his parents were born, has come up short in his bid to win a medal for Sierra Leone. Cesay lost on points to Australian Daniel Geale, 25-13. Meanwhile, the Sierra Leonean women reached the final in the 4x100 metre relay Wednesday, but finished last behind teams from the Bahamas, Jamaica, England, Australia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Fiji. Competing for Sierra Leone were Fatmata Bash-Kamara, Ekyndayo Williams, Tennah Kargbo and Aminata Kargbo. 

30 July: Sierra Leone's 4x100 metre relay team posted a 40.0 time in Tuesday's semi-final round at the Commonwealth Games, but missed qualifying by just tenths of a second. The team, which included Sierra Leonean runners Gibril Bangura, Aiah Yambasu, Jocelyn Thomas and Thomas Ganda, finished fifth behind qualifiers Nigeria, England and Canada, which qualified automatically, and Cameroon, which qualified as one of the two fastest losers. The Sierra Leoneans beat Mauritius, and the Gambia was disqualified. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia and Wales (fastest loser) qualified in the second heat, leaving behind Niue. The South Africans were disqualified and the British Virgin Islands team did not finish the race. In the 4x400 metre relay semi-finals, the Sierra Leonean team was disqualified. Moving on to the finals were Jamaica, the Bahamas, Sri Lanka, England, Wales, South Africa, Nigeria and Australia. 

313 more Sierra Leonean returnees arrived in Freetown by boat on Sunday, bringing to more than 900 the number of refugees repatriated by sea from Monrovia since July 20, the UNHCR said on Tuesday. In Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie told the Voice of America that only 4,500 of the estimated 25,000 registered Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in Liberia had so far signed up to return home by sea. "This seemingly low figure could be explained by the fact that for many days or even weeks we were prevented from going to some of the camps to do the proper registration," she said. "As we were going along, more and more people were always coming forward and we expect the registration to continue taking in more and more people as it goes on." Marie called the sea lift an "emergency solution," made necessary by the fact that fighting between Liberian government and rebel forces had closed the road between Liberia and Sierra Leone. The UNHCR currently has only one chartered vessel, the MV Christmas Day, which shuttles some 300 refugees between Monrovia and Freetown twice a week. "At the rate of 600 per week it would take months to repatriate the remaining 25,000 so it is, we hope, only  a temporary solution that quickly could be complemented or replaced by either an additional ship to increase the capacity or overland convoys as soon as the situation allows," Marie said. 

29 July: Gambian lawyers downed tools Monday in protest of their government's abrupt sacking last Wednesday of the country's most senior Supreme Court justice, Alhaji Hassan B. Jallow, the BBC reported. The attorney-general gave no reason for the judge's dismissal, which came one day before Jallow was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to sit on the Appeals Chamber of Sierra Leone's Special Court. The Gambian Bar Association has denounced the sacking as unconstitutional and as part of a "worrying pattern of unconstitutional executive interference in the independence of the judiciary." 

Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) presented its annual report to President Kabbah on Friday. By statute, the ACC is required to disclose the number of investigations it carried out during the year, the number of cases which were referred to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice for prosecution, and the Auditor-General's report of the commission's books. In a prepared statement, Kabbah called the level of corruption in Sierra Leone "unacceptable," noting that many believed that "one of the main causes of the war is the prevalence of corruption among public officers, and that this caused the estrangement of those who took up arms in this country." He added that there was a close correlation between levels of corruption and development aid. The president said the ACC had not reported government interference with its work, but had pointed to other constraints, such as a lack of funding and staff. 

British light-heavyweight boxer Craig McEwan stopped Sierra Leonean Ulric Caramba-Coker with 45 seconds remaining in the second round at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. In the middleweight division, Jitender Kumar of India knocked out Sierra Leonean Joseph Farmer.

28 July: Britain's military task force completed its withdrawal from Sierra Leone Sunday, two years after arriving in the war-torn country. The British troops first arrived in May 2000 to shore up the beleaguered United Nations peacekeeping force which was in danger of collapse after RUF rebels seized more than 500 U.N. troops and began an advance on the capital. After the crisis ended, a scaled-down team of British military trainers remained in Sierra Leone to train and rebuild Sierra Leone's army into a professional and democratically-accountable military force (photo: Sierra Leonean troops undergoing training at Benguema). Over the past two weeks some 200 soldiers have left the country, and Sunday's departure of their logistics supply ship, the RFA Sir Geraint, was low key, BBC correspondent Tom McKinley reported. A police band played at the docks, while children from a local orphanage supported by the soldiers were on hand to see them go. The departure of the troops leaves more than 100 British military trainers in Sierra Leone who will continue to train the army as part of the International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT). The commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier Patrick Davidson-Houston, told McKinley that the departing troops and their ship had been there to protect the trainers. With the improvement of the security situation, he said, they were no longer needed. "We do not need as many assets as we previously had a year or eighteen months ago," he said. "And so we’re able to release the ship today, which is a major step forward, and I think this is a sign of the confidence that we, the British, and the international community have in the security of this country." Davidson-Houston stressed that Britain was not abandoning their commitment to Sierra Leone, and he said that if the security situation deteriorated, the troops would likely be back. "If things were to take a turn of the worse, I’m quite sure you’d see us increasing our support here, because we made such an investment in this country to help them get through this terrible, terrible period of ten or eleven years of civil war that we are desperately keen to see in the long term that the future is secured," he said.

British-born welterweight boxer Tony Cesay has switched his allegiance to Sierra Leone for the Commonwealth Games in deference to his parents and the country in which they were born, PA Sport reported. Cesay also took time out from his training to secure sponsorships and equipment to allow Sierra Leone's six-member boxing team to travel to Manchester for the competition. "My mother told me one day that she wanted to see me representing Sierra Leone before I stopped boxing," he said. "Now I feel blessed that I came this way because I never saw it before. When I boxed for England I used to complain and I got everything given to me on a plate. Now I am representing a country where they do not have boots or shorts or gloves. Once we can sort things out I think sport in Sierra Leone can be great." Cesay, who represented England in last year's World Amateur Championships, won his first match on Sunday, defeating Malaysian boxer Shuhairi Hussain on points, 26 to 9. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's two hopefuls in the women's 200-metre race failed to advance out of the first round Sunday. Aminata Kargbo finished fifth in her heat, while Tennah Kargbo was handed a disqualification.

27 July: The fate of 46 Sierra Leonean villagers abducted by unidentified Liberian gunmen from the eastern border town of Kokobu is still unknown, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the BBC on Saturday. 18 people were marched across the border at gunpoint on Thursday, forced to carry goods looted from their homes, and 28 villagers were kidnapped from the same town a week earlier. None of those abducted has been released, and Novicki said it still wasn't clear who was responsible for the attacks. "The problem is that both Armed Forces of Liberia and LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) are in the area on the Liberian side of the border," she said. "In many cases they are not in uniform, they’re only armed, and so it’s difficult to tell who is actually doing the raiding." Novicki said the raiders were probably looking for food and other goods which are in increasingly short supply on the Liberian side of the border. "I think they’re utilizing the people as porters to carry whatever goods they’ve looted back across," she said. She added that additional Sierra Leonean troops had been sent to the area in an effort to reassure villagers and to head off the raids while UNAMSIL, which is responsible for Sierra Leone's internal security, was conducting regular patrols to deter further incursions. Novicki noted that it was still not clear who was in control of the armed group that were responsible for the raids, but that "nonetheless we do expect the Liberian authorities to do all that they can on their side of the border to see to it that nobody is crossing over to Sierra Leone and destabilising Sierra Leone in any way."

Sierra Leonean 800-metre runner Dauda Mansaray finished last in his first-round heat Saturday with a time of 2:04.59, nearly fifteen seconds off the pace set by group winner Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa, and failed to advance to the second round of the Commonwealth Games being contested this week at Manchester in the United Kingdom. Kadie Koroma, Sierra Leone's only contestant in the women's 800-metres race, received a first-round disqualification and also failed to advance.

26 July: Sahr Thomas, Sierra Leone's only men's 400-metre runner to advance to the second round in the Commonwealth Games, failed to reach the semi-finals Friday after finishing eighth in his heat with a time of 49.60 seconds. Thomas' second-round time was 1.24 seconds off his first-round finish of 48.36. In the second round of the men's 100-metres, two Sierra Leonean athletes who qualified out of the first round failed to advance. Jocelyn Thomas came fifth in the first heat with a time of 10.47 seconds, missing the cut by two tenths of a second. Gibril Bangura finished sixth in the second heat with a time of 10.64.

Two of Sierra Leone's athletes have advanced to the second round in the men's 100-metre race on the first day of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, U.K.. Gibril Bangura came fourth in the second heat with a time of 10.65 seconds, 18 tenths of a second second behind the winner, Michael Frater of Jamaica. Jocelyn Thomas, with a time of 10.53, came third in heat six, 22 tenths of a second off the pace set by Abdul Aziz Zakari of Ghana. Thomas Ganda barely missed the cut in the fourth heat with a time of 10.85. In the women's 100-metre race, Ekundayo Williams did the best of the Sierra Leoneans but her 12.36 finish was only good enough for seventh place in the first heat which was won by Jamaican runner Veronica Campbell. Aminata Kargbo just failed to advance from the second heat when her 12.48 finish left her in fifth place, and Tennah Kargbo finished sixth in heat three with a time of 12.86. In the men's 400-metre competition,  Sahr Thomas recorded a time of 48.36 seconds, which was good enough for a fifth-place finish and an advance to the second round. John Fuller contested in the sixth heat but was disqualified, and Frank Turay did not start in the seventh. Fatmata Bash-Kamara, Sierra Leone's lone entry in the women's 400-metres, was handed a disqualification. In discus, Anthony Soalla-Bell's mark of 44.75 metres was not good enough to move on to the next round. The event was won by Frantz Kruger of South Africa, who set a new Commonwealth record by hurling the discuss 66.25 metres. Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean light heavyweight boxer David Kowah was defeated in the preliminary round by Jegbefumere Bone Albert of Nigeria.

A report issued by the United Nations this week ranked Sierra Leone lowest among 173 countries in terms of human development. The report, which was the second consecutive last-place finish for the war-ravaged country, looked at such factors as education, life expectancy and per capita income.  On Friday, however, Sierra Leone's vice president said he believed that if the U.N. had more accurate statistics, his country would have ranked somewhat higher on the Human Development Index. "We are not really very happy that we are ranked in last place of course," Vice President Solomon Berewa told the Sierra Leone Web. "But we believe there are a number of factors which, if they were taken into account today, our ranking would be much different from what we have today. The indicators that have been considered — the source of the information leading to the indicators may not be very, very accurate. Because of the war situation we’ve not been able to have accurate statistics for some time." Berewa acknowledged that a range of economic problems still needed to be addressed in order to improve Sierra Leone's ranking. "With the end of the war, the social services are going to be looked at very closely: education, health, road construction, employment and those things," he said. "The whole economy is going to be given a big boost, I hope...We would expect to have a much better ranking next time."

