31 July: 38 soldiers on trial in connection with last year's coup were charged Friday with treason and failure to suppress a mutiny. Two of the accused, Corporal Tamba Gborie, who announced the coup, and Sergeant Alfred Conteh, face the additional charge of mutiny. All 38 pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, the defendants face death by firing squad; however, this sentence has only been carried out during military rule. The prosecution says it plans to show a videotape of the execution of ten soldiers to show the brutal nature of the junta. Most of Friday's hearing was taken up by a defence argument that the defendants have their handcuffs removed. The motion was rejected by Court President Colonel Tom Carew. Fifteen of the soldiers who said they had no counsel were provided with military lawyers, including a Nigerian captain.
Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said Friday that AFRC/RUF rebels at Kabala had been defeated and ordered to surrender after heavy fighting. "ECOMOG are in full control of Kabala town after a fierce battle," Khobe said at a farewell for departing ECOMOG Chief of Staff Abdul One-Mohamed, who has been recalled to Nigeria. Khobe added that there had been widespread destruction during the three day rebel occupation, which left an unknown number of dead among the Nigerian and Guinean ECOMOG troops, Civil Defence Force militiamen, rebel fighters, and civilians. An ECOMOG spokesman, Colonel Adeshena, said Friday that the ECOMOG force had recaptured parts of Kabala, including the town center, taken by AFRC/RUF rebels in a surprise attack on Monday. Adeshena said reinforcements had arrived, enabling his troops to restore control over most of the town. His men met stiff resistance from the rebels, he said, but were able to overcome them, inflicting heavy casualties. Adeshena declined to give casualty figures for ECOMOG, saying only, "One should expect casualties, considering the trick played by the rebels in their fake surrender earlier this week." The rebels reportedly chanted demands for the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh as they fled. The BBC cited a report that the chanted "ECOMOG, release our Papa now or else we will continue with our murderous activities in the provinces" as they withdrew from the town. The Nigerian newspaper Daily Times reported Friday that ECOMOG had suffered "a major setback" following the rebel attack on Monday.
British Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, representing Britain at the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone, had announced that £1.5 million of the Foreign Office's £2 million contribution to the U.N. Trust Fund for Sierra Leone will be used to provide logistic support for ECOMOG. Lloyd said this represented only part of the Britain's wider support for the restoration of democracy and the rehabilitation of Sierra Leone. Since the restoration of the Kabbah government, the Department for International Development (DFID) has provided £8 million in assistance, including £2 million for emergency demobilisation. "We have continued to focus on the real issues affecting Sierra Leone," Lloyd said. "Britain has led the way by providing considerable support for projects to underpin democracy and provide relief for the victims of the junta's atrocities. Our £2 million will help to create a secure environment in Sierra Leone to enable these objectives to be met." In addition, Lloyd also announced Wednesday that the British government would pledge £6.5 million in new funding to assist the Sierra Leone government's two year plan of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of 7,000 former soldiers of the Sierra Leone Army, 1,000 RUF fighters, and 25,000 members of the Civil Defence Forces. British International Development Secretary Clare Short said the latest pledge was to help the Sierra Leone government meet the challenge of restoring democracy. "The Government of Sierra Leone has taken great steps in restoring some semblance of normality, but there is still a long way to go," Short said. "This pledge is an addition to an earlier pledge of £2 million, and will provide a package of help for education and job training for thousands of former soldiers to help them return to civilian life."
30 July: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan convened a Special Conference on Sierra Leone Thursday. The conference, which brings together Sierra Leonean leaders, diplomats, and non-governmental organisations, looks to raise funds to support ECOMOG peacekeeping operations, and to address emergency relief and humanitarian issues as well as the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Sierra Leone. Annan said that since the civilian government was reinstated in March, some 500 people mutilated by AFRC/RUF rebels had been treated and more than 2,000 more had died in the bush "terrified of meeting another human being." He called on the rebels to "lay down their arms without further delay." Since the restoration of the Kabbah government, Annan said, the rebels had been "resisting the government's authority in this fighting. Horrific attacks have been carried out against civilians, including children, that shame all humanity." Among those taking part in the conference were President Kabbah, British Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Susan Rice, ECOMOG Commander General Timothy Shelpidi, OAU Secretary-General Salim Salim, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino, Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyoaku, and ECOWAS Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate.
President Kabbah told delegates to the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone Thursday that the gathering represented "an act of solidarity" with the people of Sierra Leone. "More importantly, we see it also as a concrete assurance of your determination to join forces with us in finding substantive solutions to the critical political, social and economic problems, including those which emerged over the past fourteen months, and which continue to afflict our people," he said in his address. Kabbah told delegates that the ECOMOG force had been experiencing logistic and related problems and, unless assistance were forthcoming, "the rebel activities will not only continue and create more human tragedy, but will also drain our limited resources." He also stressed the deteriorating infrastructure which had deterred progress in returning life to normal and compromised the government's ability to resettle refugees and the displaced. "I have no doubt that this conference, while assessing the programme of economic recovery, will also give the plight and vulnerability of refugees and the displaced the attention which they deserve," he said. Kabbah said that, in the short term, the government would disband the army and replace it with a new military "based on competence, professional integrity, loyalty to our democratic institutions, and patriotism." The new security force, he said, would take into account ethnic and regional considerations to reflect the diversity of the nation. Citing the Costa Rican and Panamanian models, Kabbah said that in the long term Sierra Leone would consider whether it needed an army at all. "However, I should emphasize that before considering this as an option, we should definitely have to take into account the availability of a regional or sub-regional multilateral force, such as ECOMOG, to meet the security needs of small and relatively weak states such as Sierra Leone," he said, adding that the availability of such a force would allow the country to devote its limited resources to economic development, literacy, employment, and job training "and thus help to eradicate some of the causes of political and economic instability which have plagued the nation over the past several decades." Kabbah stressed Sierra Leone's commitment to the rule of law, and adding that his government had resisted "the popular clamour for revenge" and the "demand for draconian laws and measures to deal with the present situation." He said that the trials of junta supporters would be open, fair, and transparent, and that international observers would be given unrestricted access to the accused.
Sierra Leone was represented at the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Dr. James O.C. Jonah, (Minister of Finance and Economic Planning), Dr. Sama Banya (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Sheka Mansaray, (National Security Adviser), Dr. Jah (National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation), John Leigh (Ambassador to the United States), Fode Dabor (Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Charge dAffaires), Sylvester Rowe (Political Adviser), Otto During (Head of Chancery), Nikita Kyne-Sam (First Secretary), and Fode Kamara (Second Secretary).
AFRC/RUF rebels carried out a surprise attack on ECOMOG troops at Kabala on Monday, ECOMOG task force commander and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said at a press conference in Freetown on Thursday. Khobe said some 200 arrived in Kabala, saying they wanted to take advantage of an amnesty following Saturday's call for a ceasefire by RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. However, Khobe said, the rebels "regrouped under the guise of surrendering to ECOMOG." He said the rebels had formed three groups, with the first two groups wearing white headbands, signaling their intention to surrender. He said the men lined up in front of a set of tables on which surrender documents were placed. "While ECOMOG soldiers were making arrangements to have them surrender, a third batch entered the town [walking behind others who were carrying palm leaves] and opened fire on ECOMOG solders, which led to a fierce battle between my troops and them," he said. "But we expected this type of action, and our men were prepared and returned fire." The rebels apparently surrendering joined in the fighting, as their arms had not yet been taken from them. Khobe acknowledged there had been deaths on both sides, but said ECOMOG casualties had been "minimal." The rebels were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy guns, he said, adding that sporadic fighting continued on the outskirts of Kabala until midnight on Wednesday, but that ECOMOG remained in control of the town. "We have now moved the military commander and more troops from Makeni to reinforce Kabala, but there is no cause for alarm," he said. Khobe said he was also sending reinforcements from Lungi, but that ECOMOG had no plans to go on the offensive after having agreed Tuesday to respect Sankoh's unilateral call for a ceasefire. "No, we will not go on the offensive. Two wrongs don't make a right," he said. Catholic priests in the area said by radio that heavy fighting was still continuing around Kabala on Thursday, and that thousands of residents had been forced to flee the area. "There was shooting everywhere and we had to flee 20 miles on foot," one missionary told the BBC, adding that there was no time for the priests to collect the 100 handicapped children in their care. The BBC reported that three Catholic priests had moved to Makeni along with several of the handicapped children. "The Catholic Mission we spoke to told us that the rebels were not in control of Kabala, but they were all over the place in Kabala," BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay said.
Khobe said there had also been in increase in rebel attacks at Koidu and Kayima in Kono District and Daru in Kailahun District, but gave no details. He repeated allegations that weapons reaching the rebels in Sierra Leone would have had to come through Liberia. "The Guinean border is closed and manned by Guinean guards," he said. "The Liberian border is free, so definitely, if they do not come through the Guinean border and the sea area is sealed off, the only option remains the border with Liberia." Khobe complained that "the countries that promised to send troops to beef up ECOMOG in Sierra leone have still not sent anyone. We cannot just sit and wait."
Makeni residents reported that, prior to the attack on Kabala, six people died when rebels ambushed a government bus on the Makeni-Kabala road. The bus, worth some $70,000, was destroyed by fire, a bus company official said.
Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe introduced his successor as ECOMOG task force commander on Thursday, Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu. Khobe was last week named as Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff by President Kabbah.
