The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

July 1999
 

31 July: Mali has ordered the immediate withdrawal of its troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said on Saturday. He said the Malian contingent would start leaving the country on Sunday. Mali sent 428 soldiers to Sierra Leone in February, but domestic pressure to recall them increased in Bamako after the Malians were involved in hostilities with rebel forces at Port Loko in May. ECOMOG sources were quoted as saying that up to ten Malian ECOMOG troops were killed in the rebel attack at Port Loko, and as many as ten more captured. In May, RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley claimed the RUF had captured 17 Malian soldiers. A senior presidential aide said Saturday the Malian announcement had taken the Sierra Leone government by surprise. "But we still appreciate what they have done for us," he added.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Friday that Nigeria's declared intention to withdraw its troops from Sierra Leone was in pursuit of its desire to help the country's government of national unity achieve success, the Nigerian newspaper Post Express reported on Saturday.

30 July: The OAU has donated $200,000 toward humanitarian aid in Sierra Leone. In a statement issued on Friday, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim said the Lomé Peace Accord would be difficult to implement unless the humanitarian situation was ''addressed along with other priority areas such as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes.'' Salim said the OAU was considering ways and means "whereby it could give more concrete assistance to the implementation of the agreement.''

Among those released from prison by the Sierra Leone government over the weekend were former SLBS Director-General Gipu Felix George, SLBS Programming Director Dennis Ayodele Smith, SLBS journalist Mildred Hancilles and New Citizen newspaper editor Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) said on Friday. The four had been sentenced to death on treason charges last year for allegedly collaborating with the AFRC military junta.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative for West Africa, Kasim Djiang, responded on Friday to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report critical of the refugee agency's efforts on behalf of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea. In a BBC Network Africa, Sara Rakita, who authored the report, summarised the human rights group's conclusions. "One (difficulty) is on the level of camp security, that about a third of the refugees are in camps which are located dangerously close to the border, which is 100,000 people out of more than 300,000 people," she said. "And those camps have been vulnerable to armed attacks, and they’ve also been used as military bases, and children in those camps have also been used as child soldiers. And on the other level what we see is an individual security problem. We found children, especially children who have lost their parents, which is thousands and thousands of them, they’ve been cared for by other families, and many of them are being abused, or exploited, or neglected — kids not being allowed to go to school, girls forced into prostitution from age 12, and really very little mechanism in place to do anything about these problems." Rakita pointed to a lack of resources, but said also that HRW was proposing that UNHCR "staff who are there learn a little bit about child protection needs, given that more than half of the refugees are children." Djiang responded that while the human rights situation of refugees in Guinea needed improvement, "We also feel that some of the language they used in their press release — particularly when they say that these refugees are neglected — is in our view incorrect." He pointed out that the refugee population in Guinea was the largest in Africa, and that most of the UNHCR's resources were currently concentrated in that country. "Our operations are very large in that part of Guinea, which is the forest region of Guinea," he said. "This is a region which is very difficult to access, particularly nowadays with the rain, and we have also a problem of resources. But I think we are a little bit taken aback by this report, which — actually we do appreciate overall that they rang the bell, especially on the side of donors to try to help us get more funds." Djiang also took issue with HRW's contention that the refugees had very little food. "They said particularly that food to refugees is delivered every four months," he said. "What they fail to understand — and I think they understand it very well — is that we cannot have trucking operations on a monthly basis. We have very few tracks available for a number of operations, particularly trucking water, trucking food, transferring refugees from one camp to another. So we have to do this every four months. The food has to come from Conakry, and we’re talking about long distances between Conakry and Gueckedou where the refugees are. And sometimes in that area of Guinea warehousing is a problem. So all of these factors combined make it extremely difficult." Djiang acknowledged the problem of prostitution among the refugees, but argued that the problem was not unique to the camps. He said the UNHCR was concerned about reports of children engaging in prostitution in exchange for food, but said the agency had put a programme in place to deal with the needs of refugee women and children. "I think the global solution for these camps in Guinea is...voluntary repatriation, which means safe return of these refugees back home," he said. "Asylum and refugees is not a solution."

A medical team arrived in Makeni on Tuesday, according to a statement by the director of the Catholic Diocesan Caritas of Makeni, Ibrahim Andrew Sesay. "(The team) is composed of ten nurses divided into two operating teams," Sesay told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency. "The people are exhausted from hunger and many have been struck down by disease and are very weak, especially the children." He said Makeni Caritas was working in collaboration with another charity, Memisa Holland, to respond to the needs of the civilian population. Sesay added that Caritas had also opened an assistance centre for former child soldiers in Port Loko. "At the moment we are hosting 45 minors who have suffered unspeakable psychological damage," he said. "Our aim is to make possible their re-entry into civilian society. Aside from assisting them, we also are attempting to trace their families through our workers." Sesay said a centre similar to the one in Port Loko would soon be operating in Makeni.

29 July: The United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, has called on the international community to correct what he called its "skewed approach" to world conflicts. Okelo noted that while Wednesday's donor conference for Sierra Leone received a British pledge of £4.5 million ($7.1 million) to train and equip the country's new army, a similar conference for Kosovo held in Brussels on Tuesday raised $2.1 billion. Okelo said if a fraction of the resources being donated to Kosovo were diverted to Sierra Leone, it would go a long way in solving the country's problems. Currently, he said, the U.N. was receiving less than 15% of what is needed in Sierra Leone.

The French-based charity Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has called the humanitarian situation in Makeni "catastrophic," with over 30 percent of the children under the age of five surveyed there found to be malnourished, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Thursday. Of the 95 children under age five screened by a team of humanitarian workers which visited the city from July 23-26, seventeen were found to be "moderately malnourished" and seventeen more were "severely malnourished." The mission also carried out nutritional surveys of four villages surrounding Makeni, where it found that the percentage of malnourished children in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) was even higher. At Magbenteh Camp, which shelters some 2,000 IDPs, 43 of the 97 children surveyed there were found to be "severely malnourished." ACF's head of mission in Freetown, Marc Gordon, said Thursday that the fact adults were suffering from malnutrition, which he said was unusual, indicated the gravity of the situation. Another reason why the ACF characterised the situation in Makeni as catastrophic, Gordon said, was that 103 of the 153 severely malnourished children suffered from Oedema. "Oedema indicates the latter stages of malnutrition manifested by swelling of the feet, which gradually spreads to the rest of the body," he said. "It is very difficult to treat and the mortality rate is far higher than for other types of malnutrition." Another indicator of a bad situation, Gordon told IRIN, was if more than ten percent of a sample screened had malnutrition. In a news release issued on Wednesday, ACF attributed the severity of the situation to the fact that Makeni had been cut off from commercial and relief supplies since December. A food-security assessment in the Makeni area showed that 75 percent of the farmers had been unable to plant this year because seed rice was in short supply. Gordon said the ACF would set up two therapeutic feeding centres for the most severe cases and four supplementary feeding centres to treat the malnourished in Makeni. "The first feeding centre will open this weekend," he said. "We will move therapeutic milk to Makeni tomorrow." However, IRIN quoted a humanitarian source as saying that damage to a bridge east of Rogberi Junction was a "big obstacle to the large-scale delivery of relief assistance to Makeni."

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman has denied a Reuters story published on Tuesday which reported that the ethnic militias of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces were to be disbanded. "The government of Sierra Leone has not declared any intention to disband the CDF," Norman said in a letter forwarded to the Sierra Leone Web by a CDF spokesman. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Norman on Thursday as alleging continued cease-fire violations by RUF rebels. "My government has realised that the RUF did not get the message of the cease-fire and peace agreement across to their own men on the ground," Norman said in Freetown. "I am appealing to the AFRC/RUF rebel leadership on the ground to get the right message to their fighters, so that the peace agreement holds." He cited a list of alleged violations, and added that the rebels were continuing to abduct civilians. The charges were rejected by RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley. "We have spoken to all our own commanders and they have denied vehemently that we have been involved in attacks," Golley said from Lomé, Togo. A Catholic church official arriving in Freetown from Kenema confirmed that there had been fighting in the area, but said it was less a matter of RUF cease-fire violations than of fighting between rebels and Kamajors over control of the diamond fields. He said civilians had been caught up in the fighting. Reuters also quoted a "senior African diplomat" who referred to an incident involving fighting among Kamajor militiamen. "Some time last week there was an outbreak of violence among Kamajor militia in Moyamba District, which led to the killing of 20 Kamajors among themselves and houses were burnt down," he said. "Details about what led to the fighting are not known but there was an allegation that fighting erupted over the sharing of looted properties." Norman said he had received a report about the incident, but had no details. A "senior United Nations military observer" said he was unaware of cease-fire violations.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ibrahim Gambari, met in New York on Wednesday to discuss the United Nations' role in the implementation of the peace accord for Sierra Leone. Nigeria, which provides the great majority of soldiers for the ECOMOG force, has expressed a desire to reduce its troop strength, and has called on the United Nations to contribute to peacekeeping efforts in the country. Wednesday's meeting came ahead of a planned report by Annan to the Security Council which will make recommendations on the scope, structure and mandate of an expanded U.N. mission in Sierra Leone. Gambari said he had stressed the need for "a robust and expanded" U.N. presence in the country.

34 people died when a pam-pam (motorised canoe) capsized off Kalay, in Guinean territorial waters, the Concord Times newspaper reported on Thursday. The "Air Bafila" (popularly known as the "Kadiatu Kackan") was headed for Guinea with 35 passengers and "smuggled goods," the newspaper said. It did not indicate when the accident occurred. "The cause for the boat accident is not yet known, but it has been confirmed that the boat split into pieces," the Concord Times reported.