Liberian combatants have abducted some 46 villagers this month during two raids on the town of Kokobu in Kailahun District, a UNAMSIL spokesperson confirmed on Friday. "Yesterday, 18 villagers were reportedly taken captive, and in the previous week, it was 28 — a total of 46 Sierra Leoneans have been taken," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki (pictured left) told reporters. "As of now, we can't confirm whether it has been AFL (Armed Forces of Liberia) or LURD (the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy). All we know is it's an armed group of Liberians." Novicki stressed that patrolling the border was outside the mandate of United Nations peacekeepers. "This is the responsibility of the security forces of Sierra Leone," she said. "The Sierra Leone Police and Sierra Leone armed forces have beefed up their personnel in that area, and I'm sure they're doing their best to get these people released." UNAMSIL's military spokesman, Major Galadima Shekari called the incursions "a very serious threat."  "That's why at this end we're concerned," he said. "We'll continue to monitor the border with serious concern."

Sierra Leone's rebuilt helicopter gunship made a test flight over the capital Freetown on Wednesday, marking the first such flight since October 2001, when one of the government's two gunships crashed in a swamp near Kenema shortly after takeoff. Sierra Leone purchased the two MI-24V gunships from Ukraine in April 1999, and they were widely credited with helping to swing the momentum in the country's civil war back to the government side. The helicopter which flew Wednesday was the SL-201, which had been grounded for some time due to problems with the auxiliary power unit. Pilot Cassie Nel told the Sierra Leone Web that the uprated engines had been installed by the MI factory team. The helicopter is not expected to fly again until Monday, when fresh fuel is due to arrive.

A second boatload of 301 Sierra Leonean refugees was due to dock in Freetown Friday, bring to 586 the number of Sierra Leonean refugees repatriated by sea from Liberia since the exercise began last week, a UNHCR spokesman said. The voyage by sea takes 24 hours between the two capitals and is much slower than land routes, but fighting in Liberia has made the only road back to Sierra Leone too dangerous to use. Some 4,500 Sierra Leoneans have registered for repatriation by boat. Priority is being given to those from Sinje, who were forced to flee for their lives last month when their refugee camp was overrun and destroyed by Liberian rebels. Meanwhile, the number of Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone has passed the 50,000 mark as refugees and returnees continue to cross the border at the rate of about 1,000 per week. There are some 30,000 registered Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in Liberia, and on Friday the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) warned that they could become casualties of Liberia's widening civil war unless steps were taken immediately to send them home. "UNHCR should make a policy decision to aggressively repatriate the estimated 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who remain in Liberia," said Jeff Drumtra, senior policy analyst for USCR. "The security threat they face in Liberia is more dangerous than the protection and reintegration problems awaiting them in Sierra Leone." A report by a USCR team which visited the area this month expressed concern that the increasing numbers of Liberian refugees arriving in Sierra Leone was putting a strain on war-damaged border villages and was threatening to sidetrack efforts to reintegrate thousands of returned Sierra Leonean refugees. The report also noted that donor funding for to assist the region's displaced was "dangerously low" — only $38 million of the $164 million U.N. agencies say they need to deal with the crisis this year. The USCR also expressed concern that repatriation and reintegration in Sierra Leone could be threatened by a housing shortage, continued unrest in some chiefdoms, and a shortage of teachers. "Single women face particular problems, including difficulties reclaiming their property on return home," the report said.

25 July: Judges from Sierra Leone, Canada and Cameroon will comprise the Trial Chamber of Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, according to separate announcements made Thursday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Sierra Leonean Vice President Solomon Berewa. Under the Special Court statute, a majority of the three-member Trial Chamber and the five-member Appeals Chamber would be international justices appointed by Annan, with the rest nominated by the Sierra Leone government. Named to the Trial Chamber were former Sierra Leone Appeals Court Judge Rosolu John Bankole Thompson (pictured right), currently a professor at Eastern Kentucky University in the United States; Pierre Boutet, a liaison officer in Canada's Defence Department and former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian forces; and Benjamin Mutanga Itoe, a Cameroonian Supreme Court Judge. A Nigerian Supreme Court Justice, Emmanuel O. Ayoola, will sit on the Appeals Chamber along with Gambian Supreme Court Justice and former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Alhaji Hassan B. Jallow and Kosovo Supreme Court Justice Renate Winter of Austria. The two Appeals Chamber judges named by Sierra Leone were George Gelaga King and Geoffrey Robertson. King is currently president of Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone. He is a former Supreme Court justice, and also served as president of the Gambia Court of Appeals. A former diplomat, he once served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Geoffrey Robertson is a Queen's Counsel and head of the Doughty Street Chambers in Britain. The secretary-general and the Sierra Leone government jointly chose two alternate judges: Isaac Aboagye from Ghana, who is currently serving as a High Court justice in Botswana, and Elizabeth Muyovwe, a High Court judge from Zambia. The Special Court is charged with prosecuting a handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Agreement. Chief Prosecutor David Crane of the United States and Registrar Robin Vincent of the United Kingdom are expected to start work later this month, Annan's spokesman said in New York.

Sierra Leone has asked the Commonwealth to provide judges and prosecutors to strengthen Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. In order to speed up the pace of prosecutions, he added, he will also appoint a senior judge to take the lead in prosecuting corruption cases. The moves come amid mounting pressure from international donor nations, and in particular from Britain, to tackle the problem of rampant public corruption in the country. Last February, Britain’s Minister for International Development warned that future aid would be tied to progress in reducing corruption, and in May a British official told the Sierra Leone Web that the current warm relationship between Sierra Leone and Britain could chill considerably if the problem were not addressed. Britain and Sierra Leone are currently negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which addresses the level of financial assistance and defines the future relationship between the two countries, "setting out our commitments and what we expect to see in return to ensure that these commitments remain in place," an official in London said on Thursday. Britain has allocated £1.4 million for the ACC, and the official added that "anti-corruption figures highly in the negotiations."  While the memorandum makes no specific mention of providing judges and prosecutors for the ACC, "it is something we are looking at closely" at the request of President Kabbah and the Government of Sierra Leone, he said. Halloway acknowledged that prosecutions had got off to a slow start, and he said he was looking for ways to remove bottlenecks in both his office and in the Commission. So far, he said, the ACC has sent some 25 cases to the Attorney-General’s office for prosecution, most of them "small time cases" involving lower-level offences which would be handled in Magistrate’s Court. The Attorney-General’s office is still waiting on the ACC for documents relating to five or six cases which will be tried before Sierra Leone’s High Court, where a former cabinet minister and a permanent secretary face trial on corruption charges. Just two persons, a former minister and a judge, have been convicted to date. Halloway cited a number of problems for the lack of progress, including insufficient staff and logistics, and even flaws in the anti-corruption statute itself which, he said, he was seeking to amend. One of these provisions requires that the Anti-Corruption Commissioner personally swear in witnesses, meaning that the Commissioner would have to travel around the country to administer the oath whenever depositions from witnesses were taken.

The Sierra Leone Police have opened criminal investigations into the killing last week of a black market currency trader, allegedly by Nigerians, as well as the deaths of two persons in rioting which followed the discovery of Momodu Jan Bah’s body in a guest house at 152 Circular Road, the director of the Criminal Investigation Department said on Thursday. Deputy Police Commissioner Tamba Gbekie told the Sierra Leone Web that an autopsy showed Bah had died by strangulation and suffocation. Documents found in the room where he was killed pointed to the involvement of Nigerian named Pascal, who has disappeared and is being sought by police. Gbekie said four Nigerians were in police custody and were cooperating with the investigation, but he said they were being held as material witnesses and not currently believed to have been involved in the crime. The Deputy Commissioner said the CID was also investigating the two deaths during the riots which, some civil society organisations have alleged, resulted from an excessive use of force by the Nigerian peacekeepers who intervened to put down the violence. Gbekie said it was too early in the investigation to draw any conclusions, and he suggested that police were being cautious in talking about the case in order to avoid stirring up further  violence. "The downtown is full of ex-combatants," he said. Meanwhile, a police spokesman has dismissed speculation that United Nations peacekeepers had intervened without being asked by Sierra Leonean authorities. "We operate as a team, as a security network, because we are all stakeholders in the security issue," police spokesman Philip Wellington told the Sierra Leone Web. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Sierra Leone Police have to call the UNAMSIL before they can come in. They can come in at any time. In fact, UNAMSIL is in charge of security in the entire country. You know, we are taking over just little by little because we are trying to get police primacy. But we have not achieved that yet, and it is an ongoing process. So their own mandate, I’m sure, makes provision for them to come in at any time where there is a civil disturbance."

24 July: Sierra Leone ranks last among 173 countries on the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index for a second consecutive year, according to a new report released in Manila on Wednesday. The UNDP ranking reflects a composite measure of life expectancy, education and per capita income. Norway remains at the top of the list, followed by Sweden, Canada, Belgium and Australia. The bottom 24 countries are all located in sub-Saharan Africa. The report suggests that while substantial progress in the level of human development has been made in most parts of the world, there are exceptions — notably in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, where many countries have a lower Human Development Index than they did in 1990 when the first report was commissioned. The UNDP report also linked progress in development with "fair and democratic governance," and it expressed concern that the momentum toward democracy of the 1980s and 1990s was in danger of losing ground to authoritarian rule and political conflict. "In theory, the world is more democratic than it has ever been," the report said, noting that 140 of the world's nearly 200 countries now hold multi-party elections. But in practice, it added, only 82 of those countries are fully democratic, while 106 countries still limit important civil and political freedoms.

Members of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) have visited ten of Sierra Leone's twelve districts this month to raise awareness on the commission's role and explain how the it can help to heal the scars left by a decade of civil war, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. TRC Executive Secretary Yasmin Jusu Sheriff told reporters that the commission is also taking down preliminary statements from about 20 persons a day on human rights violations. Formal hearings are due to begin later this year. The TRC has only raised about ten percent of its pro forma budget request, but commission chairman Bishop Joseph Humper (pictured left) said he was confident the necessary funds would be raised. "Once they see us working, donors will come to our assistance," he said.