29 July: The New York-based group Human Rights Watch called on the international community Wednesday to take "emergency measures to end the killings, amputations, and abductions taking place" in Sierra Leone's civil war. In a statement issued to coincide with the United Nations Special Conference to be convened by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on the Liberian government, ECOMOG, and the United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to ensure that Liberian territory is not used to support AFRC/RUF rebels. The group also called on all sides in the conflict to stop the recruitment of children under 18 and to demobilise all child combatants. Human Rights Watch spokesman Peter Takirambudde called on the U.N. conference to set aside more resources for monitoring the human rights situation throughout Sierra Leone, and to provide technical assistance and training to the Sierra Leonean government and local human rights groups.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has made a number of specific recommendations aimed at ending what it called "gross human rights abuses" by AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and "laying solid foundations for the respect and protection of human rights in the future." In a report addressed to the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone to be convened Thursday, AI endorsed the creation of a permanent International Criminal Court to try persons responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and called for the U.N. Observer Mission to Sierra Leone to be given the necessary resources and political support to effectively monitor violations of international human rights law and it make its findings public. AI also called on the international community to assist in creating effective institutions in Sierra Leone for the protection and respect for human rights, with particular attention being given to the needs of children affected by the Sierra Leone conflict. AI also called on the international community to assist in establishing accountability for the atrocities "in order to combat impunity and contribute to lasting peace in Sierra Leone."
A former tourist hotel on the outskirts of Freetown, the Lakka Cotton Club, has been turned into a 120-bed physiotherapy centre where war-wounded and maimed civilians can receive post-operative treatment, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement issued on Thursday. The first 10 patients were transferred to the hospital from Waterloo Camp on July 14. 34 in-patients, most of them evacuated from the north and east of the country, have also received reconstructive surgery since June 26. The ICRC also held a seminar on war surgery for 11 doctors in Freetown on June 16, and plans further seminars for medical staff at up-country hospitals receiving ICRC support.
West African first ladies summit in Accra, Ghana have expressed their readiness to work with ECOWAS to help resolve conflicts in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. In a six-point plan adopted at the conclusion of their two day meeting, they said they would work with two relevant ECOWAS committees to help find lasting solutions to the conflicts. The plan calls for the formation of a First Ladies Committee to respond to crises and emergencies that threaten peace and stability in the sub-region, which would mobilise assistance to supplement that of ECOWAS. The summit, under the theme "African Women Strive for Peace," was attended by six first ladies, along with representatives of regional and U.N. agencies.
Eight young women claiming to be Sierra Leonean refugees are asking for asylum in Bosnia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local police said Wednesday. The women, who arrived a week ago, are staying at a UNHCR transit center in Svatovac, a suburb of Tuzla, according to UNHCR Protection Officer Sarah England. "The UNHCR is reviewing their situation," England said. She added that the UNHCR was trying to determine whether the women qualify for refugee status -- whether they are genuinely fleeing political, ethnic or religious persecution. A local police officer said the eight, aged 20 to 30, had first travelled by boat to "somewhere in Europe" before reaching Bosnia by land from neighbouring Croatia.
Deputy Minister of Defence and National Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces will reportedly visit the United States from July 30 to August 2. Norman will reportedly take part in the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone in New York before leaving on a tour which will take him to Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, and back to New York before departure.
16 of the 38 defendants on trial for treason, including Major Kula Samba, complained Wednesday that they had no legal representation. Colonel Tom Carew, who is presiding over the court martial, said the state would provide lawyers for those who had none, in accordance with the constitution. The lawyer representing AFRC Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Samuel Koroma, the brother of AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma, has withdrawn his representation. No explanation was given. A Nigerian military lawyer, Captain Sahid Musa, is representing five of the 38 accused.
28 July: ECOMOG task force commander and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe ordered his men Tuesday to respect a ceasefire with the RUF. "Since the Sierra Leone RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has called for a unilateral ceasefire, my ECOMOG troops should do the same," Khobe said. "ECOMOG is in Sierra Leone for peace and to bring peace to the entire country." ECOMOG officials said there had been no reported rebel activity since Sankoh's appeal for a ceasefire on SLBS television Saturday, shortly after he was returned to Sierra Leone by Nigerian authorities.
British High Commissioner Peter Penfold expressed regret Tuesday for the "pain and anguish" caused by the "Arms to Africa Affair." Penfold was singled out for criticism by Sir Thomas Legg, who conducted an independent inquiry into the affair, for granting a "degree of approval which he had no authority to do" to plans by Sandline International to ship weapons to Sierra Leone, in possible violation of United Nations sanctions. "I deeply regret the pain and anguish that this affair has caused my family, friends and colleagues," Penfold said in a statement issued through his solicitors. "But I record my appreciation to all those people in Britain, in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in the world who have supported me so staunchly. I trust this is now all behind us. The real story of Sierra Leone is the remarkable courage and sacrifice that the Sierra Leone people have made, and continue to make with the firm support of the international community, in restoring democracy to their country. With God's help, and the continuing guidance of the Secretary of State, his ministers and officials, I now look forward to getting on with my job of representing Her Majesty's Government in Sierra Leone and promoting British-Sierra Leone relations." In London, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook denied that Penfold had been set up as the "fall guy" in the affair. Cook told the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Penfold had shown great courage and had won great goodwill for Britain. However, Cook said Penfold should have done more to inform himself about the scope of the United Nations arms embargo to Sierra Leone. "It was up to him to inform himself," Cook said, rejecting suggestions that it was his fault Penfold was not properly briefed on the sanctions. "The only person who has claimed he was unaware of the embargo was Mr. Penfold. Nobody else was in the same difficulty." Cook said following the hearings that he had no plans to talk to Penfold directly, and that he would keep his post. "He has a job to do," he told reporters. "It's time to close the chapter."
The trial of 38 junta loyalists resumed briefly on Tuesday, but was adjourned until August. No charges were read and no pleas were taken.
Assistant Secretary of State Susan E. Rice will lead the U.S. delegation to a United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone in New York on July 30, State Department Spokesman James Rubin said in a statement issued on Tuesday. The delegation will also include Assistant Secretary for Population Refugees and Migration Julia Taft; Ambassador Howard F. Jeter, Director of the Office of West African Affairs; and Special Envoy for Liberia, U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg. The Special Conference, to be chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will give special emphasis to the need to support the ECOMOG force in carrying out its peacekeeping role, to address emergency relief and humanitarian issues, as well as the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Sierra Leone.
26 Sierra Leonean refugees reportedly died during the month of July at the Massakoundou Refugee Camp in the Guinean Kissidougou Prefecture, where 10,500 new refugees have been recorded. The number of refugees has risen from 27,000 to 38,000 in the prefecture, where the hospital has recorded about 30 deaths. Only 22,000 of the 38,000 refugees have reportedly received humanitarian assistance.
27 July: The independent investigation by Sir Thomas Legg into the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations of Foreign Office complicity into arms sales to Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, in possible violation of United Nations sanctions -- has cleared government ministers of any blame in the matter. The Legg Report faulted senior ministry officials, but said the errors were due to "repeated, and partly systemic, failures of communication" stemming from management and cultural shortcomings at the Foreign Office, but that the officials had not set out to mislead ministers. "All concerned were working to fulfil government policy, and there was no attempt to hide information from ministers...But the officials concerned were working hard and conscientiously, and should not be judged too harshly," Legg said, adding: "No minister gave encouragement or approval." Britain's High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, in particular was criticised over a series of issues, and cited as having "given a degree of approval which he had no authority to do" to Sandline's plans to ship Bulgarian arms to Freetown. The report said Penfold was unaware that the unlicensed supply of arms to the Kabbah government-in-exile violated United Nations sanctions, and said Penfold should have done more to inform himself about the U.N. embargo. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Parliament Monday he had directed Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Sir John Kerr to write to Penfold "drawing his attention to the relevant findings of the Legg Report," but said that "in the circumstances I do not think it would be justified or in the diplomatic interest" to take any further action against him. "After an exhaustive trawl of the files and over 60 hearings of witnesses, the Legg inquiry has concluded that there was no policy by ministers to breach the arms embargo and, equally, there was no conspiracy among officials to undermine Government policy," Cook told M.P.'s. Cook said he accepted the report's findings which, he acknowledged, indicated a number of misjudgments by officials which were "largely due to overload." He said sharp reduction in staff was "part of the reason why mistakes were made by staff under impossible pressure," noting that staffing at the Africa Desks had been cut from 430 a decade ago to 328 today. Cook announced to Parliament that the Foreign Office would implement a series of 60 measures to improve administration and effectiveness. Cook is due to appear before the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday to answer questions in the Committee's ongoing parallel investigation into the matter. Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard maintained the report was "severely critical" of ministers and officials. "Ministers directly bear the responsibility for the most serious failures," he told Parliament. "The picture painted by this report is of a Foreign Office in shambles. We already knew that ministers contradicted each other and themselves, that officials contradicted one another and themselves and that telegrams were lost and faxes destroyed, but the detailed evidence in this report is almost beyond belief." Sandline International said in a statement that the report showed it was entitled to believe it had at least "tacit approval" from officials for its actions. "These findings clearly vindicate Sandline's complaint that H.M. Customs and Excise should never have been asked by the Foreign Office to investigate this matter," the statement said. "Sandline looks forward to receiving an apology from the appropriate quarters."
Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said Monday he will use his position as Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff to facilitate the restoration of peace and to work on formation of a new security force for the country. "Under this arrangement, I should be able to attend to whatever problems are facing Sierra Leone's battered armed forces and civil defence corps and build a better security system for the country," Khobe said. He added that he would work closely with the Kabbah government, and also assist ECOMOG's operations in Sierra Leone. Khobe expressed hope that the RUF would end hostilities now that their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, had been returned to Sierra Leone. "The rebels claim they are fighting because of Sankoh. Since he is now with us in Freetown, they should stop fighting," he said, adding, "You cannot trust a rebel." Khobe said he had met personally with Sankoh and described him as in good health.
Some 4,000 Liberian refugees in southern Sierra Leone are resisting efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate them, the BBC reported on Monday. The refugees, who were to be repatriated by the end of July, cite the security situation and say they face harassment by the Liberian Special Security Service. Many also say they have nothing to return to, as their homes were burned down during Liberia's civil war. A number of refugees recently repatriated by the UNHCR subsequently returned to Sierra Leone. The UNHCR has now issued an ultimatum, saying refugees still in Sierra Leone after September will not be supported, the report said.
26 July: An ECOMOG spokesman said Sunday that it was too early to talk of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh standing trial. Sankoh was returned to Freetown Saturday from Nigeria, where he had been detained for alleged weapons violations since March 1997. Sierra Leonean officials have said Sankoh is likely to be tried for treason and crimes against humanity.
Nigerian Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe has been named as Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff. Khobe had served as ECOMOG task force commander in Sierra Leone and, in April, was put in charge of Sierra Leone's internal security by President Kabbah. Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu, currently Director of Operations at Nigerian Army Headquarters, will reportedly be named to succeed Khobe as ECOMOG task force commander in Sierra Leone.
25 July: The Nigerian government returned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to Sierra Leone on Saturday, where authorities say he is likely to face trial for treason and crimes against humanity. Hours after his return to Freetown, Sankoh appeared in handcuffs alongside Minister of Information Dr. Julius Spencer on SLBS television to urge his followers to stop terrorizing civilians and to lay down their weapons. Sankoh said he was sickened to learn that some of his fighters had apparently killed and maimed defenceless civilians. "I do not support the cutting off of peoples' hands and feet, and when I heard about this, I felt sick," he said. "Sankoh is not here for war. We have to stop the fighting and talk peace." He asked the government to fly him to rebel-held territory in the country's interior to convince his followers to end the bloodshed. Sankoh expressed regret for the suffering caused by the rebel uprising. "I condemn all atrocities against innocent civilians," Sankoh said. "My ideology as leader of the RUF was not to kill any innocent civilians or make them suffer but, you are not around during the fighting. Now that I am in Sierra Leone, if I am given the chance to talk to RUF fighters, they will stop atrocities...I want the people to understand that we did not bring war to kill them. My people were always accusing me of loving the civilians." Sankoh urged his RUF fighters, junta remnants, and the Kamajor militia to end hostilities. "I appeal to RUF rebels and junta to cease fire immediately and let us talk peace," Sankoh said. "You see the RUF and the Kamajors must stop the fighting against the people... and I think we can solve our problem in peace." In a statement read on SLBS radio, the government said it had given RUF rebels two weeks to lay down their weapons. Sankoh was returned to Freetown along with three Russian pilots arrested with Sankoh in Nigeria. There were no details on how Sankoh was returned to Sierra Leone or where he was being held, for what the statement called security reasons. Earlier, Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Sankoh would be prosecuted for atrocities. "I am sure that he will have to appear in court for crimes he has committed against humanity," Kaikai said. "This is what the public expects."
Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Saturday that Foday Sankoh could "absolutely" receive a fair trial in Sierra Leone. "People in this country are very fair," he told the BBC. "Indeed, we are having some of the best trials going on in the world today. The president of this country believes in the rule of law. So Foday Sankoh will, indeed, be able to have a very fair trial in this country, notwithstanding the crimes that he has committed against the people in this country." Kaikai acknowledged that some people had called for Sankoh to be lynched, but said these expressions were not indicative of the mood of the country. "People say those things out of anger; people say those things because they have been hurt, but that does not mean that the rest of the society is saying the same thing. The rest of the people in the country will still like to see the rule of law prevail and that is what, at the end of the day, that the Sierra Leoneans are fighting for." Kaikai said that the trial of Foday Sankoh should bring the Sierra Leone conflict to an end. "These are people who have actually destroyed this country for no other reason other than greed," he said. "So, we hope that whilst he makes those statements and he is brought to trial, and his people realise that nothing is going to be gained by continuing to fight, then they will lay down their arms and join forces with His Excellency Alhaji Tejan Kabbah in the rebuilding process of this nation of ours."
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is expected to announce sweeping changes in the running of the Foreign Office on Monday after release of the report by Sir Thomas Legg on the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms shipments to Sierra Leone, in possible violation of United Nations sanctions. The report is widely expected to criticise diplomatic officials rather than ministers, accepting the government's insistence that there was no ministerial knowledge of the affair. Foreign Office sources said, however, that there was "no complacency" about the report. "They are confident Robin Cook has been right all along to say that there was no ministerial knowledge of or involvement in the events that led to this," a source said. "But to say that ministers are all confident of a clean bill of health is too over-confident, a bit too complacent ahead of the event."
24 July: The United Nations will convene a conference on Sierra Leone on July 30, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard announced Friday. The one day meeting, which will include representatives of ECOWAS, will review the situation in the country and to find ways to help in its reconstruction and the return and resettlement of refugees, Eckhard said. It will also appeal to the international community to support the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone and the ECOMOG force, Eckhard added.
The Sierra Leone Embassy in the United States, together with relatives of the late Patricia Kabbah, are establishing a fund in the former First Lady's name for the rehabilitation and education of children. "The money will be used in the way in which she would have wished -- for the education and protection of the children of Sierra Leone," Ambassador John Leigh said on Friday. The fund will be initiated at a memorial service for Patricia Kabbah in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.
23 July: Court martial proceedings for 38 soldiers accused of overthrowing the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah got underway in Freetown on Thursday. The accused sat unmanacled in open court, wearing military uniforms or civilian clothing. No pleas were taken during the session, and the hearing was adjourned until Tuesday. "We have adjourned the trial until July 28 to give those accused, who do not have defence counsel, time to be able to get one," Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said. The 38 defendants are charged in a seven count indictment with mutiny, failure to suppress a mutiny, and five counts of treason. If convicted, the defendants could face the death penalty. Court Martial President Colonel Tom Carew told the accused that they would receive a fair trial. The courtroom, in the converted library of the city hall, was packed with hundreds of people, many of them families of the accused.
The 38 accused include Cpl. Tamba Gborie, who announced the coup; PLO-1 Sgt. Alfred Abu "Zagalo" Sankoh, Brig. Hassan Karim Conteh, Col. (Rtd.) James Max Kanga, Director of the National Relief, Rehabilitation and Demobilization Commission; AFRC Secretary-General Col. Abdul Karim Sesay, Squadron Leader Victor L. King, Secretary of State, Office of the Chairman; Director General of Defence Col. Daniel Kobina Anderson, Col. Samuel Francis Yariemeh Koroma, AFRC Chief of Defence Staff and older brother of AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma; Lt. Col. Saa Anthony Sinnah, Lt. Cdr. Samuel Kanu-Boy Gilbert, Lt. Col. David Boisy Palmer, Lt. Col. Anthony Bockarie Mansaray, Col. Alpha Saba Kamara, Col. John Amadu Sonica Conteh, Maj. Kula Samba, Secretary of State for Social Welfare, Children and Gender Affairs; Col. A. C. Nelson Williams, Major Abdul Masekama Koroma, Lt. Cdr. Francis Momoh Duwai, Maj. Augustine Fannah Kamara, Secretary of State, Southern Region; Maj. Tamba Anthony Abu, Maj. Bayoh "Bios" Conteh, Capt. Albert Johnny Moore, Capt. Abu Bakarr Kamara, Aide-de-Camp Capt. Simbo Sankoh, Capt. Idrissa Keita Khemala, Lt. Jim Kelly Jalloh, Capt. Josiah Boisy Pratt, Flying Offr. Arnold H. Bangura, Capt. R. Beresford Harleston, Lt. Marouf Sesay, WO 11 Jonathan Dero-Showers, Pte. Gibril Din Sesay, Col. P. F. Foday, Lt. Cdr. L. D. Howard, Lt. A. M. Keita, Lt. Col. Bashiru S. Conteh, Lt. Cdr. Abdul Aziz Dumbuya, and Lt. A. B. S. Bah. The defendants are designated in the indictments at the military rank they held prior to the May 1997 coup. In February, President Kabbah announced the cancellation of all promotions and nominations made by the AFRC military junta.
Police Commissioner James Kanyako said Thursday that Major Paul Thomas, identified as the AFRC's Minister of State for Marine Resources, had been arrested in Ghana Monday along with five other senior junta loyalists. "All extradition arrangements have now been completed with the Ghana government. The men will be flown back home today to face trial," he said.
Over 800 former junta soldiers in Liberia are asking to be repatriated to Sierra Leone, Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday. The soldiers, who say they range in rank from corporal to major, are sheltering at two refugee camps in Kolahun. Their spokesman, Captain Abu Bubu Turay, said they entered Liberia last March through Vahun. He said their appeal to be repatriated was in response to President Kabbah's call on Monday for former junta supporters to return home. The soldiers said they did not enter Liberia with arms and ammunition.