The new ECOMOG force commander, Brigadier-General Gabriel Kpamber, has said ECOMOG was willing to meet with the RUF/AFRC leadership as a confidence-building measure. Kpamber told officials of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) Thursday that such a meeting would demonstrate ECOMOG's "sincerity and commitment to the successful implementation of the recently-signed peace agreement," according to an ECOMOG press release. The statement said ECOMOG and UNOMSIL discussed other points relevant to implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord, such the release of prisoners of war, disarmament of combatants, and access for humanitarian agencies. At a separate meeting called by Vice President Albert Joe Demby and attended by government officials, parliamentarians, paramount chiefs, UNOMSIL, and humanitarian agencies, Kpamber said "ECOMOG was now concerned with performing peace keeping and security roles through necessary confidence-building measures." He assured humanitarian agencies and NGOs of "ECOMOG's preparedness to support efforts aimed at providing relief to the war affected communities in line with the mandate of the force in Sierra Leone." Kpamber formally assumed his duties as ECOMOG force commander on Sunday, replacing Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said in Freetown on Thursday.

28 July: Some 30 delegations representing government and international agencies which comprise the Contact Group on Sierra Leone met at a donors conference in London on Wednesday to decide what steps should be taken to support the peace process in that country following the July 7 signing of the peace accord between the government and the RUF. According to a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement issued after the talks, the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF were encouraged to press ahead to implement their respective responsibilities under the Lomé Peace Accord, to explain the benefits of the peace agreement to their followers, to establish joint structures for implementation of the agreement and to cooperate to ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established and begins its work promptly, and to allow the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies to carry out their work without interference. The Sierra Leone government in turn gave commitments to continue with the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR), to continue to rebuild the Sierra Leone Army "as an inclusive national army responsible to the democratically elected government," and to continue to encourage RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to return to Freetown to help commence implementation of the agreement. The Contact Group called on the RUF, which was not represented at the conference, to ensure that their leaders begin immediate talks with the government on implementation of the peace agreement, take all necessary steps to ensure their fighters are aware of the agreement, lay down their arms, and begin to implement it, and to take steps to transform the RUF into a political party. ECOWAS, the U.N. and other "concerned international organisations" committed themselves to continue to provide assistance and facilitation in the peace process, to move forward with the DDR programme in Freetown and the surrounding areas, and "as soon as possible" to agree to arrangements for ECOMOG's new mandate and an enhanced U.N. force to help the parties implement the peace agreement. The international community made commitments to support the peace process and efforts by the parties to implement it, to provide emergency aid "for refugees and other displaced persons to return to their communities, and help with rehabilitation and reconstruction throughout Sierra Leone," to support the DDR programme "as a matter of priority" and to support ECOMOG and an enhanced U.N. presence "to reassure the population and help the parties implement the peace agreement." The international community is also to assist in rebuilding and strengthening Sierra Leone's democratic institutions, including local government, to support the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to help implement the human rights provisions of the peace accord. Once peace has been re-established, the international community was called on to encourage international investment in Sierra Leone "to help rebuild the economy and boost prosperity throughout the country."

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who attended the conference as part of Sierra Leone's delegation, told the BBC that the things had gone well. "The attendance is quite impressive. Almost all the members of the donor community are represented there, and the U.N., World Bank, call them, they’re all there," Berewa said in a BBC's Focus on Africa interview. He indicated that the Sierra Leone government was appealing to the international community for assistance to help rebuild the country. "There are so many urgent things which we need assistance for which we cannot now do. And they know it themselves. The British government particularly has organized the meeting in order to be able to get us to kick-start," Berewa said. "What they’ve asked of us we’ve done. They’ve asked us to take very strong political decisions in order to bring the hostilities in Sierra Leone to an end. That we have done. So they consider themselves now as being obliged to ensure that the peace is maintained."  Berewa argued that the Lomé Peace Accord was "extremely popular" with the people of Sierra Leone. "What the people want is peace," he said. "They won’t want their children to continue to die. They want to be able to start their lives again. They don’t want to continue fighting all the way. and that has been done in a way that they can live with the agreement." He said there were already clear signs that the peace agreement was taking hold. "Since the cease-fire was signed, there has been no shooting at all," he said. "Vehicles are plying right through the country now. Economic life has started. The international community has started going in. The World Bank has started coming. Everything’s taking shape now." Berewa dismissed as "untrue, so untrue" reports of cease-fire violations in eastern Sierra Leone. "It’s not correct, in respect to you, it’s not correct," he said. "What the position’s been before the peace agreement was signed, you have to compare that with what it is now. You know before the peace agreement was signed, no vehicle went beyond Waterloo. there were ambushes all the way. Now buses are plying the whole route from Freetown to Kenema...There has not been any instance of a clash."

RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has denied allegations made on Tuesday that RUF fighters had attacked towns in Gorama-Mende Chiefdom in Kenema District. Bockarie told the BBC that the positions in question were held by the rebels before the cease-fire went into effect on May 24, and said it was not true that RUF troops were attacking the Kamajors. Meanwhile, Kamajor Public Relations Officer Charles Moiwo renewed allegations Wednesday of rebel cease-fire violations in Gorama-Mende Chiefdom. "Well according to my report here on the 11th July 1999, one Lieutenant Colonel Jawara went to Tongo and [Wima?] and asked all the Kamajors to surrender their arms to him," Moiwo told the BBC. "And then on the 14th July 1999 he went to Lower Bambara and continued to put the Kamajors on pressure to surrender their arms to him, stating that Foday Sankoh has been made chairman for all mineral resources in the country. And since Tongo and Kono are the diamondiferous areas in those areas, therefore they should surrender their arms so that they want to engage in active mining to welcome Foday Sankoh to Sierra Leone. And they would not want Kamajors to be armed around them. So on the 18th July 1999, rebels from Masingbi attacked Madina village in Gorama-Mende Chiefdom. They killed four civilians, abducted 40 men, and 20 women, including children. On the 19th July 1999 rebels also attacked at Joru in Gorama-Mende Chiefdom, in Kono axis, and captured and wounded two of our Kamajors, who are now presently admitted in the Kenema Government Hospital." Moiwo claimed he had written "a series of letters" to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) complaining of RUF cease-fire violations, but said no action had been taken.

President Kabbah addressed an overflow crowd of Sierra Leoneans at the Church House Conference Center in London Tuesday evening, and appealed to those present to return and help rebuild Sierra Leone. ""We have a peace agreement in place. We should all regard the peace agreement as seeds, and we should all make it our responsibility to make sure that we plant that seed so that we have perfect and durable peace in our country," Kabbah said. He left the task of explaining the peace agreement itself to Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who led the government's delegation at the Lomé peace talks. British International Development Secretary Clare Short also addressed the crowd, estimated at over 300, telling them that peace agreement was Sierra Leone's last and only chance, and stressing that it was up to everyone to make it work.

Brigadier-General Gabriel Kpamber has taken over command of the ECOMOG force, replacing Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, according to an ECOMOG statement issued in Freetown on Wednesday. "General Kpamber is the eleventh force commander of ECOMOG and was former chief-of-staff of ECOMOG," the statement said. Meanwhile, an ECOMOG officer in Monrovia said Wednesday that the force would delay its final departure from Liberia until the cache of arms and ammunition collected from former combatants in the country had been destroyed. ECOMOG was to have begun its final withdrawal on Tuesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report to be released on Thursday, charges that Sierra Leonean refugee children have been neglected by the international community and face abuse in the camps. "The report documents the failure of the (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - UNHCR) to ensure the security of refugee camps and to prevent or respond to domestic violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation against refugee children," HRW said in a press release. While more than 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees live in camps in Guinea adjacent to the Sierra Leone border where many have been killed, abducted and mutilated in cross-border attacks, donor countries have failed to contribute to the $4 million UNHCR appeal made more than a year ago to relocate the camps away from the border, as is required by international law. "Until they can safely go back to Sierra Leone, these refugees must have the full protections they deserve," HRW Refugee Policy Director Rachel Reilly said in a press release. "Tens of thousands of children are living in unacceptable conditions right now in the camps...Not only have these children suffered some of the worst atrocities ever recorded in the world during the war in Sierra Leone, but they remain at risk in the refugee camps in Guinea — where they are supposed to find safety," said Reilly. "The world has taken on the challenge to protect refugees in Europe. African children deserve no less."

Members of the pro-government ethnic militias have begun returning to their homes and farms following the signing of the July 7 peace agreement, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Wednesday. Keith Martin, a Freetown-based advisor on demobilisation issues for the British Department for International Development, said he was "aware that the Civil Defence Force (CDF) were returning spontaneously to their villages."

The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has welcomed the release over the weekend of 41 imprisoned former AFRC members by the Sierra Leone government. In a statement issued on Monday, UNOMSIL also welcomed the freeing by the RUF of ten ECOMOG soldiers on June 30 and 190 abductees on July 16. However, UNOMSIL said it was concerned that of thousands of men, women and children abducted by the RUF, only a limited number had been freed despite numerous efforts by UNOMSIL to secure their release.

27 July: Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman has ordered the pro-government ethnic militias to disband following the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the RUF earlier this month, Reuters reported on Tuesday. In a statement read over state radio, Norman (pictured left), who is also the head of the Kamajor militia and the Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces, urged the militiamen to prepare for disarmament and to return to their homes to help develop the country. "All child combatants operating with any civil defence force should now be prepared to go back to their various homes and also be ready to go back to school," Norman said. "Fighters should also be ready to go back to their respective towns and villages in the provinces, to their farms and work towards development." Freetown's Progress newspaper quoted Norman as telling Bo residents that continued recruitment of fighters would be inconsistent with the peace accord. "More militia means we want to the war to continue," the newspaper quoted Norman as saying.