23 July: The first 300 Sierra Leonean refugees to be repatriated from Monrovia by sea arrived in Freetown on Sunday, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. The boat, the MV Christmas Day, is expected to pick up 300 more refugees on Wednesday and will then keep shuttling between Monrovia and Freetown, repatriating about 600 refugees a week. About 4,500 Sierra Leoneans have signed up to go home. Repatriation by sea became the only option after fighting between Liberian government forces and rebels blocked roads leading into Sierra Leone. In the meantime, repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea has been put temporarily on hold because of financial and logistical constraints. The two to three week suspension will allow the agency to use its trucks and other resources in Sierra Leone to transport newly-arrived Liberian refugees to camps away from the border area, and to assist Sierra Leonean returnees.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (pictured right) has re-appointed a Panel of Experts to determine whether Liberia has complied with U.N. sanctions, his spokesman said on Monday. The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions against the Charles Taylor regime in March 2001 because of his government's alleged backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for Liberia's involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. The experts — Atabou Bodian from Senegal, who works with the International Civil Aviation Organization, Belgian arms expert Johan Peleman, Harjit Singh Sandu from India, an INTERPOL official, and British diamond expert Alex Vines — are expected to serve for three months. "The panel will investigate and compile a report on the Liberian Government’s compliance with demands contained in the Security Council resolution extending sanctions on that country, the potential economic, humanitarian and social impact on the population of the measures imposed and on any violations of those measures," the spokesman said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has rejected allegations that his government has been harbouring operatives from the al-Qaeda network, the group alleged to have carried out terrorist attacks last year in the United States. The suggestions of a link first arose in November 2001, when a Washington Post report said RUF rebels had sold diamonds to representatives of al-Qaeda at a safe house in Monrovia protected by the Liberian government. An RUF official acknowledged the existence of the safe house and admitted that diamonds had been sold there, but denied any ideological connection with al-Qaeda. Taylor said any al-Qaeda operatives found in his country would be turned over to the United States for prosecution, according to his statement carried on the Voice of America. "We can assure the Americans that anybody associated with, looks like, smells like al-Qaeda here, we will turn them over to you," Taylor said. 

22 July: A Peace Corps assessment team will travel to Sierra Leone next month to lay the groundwork for a possible return of Peace Corps Volunteers to Sierra Leone, a U.S. official said on Monday. "It’s a security assessment team," USAID Country Director Julie Koenen-Grant told the Sierra Leone Web. "One of the first things to do is to assess the security situation in a country before Peace Corps operations can start up, and so this team is coming to carry out that assessment. If all is found to be favourable, the next steps in the process will be taken to re-engage the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone." Between 1961 and 1994, over 4,000 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Sierra Leone, working in such sectors as education, agriculture and health. The agency pulled out of the country finally in May of 1994 due to the deteriorating security situation, but many of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, alongside former Canadian volunteers from CUSO and British volunteers from VSO, have worked throughout Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war to provide relief aid and to make sure the country was not forgotten by the international community. Koenen-Grant said U.S. Ambassador Peter Russell Chaveas (pictured left) was now anxious to see the volunteers return to Sierra Leone. She added that the "first wave" of the Peace Corps presence would likely be the Crisis Corps, a short-term intervention programme made up of former Peace Corps Volunteers, "if all indications are positive." Mike Diliberti, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Friends of Sierra Leone, an aid group which was founded in 1991 by returned volunteers, welcomed the prospect of the organisation returning to Sierra Leone. "I have found a strong consensus for reactivation of the Peace Corps programme in Sierra Leone when conditions permit and effective programs are developed," he said. Diliberti said dozens of former Peace Corps Volunteers had already registered to participate in the event that the Crisis Corps programme is launched in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has appealed to Sierra Leoneans not to tamper with suspected mass graves and execution sites around the country because vital evidence could be lost, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Monday. The appeal followed a meeting last week between TRC commissioners and an Argentinean forensics investigation team which spent the last month doing a preliminary investigation and mapping of the grave and execution sites. Also present were paramount chiefs from three of the districts where mass graves have been discovered, along with representatives of the police and from the Ministries of Health, Local Government and Community Development, and Internal Affairs. While acknowledging that some landowners wanted to reclaim and rebuild on properties where atrocities had been committed, TRC commissioners urged that the sites not be disturbed until the TRC and the Special Court decide on what to do with them. The Argentinean forensics team "literally found evidence of mass graves and killing sites all over the districts of Kambia, Port Loko, Kailahun and Kono in the north and east," the TRC's Advisor on International Operations, Ozonnia Ojielo, told IRIN. "In some cases, local communities showed the forensic experts houses where up to 50-60 people were herded together and burnt. Skulls and bones were found in such sites. We want to ensure that owners of such properties do not return to them immediately — hence the appeal to the public and the police."

20 July: A first group of 300 refugees in Liberia has been repatriated to Sierra Leone by sea, an official of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, told the Voice of America. The refugees had been stranded after land routes to Sierra Leone were blocked by fighting between LURD rebels and Liberian government forces in the west of the country. UNHCR country representative Moses Okello said that this latest effort was part of a voluntary repatriation effort which had been going on since February. "Since February we’ve taken back about 11,000 people, and this is a continuation of that exercise now by sea," he said. Okello said that the refugees were given assistance upon their arrival to help them resettle in their homes. "We have what we call a 'returnee package' which consists of six months food rations for every returnee family," he said. "They are given tools for agricultural re-establishment and other several assistance including medical facilities and so on. Of course we have to do this jointly with the government of Sierra Leone and the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the U.N. agencies that do other activities beyond what UNHCR does normally." Last month thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Liberians were forced to flee when rebels of the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) attacked the refugee camp at Sinje. Several thousand of the refugees have crossed into Sierra Leone in recent weeks, or made their way to the Liberian capital Monrovia. Many others are believed to still be hiding in the forest. Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Kemoh Salia-bao, told the Voice of America that the refugee agency had told him officially that five Sierra Leoneans had been killed during the attack on Sinje. "The refugee leadership we sent into the forest and the villages, they also reported to us that there have been a few deaths, but we don’t know the number yet," the ambassador said.

19 July: Two persons were killed and three more were injured in Thursday's rioting in central Freetown, a police official told the Reuters news agency on Friday. Staff at Freetown's Connaught Hospital were quoted as saying that all five suffered from gunshot wounds. The violence, according to some reports, was the result of long-festering tensions between groups of Sierra Leonean and Nigerian black market currency traders — the so-called "dollar boys" — which resulted in the murder this week of a Sierra Leonean currency trader, allegedly at the hands of his Nigerian rivals. There is still confusion over the specific events which led to the rioting. According to the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), police said the deceased, Momodu Jan Bah, wanted to change thirteen million leones into dollars when he was approached by a Nigerian named Pascal who said he had the dollar equivalent. The two left together, and nothing was heard of Bah until his body was discovered at the Lake Sonfon Guest House (formerly the Diplomat Guest House) on Circular Road. Another version was given by the Voice of America, which related that several Nigerians told Bah they wanted him to change $10,000 to leones. Bah joined them in their vehicle, and a day later other currency traders reported him missing. Still another version was proposed by the BBC, which said Bah was defrauded of $10,000 by Nigerian con men and subsequently disappeared. Disturbances began on Wednesday as angry youths targeted Nigerian nationals and businesses in the city centre after reports of the man's death began to circulate. Violence exploded in the capital's central business district on Thursday after the youths seized the corpse from the morgue and carted it through the streets on an omolanke. Security forces and United Nations peacekeepers quelled the fighting by late in the day. The city was reported to be calm but tense on Friday, and some shops had reopened. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL brought in reinforcements from its Kenyan battalion at Masiaka. "Shops and commercial outlets downtown remain closed with armed riot police deployed in virtually every strategic area of the business district," said BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, adding: "Today at the Victoria Park where some Nigerians conduct their business activities, their wares were looted by the youths and structures vandalised." On Thursday, Fofana said, "the scenes were ugly, with Nigerian U.N. peacekeepers letting off live shots from their armored personnel carriers in their bid to contain the deteriorating situation." Voice of America reporter Kelvin Lewis said youths began attacking Nigerians on Goderich Street, where the majority of the shops are Nigerian-owned. "At this point, Nigerian soldiers attached to the U.N. peacekeeping force rushed to the scene and opened fire on the demonstrators who were also throwing stones at them," Lewis said. Late Thursday, Sierra Leone's National Forum for Human Rights issued a statement accusing the United Nations of using excessive force in putting down the violence. In particular, the group condemned the use of live ammunition against stone-throwing rioters, and accused Nigerian peacekeeping troops of shooting two youths in the city centre. The Forum statement also questioned the use of U.N. troops, especially those from UNAMSIL's Nigerian contingent, insisting that riot control should be exclusively the job of the police. UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker dismissed the Forum's charges as "wild allegations" made even before the violence had ended, adding that the matter was still under investigation. "They were telling people that we’ve committed atrocities on the mission," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "Their press release (made it look like) we are at war with them. That is not the situation." Coker said U.N. troops were deployed only after being asked to help. "We had about four security organisations on the ground: the OSD, the SSD, the Sierra Leone Police," he said. "UNAMSIL was invited to assist these three groups."

The United Nations Security Council held a one-day workshop Thursday on the Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to look at ways to reduce instability in the volatile sub-region and to consider how to make the transition from peacekeeping to peace building. Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Momodu Koroma warned the Council that gains made in Sierra Leone would only be temporary without peace and security in the region. The escalating violence in Liberia, he said, was overshadowing recent Sierra Leonean success in the peace process. He added that it was now widely accepted that peace and stability in the Mano River Union was key for security and development in West Africa. United Nations officials, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, echoed Koroma's concerns that in conflict in Liberia could endanger the peace in Sierra Leone and bring instability to the region. Under Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast said that "unless urgently and decisively addressed, the instability in Liberia risks reversing the significant gains made in the peace process in Sierra Leone." Prendergast warned that the instability could have a "domino effect," negatively affecting the situations in neighbouring countries, particularly Guinea and Ivory Coast. Thursday's meeting was chaired by Baroness Valerie Amos, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Minister for Africa. Britain holds the Security Council presidency for the month of July.

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council Friday to condemn human rights abuses by Liberian government and rebels, and to take steps to end Guinea's support for Liberia's armed dissidents and to ensure that the Liberian conflict does not destabilise the fragile peace in Sierra Leone.

Access to the Liberian town of Sinje remains closed to humanitarian agencies, making it difficult to determine the location, number and conditions of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and  displaced Liberians, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. Some 24,000 persons were forced to flee in late June when rebels from the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) attacked and destroyed the Sinje refugee camp. Several thousand of the refugees have crossed into Sierra Leone or made their way to Monrovia, but the fate of thousands more remains unknown. Meanwhile, the number of persons crossing the Liberian border into Sierra Leone's Pujehun District decreased dramatically during the first half of July, the WFP said. About 12,500 people entered Sierra Leone between July 1 and July 12, but most of them arrived during the first week of the month. During the first two weeks of July the WFP distributed 1,300 tons of food to 140,900 beneficiaries, including about 2,800 Sierra Leonean returnees and 12,000 Liberians at refugee camps in Gerihun and Jembe. 