Paramount Chief Bai Kuru Kanagabaro appealed Monday for urgent humanitarian assistance for refugees at Masingbi, where refugees -- most of them from Kono District -- continue to die every day from disease and malnutrition. "I am appealing to members of parliament and the entire public to hurriedly come to the aid of this desperately needy people," Kanagabaro said. In June, aid workers who visited the refugees at Masingbi reported that over 750 people had died since April of measles, malnutrition, and diarrhoea. Humanitarian sources in Freetown confirmed Tuesday that conditions at Masingbi remained "desperate." A United Nations official said aid agencies delivered medical and food aid to the area last week, but that operations had been hampered by the "unpredictable" security situation.
22 July: Final preparations are being made to transfer ECOMOG headquarters from Monrovia to Freetown, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Okusola said on Wednesday. Okusola said army barracks and training grounds are being prepared, and logistical arrangements have been concluded for the transfer of the last batch of ECOMOG soldiers. ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi that the final decision on the transfer of ECOMOG headquarters rested with ECOWAS authorities.
Dozens of internally displaced persons, including men, women, and children who had limbs amputated by AFRC/RUF rebels, protested outside the National Commission for Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Resettlement (NCRRR) in Freetown Tuesday, demanding an increase in food rations at Waterloo Camp. A representative told NCRRR Commissioner Dr. S. U. M. Jah that 300 amputees at Waterloo Camp were living off a cup of rice and Le 300 per day, along with a cup of cooking oil and a cup of corn flour a month. The protesters said that rice kept in the camp store was never distributed to them. "This is an insult to our humanity," said one amputee quoted by Reuters. Dr. Jah acknowledged that the government was handicapped by lack of resources to meet their needs, but promised that "government would look into their complaints and take measures to help their situation," a Ministry of Information news briefing reported.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Labour M.P.'s Wednesday that Sir Thomas Legg's report on the "Arms to Africa Affair" will be published on Monday. Foreign Minister Robin Cook is scheduled to appear again before the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is conducting a parallel investigation into allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms shipments to Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, in possible violations of United Nations sanctions.
21 July: AFRC/RUF rebels are exchanging diamonds for Liberian arms and rice, ECOMOG said in a statement on Tuesday. The statement said five RUF rebels made the disclosure in Bo to ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi and Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Dempsey, military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, during the two officials' four day appraisal trip to Sierra Leone. The captives told Dempsey that their "gruesome atrocities in Sierra Leone were aimed at exerting pressure for the release of their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh," the statement said. ECOMOG said the five were arrested during an attack by an AFRC/RUF splinter group near Bo.
Minister of Mineral Resources Mohammed Swarray Deen announced a new national mining code on Tuesday under which, in most cases, foreigners will be granted licenses only if they have a Sierra Leonean partner holding at least a 25% stake in the project. A senior official, however, indicated that exceptions would be made in the cases of Sierra Rutile Limited, Branch Energy, and Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Company (SIEROMCO). "Non-nationals who want to mine in the country must have a Sierra Leonean partner and he must have a 25 percent share in the mining company before the government will give a license," Deen said on SLBS (state radio). "If you are not a Sierra Leonean, the new policy does not allow you in to the mining villages as before." Naturalised citizens would not qualify as Sierra Leoneans under the new code. Deen said that foreign buyers would have to employ Sierra Leoneans to go to the mining areas to buy diamonds, and bring them to the major towns. Ministers and government officials would also be banned from mining activities. Under the rules, mining monitors or others who supply information leading to the capture of smugglers will be eligible for 40% of the value of the recovered diamonds.
A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman said Tuesday that the UNHCR is continuing to evacuate Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea from Kobikoro to Massakoundou after residents of Forokonia, near the Sierra Leone border, came under fire on July 3 and fled to Kobikoro. Up to that point, several thousands refugees had declined to be transferred to the camps, preferring to remain close to their villages. So far, 3,346 people have been moved from Kobikoro. The transfer is taking place at the rate of 600 per day, limited by difficult conditions and the small number of trucks. Local officials and aid workers estimate that there are still several thousands Sierra Leonean refugees near the border. UNHCR staff reported that the medical condition of these refugees is the worst among those fleeing Sierra Leone so far because of their long stay in the forest. Of those moved from Kobikoro, 170 were taken to Kissidougou Hospital suffering from malnutrition and respiratory infections. At the beginning of the transfer operation, 11 deaths (8 children and 3 adults) from these causes were recorded at Kobikoro. Food distribution, cut off for several weeks by the Guinean authorities for security reasons, is continuing, the spokesman said.
President Kabbah and Liberian President Charles Taylor held discussions aimed at enhancing relations between their two countries in Monrovia on Monday, with special emphasis on security, stability, and socio-economic development. Also attending the meeting was the U.S. Special Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson. In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting which reaffirmed agreements made at an earlier meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, the two leaders condemned human rights violations against civilians and continued rebel activities in Sierra Leone, reaffirmed their commitment to the territorial integrity of the two countries, pledged to work towards peace and security in the sub-region, and agreed to foster socio-economic cooperation between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Kabbah and Taylor called on the United Nations to deploy observers along the Sierra Leonean-Liberian frontier, and agreed to coordinate their border security activities and cooperate with ECOMOG and U.N. observers to enhance border security. President Taylor accepted an invitation to visit Sierra Leone, the communiqué said, with the date to be arranged "through normal diplomatic channels."
President Kabbah said Monday that Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia who were associated with the rebels are free to return home, Liberian Star Radio reported on Tuesday. Following talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Executive Mansion, Kabbah told Sierra Leoneans in Monrovia that former RUF and AFRC fighters who fled to Liberia should return home and help rebuild the country. Kabbah said he believed in mercy for those who were misled by others, but that those who misled their countrymen would be brought to justice.
20 July: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah arrived in Monrovia Monday for a one day state visit at the invitation of Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor and other top Liberian officials were on hand at Monrovia's James Spriggs-Payne Airport to welcome Kabbah, who arrived on an ECOMOG aircraft. A statement issued by Taylor's office said the two leaders would discuss "peace and stability of both countries and the sub-region." Liberian officials said Taylor and Kabbah were also expected to meet with the U.S. special envoy for Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Earlier Monday, Liberian Star Radio reported that Sierra Leonean refugees had appealed to their embassy in Monrovia to provide them transportation so they could receive President Kabbah at the airport. A spokesman for the refugees, Ebenezer Kemokai, said he wanted Kabbah to tour some of the refugee camps during his visit. This would give him first hand knowledge about the plight of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, Kemokai said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named Brigadier General Subhash Chand Joshi of India to lead the 70-member U.N. military observer mission (UNOMSIL) in Sierra Leone. Joshi, 53, had served as team leader of a military liaison until the military observer mission was created by a U.N. Security Council resolution on July 13.
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi and and entourage which included Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Dempsey, military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, concluded a four day assessment mission to Sierra Leone Monday, according to Nigerian television. An ECOMOG statement said the mission was there to appraise the current ECOMOG offensive, code named Operation Tiger Tail, whose main objective is to crush rebel resistance in Kono and Kailahun Districts. Addressing the 3,500 surrendered Sierra Leonean soldiers encamped at Lungi Military Garrison, Shelpidi said he was happy about their condition and behaviour, and that the Sierra Leone government and ECOMOG had not forgotten their plight. He said screening was still continuing, with a view to training in various skills for the future development of the country.
The British frigate HMS Cornwall began a 4-day "routine goodwill" visit to Sierra Leone beginning July 19. The Cornwall was originally deployed in Sierra Leone from March 1 to 20 in support of British diplomatic initiatives in the country following the overthrow of the military junta. According to a press release, the crew will renew contacts with the children's hospital and other facilities which they helped to repair. The ship's helicopter also delivered medical and humanitarian supplies to the interior. The Cornwall recently completed goodwill visits to Ghana and Senegal.
19 July: ECOMOG troops and a group of rebel fighters fought an hour long battle at Malama, a suburb of Freetown, on Sunday. ECOMOG officials said they deployed in the forest early in the day after a tip-off from a recently surrendered RUF child soldier whom the rebels had sent out in search of food. "My troops entered the forest and on my command we opened fire. When the rebels started to return fire I had no alternative but to strike the forest with heavy artillery," said ECOMOG commander Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Oheime. "The battle continued until we finally got hold of 15 and many of them are RUF rebels but they are now in the hands of police for investigation." Oheime termed the clash an isolated incident. "They were definitely not in the forest as RUF rebels who can attack Freetown, but were there carrying out armed robbery at night," he said. Oheime made no mention of casualties, but a witness reported "two dead bodies of the rebels and there were bloodstains on a road in Malama leading into thick forest." The captured rebels were believed responsible for a recent spate of robberies around the capital. Malama residents said they had suffered armed robberies for the past two months.
18 July: ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe told a news conference Saturday that ECOMOG had captured the town of Kayima, in Kono District, after a fierce battle in which over 50 rebels were killed, adding that the town's capture "is indeed a relief to the large population." Khobe said that ECOMOG was now in control of Kailahun, Kono, and Koinadugu Districts. Many surrendered soldiers of the country's now disbanded army had been deployed to mop up AFRC/RUF rebels, he added. Khobe appealed to Sierra Leoneans to recognise that not every soldier who supported the military junta was bad, and that difficult circumstances in which many found themselves played a part in their decision. "I think that should be the nation's starting point," he said.