Hundreds of displaced teachers from northern and eastern Sierra Leone demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Education offices on Tuesday, a day after the ministry defaulted on a promise to pay the teachers' salary arrears. The teachers, some of whom are living in displaced camps, erected barricades, preventing ministry workers from carrying out their duties and disrupting traffic, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported. "Even though the police were there to handle the situation, it took quite some persuasion before the roadblocks were removed," Fofanah said, adding: "Some of the teachers whom I spoke to said they had gone without salaries for several months." A teacher at the R.C. school in Lunsar said the government owed teachers there eleven months back pay, while Mahmud Jalloh of Ansarul Islamic Secondary School in Koidu said he was owed five months arrears. The Education Ministry has blamed the problem on the recently uncovered theft of money set aside for teachers' salaries by ministry and police officials. "According to the protesting teachers, the authorities have displayed what they referred to as carelessness and insensitivity towards their plight," Fofanah said. "‘We have lost all what we had, and our families are languishing at unsanitary camps and behind rebel lines. This is too unbearable for us,’ a spokesperson of the group told me."

The Kamajor militia in Kenema District has accused rebel forces of attacking the towns of Juma and Madina in Gorama-Mende Chiefdom, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said on Tuesday. Brima quoted an eyewitness who claimed the rebels had burned the two towns in a simultaneous attack, killing eleven persons and abducting forty others including women and children. Four wounded Kamajors at Kenema Government Hospital said the militia had only a small presence in the area, with some 25 militiamen guarding the two towns. "(The rebels) have already taken over the two towns," Brima told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "They have already taken over Juma and Medina towns in the Gorama-Mende Chiefdom. And there is now apprehension about civilians living in neighbouring villages in that area that may also be attacked at any time." Brima said residents were attributing the rebel attack to the discovery of diamonds in the chiefdom. "The situation in the area is getting more tense," he concluded.

Canada will be represented at Wednesday's meeting of the Contact Group on Sierra Leone by M.P. David Pratt, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced in a press release on Tuesday. Pratt (pictured right) is Canada's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, and represents the Ontario constituency of Nepean-Carleton in Parliament. "Canada is encouraged by the positive developments in Sierra Leone directed at ending years of conflict which has killed and terrorized thousands of people," Axworthy said.

Britain is prepared to offer up to 20 military observers for an expanded United Nations mission in Sierra Leone, British Defence Minister Doug Henderson said on Tuesday. "This clearly demonstrates our support for U.N. peacekeeping operations," Henderson said in a written response in Parliament. "The U.N. mission has a vital role in upholding peace and democracy in Sierra Leone and we should play our part in that process." He added that Britain had provided an eight-member training team to advise on basic training for recruits to the new Sierra Leone army.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook (pictured left) and French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine (right) agreed Tuesday to push for the implementation of the peace accord in Sierra Leone. "Their agenda was based on a common vision of promoting positive change and respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Africa," according to a statement issued after the two met at Cook's official in Chevening, south of London. "They would continue to work together closely on Africa, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora and with the African countries themselves." Cook and Védrine agreed to build on their initiative, launched in Abidjan in March, to cooperate instead of competing in Africa. The agreed to share political analysis and to exchange diplomats working on Africa in their two capitals. The two were still discussing the viability of sharing embassy buildings in some African nations, the statement said.

Makeni residents are in desperate need of food and medicine, the Bishop of Makeni, George Biguzzi, told reporters on Tuesday. "Definitely humanitarian help for food supplies are desperately needed to end the calamity" in Makeni, Biguzzi said after visiting the town. "Women in the markets sang 'we want food, we want medicines.' So I think it is very imperative on the part of all the authorities, the NGOs, the churches, the mosques, everybody, to make a concerted effort to get food to these starving people." Food stocks in the city have been exhausted, and Makeni residents have reportedly been forced to survive by eating lizards, bush rats, mangoes, and leaves. Biguzzi said the roads needed to be repaired to enable food and medicine to be transported to the area. 

26 July: Rebel fighters killed two persons and abducted several others Friday evening when they attacked the town of Yumkalia, Samu Chiefdom in Kambia District while foraging for food, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Monday. "(A police officer) said that RUF/AFRC rebels who were on a food-finding mission attacked and opened fire into the air indiscriminately, forcing the inhabitants to flee for their lives," Rogers said. "But some of the people refused to run. They instead reminded their attackers of the cease-fire and the Lomé Peace Accord. One of the rebels is quoted as saying that this cease-fire does not mean that they should stop attacking towns and villages for food to eat. They reportedly broke into almost all the houses in the village and then looted whatever they could find in the name of food...The two civilians killed, I was told, were those who refused to obey the rebels' command. A trader who came from the area yesterday confirmed the attack and reported that dozens of civilians have fled the village for safe havens. The rebels have meanwhile threatened to revisit the village in order for them to collect their remaining loot."

President Kabbah, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare were on hand in Monrovia Monday to participate in Liberian Independence Day ceremonies, and to observe as the Liberians began the process of destroying tens of thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition collected from armed militias at the end of the country's civil war. "We want to close this period of national tragedy," said Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured right) at the former Barclay Training Center barracks, where the burning of weapons took place. "Liberia does not want to be bothered with conflict in the sub-region... This is the day we can bid farewell to eternal conflict and vigorously pursue peace." Defence Minister Daniel Chea said the destruction of the weapons was expected to be concluded by the end of July. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, however, told the BBC that the weapons destruction programme was "a mess" and was several weeks behind schedule. He warned that with the scheduled pullout within days of the remaining ECOMOG troops in Liberia, the unarmed U.N. monitors would be incapable of protecting the weapons not yet destroyed from seizure by armed groups.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata urged the United Nations Security Council on Monday to be balanced in its peace efforts, and stressed the need to reinforce peace agreements in Africa, where there are some six million displaced persons and refugees - one third of the world's total. Ogata noted "a perception of disparity in the assistance given, for example, to displaced persons from Kosovo, as opposed to that given to African refugees," and said the international community "should do all that is in our power to back efforts to resolve conflicts, in Africa and in other parts of the world." Ogata assured the Council that the UNHCR "will continue to fulfill its own responsibilities towards all those compelled to flee their homes — and especially those who do so away from the limelight of international attention." She said the UNHCR spends 40 percent of its resources in Africa. Ogata appealed to African governments to renew their commitment to resolve the refugee problem on the continent through negotiations instead of force. "This is a fundamental precondition for international support," she said. She acknowledged that Kosovo had been "the focus of unprecedented political attention and material support," especially by Western countries. "Undoubtedly, proximity, strategic interest and extraordinary media focus have played a key role in determining the quality and level of response," Ogata said. "Undeniably, this has not been true — and continues not to be true — in other situations, including some of those that I have spoken of today."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in its Emergency Update issued on Monday and current through July 23, said it will spend $106.6 million to feed some 1.8 million West African refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) for the period from July 1999 to June 2000. The operation targets refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia and the host countries Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ghana. The total food requirement is 173,000 tons, the WFP said, which will be used to feed refugees until they are able to return home. IDPs in Sierra Leone will also receive food assistance under the programme. Meanwhile, the WFP announced on Monday it is increasing its food stocks in Sierra Leone to help care for thousands of child soldiers and war victims expected to be released shortly as required under the peace accord signed in Lomé, Togo on July 7. The WFP is already supplying food to a centre near Freetown which currently houses 140 children, and is planning to begin deliveries to a second centre as soon as children in captivity are freed. "Assisting children directly affected by the war has now become our top priority in Sierra Leone," said WFP Regional Director for Coastal West Africa in a press release. "These children have gone through extreme mental and physical hardship and they will need a lot of care to recover from the brutality the endured," he said. "Most of them got very little to eat during their captivity and they will require full nutritional and psychological support."

25 July: 21 more supporters of Sierra Leone's AFRC military junta were released from Pademba Road Prison on Sunday, bringing to 41 the number of prisoners released by the Sierra Leone government since Friday. Among those released so far are AFRC Attorney-General Ajibola Manley-Spaine, former AFRC spokesman and Under-Secretary of State for Information Allieu B. Kamara, veteran politician Nancy Steele, and the AFRC's Secretary of State for Employment and Industrial Relations, Abdul Salaam Williams. "We feel elated," Williams said. "We do not hold anything against anybody ... Let us move forward as we are all Sierra Leoneans." 

24 July: BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported on Saturday that 19 persons convicted last year of collaborating with the AFRC military junta had been freed. "The releases of the 19 political prisoners were announced on the pro-government FM 98.1 radio last night," Fofanah said. "Among the prominent names are former attorney-general in the NPRC, Claude Campbell, ex-President Joseph Momoh, and John Ajina Sesay, a local soccer star. Also granted absolute and free pardon by President Kabbah are former politicians, journalists, and ex-government ministers." On Friday, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai announced that President Kabbah had pardoned 98 persons accused of having ties with the AFRC. "Yesterday, there was jubilation around the maximum security prison at Pademba Road here in Freetown as the freed convicts were let out of the main gate to the warm embrace of their friends and relatives," Fofanah added.