18 July: Angry youths rampaged through the streets of central Freetown Thursday after the body of a popular Fullah black market currency dealer "dollar boy" who disappeared earlier this week was discovered in a guest house, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. The man, Momodu Jan Bah (also known as "Mamajah"), had not been heard from since Monday. According to police, Bah was kidnapped when a currency trade went wrong, but Bah's fellow money changers insist he was defrauded and murdered by Nigerian con men, the Associated Press reported. Nigerian traders locked their shops on Wednesday as youths targeted Nigerian nationals and their businesses as police attempted to contain the situation. Thursday's rioting was "almost spontaneous," Fofana said, sparked by the discovery of the businessman's tied up and decomposing body, which the youths seized from the morgue and paraded through the streets. "It was a very nasty scene in downtown," Fofana said. "You had hundreds if not thousands of youths including foreign currency buyers all around throwing stones, even when the Nigerian U.N. peacekeepers intervened with their armoured personnel carriers, the youths were pelting stones everywhere." Businesses and offices were closed on Thursday because of the violence. United Nations peacekeepers fired shots throughout the capital to disperse the rioters and deployed troops at strategic areas of the downtown business district. Hospital officials told the Associated Press that two people had been killed and two more injured in the violence, all from gunshot wounds. There was no word on who shot them. A Reuters reporter said he saw youths in eastern Freetown hurling stones at armoured personnel carriers which, a UNAMSIL spokesman said, had been called in to help restore calm. "Yesterday we had reports of minor clashes, and today UNAMSIL troops were invited to assist the Sierra Leone police," Patrick Coker told Reuters. "We are containing the situation and making sure it does not escalate." By nightfall, Freetown was reported to be calm but still tense. Earlier in the day, an eyewitness described the rioting around Goderich and Sackville streets in the city centre, where he said a shots had been fired starting at about 1:00 p.m. He told the Sierra Leone Web he had observed at least two UNAMSIL armoured personnel carriers patrolling the area. Meanwhile, state radio warned Freetown residents against using the disturbances as a cover for looting area shops.

Sierra Leone's 18-member delegation to the Catholic church's World Youth Days in Toronto has been refused permission to travel to Canada because consular officials in Conakry feared the young people might fail to return home, the delegation's leader told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. Father Daniel Yeboah said the visas were officially denied on the grounds that the youths could not provide bank statements for the past six months — a requirement he insisted was unreasonable. "(The officials said) they should have a bank account proving that here in Sierra Leone they can support themselves," he said. "But they are students and they are dependent on their parents and also dependent on relatives. When I look at the delegation, some of them are typical village people that have not even crossed Freetown. They’ve not gone anywhere." Two years ago a much larger delegation attended the World Youth Day activities in Rome. Yeboah said that of that group, two remained behind in Italy. The delegates to Toronto were chosen based on their past involvement in the church, together with written accounts of why they wanted to go to Canada and what they expected to accomplish on their return. And he said the decision to deny them visas was unfortunate. "Most of them, they see this as an occasion to meet other youths from different parts of the world and get in contact with them, know how they behave, and relate with them," he said. "And then of course there is a religious event. They’d also love to participate — meeting the Pope, taking part in the other religious activities." Said Yeboah: "From the past experience, those who went to Rome came very, very happy and very, very enthusiastic. If they had got a chance, probably there’s a possibility of giving them a bit of enthusiasm so that they could also make a contribution here."

A 30-member team of Sierra Leonean athletes and trainers has been issued visas gratis and is on its way to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, a British official told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. More than 3,500 athletes from 72 countries are expected to participate in the games, which begin on July 25th and run through August 4th. The Sierra Leonean team will compete in all three categories: track and field, weightlifting and boxing. The official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) subsequently published a partial list of the athletes, including Mohamed Suckleh Sesay and Samuel Randhall, boxers David Kowa and Caramber Koker and weightlifter Umaru B. Sheriff. Sierra Leone's new Minister of Youth and Sport, Dr. Dennis Bright, is also accompanying the team to Britain.

17 July: Sierra Leone's Special Court will be independent, transparent, and will "look at all individuals across both Sierra Leone and regionally, and internationally" in deciding whom to prosecute for serious crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, the court's Chief Prosecutor said on Wednesday. David Crane, who until last week was Senior Inspector General for National Security Systems in the U.S. Department of Defense, was chosen in April to head a joint Sierra Leonean and United Nations tribunal charged with prosecuting those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996 — the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Agreement. Crane told the Sierra Leone Web that while he anticipated that there would be a relatively small number of prosecutions — according to some published reports as few as twenty — he had no specific number in mind. Rather, he said, decisions on whether and whom to prosecute would be led by the evidence. The Special Court Statute, negotiated between the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, lays out a large number of indictable offences under both international and Sierra Leonean law, ranging from murder and rape to arson. Crane said prosecutors would look at all the evidence regarding the listed and enumerated crimes in the statute. "We’ll follow the evidence where it may go," he said. "We are still at this point assessing all of that in the general prosecutorial plan. Specific individuals, jurisdictionally or temporally, will be looked at based on the evidence that we review." In determining who should be charged with bearing the greatest responsibility for such crimes, Crane said, "one would look to those who were the leaders in the troubles over the past ten years or so." Depending on the evidence, he noted, a person who had not personally committed crimes but had instigated others to commit them could be among those indicted. "Under international law there is a theory that allows for that type of prosecution," he said. Crane promised that the Court would reach out to the government of Sierra Leone, to local and international non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and traditional leaders, as well as to potential witnesses and victims who would like to come forward. "This is about the Sierra Leonean people and not about anybody else," he said. "The Special Court prosecutor represents the Sierra Leonean people and the victims of the troubles over the past ten years." But Crane stressed that local politics would play no role in his decision on whom to charge. "I have an independent mandate and I’m a completely independent prosecutor," he said. "The decision to indict will be mine and mine alone. The Sierra Leonean government has been a tremendous supporter as far as to set up and to provide those things which you need to get started, but the Sierra Leonean government will have no say as to who will be prosecuted." Instead, Crane said, the Court would look at "all evidence, all aspects of the history of this conflict, and we’ll take appropriate action based on the broad mandate that the Special Court mandate allows for the Chief Prosecutor to do his job of trying those with the greatest responsibility." Hanging over the Sierra Leone court is the shadow of the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, which has often been criticized for the snail's pace of its prosecutions. Crane said the Special Court would for the most part use the same Rules of Procedure and Evidence as the Rwanda court, but "we are allowed to modify that based on common sense." And he added that he expected to complete the majority of his investigations and prosecutions within the court's three-year mandate. "Any judicial process takes on a life of its own," he said. "I suspect that there will be new defendants we may hear of, or there will be appeal processes, and those kinds of things that will bleed over the three years, but I look to doing the majority of the work in three years." Operating alongside the Special Court will be a parallel institution, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which will hear testimony from both the victims and the perpetrators of wartime atrocities. Crane said that, in theory, testimony given before the TRC could be used as evidence by the Court. But he said modalities would have to be worked out between the Court and the TRC commissioners. "The TRC and the Special Court can and will work together," he said. "Both organisations must succeed, and the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court wants the TRC to succeed and is looking forward to working out close relationships, but also modalities, to share information so that we both can seek justice. It’s not about the Special Court. It’s not just about the TRC. Both of these bodies, along with the Sierra Leonean court system as well as customary resolution must work together to seek justice."

Nigerian businessmen in downtown Freetown closed their shops Wednesday for fear of attack by youths angered over the activities of Nigerian scam artists, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. "Even with that precautionary measure, a number of Nigerian nationals were assaulted or arrested over the past two days and taken to police stations," Fofana said, adding: "When I visited the CID headquarters in downtown, I was told that many of them were simply interrogated and released to go home." Meanwhile, police have been deployed in strategic areas of the capital to head off possible trouble from the youths, who threatened to take action if the activities of the alleged con men were not curtailed. "It all had to do with the events of Monday, when some so-called Nigerian 419ers (the so-called "Advance Fee Fraud," named for an article of the Nigerian criminal code) duped a Fullah businessman in a $10,000 deal," Fofana said. "They claimed to be foreign currency buyers but allegedly disappeared with their client, who is yet to be seen." The 419 scam can take a number of different forms, but the scam artist — often posing as a non-existent official — typically offers his prospective victim a generous percentage of what he claims is tens of millions of dollars looted from the coffers of countries such as Sierra Leone. The victim is asked to pay an endless series of fees, expenses and bribes in advance, and he may lose thousands of dollars before coming to the realization that the money does not actually exist. The scam solicitations often come by e-mail to bypass the increasingly vigilant postal systems in the West, while with the proliferation of the internet around the world, scam artists have significantly increased their reach. 

"The issue of peace is something that is in Africa's hands," World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn said on Wednesday after meeting with finance ministers from Sierra Leone and eight other African countries emerging from conflict, the Reuters news agency reported. Wolfensohn said that African nations would have to do more to stop wars and to tackle the AIDS epidemic if they are to develop. "What you need to do is to sort out for yourselves the question that killing each other is a lot less preferable to living with each other.... You will have no future in Africa if you do not deal with the question of AIDS," he said.

The foreign ministers of Britain and Japan have agreed to cooperate in finding a solution to the problems in Sierra Leone, and to increase dialogue on a variety of issues, the Associated Press reported. According to a joint statement issued following Wednesday's one hour meeting in Tokyo between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (pictured left) and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, "They decided on a number of specific areas of coordination including Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, small arms, ODA (official development aid) and sustainable development."

15 July: World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn (pictured left) will meet in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Tuesday with finance ministers from Sierra Leone and eight other African countries which have experienced conflict to discuss issues relating to economic recovery and reconstruction, the World Bank said in a statement. The one-day meeting will focus on the particular needs of countries emerging from conflict, the need for governments to take the lead in the recovery and reconstruction process in their own countries, and the bank's strategy assist in putting in place the basic structures the nations need to rebuild their economies. Along with Sierra Leone, ministers from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda are expected to attend.

A new report released on Monday by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warns that in the aftermath of Sierra Leone's recently-concluded presidential and parliamentary elections, divisions and other problems remain which could threaten the country's fragile stability. In its report "Sierra Leone After Elections: Politics as Usual?", the ICG expressed concern that even as the May elections exposed the strong north-south divide in Sierra Leone's political landscape, President Kabbah has not sought to form a cabinet that is "broad based, inclusive and designed to promote the goals of national reconciliation." The ICG also questioned the fairness of the elections themselves, and noted that despite the international community having spent over $2 billion on peacekeeping, that "many root causes of the war, particularly the culture of 'winner-take-all politics,' have not been eliminated." The group also pointed to problems with official corruption, concerns over the loyalty of the army, deficiencies in the ability of the police to maintain law and order, and worries about the continued existence of the pro-government Kamajor militia. "The international community’s priority has so far been to ensure 'security first,' but now it has to be as rigorous in demanding better governance and accountability from the government," the ICG said.