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Saturday there were some 9,000 ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone. He added that an undisclosed number of Gambian troops had arrived in Monrovia and would arrive in Sierra Leone shortly.
17 July: The Sierra Leone government has lifted the mining ban in the country with immediate effect, except for Kono District where it will remain in force until the end of July, Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Friday. "We have enough security and stability in the country now to restart mining," Kaikai said in a news conference. The government imposed the ban in late May pending the formulation of a new mining policy. Kaikai said a new mining code would be made public within a few days. "The country needs the revenue from mining operations to get back on a proper footing," Kaikai said.
A tanker carrying 3,000 tons of petrol arrived in Freetown Friday. A senior trade ministry official said this was the first consignment of about 9,000 tons which had been bought with the help of British aid money. The tanker's arrival promised to bring relief in Freetown, where supplies of petrol ran out two weeks ago. The fuel was bought from London-based Topaz Holdings and shipped to Freetown by Mobil Corporation.
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson left for Liberia on Friday to participate in the National Conference of the Future of Liberia. Jackson, who serves as U.S. Special Envoy to Africa, plans to meet with President Charles Taylor and other government officials, opposition leaders and representatives of community groups "to urge reconciliation and respect for human rights and the rule of law," State Department Spokesman James Rubin said. While in Liberia, Jackson expects to meet with President Kabbah to discuss regional developments, including the situation in Sierra Leone.
16 July: The Red Cross has opened a new 60-bed hospital in Sierra Leone to help treat those mutilated by AFRC/RUF rebels, the BBC reported Thursday. The hospital will try to help mutilated patients cope, using a combination of reconstructive surgery, artificial limbs, and counseling. Some 2,000 civilians have been admitted to hospitals with one or two limbs chopped off by rebels; others have suffered deep machete wounds. It has been estimated that three quarters of those mutilated die of their injuries before reaching medical facilities.
The World Bank will extend Sierra Leone some $3 million in emergency aid to relieve the country's severe foreign currency shortage, according to a letter from World Bank Vice President for Africa Jean-Louis Sarbib, released by the government on Thursday. The money will come from the balance of an undisbursed loan made before last year's military coup. "These resources, coupled with Sierra Leone's own available foreign exchange reserves, should be sufficient to cover the anticipated short-term foreign exchange needs during this difficult period," Sarbib wrote. A Central Bank official said at the end of June that the country had only about $5,000 of foreign currency in its vaults. A senior government official said Thursday the country had additional reserves, including gold, but declined to give details. Sarbib said in his letter that the World Bank was speeding up finalisation of a $55 million adjustment credit, which could be approved by its board in October.
AFRC/RUF rebels are using hundreds of illicit miners to dig diamonds at three northern towns under their control, officials said on Thursday. Monitors said intensive mining was taking place at Makulloh, Kamaranka, and Kamalo in Bombali District. They said hundreds of people had come from other parts of the district to dig for diamonds. "The rebels are using them to dig for the diamonds and also as couriers to sell them in Makeni, mainly to Lebanese dealers," one of the monitors said. An ECOMOG officer warned the illicit miners to leave the villages. "We consider these civilians who are helping the rebels mine the diamonds as saboteurs and they are doing this at risk to their lives," he said.
A Nigerian warship carrying ECOMOG troops from Liberia arrived in Freetown Thursday, ECOMOG officials said. The officials would not say how many soldiers were on board, but sources close to ECOMOG said earlier that 3,500 soldiers were involved. Nigerian Defence Department Spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo said Thursday that Nigeria was replacing 3,000 soldiers in its contingent with fresh troops. The official News Agency of Nigeria quoted Ugbo as saying that the soldiers being replaced were those who had spent "about three years" on ECOMOG missions. Ugbo added that ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abdul One Mohammed would be replaced by Brigadier-General Gabriel Kpamber between July 18 and 24.
ECOMOG is making final preparations to move its headquarters from Monrovia to Freetown, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Okusola said on Thursday. "All logistical preparations have been put in place," Okusola said. "Additional places are being created in the army barracks here and training grounds put in place for the last batch of soldiers coming from Liberia."
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has designated $31.5 million for those affected by the Sierra Leone conflict, SLBS (state radio) reported on Wednesday. The radio said the food, which includes soya beans, cereals, and oil, would be used to help refugees and those displaced by the war. "We have already started to bring the required quantity of food into the country," a senior WFP official said in Freetown. The agreement, which was signed in Freetown on Wednesday, formalises a 12-month programme begun in March which aims to feed 452,840 people by providing 46,359 tons of food.
Foday Fofana and Alusine Fofanah, journalists with the Star newspaper, were charged in magistrate's court in Freetown on Wednesday with "publishing defamatory, libelous, and false reports likely to disturb the public," according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). On Thursday, Champion Newspaper journalists Umaru David and David Konteh appeared in court on the same charges. The charges were brought against the journalists in a lawsuit by Frank Kposowa, president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), in connection with an article which appeared in the June 22 edition of the Star. The article alleged that Kposowa was a supporter of the RUF, and had received Le 1 million ($600.) from AFRC Under-Secretary of State for Information Allieu B. Kamara to publish articles favourable to the military junta. No plea was taken from the journalists, but they were each required to post Le 2 million bail. The cases were adjourned until August 5.
A ship carrying 200 Liberian refugees to Monrovia from Sierra Leone has been forced to turn back after Liberia's port authority accused the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of not paying harbour dues. The vessel was chartered by the UNHCR and Liberian Refugee and Repatriation Commission. Liberia Freeport Authority Acting Managing Director Wheatonia Dixon-Barnes said in a statement earlier in the week that the UNHCR owed $4,898.40 from two earlier repatriation operations, and that it would be denied landing rights if it did not pay what it owed. The head of the Liberian Refugee Agency, Alexander Kulu, said Thursday that the action contravened a 1996 agreement between Liberia and the UNHCR, where Liberia had agreed to waive any fees owed by the UNHCR as part of the repatriation exercise -- an argument rejected by Dixon-Barnes. "For your information the National Port Authority is not subsidised by the government of Liberia," he said, adding that if the money was not paid in full, "the management will have no alternative but to refuse any vessels carrying the flag of the UNHCR to berth at any of our ports."
15 July: ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi began a four-day tour of Sierra Leone on Wednesday to evaluate the threat still posed by AFRC/RUF rebels. Shelpidi will visit areas affected by fighting between ECOMOG troops and junta remnants.
14 July: ECOMOG is transferring troops from Liberia to Sierra Leone in an attempt to crush AFRC/RUF rebels holding out in the east and north of the country, ECOMOG Task Force Chief Information Officer Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said on Tuesday. "It was agreed by ECOWAS heads of state that the bulk of ECOMOG troops in Liberia should be transferred to Sierra Leone, which is now the trouble spot," Okunlola said. "This is a morale-booster to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone as we need more men to help us fight the war. And they will be arriving with more arms, more trucks and other much needed logistics." ECOMOG said Thursday that it was closing in on junta remnant forces, with Guinean ECOMOG troops closing in from the east and other ECOMOG troops, primarily Nigerians, advancing from the west. "This relocation is also the beginning of the move to transfer the ECOMOG headquarters from Liberia to Sierra Leone eventually," Okunlola said. He declined to say how many troops were involved, but a source close to ECOMOG said 3,500 Nigerian soldiers were on their way to Freetown by boat, and would arrive on Tuesday afternoon. This would leave 720 ECOMOG troops in Liberia, the source added.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday it had delivered food to some 130,000 Sierra Leonean refugees on the Guinea border. The UNHCR and other aid organisations had been denied access to the area since mid-June, when Guinea banned movement in the area as a way of preventing AFRC/RUF rebels from crossing the border. The ban was lifted last weekend following a personal appeal to President Conteh by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata on July 3. In a statement issued in Abidjan, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it immediately sent 300 tons of food to the area -- enough to feed 160,000 people for a week. The WFP said there were clear signs of malnutrition among children and adults in the camps, with the lives of 45,000 persons judged to be at great risk.
Sierra Leone's National Policy Advisory Council has proposed the formation of a new 5,000 member military force, which is to include a large number of former AFRC soldiers, the BBC reported Tuesday. Radio 98.1 reported quoted Committee Chairman Peter Tucker Monday night as saying that the new army would include not more than 1,000 officers of the defunct Armed Forces of Sierra Leone. He said, however, that these former soldiers would have to satisfy certain recruitment procedures, including their degree of loyalty to President Kabbah during last year's military coup, their length of military service, their level of discipline, and their age. Militia groups such as the Kamajors and Kapras would be organised as an auxiliary force at the chiefdom level to serve under the national army, the radio said.
United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo welcomed the U.N. Security Councils decision Monday to send a military observer team (UNOMSIL) to Sierra Leone, calling it "a clear reaffirmation by the Security Council and the international community of the support that it is giving to the restored government in Sierra Leone." Okelo said the first group of observers should arrive before the end of the months, and the first 40 members should be in Sierra Leone by the middle of August. The U.N. observer force will monitor the security situation, and will work with ECOMOG to oversee the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants, Okelo said. They will also be involved in supervising the voluntary disarmament and demobilisation of the Civil Defence Forces in Sierra Leone. Okelo said there would be four human rights monitors attached to his office who would be working with the military observers, as well as monitoring the treason trials currently underway to ensure that they are "transparent and fair, and in accordance with international law." Okelo said the ECOMOG force had welcomed the arrival of UNOMSIL. "They are very excited about it, and they have been looking forward for this decision by the Security Council for some time," he said. "In fact, as soon as the first batch arrivers, there will be a joint meeting between the U.N. military personnel and ECOMOG on how they can work together in various parts of the country."