23 July: The Sierra Leone government has pardoned 98 persons convicted last year of collaborating with the former AFRC military junta, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said on Friday. 36 of those released had been sentenced to death. "The president today pardoned the 98 in the spirit of national reconciliation and peace ... and also as a sign to show that the government will follow the Lomé peace agreement to the letter," Kaikai said. Among those pardoned were reported to be former AFRC Attorney-General Ajibola Manley-Spaine and former President Joseph Saidu Momoh, who was convicted on two counts of conspiracy in November and sentenced to two concurrent five-year prison terms . Momoh was among those freed from Pademba Road Prison during January's rebel attack on Freetown, and he is currently said to be up-country with the RUF. Those pardoned on Friday included junta officials, journalists, businessmen, religious leaders, and civil servants.

An assessment mission begun by aid agencies on Thursday has found Makeni residents in desperate need of food and medicine, according to Robert Painter, the head of the United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Coordinating Unit. "There is no food and medicine in Makeni. The humanitarian situation there is desperate. Large numbers of the adults and children I saw in the town were very lean, almost skeletons," Painter said on Friday. He added that some food and medicine was taken to Makeni on Thursday, and that more food trucks should reach the city in seven days time. Painter said RUF officials had been cooperative and had guarantees the security of aid workers. "They have assured us that in order to facilitate speedy delivery and distribution of the food and medicine, they are handing over buildings they seized from the aid agencies, which included warehouses and offices, and also equipment and vehicles," Painter said. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch researcher in Freetown, Corinne Dufka, suggested that an internal power struggle might have been behind the rebels' delay in granting access by humanitarian organisations to areas under their control — an allegation denied by the RUF. "It could have been some kind of power struggle between the commander in the east of the country, Mosquito (Sam Bockarie), and the commander in the west of the country and in the north of the country, which was Denis Mingo who was in the areas around Makeni," she told the BBC's Network African programme on Friday. "There seemed to be some kind of power struggle that could have played into the difficulties, where Mosquito wanted aid to be delivered first over in the eastern part." RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley denied there was dissention between rebel commanders, saying the allegations "impeded the peace process that the RUF is trying to encourage." Dufka said the effect of the peace accord on the way aid agencies operate in Sierra Leone still remained to be seen. "Like I said with this mission on Thursday into Makeni which is one of the priority areas — in fact the priority area for humanitarian organisations because of the concentration of population there and because of the need as expressed by civilians coming out of Makeni. So I think that that is what people are waiting to see: whether the rebels will honour this agreement and will allow for first assessments to be done and then aid to be delivered to the people living within those areas." In a BBC interview, Golley said it was "not, strictly-speaking, correct" that humanitarian groups had found it difficult to get into RUF-controlled areas. "What I am saying is that there have been humanitarian agencies going around different parts of the country, certainly in our areas, humanitarian agencies such as MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres] and others," he said. He attributed problems of access being experienced by aid agencies to "coordination administrative difficulties, coordination between the former warring factions, and coordination with UNOMSIL," but added: "I believe that these problems are being ironed out at this particular time. I do know that the leader of our movement, Corporal Sankoh, has been consistently talking to his military commanders reminding them of their obligations under the terms of the agreement, in terms of opening up all areas under their control to humanitarian agencies as part of the Lomé peace agreement." Golley said communications between RUF leaders in Lomé, Togo and field commanders in Sierra Leone were very good. "We are speaking on the radio to the military commanders consistently on a daily basis and we are saying that any attempt by Human Rights Watch or any organisation to imply that there are problems with accessibility because of differences between military commanders is rather mischief-making," he said. "These (reports of disputes between RUF commanders) are allegations. You would expect allegations like this to arise from time to time particularly during the course of the war. Like in any movement, if there are difficulties within our ranks we curb them and we deal with them accordingly. In this particular instance, there is certainly no problem between military commanders. Everybody is working under a unified control structure."

22 July: Britain will send a senior police officer to Sierra Leone to be the country's news Inspector-General of Police, and to provide training for the local police force, British International Development Secretary Clare Short announced Wednesday at the end of her three-day visit to Freetown. Earlier, Short met with ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperuo, who told reporters Short had promised British assistance in rebuilding the Sierra Leone Army. Mujakperuo said such aid would be crucial "in order to smoothly relieve ECOMOG when the time comes for the force to fully withdraw.''

Opposition parties "with roots and support in the north" say they expect RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to arrive in Freetown next week, Reuters reported on Thursday. The news service said party "militants" had begun making preparations to welcome him. "We will be issuing a public statement requesting no opposition to those who want to welcome (Sankoh) as long as they act according to the laws of Sierra Leone and secure police clearance,'' one senior government was quoted as saying. Sankoh had been expected to reach Freetown this week, but explained security measures were not yet in place for his arrival.

21 July: Nigeria will begin a phased withdrawal of its troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone beginning on August 26, Nigerian Information Minister Dapo Sarumi said on Wednesday. "We expect our troops back home as from 26th of August, Sarumi told reporters in Abuja. He said the decision on the timing of the troop withdrawal had been taken at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday which was presided over by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has appointed Major-General Gabriel Kpamber to replace Major-General Felix Mujakperuo as head of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. Kpamber previously commanded the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG troops until he was recalled to army headquarters last March in the same shake-up in which Mujakperuo replaced Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. The change in ECOMOG commanders was one of 191 new appointments made in Nigeria's army, navy and air force, following forced retirements last month which left many vacancies at the top of the armed forces. Obasanjo has said the purges were aimed at ensuring the subordination of the military to civilian rule.

Sierra Leone's Parliament has ratified a bill allowing the RUF to transform itself into a political party, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Wednesday. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said the purpose of the bill, entitled "The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) participation into Political and Democratic Process," was to enable the to government to assume its obligations under the recently-signed Lome peace agreement to transform the RUF into a political movement so as to allow its members to hold political office. The bill also provides for a special voter registration drive, whereby RUF and AFRC members could be registered at a place to be specified by the Electoral Commission, which would allow former rebel leaders to hold political office.

Two high-ranking RUF officials, Denis "Superman" Mingo and Eldred Collins, have met in Freetown with officials of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to discuss ways to speed up the disarmament of an estimated 30,000 combatants in Sierra Leone, a security official said on Wednesday. Former AFRC leader Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma was also reported to be planning to travel to Freetown from Makeni. "He is putting finishing touches to his plans and he has promised to lay down his arms before entering the capital," a businessman close to Koroma told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Britain's International Development Secretary, Clare Short, promised Sierra Leoneans the U.K.'s "absolute commitment" to help ensure a long-lasting peace. "None of us has succeeded unless this peace process succeeds. Success will be its own reward," Short said after meeting with President Kabbah in Freetown. In a speech to civil society leaders on Tuesday, Short said Sierra Leoneans should put the past behind them. "The conflict has to end," she said. "Your country has suffered too much and it is clear you have to move on. I came to symbolise Britain's absolute commitment to work behind you to consolidate peace to ensure that another generation of children in Sierra Leone does not suffer this violence. This next period is going to be the most difficult. We want to help implement change and get the peace process going in this country...Conflict often grows out of poverty and it traps the country in endless, deepening poverty. We want to work with you to enable you to be self sufficient. Don't ask for aid, ask us to invest in your ideas so that in twenty years you will have basic health facilities, basic education and good roads and then you will no longer need any help from us. You must lead the future of your country and we will be behind you."  According to a press release issued by Britain's Department for International Development, Short toured Connaught Hospital, the Murraytown amputees camp, Masiaka, the Mohal Community Project, and the Sierra Leone International Mission School, which is operating from a temporary facility after the school building was destroyed during January's rebel invasion of Freetown.

Efforts to implement a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former combatants has taken on an added urgency as former rebel fighters continue to arrive in Freetown, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Wednesday. "We must not lose momentum," said United Nations Military Observer Observer Force (UNOMSIL) spokesman Major Jim Gray on Tuesday. Gray said the demobilisation centre at the old army barracks near Lungi International Airport would be functional by Friday. Arrivals at the Lungi demobilisation center, which has a capacity of 3,000 people, will remain there for from three to six months. At present, new arrivals are being screened at various locations in Freetown and housed at the burned-out Mammy Yoko Hotel before being transferred to Lungi. The next demobilisation camp will probably be opened at Masiaka, Gray said. UNOMSIL and government officials are also inspecting sites at Bo, Kenema and Makeni which would be used to demobilise and disarm the Kamajor militia. Last week, the United Nations launched an appeal for an initial amount of $35 million to fund the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme. Thus far, donor response has fallen short of the amount required. "We currently have enough money to create and run demobilisation camps for at least three months, " said Britain's Department of International Development Freetown representative, Keith Martin. The British government will host a donors conference for Sierra Leone in London on July 28.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch called on the RUF on Wednesday to allow access by humanitarian organisations to the approximately 2.6 million civilians living in areas under its control, and who are believed to be facing food shortages and a deteriorating health situation. Under the terms of the peace accord signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on July 7, both sides agreed to grant unrestricted access by aid groups to areas under their control, and to provide for the security of humanitarian workers.