President Kabbah is due to fly to London this week for a two-day "Nigeria Investment Summit" at the invitation of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The conference, which opens on Thursday, is aimed at encouraging international companies to invest in Nigeria and to allow companies already working in the country to compare notes. 

The Sierra Leone government is offering oil and gas companies the chance to bid for leases on approximately 28,000 square kilometers of offshore area to develop the country's petroleum reserves, according to a statement by the Oslo-registered TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company. The concession areas are being split into seven blocks of approximately 4,000 sq. km. each. The bids are due by the end of March 2003. There has been renewed interest in exploring for oil in Sierra Leone's coastal waters following successful offshore drilling in Ivory Coast and Mauritania, the statement said, adding that the current bid round was made possible by Sierra Leone's successful elections in May and the country's subsequent implementation of a new Model Petroleum Agreement (Royalty-Tax Concession Agreement). 28 petroleum companies met with Sierra Leonean officials at meetings in London and Houston last month for the announcement of the offshore bid round. Test wells drilled in the 1970s on Sierra Leone's continental shelf produced "shows" of oil, and recent seismic data in the deeper water, the current lease area, "leads us to believe that this would be a highly prospective area," an industry source told the Sierra Leone Web, but cautioned that based on the research data alone it is not safe to assume there are significant oil and gas reserves in Sierra Leonean waters. "There’s nothing that would prove that unless you drill the well," the source said.

13 July: Two Freetown-based researchers for the International Crisis Group (ICG) were allowed to return to Sierra Leone late Friday after a Liberian pressure group failed in its attempts to have them arrested at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, a source told the Sierra Leone Web on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity. The source said that ICG researchers Comfort Ero and John Norris had arrived at the airport at about 3:45 to take the UNHCR flight back to Freetown when members of a group calling itself the Patriotic Consciousness Association of Liberia — reportedly made up primarily of former combatants from President Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia — showed up with a writ for their arrest and demanded that airport officials detain them. The arrest warrant accused Ero and Norris of posing as government officials, of having described the Liberian government as "murderers and rogues," and of threatening to undermine the security of Liberia. Security officials at the airport refused to detain the pair, and insisted that only the Liberian government could have people arrested on airport property. The Minister of Justice ultimately ruled the writ invalid, pointing out that nobody could be arrested under the claims which had been made. The two ICG researchers left Monrovia on a later flight. The International Crisis Group is a non-governmental organisation involved in conflict-prevention analysis and advocacy work. The two researchers had met with President Taylor the day before their departure.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Saturday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2050 / 2250. [£] 2709 / 3162. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3050 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2120 / 2250 [£] 2900 / 3250. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2016 / 2020 [£] 3050 / 3150.

12 July: President Kabbah officially opened Sierra Leone's first parliament elected since the end of his country's decade-long civil war Friday by pledging that his administration would seek to build bridges between the majority and minority parties in the legislature. "I believe in Sierra Leone. I am convinced that democracy is fully entrenched in our society," Kabbah told the representatives and gathered dignitaries, among them the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Gambia and the vice president of Liberia. In his inaugural address, Kabbah said he would concentrate in his second term on improving the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans, even as his country struggles to recover from the devastation brought on by ten years of civil strife. This, he said, would include government initiatives in such areas as food security and agriculture, the rebuilding of the nation's roads, rural electrification and the provision of safe water supplies, support for health care and education, and the decentralization of government institutions. But the key to development, the president insisted, was improved governance. "No matter how firm our determination to achieve food sufficiency and food security, no matter how hard we try to improve the quality of our lives, and no matter how rigorously we pursue prudent fiscal and monetary policies, our objectives can never be achieved if they are not entrenched within a solid framework of democratic practices and good governance," he told parliamentarians. In May, Kabbah announced that the fight against corruption would be one of the hallmarks of his new administration. Calling corruption "a national security issue," the president said Friday he would appoint judges with sole responsibility over corruption cases to ensure the speedy prosecution of those indicted by the country's Anti-Corruption Commission. He also pledged to reform the government's procurement process, which he called "one of the breeding nests of corrupt practices." The president called for urgent steps to address the youth crisis which has often been cited as one of the root causes of the war, warning that neglect of the nation's young decision makers could result in "whole generations of unskilled, unemployed and disenchanted" Sierra Leoneans, with far-reaching negative consequences for the country. Kabbah told lawmakers that Sierra Leoneans had chosen democracy over revolution, but he warned that the country's elected leaders would now have to deliver on their promises. "The people of Sierra Leone have rejected revolution in the conduct of our nation’s affairs," he said. "They have opted instead for peaceful democratic change. It is now incumbent upon us as members of the Legislature and the Executive, to ensure that by our actions the people will realize that they made the right choice."

Rioting by a group of youths Saturday in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District has resulted in the destruction of between twelve and twenty houses in Koquima, on the west outskirts of Koidu, acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. "Six people were arrested and transferred to Freetown for prosecution, even though the case was resolved," Coker said. The number of persons involved in the July 6 disturbances, and the names of those arrested, were not immediately available. Local reports suggested that the houses attacked had been used in drug trafficking. A day after the rioting, acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai toured the area and held meetings with local leaders and ex-combatants. Agwai was told that the youths had carried out the action on their own. 

Sierra Leone's High Commission in London owes £48,274.76 in business rates and unpaid parking fines, a British junior minister has told parliament. Sierra Leone trailed Bulgaria with £117,511.13 in arrears, and Iran, which owes £97,352.55. After writing to the 13 diplomatic missions which together owe a total of some £1.5 million to give them a last chance to pay or to appeal, the Foreign Office received just £62, 931, the Press Association News service reported. Deputy High Commissioner James Allie subsequently told the Sierra Leone Web that the government was making payments on the debt, which was run up on the former High Commission building at 33 Portland Place. "We have agreed to pay and government has been paying," he said. "We have been clearing the bill, but it’s a massive bill. And like all other bills for government, these are old outstanding bills. Government has been making sure that we pay whatever little towards clearing outstanding bills."

Two Sierra Leone-based members of the International Crisis Group were detained at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia Friday and charged with espionage as they were about to board an airplane following a two week fact-finding mission in Liberia, the Associated Press reported. The International Crisis Group is a private, multi-national organisation which works through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and contain conflict on five continents. The two were not named, but were said to be British and American nationals. According to the news agency, the arrest warrant was obtained by a pro-government pressure group called the Patriotic Consciousness Association of Liberia, which accused the researchers of "espionage and impersonating journalists" while in Liberia. Information Minister Reginald Goodridge acknowledged that the team had been accredited, but he said this was only "intended to give them easy access to people" they wanted to meet.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNCHR, says it is increasingly concerned over the fate of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who were forced to flee last month after rebels attacked and destroyed the Sinje refugee camp. Some 24,000 persons were housed at Sinje before the attack. Over 8,800 Liberians and 2,300 Sierra Leoneans have crossed into Sierra Leone at the Gendema border crossing point since the June 20 attack, and hundreds more have crossed at three other official crossing points or used unofficial routes into Sierra Leone along the two countries' common border. Some 3,800 refugees from Sinje have also made their way to Monrovia where they have been registered at camps around the Liberian capital. Thousands more are feared to be still stranded in the forest. A UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said the current heavy rains in the region meant that the condition of those remaining in the bush "is almost certainly deteriorating." Those refugees who reached safety in Sierra Leone or Monrovia, he said, "Are famished, sick and exhausted from walking long distances. They said some were too weak or wounded to manage the trek. Some have paid exorbitant prices to hire vehicles to bring them to the camps, but many cannot afford transport." Since the beginning of the year, more than 17,000 Liberian refugees have been processed in Sierra Leone and relocated to refugee camps away from the border. The camps currently house about 28,000 refugees, with an estimated 10,000 more living in Kailahun District, most of them staying in local communities.  

11 July: Members of the United Nations Security Council have pointed to the need for further reform of Sierra Leone's security sector, especially the need to develop the capacity of the Sierra Leone Police, Council president Sir Jeremy Greenstock of Britain said on Thursday. He said members had agreed that these reforms would be used as key benchmarks in planning for the gradual downsizing of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. Greenstock said the Council was also concerned about a sluggish donor response in support of Sierra Leone's peace process. "Member states noted the current shortfall in funding for Sierra Leone, and appealed to donors not to underestimate the country’s continuing requirement for peace-building support," he said. At Thursday's Council meeting, Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno presented the Secretary-General's recent report on the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), while Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee chairman Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico briefed the other members on his recent trip to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has so far received between $1.2 million and $1.5 million in cash and pledges — still far short of its $9.6 million request to donors, TRC Executive Secretary Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff (pictured right) told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. In the commission's current preparatory phase, she said, "commissioners are really required by the statute to prepare themselves and get all their logistics together to be able to carry out their activities," but that, strictly speaking, "they haven’t really started spending money yet." But Jusu-Sheriff observed that a lack of funds now meant that the commission would be prevented from planning ahead, and procuring items such as vehicles on favourable terms. But Jusu-Sheriff expressed optimism that the necessary funds would be available in time for the commission to do its work. She pointed out that the newly sworn-in commissioners were actively engaged in fundraising and in preparing a budget. "The commissioners are going to renew their appeals to all the states, the foundations, all sorts of other donors who might be able to assist," she said. "We are also going to call on the government of Sierra Leone to provide in-cash and in-kind (donations), and also use its own good offices to get donations from other people." While the budget request was nearly ten million dollars, she said, the TRC's eventual budget could be lower or higher than that depending upon what the commissioners set as their priorities. "This other budget wasn’t prepared by the commissioners because the commissioners were not in place," she said. "So whether it will go up or down or whether it will stay the same I can’t say, but they will have to prepare their own budget in the light of their own reality." One of the tasks of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be to interview the victims of Sierra Leone's brutal decade-long civil war. Many of those victims were forced to flee to neighbouring countries, and some have even been resettled in the West. Jusu-Sheriff said the commissioners were considering ways for the testimonies of these refugees to be taken by the TRC. "There is no geographical limitation on the jurisdiction of the commission," she said. "The commissioners are able to go and meet with anyone and talk to anybody. I think the commissioners, like anyone else — certainly like those of us who were working in the interim secretariat — are conscious that many of the people who are most affected have been literally forced by these bitter experiences out of the country, and so therefore I know that it is a matter that the commissioners are thinking about. I’m sure they will put into place plans and strategies to be able to allow these people to also access the commission."