The British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which is investigating allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms shipments to Sierra Leone by Sandline International, has accepted a compromise by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook which would give committee members summaries of telegrams between the Foreign Office and the British High Commission in Freetown. Two members of the committee will be allowed access to the original telegrams, to confirm that the summaries are accurate. Cook had maintained that releasing the telegrams would prejudice an independent investigation being conducted by Sir Thomas Legg. Cook is expected to hand over the summaries when he appears to give evidence before the committee on Thursday morning. Committee Chairman Donald Anderson confirmed that the committee has agreed to keep the summaries confidential until the conclusion of the Legg investigation. He said the committee has also agreed to draw up "precise terms of reference in respect of the inquiry into Sierra Leone." A Foreign Office spokesman welcomed the agreement. "We welcome the fact that the committee have now agreed an arrangement which the Foreign Secretary was willing to accept more than two weeks ago," the spokesman said. "The key point is the committee's promise of confidentiality which has now been given for the first time. Robin Cook has felt all along that it would be grossly unfair to make hard-working public servants undergo a public trial without the chance to defend themselves. The Foreign Secretary is prepared to give summaries of the telegrams to the committee when it goes into private session." The spokesman also noted a comment by Anderson that "strong weapons" could be used against any committee member who leaks confidential material.
Patients have been dying at Bo Government Hospital, allegedly refused medical care because they couldnt afford to pay for the treatment, the BBC reported on Monday. Acting ECOMOG Brigade Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Iyaji, warned hospital staff over the weekend to stop the practice of running private clinics at the hospital. In a meeting with hospital staff and personnel of Medecines sans Frontieres, Iyaji said he had received a series of complaints about the hospital, alleging that hospital workers were demanding huge amounts of money from patients before providing treatment. Minister of State, Southern Province Foday Sesay, who was present at the meeting, said people had lost confidence in the hospital because of such corrupt practices. Doctors, however, complained to the BBC of poor pay, and said the government was not taking steps to improve their working conditions. The doctors said it was impossible to attend to emergencies at night because there were no ambulances, and they could not afford private cars.
13 July: Companies in Sierra Leone unable to access their hard currency accounts are threatening legal action against the banks, a lawyer representing corporate clients said on Monday. "We consider it a breach of contract that they have failed to provide us with dollars and sterling when we need it," said the lawyer, who declined to be named for a Reuters report. The 16 licensed foreign exchange bureaus have also been unable to draw from their foreign currency accounts. "We have taken the matter to the central bank to decide and we are anxiously waiting for the governor's decision on the matter," one bureau operator said. Senior bank officials said there was little they could do to alleviate the situation. The Central Bank had only $5,000 in foreign currency in its vaults at the end of June, an bank official said at the time. The major sources of foreign currency in the past were diamond companies, international airlines, embassies, non-governmental organisations, and aid agencies. The government has halted all diamond mining while it attempts regulate the mining sector, and other clients are only slowly returning to the country since the restoration of civilian rule in March. "If we had the dollars or sterling, we would want to pay our depositors. But because we don't, they will have to take our leones, which after all is the legal tender of the country," a senior bank manager said.
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Monday to send a small military observer force to Sierra Leone, to monitor military conditions in Freetown, Hastings, and Lungi. The force will be expanded to 70 members when conditions permit. The mission, known as the U.N. Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), will include a 15 person medical staff and a civilian administrative unit.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi promised President Kabbah during his visit to Libya last week that Libya would "leave no stone unturned" in helping to bring about stability in Sierra Leone, Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai was quoted as saying on Monday. During his trip to the Middle East last week, President Kabbah also met with Saudi Arabian leader King Fahd Abdul-Aziz and executive officials of the Islamic Development Bank (ISB). The ISB has reportedly given clearance to re-start operations in Sierra Leone, which were suspended following last year's military coup. Before the coup, Saudi Arabia, through the ISB, had advanced $25 million to fund work on the Freetown Peninsular Road.
The Ghana-based Sierra Leone People's Democratic League has appealed to Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings "to prevail upon the new Nigerian military leader General Abdulsalam Abubakar to take a fresh look at resolving the crisis in Sierra Leone," noting that with the death of former Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, there was an opportunity for a fresh and objective analysis of the situation in Sierra Leone. The group called for the immediate reconvening of peace talks between the government of President Kabbah, the opposition, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and renegade soldiers of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The talks would be followed by a two year government of national unity, during which time there should be a disarmament, encampment and demobilization of all combatants. The letter was signed by League President Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh. Until 1995, Sankoh served as Political and Foreign Affairs Coordinator and spokesman for the RUF. "We in the People's Democratic League believe strongly that your government has shown a perfect understanding of the crisis, and we also believe that Ghana should lead the crusade for a new peace initiative," Sankoh wrote. "Peace has eluded Sierra Leone this far because all actors in the tragic drama have opted for a military solution, which has failed to bring to an end the untold sufferings of our people. We believe a new approach has to be made and the League believes it lies in your power to do it."
11 July: ECOMOG forces captured the city of Kailahun on Thursday, according to a BBC report aired Saturday. Kailahun served as the headquarters of the RUF throughout the rebel war. The rebels apparently have regrouped at Pendembu, the report said. On Friday, ECOMOG troops headquartered at Daru Barracks captured the towns of Kotuma Njawe, Bombobu and Benduma. At Benduma, 12 miles from Pendembu, ECOMOG encountered stiff resistance, and the fighting lasted throughout the night before junta remnant troops were dislodged. Kamajor Commander Foday Gaimor put the casualty rate at 85, adding that 300 people who had been trapped behind rebel lines were rescued by ECOMOG troops and taken to Miseela, near Daru. RUF fighters travelling in four trucks toward Daru on Friday afternoon in a reported attempt to ambush ECOMOG forces were attacked by an Alpha fighter jet at Kuiva, the BBC report said. ECOMOG did not disclose casualty figures for the attack, but sources close to ECOMOG told the BBC that top RUF commanders were among those killed. Truckloads of ECOMOG and Kamajor reinforcements were reported seen heading east toward Pendembu on Friday afternoon.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi will provide Sierra Leone with fuel and rice, Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Saturday. He said Gadaffi had made the offer during President Kabbah's visit to Libya on Monday. "The offer of the rice and petroleum products is immediate and the ships are expected to begin docking in Freetown shortly," Kaikai said. Sources close to the president's office said Libya was providing Sierra Leone with a three month supply of rice and fuel. The fuel will be used both for transport and power generation.
Liberian President Charles Taylor has called upon Liberian nationals involved in the Sierra Leone conflict to return home, Liberian Star Radio reported Sunday. The appeal follows an agreement concluded between Taylor and President Kabbah in Abuja, Nigeria on July 2 to cooperate in ending the fighting in Sierra Leone, and to call on their citizens not to destabilize one another's states.
10 July: Sierra Leone is expecting to take possession of 3,000 tons of petrol on Saturday, paid for with the balance of a $3.2 million loan from Britain's Department of International Development (formerly the Overseas Development Agency). Sierra Leonean officials are hoping for substantial pledges of new aid at an international donors conference, scheduled for London on July 15-16. "If the donors fail to provide money to help Sierra Leone out of the depths of poverty, there will be no petrol in the next few months," a senior bank official said. The aid flow to Sierra Leone has not been restored, and basic commodities are in short supply. Traffic has come to a halt in Freetown because of the lack of petrol. Late last month, a Central Bank official said the bank had only $5,000 of currency reserves in its vaults. Ministry of Trade and Industry officials said a London-based firm, Topaz Holdings, had been contracted to bring in oil supplied by Mobil. "Before the military coup, the World Bank used to provide over 90 percent of the money for petrol that came into Sierra Leone. On average, it provided between $16 and $20 million annually to the government to import petrol," one official said. Talks with the World Bank resumed after the restoration of the civilian government of President Kabbah, but have yet to result in a resumption of lending. Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James Jonah told Parliament in his budget speech earlier this month that the government would liberalise the importation of petroleum products. Oil industry sources have countered that imports had already been opened up to licensed traders, but that the problem was that the government still fixed retail prices. "We can never break even at the pump prices they keep fixing, so we don't find the importation of petrol, diesel and kerosene for sale in the country attractive at all," a fuel company official said. "We have decided to boycott importing the products until government gives us free rein."
Nord Resources Corp, a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile Limited, has hired Rothschild Natural Resources LLC and Rothschild Inc. to help the company explore strategic alternatives and seek funding to restart operations in Sierra Leone, the company said Friday. The statement followed a press release on Thursday by America Mineral Fields Inc., which announced the two companies was holding "preliminary discussions" on a possible merger. America Mineral Fields mines base metals and diamonds in Central Africa. Following a recent visit to the mine at Mobimbi, and talks with President Kabbah and other government officials, Nord directors said conditions had improved sufficiently in Sierra Leone to restart mining operations.