20 July: President Kabbah has sacked the chairman of the National Policy Advisory Council, Peter Tucker, after Tucker urged parliamentarians to reject ratification of RUF nominees to cabinet positions. Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer explained Tuesday that Tucker had been dismissed "because of the contrary opinion he has taken on the Togo peace accord.'' Under the terms of the peace agreement signed in Lomé, Togo on July 7, the RUF is to receive four ministerial posts and four deputy-ministerial positions. The nominees must then be submitted to Parliament for approval. "While you are at liberty to hold any personal views on any particular national issue, I regard your present stance on the peace process in Sierra Leone as unpatriotic, not in the national interest and as incompatible with your position as Chairman of the National Policy Advisory Committee of my government," Kabbah wrote to Tucker in a July 11 letter which was quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Tucker was one of the framers of Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution and is the uncle of Kabbah's late wife, Patricia Kabbah. He fled Sierra Leone during January's rebel invasion of Freetown, and currently resides in London.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reopened its office in Kenema over the weekend, and has begun distribution of plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, blankets and seeds to some 10,000 displaced persons in the area. "The thrust of the operations in Sierra Leone is the provision of non-food items, drugs, and the resumption of its tracing programme," for missing persons, said Claudio Baranzani, who heads the ICRC delegation. The ICRC has also donated drugs and surgical supplies to the Kenema Government Hospital for the treatment of war-wounded persons and amputees. The ICRC is also planning to open an orthopaedic centre to provide artificial limbs and prostheses for amputees mutilated by rebels during Sierra Leone's civil conflict. Barazani described the situation in northern Sierra Leone as "very desperate," and said the ICRC, along with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other aid agencies "have already worked out modalities awaiting security clearance for the flow of food aid into the region."  He added that the ICRC "hopes that all parties would use the opportunity to allow the people to enjoy a decent standard of living without fear and war."

Sierra Leone's Charge d'Affairs to the United Nations, Foday Dabor, said Monday that the success of the Lomé Peace Accord depends on expeditious and generous international support. He added that failure by the international community to provide financial assistance could create problems which might lead to the accord's collapse. "We cannot delay in the implementation, because to delay will be dangerous," Dabor said. He expressed the belief that the $35 million the U.N. was seeking to implement the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for rebel fighters was too little. "We are thinking of about $100 million, considering that the rebels have to be disarmed, encamped and fed and then have to go through a programme that would reintegrate them into normal life," he said. Dabor also expressed concern at reports of rebel soldiers returning to Freetown before being disarmed, which he called a violation of the peace accord which calls for former rebels to be disarmed and encamped. "We have no problem with anybody returning to the city, but we are worried that they are not disarmed," he said.

Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, Claire Short, arrived in Freetown on Monday for a three-day visit ahead of next week's international donors conference on Sierra Leone, according to Britain's Department for International Development and the British High Commission in Freetown. Short is expected to hold discussions on how Britain and Sierra Leone can work together to build on the Lomé Peace Accord in meetings with Sierra Leone government leaders, officials of ECOMOG and the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), and civil society groups, and will also tour a number of humanitarian projects. According to state radio, President Kabbah is expected to address the conference, which is to be convened in London on Monday. Meanwhile, United Nations agencies are due to meet in Geneva on Friday to gauge the nature and scope of financial and humanitarian assistance needed for Sierra Leone. An earlier "Consolidated Interagency Appeal" by the U.N. agencies prior to the January rebel invasion of Freetown estimated Sierra Leone would need $27.9 million in humanitarian assistance. Only 26 percent of that amount had been received by June. The $27.9 million figure did not take into account money needed to demobilise and disarm an estimated 30,000 rebel and pro-government combatants, the U.N. has said.

19 July: Sierra Leone will begin disarming rebel forces and pro-government ethnic militias on August 18 under terms of the Lomé Peace Accord, Justice Minister and Solomon BerewaAttorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Monday. The announcement came as Freetown residents expressed concern at the arrival of hundreds of rebel soldiers in the capital, many of them looking to rejoin their families after the signing of the peace accord. State radio has called on the returning rebels to report to five assembly points in Freetown and Lungi, and said they could turn over their weapons and ammunition to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) or to ECOMOG.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has accused the Kamajor militia of "simultaneously" attacking rebel-controlled positions at Masingbi and "Gold Town" Kamajor militiamanon Sunday in breach of cease-fire provisions of the peace agreement, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. Kamajor officials have denied the accusation. Sankoh said he learned of the attack from his commander in the area, and said the RUF had ordered reinforcements into the area. "We are not going on the offensive, we are just protecting ourselves," he said. Sankoh also alleged the Kamajors had launched an attack near "Makoni" on Thursday. "I am writing a report that I will dispatch to facilitators, to the government, to the so-called ECOMOG peacekeeping force, and to U.N. military observers," the rebel leader said. "That never happened. I don't see any reason why we should launch an attack. We are respecting the peace agreement," a senior Kamajor official said. "What we are doing in our own location is to be vigilant and maintain security for all the people." He said the Kamajors maintained a small presence in the area where Sankoh alleged the attacks took place. Sankoh said he originally had planned to return to Freetown at the end of this week, but that security Foday Sankohguarantees were not yet in place for his arrival. "I'm willing to go right now, but I need proper security. Anything can happen when people like the Kamajors are not disarmed," he said. Sankoh told the AFP he would first travel to rural Sierra Leone to meet his followers before returning to Freetown. "I have to go to meet my people. They want to see me and I have to satisfy them," he said. Sankoh said the RUF had chosen its nominees to four cabinet posts and four deputy-minister positions granted the rebel group under the Lomé peace agreement, but said he had handed over the list because the government had not yet informed the rebels what ministries they would be given. "My men have been selected but we should know the ministries they are going to occupy," he said.

Sierra Leone's Progress newspaper has identified six of the officials arrested in connection with the theft of money from the Ministry of Education earmarked for provincial teachers' salaries. The newspaper said a total of Le 1.5 billion, or approximately one million dollars, was stolen. Arrested were Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Soloku Bockarie, security official Mr. Monrovia, and accountant A.B. Kamara, along with Kai Rogers, Jonathan Toma and Mr. Sowa, the Progress said.

The United Nations has appealed to the donor community for an initial amount of about $35 million to finance a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme for former rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone, the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said in a press briefing on Monday. He said that in the meantime, former soldiers arriving in Freetown had been registered by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL).

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in collaboration with other humanitarian groups, has completed the registration of vulnerable groups in Port Loko and the surrounding villages, the WFP said in an emergency report issued on Monday. On July 15, the WFP began distribution of food to members of the identified vulnerable groups, mainly pregnant women, nursing mothers, children under five, the disabled and the elderly. The WFP continues to move relief supplies by helicopter from Conakry and Freetown to areas of Sierra Leone not accessible by road. In June, the WFP transported some 40 tons of humanitarian goods, including food, fuel and medical supplies, the report said.

18 July: The Sierra Leone government on Saturday freed eight military officers who had been court-martialed and sentenced to death last year for their involvement in the May 1997 military coup. President Kabbah commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment last October, while allowing the executions of 24 others to be carried out. Reuters identified one of those released Saturday as Colonel Alpha Saba Kamara, the AFRC's Secretary of State for Works. The rest were not named in press accounts, but are believed to be among the ten soldiers whose sentences were commuted on October 19. They were Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Bockarie Mansaray, Colonel Alpha Saba Kamara, Colonel P.C. Nelson-Williams, Lieutenant Commander Francis Momoh Duwai, Major Tamba Anthony Abu, Flying Officer Arnold H. Amadu, Captain R. Beresford Harleston, WO II Jonathan Dero-Showers, Lieutenant Commander L.D. Howard, and Lieutenant Colonel Bashiru S. Conteh. [Freetown's Progress newspaper subsequently confirmed the release of Nelson-Williams, Harleston and Kamara].

State radio has appealed to combatants to register for the disarmament programme and to report to centres operated by ECOMOG and the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), as called for in the peace agreement signed in Lomé on July 7. Authorities said five "receiving centres" had been set up to receive rebel fighters. Three of the centres are located in Freetown, with the remaining two operating in Lungi. "You will be registered, which will make it possible for your inclusion for the benefits from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme," the radio said, adding that there was "no need for fighters to be roaming around." Former combatants will reportedly receive psychological counseling and civic education courses.

Three aircraft owned by the Gambian-based airline Air Dabia have been grounded, sources at the Gambian Civil Aviation Authority told Reuters on Sunday. Air Dabia reportedly owes the Authority some $5 million in unpaid landing charges. The sources also confirmed that the Sierra Leone government had ordered Air Dabia to cease landing at Lungi International Airport. According to press reports in Freetown, President Kabbah banned the airline after it failed to arrive as scheduled to fly him to the peace talks in Lomé, Togo on July 6. Air Dabia claimed bad weather had prevented it from leaving Conakry, Guinea on time.

17 July: Rebel forces on Friday evening turned over 187 abducted civilians to officials of the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL) at Magbeni village, near Okra Hill, about 47 miles from Freetown. [Note: Various news accounts give slightly different numbers.] The freed abductees sang the traditional hymn "Have Faith in God" as they arrived in Freetown aboard United Nations trucks. They were subsequently screened at ECOMOG headquarters before being turned over to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representatives. 111 of those freed were children ranging in age from one month to 18 years, and these will be sent to the Lakka Rehabilitation Clinic in the west end of Freetown for trauma counseling and medical treatment, and eventually reunified with their families. 68 of those freed, including some of the girls, were nursing mothers, while the remaining 8 adults were said to be teachers or artisans. 106 of the civilians freed on Friday had been abducted during the rebel invasion of Freetown in January, while the rest had been kidnapped from other places in Sierra Leone, a UNOMSIL official said. 