Human Rights Watch called on the Sierra Leone government Thursday to act decisively to establish the rule of law and to seek accountability for abuses committed during the country's ten year civil war, or risk undermining efforts to establish lasting peace and stability. In a briefing paper released to coincide with Friday's formal opening of parliament, the New York-based human rights organisation warned that despite recent successes, including the disarmament of over 47,000 combatants, the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians and the recent peaceful elections, "the deep rooted issues that gave rise to the war — a culture of impunity, widespread corruption, weak rule of law, and the inequitable distribution of the country's vast natural resources — remain largely unaddressed." Human Rights Watch also called on the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission "to resist any attempt to manipulate their investigations and conclusions," saying that to be credible and effective both of the institutions must objectively investigate members of all of the warring factions. The group also pointed to Sierra Leone's army and police force which it said have long been a source of instability, corruption and human rights violations. Human Rights Watch also called on the Sierra Leone government and the international community to tackle the problem of corruption, which it said was "endemic within both the public and private sectors" and in part responsible for the fact that Sierra Leone's key indicators of social well-being — in infant and maternal mortality, illiteracy and life expectancy — remain among the world's worst. "Addressing corruption head-on will be an indispensable part of confronting these problems, thereby promoting economic and social rights," the group said.

Sierra Leone's new Justice Minister and Attorney-General has told the BBC he will call each of the country's 150 or so lawyers into his office to remind them that everyone has the right to be defended in court. Eke Halloway's statement comes as 50 RUF defendants, including former rebel leader Foday Sankoh, have had to appear in court without the benefit of counsel. "It's a problem, but given time I am sure we will be able to resolve the impasse," he said. In an interview on Wednesday with the Voice of America, Sierra Leone Bar Association president Oliver Nylander suggested that Sankoh might be able to find a Sierra Leonean lawyer willing to represent him. "It’s only now they’ve approached individual members of the Sierra Leone Bar Association to defend Foday Sankoh, and they’re giving active consideration to it," he said. Nylander said the government had asked him to approach solicitors who might be interested in defending Sankoh and the 49 other RUF accused. Last week, Sierra Leone's General Legal Council rejected the application of Sankoh's Nigerian lawyer, Edo Okanya, to practice law in Sierra Leone. Nylander said Okanya failed to meet the requirement that he practice law in his own country for a minimum of ten years by just six months. "From the documents submitted to the Council by Mr. Okanya, he was called to the Nigerian Bar on the 16th day of December 1992 and enrolled on the 17th of December 1992, falling short of the ten years provision in the act," he said. The BBC reported on Wednesday that Okanya had left Sierra Leone.

In February 1998, just days before the fall of the AFRC junta, Dutch reporter Tuen Voeten entered Sierra Leone by way of the Guinean border town of Pamelap with an assignment to write about child soldiers and to report on recent events in the war-torn country. Amid the chaos which followed the junta's expulsion by the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, Voeten disappeared for two weeks in Sierra Leone's interior. In his book 'How de Body,' which is due to appear in English translation next month, Voeten describes how he reached the northern town of Makeni only to have to flee for his life from pursuing rebel forces. And in an interview with the Sierra Leone Web, he told of the people who risked their lives to protect him — the late BBC correspondent Eddie Smith and the people of Kalangba town — and about his efforts now to help the village rebuild its school. "When I was in Makeni, I just presented myself to the AFRC command," Voeten said. "They were very friendly and welcomed me as a journalist. At that time the junta in Freetown was still in power. A day and a half after I'd been in Makeni, the junta was kicked out of town and suddenly the whole mood changed. Everybody got very suspicious, very hostile, and then I realized I was maybe at the wrong place at the wrong time." The mood turned to one of panic after an ECOMOG jet fighter tried to bomb the Makeni police barracks. "After that it was like helter-skelter," he said. "All the rebels and all the soldiers suddenly started to loot and roam the streets, and then suddenly the whole mood just snapped in just a couple hours." With Eddie Smith's assistance, Voeten escaped Makeni in an ambulance from the hospital, along with Smith's fiancé and a Sierra Leonean doctor. They hoped to cross the front lines and reach Freetown. An AFRC officer who was to escort them went to run an errand and never returned, and the ambulance was attacked by a band of rebels who threatened to kill the journalist. "Everybody had run off to the bush, but one of our bodyguards re-emerged and he started to argue with one of the leaders of that rebel gang, and there was a whole lot of arguing and there was yelling and screaming," Voeten said. "A couple of times they still threatened to kill me, and then they calmed down and then they got angry again, the bodyguard started arguing again." In the end, the rebels stole their possessions and left. But now, with no money, the group had no hope of reaching Freetown. The doctor suggested they instead try to reach Kalangba, where he had friends. For two weeks the group hid out at the home of school principal Alfred Kanu, and at the local clinic, while hearing rumours that the rebels were on the lookout for a white journalist and a doctor from the hospital. "First we stayed in the house, but then one afternoon the house was stormed by soldiers obviously looking for us or for the ambulance," he said. "We had to run in the bush, and then at that time we couldn't even camp out at the house but we had to camp out in the bush." The group's presence, Voeten said, was an open secret among the townspeople. "They kind of protected my presence there," he said. "They did not tell the soldiers or rebels. Basically they had told some soldiers and rebels that I had been there but that I had been gone and I was walking through the bush on my way to Freetown." Eventually, Smith tracked the party down. After some hesitation, they decided that their only way out was to walk through the bush to Port Loko, which was under ECOMOG control. "We walked for one day and we slept in a little village," he said. "The next morning on the radio — we were halfway to Port Loko — we heard that Makeni had been taken by ECOMOG, and then we walked to Makeni and there was ECOMOG. Then we were kind of safe." Journalist Eddie Smith was killed in April 1998 when an ECOMOG convoy he was accompanying ran into an ambush. Voeten and the Dutch Journalists Association put some money aside to help Smith's children, but Voeten said he wanted to do something more. "I started a campaign to raise funds for the secondary school," he said. "Over a couple of years we have raised like $5,000 or $6,000. For awhile Alfred bought school equipment; the school was temporarily reopened but closed down again. But a lot of the money was used to pay salaries for his teachers, to help a lot of students who fled to Freetown to pay for their school fees to get them through a very difficult period. With a lot of money I brought in a lot more equipment Freetown for the school to reopen." This past February, Voeten visited Kalangba again for the first time since he left in 1998. "I wanted to go back before, but it was not safe," he said. "They were very happy to see me. They had to laugh about what they called 'the good old days'."

Sierra Leone's police force will need additional training for them to take over the law and order functions when the United Nations peacekeeping force finally withdraws, acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai (pictured left) said on Wednesday. Agwai made his comments during a meeting with the visiting Canadian Vice Chief of Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Greg R. Maddison, and UNHCR country representative for Senegal Dillah Doumaye. Agwai also called on the international community to adopt security measures that would not put Sierra Leone's hard-won peace in jeopardy, and would avoid the kind of insecurity currently being experienced in Liberia, UNAMSIL said in a statement.

10 July: Three Sierra Leoneans who lost their lives while serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations have been honoured with the U.N.'s Dag Hammarskjold medal. Private Juana Jibao and Sergeant B. Kamara, who died in 1962 and 1963 while serving with Royal Sierra Leone Military Force's peacekeeping contingent in the Congo, were honoured posthumously along with John Reignat, a civilian driver who was killed in 1997 while serving with the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The award, named for former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold of Sweden, was accepted on behalf of Sierra Leone by Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs Ambassador Sylvester Rowe at a ceremony held at the Dag Hammarskjold auditorium in New York. Rowe joined representatives from 43 other countries in receiving the egg-shaped clear crystal medal on behalf of 682 military and civilian peacekeepers who had lost their lives while serving with U.N. missions worldwide between 1948 and the end of 2001. 1,041 medals were awarded to 57 countries in two previous award ceremonies held earlier this year.

President Kabbah swore in 31 new members of his cabinet on Tuesday following their approval by parliament, Information Minister Septimus Kaikai (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web. He said the rest of the nominations, including those for Local Affairs and Community Development Minister (Sidikie Brima), Internal Affairs Minister (Sam Hinga Norman) and Deputy Defence Minister, were expected to be approved by Thursday. In his remarks to the new ministers, Kabbah stressed that they should cooperate and not compete, and he warned them that "it is not going to be business as usual during this second term." Said Kabbah: "Ministers are expected to deliver...Each of you will be required to come up with a constructive and implementable work programme. I am going to supervise its implementation directly." He added that the programme would be reviewed every six months. "The work programme will determine the quantum of budgetary allocation to each ministry," he said. "If you do not have a work programme, and you fail to deliver, you'd better think twice." Kabbah also warned that he would not accept ad hoc projects which are not built into the work programme of a ministry as one way of addressing the problem of kickbacks.

Four of seven heads of state invited to Friday's official presidential inauguration and state opening of parliament are expected to attend, a source close to President Kabbah told the Sierra Leone Web late Tuesday. Information Minister Septimus Kaikai confirmed Wednesday that Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Gambian President Yayha Jammeh were expected to be present.

President Kabbah's legislative priorities will concentrate on the issues of food security and anti-corruption, but will also examine Sierra Leone's investment code and look at privatizing the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, Information Minister Septimus Kaikai told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. Kaikai said that the specifics of the legislation had not yet been spelled out. "All of these things will be formalized and presented to parliament, but probably not along with his (inaugural) speech" which, the minister said, would "outline some broad themes, areas he's interested in."  Said Kaikai: "From that point on, then we’ll talk about legislation."

Sierra Leone's High Court has adjourned the trial for RUF leader Foday Sankoh until September 18, the BBC reported on Wednesday. Sankoh and 49 RUF co-defendants face 70-count indictments on murder and related charges stemming from the May 2000 firing on a crowd of protestors demonstrating in front of the rebel leader's Freetown residence. Some 20 people died as a result. According to Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson, the delay came at the request of Director of Public Prosecutions Gerald Soyei, who told the judge that Sankoh would likely be tried by the joint war crimes tribunal, which by statute has precedence over the Sierra Leonean courts. "The prosecution is of the view that the ongoing trial can be deferred to the United Nations Special Court," Soyei was quoted as saying. Last week Sierra Leone Bar Association Secretary-General Yada Williams described the charges against Sankoh as "holding charges," designed to keep the RUF leader in custody until the Special Court begins its operations later this year. In a brief interview Wednesday with BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, Sankoh said of the proceedings: "A case is a case—it’s the same case...I’m prepared to face anything." Asked about the conditions of his detention, and whether he was in solitary confinement, Sankoh replied, "A case is a case. We are in court already. What conditions you are talking about—I really don’t know. I really don’t know at all. I don’t know." The rebel leader has appeared frail since he was first brought to court in March, and some have voiced concern in recent months about his health. Sankoh appeared to dismiss them. "I am okay. No problem," he said.