9 July: ECOMOG Task Force Acting Commander Colonel Rauf Apata said Thursday that the ECOMOG force is closing in on the remnants of junta forces in the east of the country. "A contingent of Guinean troops in ECOMOG is pushing from the Guinean border to Koindu," Apata said. "Another contingent of ECOMOG troops is advancing from inside Sierra Leone to Kailahun town and Koindu. The Guinean contingent is making good progress and any time now they will occupy Koindu." He added that the rebels had suffered many casualties in the area and were believed to be running short of food and ammunition. Apata said that the father of RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, who is believed to be commanding AFRC/RUF rebels in Kailahun, was arrested this week in Freetown. Police were interrogating him for information on his son's whereabouts, Apata said.
Aid workers were told that over 750 people have died from measles, malnutrition and diarrhoea at a camp in Masingbi in the past three months, after fleeing fighting in Kono District. "Between April and June, a total of 761 deaths were recorded among the displaced and most of these are hunger-related or malnutrition cases," said Pa Roke Komeh, the traditional ruler of Masingbi. An inter-agency assessment mission which visited the area last week said many more deaths could have gone unrecorded. The mission found the camp severely overcrowded, with some 20,000 refugees living in 2,000 makeshift thatch huts. With the beginning of the rainy season, a cholera outbreak was feared. "The average death toll is 10 per day and these are mostly women and children," said the camp manager, Sahr Fengai. "We are appealing to aid agencies to urgently step in with relief items for the camp dwellers, otherwise everyone would die of hunger, disease and starvation." The displaced people are said to be surviving on bush yams and by cutting and selling firewood. Tamba Kasor of CARE said displaced children could be seen in Masingbi, scavenging and begging in order to survive. "The situation is pathetic and the bulk of these displaced persons don't have any home to return to because retreating rebel forces have burnt and vandalized all towns and villages in the Kono district where they hail from," Kasor said. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is no medical clinic at the camp. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is planning a campaign against measles in the area and, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres, is sending medical supplies to the area. CARE is planning to distribute two truckloads of relief food to displaced persons in the area and to construct water wells to provide safe drinking water.
The Sierra Leone government has offered an amnesty to all child soldiers in the country. Vice President Albert Joe Demby announced the offer Wednesday during a ceremony to coincide with the launch of the 1998 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Progress of Nations Report. There are an estimated 5,000 child soldiers currently serving in Sierra Leone.
8 July: The U.S. Charge d'Affairs in Freetown, Anne Wright, has handed over half a million dollars worth of medical supplies and equipment to the International Committee of the Red Cross to benefit amputees, Liberian Radio reported Wednesday. There are currently 300 registered amputees, camped in Waterloo, Freetown, and other major towns.
One third of all the world's children, some 40 million a year, are never officially registered at birth, making it difficult for them to enter school school, receive health care, get married, vote, or own land, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in its annual report issued on Wednesday. Some countries haven't established a birth registration, while 22 countries had no data available on the registration of births. Poor and rural countries tend to have lower registration rates, the UNICEF report said. Sierra Leone was cited as having a birth registration rate of less than 10%. "These children are denied their birthright by their very invisibility," said the report, written by Botswana High Court Judge Unity Dow. "Lacking birth certificates, they spend their lives on the edge of the `official' world, skirting or falling over obstacles that never arise in the paths of those who had the good fortune to be registered when they were born." Vice President Albert Joe Demby on Wednesday acknowledged Sierra Leone's extremely low birth registration rate and said the government was committed to improving the situation, according to an SLBS (state radio) news release.
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino said Wednesday that the mandate of the proposed International Criminal Court should extend to crimes committed before the signing of any peace treaty. "Unspeakable crimes against humanity are occurring in Sierra Leone today. The international community seems largely unaware of what is going on," Bonino said in a signed article in the International Herald Tribune. "Rebel forces have engaged in a horrific campaign to terrorize the population through indiscriminate killings, systematic laceration, mutilation or severing of limbs. The victims are men, women and children of all ages." Bonino said the atrocities in Sierra Leone were not part of traditional warfare in Africa. "They are the result of an orchestrated strategy to terrorize civilians, carried out by troops trained in such barbarous techniques." Bonino said that for the Court to be effective, it must be "empowered, independent and resourced to take action...It must provide a credible and immediate deterrent." She warned that if the Court's founding conference in Rome fails, then perpetrators of large-scale crimes in Sierra Leone and elsewhere would "see a green light to continue their foul deeds." There was also the danger that the international community might tacitly learn to live with crimes of such magnitude, she noted, adding: "Sierra Leone reminds us that impunity fuels criminal violence in armed conflicts and rebellions."
7 July: Sierra Leonean rebels have carried out two attacks on villages inside Guinea, the BBC reported on Tuesday, calling them "the most serious (incidents) of their kind since the overthrow of the military junta in March." According to one account, over 30 AFRC/RUF rebels dressed in civilian clothing joined a long line of refugees making their way through Faranah District. When they reached ?Fakonan, the rebels reportedly opened fire on Guinean security forces, killing one and injuring another. Two civilians were also killed in the shoot-out. The rebels then burned over 100 thatched houses in Bendou. Local Guinean journalists quoted the governor of the Prefecture of Faranah as confirming the incidents, saying that the rebels made away with large quantities of foodstuffs and a herd of cattle. The governor described the rebels as "one desperate batch in an equally desperate search for food," the report said. The BBC noted that it was not clear whether the rebel attacks were motivated by a search for food, or whether they were carrying out a threat by RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie to launch an attack on Guinean territory if Guinean authorities allowed their country to be used by ECOMOG to launch attacks against AFRC/RUF forces.
There has been no response to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urgent appeal to Guinean President Lansana Conte on Friday to allow aid agencies access to some 150,000 refugees in the Gueckedou region, the agency said Tuesday. UNHCR staff in the area are working to lower mortality rates in those camps still accessible to aid workers. During the last week in June, the deaths of 37 children under the age of five were recorded at these sites, which house 100,000 refugees -- 20,000 of them children under five years old. Next week, the UNHCR will begin repatriating Sierra Leoneans in Gueckedou to Freetown by air. Those who have expressed a wish to return are mainly civil servants, teachers, and other professionals, part of the more than 100,000 people who fled the country following the May 1997 coup. The operation is expected to take about five weeks.
President Kabbah left Libya on Tuesday, according to the official Libyan news service, JANA. Sierra Leonean officials said Kabbah would visit Saudi Arabia, where he was expected to negotiate for fuel, to help alleviate the current petrol shortage in Sierra Leone.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook Tuesday offered to compromise with a select committee investigating the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms sales to Sierra Leone by Sandline International, in possible violation of U.N. sanctions. In a letter to committee chairman Donald Anderson, Cook said he would give the Foreign Affairs Select Committee a summary of telegrams between the Foreign Office and the British High Commission in Sierra Leone. Two nominated members of the committee would be allowed to study the actual telegrams to confirm the accuracy of the summaries. Cook insisted however that the telegrams must remain confidential until the completion of an independent inquiry into the allegations by Sir Thomas Legg. The proposal has not yet been formally put to the committee, but Anderson said he would recommend acceptance when they meet next Tuesday. "There is now, in my judgment, within the grasp of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the establishment of the principle that we sought. We were determined not to blink," he said. "I shall recommend to the committee that we accept the offer."
6 July: President Kabbah arrived in Libya Monday, on the first leg of a trip which will also take him to Saudi Arabia. Officials in Freetown said Kabbah will be looking for help to alleviate a serious fuel shortage in Sierra Leone. "Our company is expecting petroleum fuel in a few days time from Nigeria," an official of the state-owned National Petroleum Company said. "We also believe that while President Kabbah is in Libya and Saudi Arabia, he will negotiate for fuel." In Libya, Kabbah was to have joined Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and a number of West African leaders, including President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara of Niger, and President Abdou Diouf of Senegal, along with U.S. Muslim activist Louis Farrakhan, in Islamic prayers to mark el-Maulud, the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. Thousands of representatives of Muslim organisations worldwide were also expected to attend. However a fractured hip, reportedly suffered during exercise on Monday, prevented Gadaffi from leading prayers at the Bilal Mosque in Beida as planned. Libyan television presented the gathering as a display of Muslim solidarity with Libya in its dispute with Western countries over suspected Libyan involvement in the 1988 downing of a U.S. airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. "The unity of the Muslim world can end the sanctions against Iraq and Libya, and against Sudan and Nigeria...and bring balance to the hegemony of the West," the Libyan statement said.
British Conservatives in Parliament are seeking to increase pressure on the government over the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms shipments to Sierra Leone by the mercenary firm Sandline International, in possible breach of U.N. sanctions. The Conservatives will use a House of Commons Opposition Day debate to demand the immediate handover of secret Foreign Office documents to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee investigating the allegations. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has refused to release the documents to the Committee, maintaining that they could prejudice an independent inquiry being conducted by Sir Thomas Legg. The Tories will use the debate to press their charge that the government is ignoring the rights of select committees.
5 July: RUF leader Foday Sankoh will face trial in Nigeria for illegally entering the country with arms, Liberian Star Radio reported on Sunday. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai was quoted as saying that Sankoh would then be returned to Sierra Leone where he would be tried for war crimes. Sankoh was now irrelevant to the crisis in Sierra Leone, Kaikai added.