As of July 7, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had documented 3,932 missing children in Sierra Leone, with 55 percent reported abducted, although UNICEF believes the actual percentage is much higher. 776 children have been returned to their families, with a total of 3,156 remaining missing. Prior to January 1999 the figures for separated children, in accessible areas  of the country, were 2,687 separated children looking for their parents, and 3,123 children still missing. Child protection agencies in Sierra Leone are continuing to register separated and missing children. The statistics do not include child combatants with AFRC/RUF rebel forces. It is estimated there are still some 10,000 children separated from their families as a result of the Sierra Leone conflict. The figure includes children in refugee camps in Guinea and Liberia whose parents are still in Sierra Leone, but cannot be traced because they live in areas which are insecure or still under rebel control. 

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer acknowledged Saturday that the government was concerned at reports that hundreds of unarmed rebels were returning to Freetown and dispersing around the city. "Indeed it is raising some concerns, and it has been decided that these fighters should be informed about where they should go," Spencer told the BBC's Network Africa programme. He said it had been decided that the returning rebels would be told where they should go to be properly screened. "Many of these fighters are not in direct communication with the leadership of the RUF," Spencer said. "And it appears to us from what we can gather that everybody has been so anxious for a peace agreement to be signed and for some semblance of peace to take place that as soon as they heard that well now there is a peace agreement, they’ve been anxious to get out of the bush and get back to a normal life." Spencer said he didn't believe the returning rebels posed a threat. "Indeed at some point in time, I think after the Abidjan peace accord, the rebels surrendered, turned themselves in, but there was no preparation made for receiving them," he said. "This time government, in collaboration with ECOMOG and UNOMSIL, is working very hard to ensure that there are reception centers in place and that they’re received and screened, and there is already at least one disarmament and demobilisation center which had been operational before the January 6 event, and that is being reactivated and other centers are going to be established all over the country so that there’s a place for them to go. There’ll be shelter, some arrangements will be made for feeding them." Spencer said that the government still lacked funds for the demobilisation programme. "The government doesn’t have any money," he said. "The government is relying on the international community. The World Bank is assisting with the programme. We’re relying on the United Nations to come up with some funds for the peacekeeping effort. We’re still waiting, and we’re hoping that they can move very quickly."

Money set aside to pay the salaries of teachers in the north, south and east of Sierra Leone, estimated at one billion leones, has reportedly been misappropriated by senior Education Ministry officials in collusion with some police officers, according to a press release issued by the Office of the President on Friday. Nine people, including a permanent secretary, a principal accountant, and several police officers, have been detained. The alleged corruption involves money withdrawn from the Central Bank in January to pay teachers three months of salary arrears going back to October. The money was originally believed to have been stolen from a safe in the Education Ministry during the rebel invasion of the capital in January. An investigation revealed that the money had instead been stolen by civil servants and police officials. The press release, which was broadcast on state radio, said the government would not rest until all of those involved in "this massive fraud" had been brought to justice. "The government is determined to eradicate corruption once and for all in the West African state," the statement said. "Government will not rest until this massive fraud of teachers' salaries are brought to book." The government said it was considering putting into place new measures aimed at stopping "this unacceptable practice," adding that the peace agreement could not be sustained unless financial malpractices were eliminated once and for all. [Note: Both a BBC Network Africa report on Friday and and a subsequent article by the Agence France-Presse on Saturday put the missing funds at $100 million. With a current exchange rate in Freetown of approximately Le 2,000 to $1.00, the amount would be closer to $500,000.]

16 July: Sierra Leone's parliament voted unanimously on Friday to ratify the peace Solomon Berewaaccord reached between the government and RUF rebels in Lomé, Togo last week, according to state radio. In introducing the bill, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who headed the government's negotiating team in Lomé, stressed the "government's commitment to the speedy implementation of the peace agreement," and said a special committee of cabinet ministers had been set up to oversee the process. Berewa (pictured right) also said the ECOWAS Committee of Seven foreign ministers on Sierra Leone was due to arrive in Freetown in August to oversee the implementation process. "I want to assure legislators that government will make it a point of duty to make the legal system accessible to all," Berewa said. He told legislators that reconciliation was the only guarantee of peace in Sierra Leone after more than eight years of civil conflict. "We have achieved peace but what is most needed is reconciliation, and the only way to achieve that is through forgiveness," he told parliament. During Thursday's parliamentary session, Berewa said he would present a bill early next week to enable the RUF to transform itself into a political party. Under terms of the peace accord, the RUF is supposed to register as a political party and join the government within fifteen days after signing the agreement.

Hundreds of rebel fighters, many of them soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army, have begun entering into Freetown following the signing last week of a peace accord to end Sierra Leone's civil war, but ahead of planned disarmament exercises. "The government did not expect this movement and so was not prepared for it," said National Security Adviser Sheka Mansaray. He said the government was ordering former combatants to report to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) and ECOMOG. They would then be transported to special disarmament camps to be prepared for reintegration into society, he said. "The rebels cannot be allowed to mix with civilians in the residential quarters," Mansaray added. Meanwhile, the United Nations is appealing to the international community to provide $35 million needed to disarm and demobilise combatants in Sierra Leone. U.N. Reintegration Officer Sullay Sesay told journalists Friday that the money was needed to help encamp and disarm an estimated 35,000 armed men roaming the countryside. 

15 July: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh expects to return to Freetown "late next week" after has has had a chance to "organise security and consult intelligence Foday Sankohreports," the rebel leader told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday. "Do you think I can just walk into Freetown?," Sankoh asked. "I have to be assured of my security." Asked whether he would be escorted by ECOMOG troops or by United Nations personnel, Sankoh replied: "God will give me security. That's all I can say." Sankoh, who returned to Lomé, Togo following the OAU summit in Algiers, said he would either head directly to Freetown after touring the region, or he would enter Sierra Leone through Liberia, visiting his followers in the bush along the way. "For security reasons, I will not say which route I will take," he said. Sankoh acknowledged that the RUF had not yet selected its cabinet nominees to take part in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government. According to the timetable for implementing the accord, the new government is expected to be set up within fifteen days of the signing of the agreement. "This can't be rushed. I have to discuss this with my men. I am working on it and communicating with them every day," Sankoh said, adding that he was in constant radio contact with his commanders in the bush. Sankoh declined to say what role former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma or RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, currently second and third in the RUF's hierarchy, might play in the government. "They are being consulted, but it doesn't mean that they will be ministers," Sankoh said, adding that the government had not yet informed him what ministries the RUF would be given. Under the terms of the Conakry Accord, the RUF is to be allocated four ministerial posts, one of them senior, and four deputy ministerial positions.

The poor condition of roads is preventing aid from reaching Makeni, where some 20,000 residents are in danger of starvation, according to the Director of the Catholic Diocesan Caritas, Ibrahim Sesay. Sesay told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) that in the entire diocese over 100,000 persons were threatened by famine. He said there were sufficient food supplies in Freetown to aid the needy population. "The problem is that the damage caused by the fighting in the last months completely blocked the main road that takes from the capital to Makeni, which until now has made it impossible for humanitarian convoys to reach the northern sectors of the country," Sesay said. "Something must be done before it is too late." Meanwhile, a United Nations said Thursday that RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie had prevented a team of humanitarian workers headed for Makeni on Tuesday from reaching the city. The official, quoting United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone Kingsley Amaning, said Bockarie told a U.N. assessment team that rebel commanders in the north had not yet been instructed to allow aid agencies to enter the town.

United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs has defended the Lomé peace agreement against criticism that the accord's blanket amnesty provision for those who have committed war crimes. Rice said the accord was the best hope for peace in Sierra Leone, and added that it did not bar the international community from prosecuting crimes against humanity. "The view of the United States is that the most meaningful way to end the atrocities in Sierra Leone...is to bring about a lasting peace in Sierra Leone," she said in a briefing. "That too is what the people of Sierra Leone themselves most want and that is what their leaders have agreed to. The amnesty provisions...are of a domestic nature. They do not in any way obviate the interest of the international community in seeing that crimes against humanity, wherever they may occur, are dealt with in an appropriate fashion." Rice noted that the accord provided for the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission. "It can provide a forum for dealing with issues of impunity ...and give both victims and perpetrators of atrocities in Sierra Leone the opportunity to establish the truth about what happened and to decide on appropriate steps," she said.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has not received a Human Rights Watchformal invitation to visit rebel-held territory in Sierra Leone, the group's representatives told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. On Tuesday, the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS) wrote that "the RUF has invited the Human Rights Watch to visit their own areas so as to get a full picture of the level of atrocities that were committed by ECOMOG and Kamajors on villages and towns suspected to be sympathetic to the rebels during the past year." "At the end of doing our research on the report that we came out with in January I had a conversation with (RUF spokesman and legal representative) Omrie Golley, at the end of which he said 'Why don't you come and interview the Mendes within RUF territory,'" said HRW researcher Corrine Dufka, who termed it an "informal invitation." Dufka recalled that Golley's statement came at the end of a telephone conversation when she asked for his reaction to her research about the rebel attack on Freetown in January. "He referred to atrocities by Kamajors....He might have mentioned ECOMOG; I don't remember that, because I doubt that they would have access to them," she said. Dufka referred to a Radio France International interview on Monday in which RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh denounced human rights groups opposing the Lomé Accord's amnesty provision for war crimes as "enemies of the RUF," and she expressed concern about the safety of human rights workers in areas under RUF control. HRW Communications Director Carol Bogert added that the rebel group's offer was "hardly a formal invitation engraved and writ in stone."

14 July: United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone Kingsley Amaning said Tuesday night that RUF leaders had agreed to give aid groups free access to people in areas of the country under their control. Amaning described the humanitarian situation in the country as "dire." Aid workers have had access to most of government-held territory, but almost no access to rebel-held areas, mostly in the east and north. RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie told a ten-member delegation of aid agency and NGO representatives in Buedu last week that humanitarian workers would be given "unfettered access" to areas under rebel control. Amaning said he assured Bockarie that aid would be distributed only to civilians.