A year ago, former RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi went on record to insist that his rebel movement had never committed atrocities in Sierra Leone. Massaquoi, who was then planning to stand for a seat in parliament from his native Pujehun District, blamed the atrocities on the army, adding: "Let us have a free and fair election in Sierra Leone, whether the RUF will lose. Then you will see. If we are unpopular, then you will know from the ballot box, because an organization that is unpopular, that was just chopping people’s hands, they’ll never have a single vote in Sierra Leone." Soon afterwards, Massaquoi was sacked as spokesman after a falling-out with RUF interim leader Issa Sesay, although the group tried for a time to paper over their differences in public. Now, in a BBC interview, Massaquoi has admitted that the RUF committed atrocities, but he said he personally was not to blame. "During the process of trying to kick away what they claimed was happening in Sierra Leone — I mean corruption and all the rest of it — they have committed horrible crimes," he said. "I know very well during the process they have committed horrible crimes. Combatants have committed horrible crimes. But that doesn’t mean that I personally who joined them have committed the crime." Massaquoi said he had played a role in advancing the peace process and "in making sure that what they were committing stopped at that moment."  He also claimed that after the May 2000 shooting of demonstrators outside RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Freetown residence, that he left both the movement and the country. "In fact when I was here on May 8th when they also erupted the same violence, I had to run away from there," he said. "I went to Liberia, I said 'no, I’m not going to be involved in your act,' until when they said that they were looking out a way to bring the peace process back on track." In fact, Massaquoi went to Makeni, where in a May 19 interview with the Agence France-Presse he blamed the army for the violence, and suggested that if Sankoh were put on trial the RUF would free him by force. In Wednesday's BBC interview, Massaquoi said many of the atrocities happened after ECOMOG ousted the AFRC/RUF junta from power in February 1998. "ECOMOG drove them from Freetown. They all went into the bush," he said. "There was no control any longer. Sam Bockarie was not in control although he was the commander. SAJ Musa or Johnny Paul (Koroma) was not in control of the SLAs (Sierra Leone Army soldiers). Sam Bockarie was not in control of most of the RUF. The burning down of Kono was done mainly by AFRC men. And indeed, some amputations that took place in Kono were done by the RUF." Massaquoi said he would support the Special Court, being set up to try those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. And he said he was sure that the RUF would not return to war. "We did our level best to make sure we collect all the arms the RUF have," he said. "So I don’t think any one of them, besides speculations people may have been bringing out that Sam Bockarie is in Liberia, they have those fears that he will be coming back. But I am very sure that those we disarmed will no longer dare to take up arms again."

The United Nations Security Council's Liberia Sanctions Committee has removed the name of Omrie Golley, the RUF's former chairman Political and Peace Council chairman, from its list of persons banned from international travel. The list was set up in March 2001 as part of a package of targeted sanctions against Liberia, accused of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebel movement and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Two RUF members remain on the list: Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, the former rebel field commander who broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in late 1999 and fled to Liberia, and Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese national who fought for the RUF and a number of other rebel groups, and who is alleged to have been the go-between between the RUF and al-Qaeda diamond buyers. Bockarie's name also appears on the Sierra Leone travel ban list, which dates back to January 1998. Golley had long sought to have his name removed from the list, and in a statement early Wednesday he said he was "very pleased" at the committee's decision. "My work in helping consolidate the peace process in Sierra Leone was not in any way diminished by the inclusion of my name, and I will continue to do all that I can to ensure that the peace process remains firmly in the minds of our people and is consolidated and continues to be consolidated," he said from London. "We’ve had elections, the TRC is now in existence. A lot more needs to be done to help to consolidate the peace process that we’ve all worked very hard to achieve. And we will continue to strive to do this."

9 July: Since last month's attack on the refugee camp at Sinje, more than 2,200 Sierra Leonean and 8,500 Liberian refugees have fled into Sierra Leone via the Gendema crossing point, a UNHCR spokesman said on Tuesday. The Sinje camp reportedly housed some 11,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and 13,000 displaced Liberians. Thousands of the people displaced at Sinje remain unaccounted for, and are believed to still be in the conflict area, many hiding in the forest. In the past week, 1,600 Liberians and 300 Sierra Leoneans have crossed into Sierra Leone at Gendema. Hundreds of other Liberians have entered at three other official crossing points further north — Dar es Salaam, Gbaa and Wunde — or at several unofficial crossing points. More than 40,000 Liberian refugees have arrived in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean refugees have continued to arrive at the UNHCR office in Monrovia to ask for help in returning to Sierra Leone. More than 2,000 have registered so far. Because the road from Monrovia to the Sierra Leone border remains blocked by fighting, the refugee agency has begun making arrangements to begin repatriating the refugees by sea, possibly as early as next week.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers met in South Africa Monday with Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Momodu Koroma to seek his government's intervention to help free five Liberian nurses, a UNHCR spokesman said. The nurses, who work for the local non-governmental organisation "MERCI," were abducted on June 20 when rebels of the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) attacked a refugee camp at Sinje. Koroma is heading Sierra Leone's delegation to the OAU/AU summit's Council of Ministers. 

6 July: Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will not be restricted to Freetown, but is "for all Sierra Leoneans no matter where they may be," the commission's chairman said on Saturday. "The work of the commission will take us to all the nooks and crannies of this country," Bishop Joseph Humper told reporters. "We shall go to our people at places convenient to them, where they can feel comfortable and safe to tell their stories. In the next three months, Humper said, the commission will set up offices in the provinces, prepare its budget and secure funds, hire a staff, and launch a public education campaign. It will also begin researching the causes and antecedents of Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict, and investigating violations of human rights. "The commission is going to need a database of the violations that occurred, the locations where they occurred, the persons who may have been responsible, the victims and witnesses to the violations, the patterns of the violations and other related information," he said. Humper noted that the TRC and the Special Court were independent, parallel responses to the conflict in Sierra Leone, both designed to achieve justice and reconciliation in the country. He said the commission would make it clear that testimony in front of the TRC "cannot be used to prosecute them, or jeopardize their interests in any manner or their participation in the truth and reconciliation process." In a separate interview with the BBC, Humper said he was confident that not only victims, but also perpetrators, would come forward to tell their stories to the commission. "I believe that this is an opportunity that our young people who have been involved in this senseless war are looking forward to," he said. "They would want to express their own views, how they came to be involved in it and what should be done to salvage the situation. More so, those who are victims will be prepared — a good number of them will be prepared either openly or in camera to tell their story. This I am quite sure of." Humper also pointed out that there would be significant differences between the Sierra Leonean TRC and the South African commission which preceded it. The South African TRC, he said, had been designed to address "a particular monster called apartheid."  "Sierra Leone TRC is looking at one people who had been together, and so they have been divided as a result of a monstrous war," he said. "And now it is intended to bring these perpetrators and victims together to heal the wound, to build themselves together, bury the past, look forward to a better future."

5 July: Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formally  inaugurated Friday, with President Kabbah hailing it as "another important milestone" in the country's peace process. "The guns may have been silent or destroyed, but the trauma of the war still lingers on. We have a great deal of healing to do," he said in a statement. "We have a lot of healing to do. This is why the TRC is, and should also be seen, as an instrument of national reconciliation, and another means of strengthening the peace." Seven human rights experts — four from Sierra Leone and one each from the Gambia, Ireland and South Africa — were presented by the Justice Minister and Attorney-General, and were sworn in as TRC commissioners. Sierra Leone's TRC was originally mandated to be set up within 90 days of the signing in July 1999 of the Lomé Peace Accord, which was to have ended Sierra Leone's civil war. That timetable proved over-ambitions; then, in May 2000, the peace process faltered, and plans for the creation of the TRC were temporarily put on hold. The commission is now expected to begin taking its first testimonies this September. Originally, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was envisaged as a forum on the South African model, where both human rights perpetrators and their victims would be called to tell their stories in an effort by the war-torn country to — in the words of the peace agreement — "address impunity, break the cycle of violence, provide a forum for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to tell their story, get a clear picture of the past in order to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation." Unlike the South African TRC, however, the Sierra Leonean commission does not have the power to punish those who do not cooperate, or to grant amnesty to those who do. In May, the commission's Executive Secretary, Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff (pictured right) told reporters that it became clear early on that the South African model would not be appropriate for Sierra Leone, and that "the purpose and one of the main objects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone will be to validate and prioritize experiences of victims." Said Jusu-Sheriff: "It will be a victim-led process, not a perpetrator-prioritizing process." On Friday, Jusu-Sheriff said international donors had so far funded only a tenth of the commission's $9.6 million budget request: donations of $500,000 each from Britain and the United States. She urged those who have the resources, both inside and outside the country, to support the TRC and to "give us the tools we require to make this Sierra Leonean institution a success." A representative of the U.N. Office for the High Commission of Human Rights read a statement from Human Rights High Commissioner Mary Robinson appealing to the international community to support the commission's work. But some donor countries remain skeptical. A U.S. diplomat told the Sierra Leone Web in late May that the United States felt the budget request for the TRC's twelve-month mandate was too high. He said potential donors would "look closely at the TRC’s budget to see if there are some economies that can be realised."

Sierra Leone's National Forum for Human Rights has expressed concern over the slow pace in implementing the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the poor response by donors in funding the institution. "The TRC will need a budget of $10 million; so far, it has only $1.2 million in pledges, and only a fraction or none of that in ready cash," the group said in a statement, adding that it believed the lack of support for the TRC was responsible for its late establishment, nearly three years after it was originally supposed to have been set up. "If the international community believes in building a lasting peace in Sierra Leone, and not only a temporary one, then it will need to start contributing and supporting the TRC in full force," the statement said. The group warned that the completion of disarmament did not mean that sustainable peace had been achieved in Sierra Leone. "For the peace attained through disarmament to be consolidated, there must be in place some post conflict mechanisms that can enhance such a process. The TRC, as an important instrument for accountability and restorative justice particularly in our transition to peace and development, will be very useful in the consolidation of the peace attained," the statement said.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU), which is due to be transformed into the African Union next week at a summit in the South African capital Pretoria, has imposed sanctions on ten member states for failing to pay their dues for more than two years, the South African BuaNews news service reported. The ten countries, which include Sierra Leone, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros, will not be able to vote or to have their nationals elected to positions in the new body.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has appealed to donors for $10.4 million in emergency assistance for Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees affected by fighting in Liberia, a spokesman for the agency said in Geneva. The money would assistance for up to 100,000 refugees in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. 76,000 new Liberian refugees have arrived in those countries since the beginning of the year — 40,000 of them in Sierra Leone — and the exodus is continuing. The UNHCR spokesman expressed concern over thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Liberians who had been forced to flee after the Sinje refugee camp was attacked and looted by LURD rebels on June 20. A few thousand have reached either Monrovia or Sierra Leone, but thousands more are still believed to be hiding in the bush. Meanwhile, recent arrivals at the border report that men and boys between the ages of 15 and 45 were being forcibly recruited by the country's warring factions as they attempted to leave Liberia with their families. There were also reports last week of up to 20 roadblocks along the same stretch of highway, set up by armed militia extorting money from those fleeing the fighting. With the only road to Sierra Leone now closed because of the insecurity, the spokesman said, the UNHCR is looking at the possibility of sea or air transport to repatriate the estimated 35,000 registered Sierra Leonean refugees who remain in Liberia.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2050 / 2250. [£] 2709 / 3162. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3050 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2120 / 2250 [£] 2900 / 3250. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2150 / 2160 [£] 2900 / 3000.