4 July: Leaders of the AFRC military junta will face trial in a week, a government spokesman said late on Friday. "The long-awaited court martial against the top brass and junior ranks of the military junta will begin in a week's time," the spokesman said. Prison sources said as many as 70 persons could face trial, including AFRC Chief of Defence Staff Brig. Samuel Koroma, the brother of AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma; Hassan Conteh, who served as Chief of Defence Staff for President Kabbah prior to the May 1997 coup, AFRC Secretary of State for Health and Sanitation Brig. Karefa I.S. "KIS" Kamara, and Corporal Tamba Gborie, who announced the coup.
An ECOMOG source quoted by Reuters Saturday said that while AFRC/RUF rebels were still active in Kono and Kailahun Districts, attacks on small towns and villages last week had been repelled by ECOMOG troops. "You cannot end rebel activities overnight, but the situation in the northern region is now under control, despite pockets of rebels in some small villages," the source said. "For the past three weeks, there have been no killings of innocent civilians or amputations."
3 July: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, urgently appealed to Guinean President Lansana Conte on Friday to grant access to more than 150,000 Sierra Leonean refugees cut off from food and medical supplies for nearly three weeks. In a letter to President Conte, Ogata requested that Guinean authorities reopen roads to refugee sites near the Sierra Leone border "on strictly humanitarian grounds" so that the UNHCR and other relief agencies can deliver desperately-needed food, water, and medical care. "The refugees' situation is all the more preoccupying because they arrived in Guinea in very poor health, and the already-high mortality rates are likely to reach even more alarming levels because of this interruption of our aid operation," Ogata said. Relief agencies have been unable to reach the area, along the Sierra Leone-Guinea border southwest of the Guinean town Gueckedou, since Guinean authorities imposed a ban on border crossings on June 15 in order to prevent AFRC/RUF rebels from entering the country. When UNHCR staff were allowed to inspect several sites near the border on June 22, the found a deserted campsite at Nongoa where over 5,000 newly-arrived Sierra Leonean refugees had been sheltered a few days before. The refugees had apparently fled the camp because of nearby fighting between ECOMOG and AFRC/RUF rebels. The UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), and other NGO's had been working to stabilize the health and nutritional situation of the refugees. Malnutrition and mortality, particularly among young children, was already very high before aid was cut off. Many of those crossing into Guinea last week had not received a first food ration when access was blocked. Work on latrines and clean water supply was also halted, raising the risk of disease in dozens of sites.
Continued fighting between in the north and east of Sierra Leone is affecting the availability of food in these areas, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). In a report issued on Friday, the WFP said villages in the east and northeast of the country are still targets of organized rebel attacks and atrocities. WFP assessment missions in June observed that people fleeing rebel attacks in Port Loko District were crossing into Kambia District at the rate of several hundred per week. The WFP expressed concern that food supplies will be strained in the coming months with the onset of heavy rains. The continued fighting will affect the harvest, and many displaced families will miss the next planting season, the report noted. The WFP has been hampered in distributing food aid because of the security situation, and because of the commandeering of trucks carrying relief supplies and the periodic closing of the roads connecting Freetown with the provincial capitals of Bo and Makeni. During May, the WFP distributed food aid, seeds, and tools to 200,000 rural families under its Food For Agriculture programme. Emergency food aid was also distributed to displaced and vulnerable persons in Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Makeni, and Segbwema. On June 26, the United Nations launched an inter-agency appeal for $20 million to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of populations affected by the crisis in Sierra Leone, including those who are internally displaced and persons who have sought refuge in Liberia and Guinea. Under the appeal, the WFP has requested $3.6 million for logistics support, (primarily the provision of trucks), roads rehabilitation, and helicopter support.
President Kabbah appealed to newspaper editors on Thursday to stop reporting unsavory things about Sierra Leone which would turn away investors. "We should all learn to love our country, to report things that would attract our country to foreign investors and not publish alarming stories that would put our country in a bad light," he said in a nationwide broadcast. The statement coincided with the arrest of two newspaper editors and a publisher: Jonathan Leigh, Managing Editor of the Independent Observer, Joseph Mboka, editor of the Democrat, and Ahmed Kanneh, publisher of the New Storm. Police officers searched their offices and confiscated some documents. "Six police detectives stormed our offices with a search warrant, purportedly for 'subversive documents', raided and turned the whole place upside down," said Michael Foray, publisher of the Democrat. Foray said police confiscated two editions which ran commentaries on the rumoured release from detention in Nigeria of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "This may not have gone down well with the authorities, because we understand that moves were underway to release the rebel leader and return him to Sierra Leone, to participate in a power-sharing government," he said. Leigh was arrested for a story published in his weekly tabloid suggesting that ECOMOG was secretly training 3,000 Sierra Leonean soldiers for eventual reintegration into the army. ECOMOG officials denied the report. "The news report about the recruitment of 3,000 junta troops is completely misleading, malicious, false and unfounded," an ECOMOG statement said. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer warned newspaper editors last week that the country was still in a state of emergency, and that editors who published "disturbing reports likely to cause alarm or despondency to public safety, the public tranquility, and the the maintenance of public order" would face the full force of the law. Violators face a jail term of not more than two years, a fine of Le 500,000, or both. 50 newspapers, all tabloids, currently complete for readers in Sierra Leone. "We've had to depend on advertising revenue, which is irregular, and then to make headlines with sensational stories, if the paper is to sell," observed Alusine Fofanah, managing editor of the Star newspaper.
Former British Prime Minister John Major on Friday criticised Foreign Secretary Robin Cook for refusing to hand over telegrams between the British High Commission in Freetown and the Foreign Office to a parliamentary select committee. The Foreign Affairs Committee is conducting hearings on the so-called "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations that the Foreign Office knew of weapons shipments to Sierra Leone last February by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, in possible violation of U.N. sanctions.
2 July: Police raided the offices of three newspapers in Freetown on Thursday, arresting the editors of two of them. Joseph Mboka, editor of the Democrat, and Jonathan Leigh, editor of the Independent Observer, were taken away by officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Police also went to the offices of the New Storm newspaper, but found no one there. The officers, carrying warrants signed by Attorney General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa, also searched the newspapers' offices before leaving. The arrests followed a warning by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer last week that the government was prepared to crack down on editors who published "disturbing reports likely to cause alarm or despondency to public safety, the public tranquility, and the the maintenance of public order."
President Kabbah and Liberian President Charles Taylor have agreed to a number of "confidence-building measures" to improve security and cooperation between their two nations, according to a joint communiqué issued on Thursday. The meeting between the two leaders was hosted in Abuja by Nigerian leader General Abdusalam Abubakar, and was co-chaired by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Kabbah and Taylor condemned rebel activities in Sierra Leone, and pledged to cooperate in promoting an end to the fighting there. The two reaffirmed the non-aggression protocol of the 1986 Mano River Union Agreement and "expressly reaffirmed" their commitment not to permit their territories to be used to destabilise the other. As confidence-building measures, the two presidents agreed to exchange official visits, and announced they would "welcome and support" deployment of U.N. and ECOMOG observers along their border. Kabbah, Taylor, and Abubakar called on the United Nations to increase its presence in Sierra Leone in support of the ECOMOG force.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed concern about its inability to reach some 130,000 Sierra Leonean refugees cut off along the Guinean border, near the Guinean town of Gueckedou. Relief agencies have been unable to reach the area due to a travel freeze imposed by the Guinean authorities to prevent AFRC/RUF rebels from crossing the border. About 45,000 of the refugees were in urgent need of food, the WFP statement said, adding that it was working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Guinean government to open safe passages into the border area to transport food aid. It would then try to move the refugees to safer places inside Guinea, the statement said.
Sierra Leonean officials have voiced their support for the formation of a proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) with the authority to try war criminals, currently being debated by U.N. delegates in Rome. "The Criminal Court is a brilliant idea, because those innocent civilians whose limbs and ears are violently slashed off by rebel troops, do deserve justice," said Minister for Presidential Affairs Momodu Koroma. "Sierra Leone's case is much more horrendous, and here we have children, sometimes as young as eight, having their limbs and body parts severed off by retreating junta forces with machetes." Chief Justice Desmond Luke also voiced support for the ICC. "The Court would certainly deter roving criminals from carrying out untold cruelties against civilians, so it is a welcomed move," he said. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Solomon called for those who had committed war crimes to be brought to justice. "We want reconciliation and national unity, but this would only come about after justice has been meted to the perpetrators of heinous crimes against civilians," Berewa said.
1 July: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan met in Abuja, Nigeria Wednesday with President Kabbah, Liberian President Charles Taylor, and Nigerian leader Abdusalam Abubakar for a mini-summit on regional security Wednesday. Details of were not disclosed, but Sierra Leonean officials said the leaders held "high level security talks." Annan arrived in Nigeria on Monday. He and and Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku met Tuesday with the new Nigerian leader on the country's transition to democracy process. "(Annan) commended Nigeria's leadership role in ECOWAS, particularly the positive contributions in the restoration of peace to Liberia and democracy to Sierra Leone," according to a statement issued by Nigerian officials after the meeting.
The United States said Wednesday it is donating $19.5 million to relief organisations working and and around Sierra Leone, bringing to more than $50 million the amount the U.S. has contributed in food and other assistance to people in Sierra Leone since the crisis began. The State Department said the money would go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Food Programme, and other non-governmental organisations. The largest single amount was $3.8 million earmarked for the ICRC's relief operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the statement said.