An army worm infestation is devastating rice and other crops in two chiefdoms in Owlet Mothnorthern Sierra Leone, agricultural officials said on Tuesday. Pest control officer Harold Sesay said the worms had been identified in Loko Masama and Kaffu Bullom chiefdoms in Port Loko District. Sesay said he was "awaiting reaction" from the Ministry of Agriculture after submitting a detailed report on the situation. Bai Kamara, the chairman of the National Farmers Association, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that farmers were "extremely concerned about the worms on their farms, eating up plants especially groundnuts and rice and impeding growth." The army worm — actually the caterpillar stage of the owlet moth (right) — prefers grasses, but will also attack other crops. It gets its name from the way the 1½-long green-and-yellow caterpillars cluster together and march through a field, leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. The only way to battle the army worm is with pesticides, which are expensive and in short supply in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leonean writers were among recipients of this year's Hellman/Hammett grants, given out annually by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to Human Rights Watchwriters around the world who have been targets of political persecution. This year's grants totaled $170,000 and were distributed to 32 journalists: 14 from African countries, five from Iran, and four from Vietnam. Among the recipients was Sierra Leonean journalist Alieu Sheriff, who was arrested and detained for critical reporting on Sierra Leone's civil war. He fled to Gambia, and within a year was arrested and abused by security forces for writing a commentary on the political situation there, HRW said. Sheriff has been in the United States since December 1994, and was granted asylum in August 1995. He graduated from Hunter College in December 1998, where he won awards for his work as a student journalist. He will begin a master's degree program at the Columbia School of Journalism in August 1999. "Writers from Cameroon, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Togo will remain anonymous because of the dangerous circumstances in which they are living," HRW said. the Hellman/Hammett funds also make small emergency grants to writers who have an urgent need to leave their country, or who need medical care as a result of persecution. Sierra Leonean grant recipients this past year were BBC Freetown correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay and journalists Andrew Koromah, Kevin Lewis, and David Tom-Baryoh. Ojukutu-Macaulay previously wrote for Quill, the Democrat, the Sierra Leone Daily Mail, Quick News, and West Africa magazine. Koromah worked at the Chronicle newspaper, and more recently for two radio stations, SKYY and KISS. Lewis most recently worked for Awoko. Previously, he was a stringer for the Voice of America, Radio France International, and Radio Deutsche Welle. Before radio, he wrote for the New Tablet, Quill, and Chronicle. Tom-Baryoh most recently wrote for the Punch. He previously worked for the Democrat, the Concord Times, and the Pool.

13 July: Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday that he had involved himself in the Sierra Leone peace process to help all Sierra Leoneans, and not to Charles Taylorbenefit RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, with whom Taylor has acknowledged having had a personal relationship. "My quest for peace in Sierra Leone is not for Foday Sankoh. My quest for peace in Sierra Leone is for Sierra Leoneans in general," Taylor told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "(Sankoh) has the duty now to prove himself to Sierra Leoneans, the sub-region, Africa, and the world community that he has the capacity to be a leader and to play in this big lake...He must now present himself as a statesman; one with an agenda. He has to spell out that agenda and I think he owes it now to the Sierra Leonean people to prove himself as worthy of their trust. I think that is an obligation and he must fulfill it." Reacting to a suggestion that Sankoh and the RUF had entered the Sierra Leone government "by the back door," Taylor replied: "I'm not sure if you can call this entry that clear. Maybe it is not a door, maybe it is through the window. But what I think will have to happen now is this: We know that there will be elections coming in less than two years. I think that opportunity will afford itself where Foday Sankoh will have to come in. And this is a peace process and I do not think he should rely fully and just sit supinely on the fact the is a part of the government. He must now transform into a political machine." The Liberian leader acknowledged that perceptions his government had been backing the RUF rebels "has done a lot of serious damage to Liberia," but said that now that there was peace he wanted to spend "a lot of time" working with all the parties. "I hope to visit Sierra Leone in the not too distant future to make sure that Sierra Leoneans understand," Taylor said. "I want to use this occasion to call upon all of the young men and women in arms, guerrillas in Sierra Leone, whether you are the RUF or you are the Kamajors. We need for them to understand that the time for war is over. I had that problem where I have had to explain — and most of them understand...It's time to end the war and I want to call upon the RUF combatants to follow their leader. He has made the right choice, he has made the best decision. I want to call upon the Kamajors and all of the other people to follow President Kabbah, he has made the right decision, and to urge Sierra Leoneans not to play politics with this peace: 'Oh you gave too much, you did this...'. Look, we must begin to reunite the region and I think this is the way to go."

President Kabbah said Tuesday he was optimistic about the peace accord signed last Wednesday between the government and the RUF. "We are on the right course," he said at the OAU summit in Algiers. Kabbah added that "the rebels are tired" after more than eight years of fighting. He said it was now time for reconciliation. "(The people of Sierra Leone) are tired. they are clamouring for peace," he said. "There is a lot of goodwill out there in the international community, and we have put several things in place for rebuilding."

United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged Tuesday that Madeleine Albrightthe United States had done more to end wars in Europe than in Africa, and said she was not surprised that people had had drawn comparisons between U.S. policy in Kosovo and in some African nations. "It is true that we have been able to do far more to end conflicts in Europe than in Africa," Albright told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), America's largest African-American organisation. "In Europe, the United States has allies to share the risks and costs of responding to crises...In Africa, such resources are scarce. But that is no excuse for disengaging or giving up. Instead, it is a challenge, as President Clinton has suggested, to use the lessons of Kosovo to help us do better in Africa." She said the U.S. and its allies must find the resources to support implementation of peacekeeping, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts after the signing of peace agreements in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Albright said weapons dealing in Africa was severely damaging to Africans and increased conflict and crime. Citing a U.S. State Department report released on Tuesday, she told NAACP delegates that "the social cost of arms sales is high. Countries that are among the world's poorest spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying tanks, jet fighters and small arms" and pay for them by smuggling diamonds, mortgaging crops, and stealing relief supplies.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Kris Janowski has given further details of a meeting between representatives of humanitarian agencies and NGOs and RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie in Buedu last week. The agencies were seeking access to areas under rebel control in order to carry out assessment missions and provide relief supplies to those in need. "Well (Bockarie) basically said that the international aid agencies would be given access and also would be given safety assurances from him," Janowski told the BBC Network Africa programme on Tuesday. "Nonetheless he was quite wary for example of Sierra Leoneans coming from government-controlled territory to work on their side, so he basically said that at this time this would not be possible. So he is still very nervous about having local people from the other side coming over." Bockarie also complained about what he perceived as a biased approach by aid agencies favouring government-controlled areas over rebel-held areas, but was assured by members of the delegation that they would be impartial and help civilians "on both sides of the line." Janowski said the agencies would try to deliver the humanitarian aid directly to civilians, but added: "The modalities of how this aid will be distributed, whether it will fall into the hands of those who really need it and so on and so forth need to be worked out." Responding to a question as to whether Bockarie appeared to favour the peace agreement signed between the government and the RUF in Lomé last week, Janowski replied: "He certainly was, as far as humanitarian aid goes. He mentioned the peace deal explicitly. He referred to it and said that the peace deal was why he was opening up to give us humanitarian access to areas under his control." The UNHCR spokesman stressed that it was necessary for humanitarian agencies to cooperate with the rebels. "They have been part of the agreement," he said. "They control a large portion of Sierra Leone’s territory full of very very desperate people. Many of these people probably having absolutely nothing to do with the ideology or whatever past deeds they have committed there. So it is wise for us to try and find some opening, to find people who have been essentially not seen and not heard for a long time and who may be in desperate need."

12 July: Sierra Leone ranks last among 174 countries in human development, according to the 1999 United Nations Human Development Report which was released on Monday. The index took into account factors such as life expectancy, health care, education, and income. Technological advances are also increasing the gap between rich and poor, the report found. According to the United Nations, the world's most developed countries are Canada, Norway, the United States, Japan, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland, Britain, France, Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Italy and Ireland. At the other end of the scale, the least developed nations in human terms are Sierra Leone, Niger, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Mali and the Central African Republic.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said in Algiers on Monday that he would return to Freetown following the completion of the OAU summit and pledged to implement the peace agreement signed in Lomé on Wednesday. "As soon as I am able to join my movement we will do what people expect of us," Sankoh told Radio France International. "Sierra Leone is at peace. The people can rest assured that we are going to implement this peace agreement." While "deploring" human rights violations committed by the RUF, Sankoh denounced rights group who have criticised the accord's provision of a blanket amnesty for war crimes as "enemies of the RUF." Said Sankoh: "We in the RUF have an ideology. Our men knew very well that they should not have committed such atrocities. But a time when we speak of peace, interference only go to cause problems. The people only need peace. The people will forgive one another. When Foday Sankoh was arrested the human rights organizations did nothing. People were killed in Freetown and they did nothing either. It is just because it is the RUF, or because it is called a rebel organisation that they have made such a big deal of it. Those responsible for this manipulation are enemies of the RUF. The international community must give us a chance to settle this problem." United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson and human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among those who have expressed reservations over the amnesty provision. Francis Okelo, who served as a mediator at this talks in his capacity as United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, signed the accord with a notation saying the U.N. did not recognise the amnesty as it applied to gross violations of human rights.