4 July: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers called on Liberia's warring factions Thursday to allow safe passage for Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced civilians caught up in the fighting in Liberia. Lubbers also appealed to the two sides to allow access by humanitarian agencies trying to bring help to the victims. "There are thousands of innocent civilians believed hiding in the bush in Liberia who urgently need help," Lubbers said. "I appeal to all parties throughout the region to ensure that humanitarian assistance can be safely delivered to these people, and that those who wish to leave can find safe passage to secure areas." 

3 July: Zainab Bangura, the co-founder and former National Coordinator of the Sierra Leonean civil society group Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), received this year's Bayard Rustin Humanitarian Award Tuesday at a ceremony in Las Vegas. The award, which is presented annually by the African-American trade union group the A. Philip Randolph Institute, is named for the institute's co-founder, American civil rights leader and pacifist Bayard Rustin. It is normally given to leaders who have made significant contributions to improving the human condition and to advancing the cause of human rights and democracy. Bangura resigned from the CGG in January to found a political party and pursue an ultimately unsuccessful bid as a presidential and parliamentary candidate in last May's elections. Speaking to the Sierra Leone Web from Washington, D.C. late Wednesday, Bangura said she had not yet decided on her future plans, but that she would continue to be involved in working for human rights and the fight against corruption in Sierra Leone. "When you talk about human rights, you talk about the rule of law," she said. "You talk about the independence of the judiciary. So it's a long process. It will be a long time before we can actually have justice in Sierra Leone, and to me, I think that is the most important." Bangura insisted that returning to the CGG was not an option in order not to politicize the group's work. "I thought that for the credibility of the organisation, and for it to continue to play its role, I can't go back to that organisation because the line will not be properly drawn," she said. "They will say 'she went into politics, she failed and she came back.' So I never had any intention of going back to CGG." Bangura's Movement for Progress polled under one percent in the May elections, but she insisted that Sierra Leoneans had not rejected the party's message. Instead, she said, the war had eclipsed all other issues for the moment. "In Sierra Leone everybody was in a warlike frame," she said. "To them the issue of peace was the first priority...They did not distribute their focus." 

Sierra Leone's General Legal Council has rejected an application from RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Nigerian lawyer, saying he does not meet two of the three requirements for him to practice law before Sierra Leone's courts. According to Sierra Leone Bar Association Secretary-General Yada Williams, Edo Okanya has not practiced law in his own country for ten years, as required by Sierra Leone's Legal Practitioners Act. In addition, Williams told the Sierra Leone Web, while the Act allows lawyers trained in a Commonwealth country with similar laws to practice in Sierra Leone, it stipulates that Sierra Leonean-trained lawyers must also be allowed to practice freely in that country. Nigeria has no such reciprocity agreement with Sierra Leone. "I don’t know if he sought proper advice, but we knew from the inception that there is no way he could have practiced," Williams said. "And he never actually represented Foday Sankoh. He was there in court, but he never had audience." Okanya arrived in Sierra Leone in March and announced he would lead a six-member legal team of lawyers from Britain, Ghana and South Africa to defend Sankoh and 49 RUF co-defendants, all indicted on 70 counts of murder and related charges in connection with the May 2000 shooting of demonstrators outside Sankoh's Freetown residence. The legal team never appeared, and Williams said Wednesday the lawyer might have been "just talking big."  "He is a solicitor purportedly representing somebody," Williams said. "How can he on his own put (together) such a high level team? Foday Sankoh I don’t think personally could afford it. I don’t think he has the money." Okanya's removal leaves the RUF defendants without representation, at least for now. Public Prosecutor Brima Kebbie told the Reuters news agency that, so far, no one else had stepped forward. "The government has not yet received any application from any local or international lawyer who has an intention to defend former RUF leader Foday Sankoh and 49 other former RUF fighters," Kebbie said. Williams pointed out that even during Sankoh's 1998 treason trial there were lawyers in Freetown willing to represent him, but he said the government had not been willing to provide security or to meet the higher-than-normal fees they were demanding. Even now, he said, there were probably Sierra Leonean lawyers who would be willing to take the case. Last month, several of Sankoh's children signed a document stating they wanted Okanya to represent their father. Williams noted that if Sankoh were transferred to the Special Court as is widely expected, Sierra Leone's Legal Practitioners Act would not apply. "The crucial thing is what they are having now is what is called ‘holding charges’ — just holding on to him or keeping him until the Special Court resumes," he said. "So even if this man from Nigeria is not eligible to practice law in our own courts, he will have audience in the Special Court. He will be eligible to represent Foday Sankoh in the Special Court, so the best thing probably is for him to hang around or to go and come when the Special Court resumes."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement Wednesday expressing concern about the heavy toll continued fighting in Liberia is having on civilians, and over the threat this poses to the stability of other countries in the region, especially Sierra Leone. "Since fighting intensified last month, some 17,000 Liberians and 8.000 Sierra Leonean refugees have fled into Sierra Leone," the statement said. "The exact number and conditions of tens of thousands of civilians displaced within Liberia remain unknown because humanitarian agencies do not have access to conflict zones where vulnerable populations are living in extremely precarious conditions. The movement and effectiveness of humanitarian agencies are further disrupted by the harassment of humanitarian workers and looting of humanitarian organizations' assets and supplies." Annan called on dissident forces and the Liberian government to allow humanitarian workers safe and unhindered access to civilians caught up in the fighting, and he urged the governments of neighbouring states — Sierra Leone and Guinea — to cooperate in the endeavour. Annan also appealed to international donors to provide funding so that humanitarian agencies could aid the rising number of Liberians displaced both within and outside of their country. Meanwhile, the President of the Security Council's Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone has called on West African countries to make it an offence for civilians to own firearms. Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico, who is ending a trip to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to assess the effect of U.N. sanctions in reducing conflict in the sub-region, told the BBC that the three countries should be declared a weapons-free zone, and this should be respected by the international community and arms-exporting countries. "There should be a permanent ban of arms to the region," Zinser said. He also said Liberia needed the help of the international community to secure a ceasefire and a political settlement of the conflict between the government and LURD rebels.

2 July: An estimated 170,000 Sierra Leoneans are living with the HIV virus which causes AIDS, according to a new report released by the United Nations on Tuesday. Sierra Leone's adult infection rate (ages 15-49), was estimated at seven percent, the highest of the nine West African countries for which data was available. HIV/AIDS, which is transmitted primarily through sexual intercourse, attacks the body's immune system, leaving the victim defenceless against a wide range of infections. The rate at which the disease is spread is determined by a number of factors — most importantly by sexual behaviour such as promiscuity and contact with commercial sexual workers — but it is also influenced by such factors as forced migration due to war. The U.N. expressed concern that in conflict zones, "the massive displacement of people, and disruption of social and governance systems are worsening the vulnerability of huge numbers of people." In Sierra Leone, according to the report, some 150,000 adults between the ages of 15 and 49 now carry the virus. More than twice as many women as men are infected, while 16,000 children are thought to have the HIV virus. An estimated 11,000 Sierra Leoneans are believed to have died of AIDS through 2001, the year reflected by the study. By comparison, in Burkina Faso, the infection rate was estimated at 6.5 percent, in Gambia at 1.6 percent, in Ghana at 3.0 percent, in Guinea-Bissau at 2.8 percent, in Mali at 1.7 percent, in Nigeria at 5.8 percent, in Senegal at 0.5 percent and in Togo at 6.0 percent. No figures were available for neighbouring Liberia and Guinea. Worldwide, 40 million people are believed to have the HIV virus, 28.5 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 8,500 people have fled from Liberia to Sierra Leone following the June 20 rebel attack on the refugee camp at Sinje, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. Most of those arriving were said to be Liberians, but among them were Sierra Leoneans who had previously fled to Liberia to escape fighting in their own country. In recent days the number of refugees crossing the border has declined from a high of 1,300 per day last week to between 500 and 700 a day. While overall numbers have declined, however, the numbers of vulnerable people — elderly, ill, handicapped persons, pregnant women and newborn babies — has increased, and now accounts for about one tenth of the total number of arrivals. In the past two weeks MSF-Belgium, which operates a clinic at the border, has transported about 40 to 50 emergency cases to the Kenema Government Hospital. Between 90 and 130 other people are treated daily at the clinic, with half of them suffering from malaria. Since the beginning of the year, Sierra Leone has received some 40,000 Liberian refugees. About 22,000 of them are currently living in camps. 

Sierra Leone and Guinea are working to resolve a border dispute involving the town of Yenga, along Sierra Leone's eastern border, Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported on Tuesday. "When Sierra Leonean soldiers went to the eastern border town of Yenga, they met Guinean soldiers there who told them the area belongs to Guinea and not Sierra Leone," Lewis said. "The Guinean soldiers reportedly occupied the area two years ago when it was being used by rebels as an entry point to cause problems in Guinea." Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Momodu Koroma said that the matter was being handled diplomatically, adding that he expected it would soon be resolved. "The Guineans have accepted that most of the areas they were occupying are Sierra Leonean territory and are prepared to move away," he said. "But there are really very thin lines, very close to the border, which are not very clear, because the Guineans brought maps that were not very familiar to us and we brought maps that were not very familiar to them. So they are now in the process of synchronizing those maps." The two countries will now have to consult pre-independence era maps to settle the issue, Lewis said.

1 July: The United Nations has requested $7.35 million in additional funding to deal with the influx of Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. In an appeal through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the U.N. noted that once the refugees who have already crossed the border were moved to existing sites, the camps would be full. In March 2001 and March 2002 the UNHCR requested $2.7 million to develop new camps, but funding was not forthcoming. Now the agency says it urgently needs $5.7 million to develop camps at Gondema, Mano Junction and Tobunda, along with $1.65 million to support them. If the current influx of refugees continues, the U.N. said, $4.9 million more will be needed to develop and support two additional refugee camps.

Bangladesh's visiting foreign minister visited the towns of Kabala, Mile 91, Magburaka and Lunsar over the weekend, where Bangladeshi troops are serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force. In Kabala, Foreign Minister Murshed Khan attended a free clinic organized by the Bangladeshi medical team. At Mile 91, the minister was briefed on progress in rehabilitating the 33 mile stretch of road between Mile 91 and Magburaka, being carried out by Bangladeshi peacekeepers. At Magburaka, he inspected a new secondary school, the Sierra-Bangla Friendship Secondary School, which is being constructed by peacekeepers in cooperation with the local community near a farm project supported by the Bangladeshis. Khan, who arrived in Sierra Leone Saturday on a three-day visit, was also expected to meet with President Kabbah and Foreign Affairs Minister Momodu Koroma.