Rebel forces have still not freed more than 2,000 children abducted during January's attack on Freetown, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported on Monday. Under the terms of the cease-fire which took effect on May 24, and which was subsequently codified into the peace agreement signed in Lomé last week, both sides were to have released all prisoners-of-war and non-combatants they were holding. Humanitarian and human rights groups say many of the boys abducted by rebels have been forced to take up arms as child combatants, while girls have frequently been used as sex slaves. In his Network Africa report, Fofanah alleged that some of the rebels were now holding children for ransom. "According to some parents I spoke to, the rebels are doing brisk business by charging parents undisclosed amounts of money to retrieve their abducted children," Fofanah said. "A trader in the central part of town, Mamusu Kamara, said she had to part with Le 30,000, about £10, before the rebels released her only daughter last week."

11 July: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh flew to Algeria on Sunday to attend the OAU Summit which opens in Algiers on Monday. Sankoh and five senior RUF Foday Sankohofficials flew from Lomé with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who hosted the peace talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. Eyadema told reporters on Saturday night he had been informed by President Kabbah that Sankoh had asked to be included in Sierra Leone's official delegation. Eyadema said he told Kabbah this was a good idea, as it would "help consolidate the peace and permit Sankoh to meet African heads of state." Under the terms of the peace accord signed on Wednesday, Sankoh was appointed Chairman of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development and for protocol purposes is accorded the status of a vice president.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has declined to commit to a Kofi Annansuggestion by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that the U.N. pay for the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. "The Secretary-General said he was not sure the Security Council would buy that," a source told Reuters. Annan and Obasanjo held talks in Abuja on Saturday. At present, the U.N. is proposing a back-up force to ECOMOG. "What the Secretary-General spoke about was the need for tight coordination with ECOMOG. If the U.N. had 3,000 troops in Sierra Leone and ECOMOG is about 12,000 then those are two big forces," a source said. Nigeria said it would begin a phased withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force following the signing of the peace accord in Lomé on Wednesday.

RUF rebels are refusing to turn their weapons over the the Nigerian-led ECOMOG force and are insisting that the United Nations disarm them before abiding by the peace accord signed on Wednesday, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). The rebels also want RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to issue an order reassuring them before they will agree to come out of the bush. "We want word from Mr. Sankoh before we move out of here to the city," RUF Major Osiko Kotsan told the AFP. He said there were some 8,000 rebels in the Okra Hill area near the town of Magbontoso. ""We want the U.N. to come and disarm us...We will never give up to Nigeria," Kotsan said. Although the United Nations is contemplating sending 3,000 peacekeeping troops to Sierra Leone, there has been no word yet as to when they might be deployed. At present, the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has only 25 staff members in the country.

ECOMOG force commander Major-General Felix Mujakperou told his troops Saturday Major-General Felix Mujakperou that they "should not relax the state of alert while responding to the recently signed peace pact." Mujakperou said the peace accord signed in Lome, Togo on Wednesday should not be seen as an excuse to cut ECOMOG's maximum security commitments. The peace agreement "signifies the commencement of a very sensitive phase of the force's mission ... to achieve the ultimate intention for peace," he said.

10 July: Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, who was chief mediator Joseph Kokou Koffigohat the peace talks in Lomé, has defended the peace agreement against criticism by the United Nations and human rights groups that it allows those who committed atrocities during the country's eight-year civil war to go unpunished. Koffigoh said it was unrealistic to talks about respecting human rights unless the war was brought to an end. Speaking at the OAU summit in Algiers, Koffigoh pointed out that the accord sets up a South-African style truth and reconciliation commission. Whether the commission's work led to prosecutions was up to Sierra Leoneans, Koffigoh said.

Following the signing of the peace accord on Wednesday, thousands of civilians and rebels have been emerging from the bush in search of food, Reuters reported on Saturday. An ECOMOG commander at Rogberi Junction said Friday there was an urgent need for food and medicine behind rebel lines in the north of the country. "I have very little food and medicine in my base for my troops, and I cannot give it to the thousands of rebels and civilians who are crossing into the ECOMOG-controlled areas," he said. He said the government and humanitarian agencies "should come in immediately to avert trouble.'' A section chief chief at Rogberi, Alimamy Koroma, said more than 3,000 civilians who had been hiding in the bush for almost seven months since a rebel offensive last year had returned Friday on hearing of the peace agreement. "If the government does not step in now to solve the food and medicine situation between rebels and the civilians, there is likely to be trouble between them,'' he said. "We have got many instances when the rebels, because of the starvation facing them, are going into farms and villages and demanding food. This time, they don't kill. No amputation, no raping, they don't set houses on fire. The only rebel demand now is food." At Konta village south of Makeni, rebel captain Macar, formerly of the Sierra Leone Army, said his men supported the peace and were in need of food. He said both civilians and rebels were dying in the area from water-borne diseases and tuberculosis. "We meet with ECOMOG and sometimes they assist us with food and medicine, but it is not enough so we call on the government to come in now, while we are waiting for the disarmament process,'' Macar said. He added that people behind rebel lines wanted to cross over into government-held areas in search of food, but were being prevented by the bad state of the roads and bridges which had been damaged by fighting and by trenches dug by rebels.

President Kabbah has thanked Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for his role in bringing about the peace accord signed in Lomé on Wednesday. In a letter to Obasanjo, released by the Nigerian leader's office on Saturday, Kabbah said he had returned to Freetown to present the peace agreement to end the civil war in Sierra Leone. "I would like to take this opportunity to extend to you my most sincere thanks and gratitude for the vital role you played in bringing about this most cherished outcome," he said. "The people of Sierra Leone will ever remain grateful to you, your government and the people of your great country, Nigeria, for offering valuable support at a critical point of our country's history."

9 July: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has Mary Robinsonwelcomed the peace agreement in Sierra Leone, but is calling for an international conflict to look into atrocities committed during the country's eight-year civil war, her spokesman said on Friday. "The High Commissioner hopes the agreement will bring to an end years of brutal conflict and prove to be a decisive step on the road to healing and reconciliation in Sierra Leone," Jose Diaz told journalists in Geneva. "The High Commissioner feels, however, that it is not possible to have full reconciliation without justice and that peace is not compatible with impunity. She reiterates that while any sovereign state may grant amnesty for violation of its national law, the United Nations will not recognise the amnesty as applying to gross violations of human rights."

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has described as "is Amnesty Internationalunjust and unacceptable" the provision of the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF which grants total amnesty to those who committed atrocities during Sierra Leone's civil war. "There must be a thorough and independent investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious human rights abuses in Sierra Leone and those responsible must be brought to justice," Amnesty International said in a statement issued on Friday. "By failing to tackle impunity for gross human rights abuses, the peace agreement provides no deterrent to continuing human rights abuses or contempt for international human rights and international law." Although the accord provides for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, Amnesty said, it was not clear that this commission would fully meet the rights of victims and their families to truth, justice and reparation. "There can be no true reconciliation — and with it lasting peace — if the truth about the gross human rights abuses which have occurred in Sierra Leone is not established and those responsible held accountable," the Amnesty statement said.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Friday he believed Sierra Leoneans were committed to working for peace in the country. "We are confident that the majority of people are committed to peace and want peace, and if this is the only way we can achieve peace, they are going to go along with it," Spencer told the BBC Network Africa programme. He said it was crucial that the disarmament and demobilisation process got off to a quick start and that implementation of the peace agreement be closely monitored by the international community. Spencer said President Kabbah was appealing to Sierra Leoneans to show restraint and not to carry out reprisals against rebels when they came to Freetown. "I also believe that the people generally have a spirit of forgiveness," he said. "If the rebels show remorse, then we believe that the people of Sierra Leone will be prepared to forgive all that is past. As long as we can see that there is a future ahead and that we all are working toward that." The Information Minister denied that the Sierra Leone government had been forced into signing the peace agreement. "It became clear, at some point, that there was no alternative because the type of support that the government should have gotten some time ago was not available," he said. "If the Sierra Leonean people had received the type of support that Kosovo received then we would, may be, have had some other alternatives, but there was no alternative; and also because the government was convinced that the people were clamoring that we should have peace. Government believes that it was time to end the fighting, all the killing and the maiming because whichever way it went, if fighting continued, the people were going to continue to suffer. So, the government was determined to find a way out of this crisis which would bring peace and lasting peace."

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the peace accord, and has called for the release of thousands of children who were abducted or forced to become soldiers during the Sierra Leone conflict. Some 10,000 young people are missing, including 3,867 separated from their families during the rebel attack on Freetown in January, according to UNICEF. Another 5,000 children are estimated to have served as combatants.

Footballer Brima "Attouga" Kamara, called by many the greatest goalkeeper Sierra Leone had ever produced, died in Egypt on Wednesday after being rushed to a hospital for stomach pain. He was 33 years old. Kamara, who once played for Freetown's Eastern Lions, was playing professional soccer in Egypt at the time of his death.

Refugees at the Sierra Leone Refugee Camp at Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County, Liberia appealed to the wife of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan for increased assistance. Nane Annan toured the camp on Thursday with Addy Captan, the wife of Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan. According to Liberian Star Radio, the refugees asked that the United Nations not allow the problems of Kosovo to overshadow refugee problems in West Africa.

8 July: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a brief visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday, where he told journalists that the U.N. would help the Sierra Kofi AnnanLeonean people to secure a lasting peace following Wednesday's signing of a peace accord to bring the country's eight-year long civil conflict to an end. "I can promise you that the U.N. can work hand in glove with the government to bring peace about, but we all have to pool our efforts. No one can do it alone," Annan said. The Secretary-General said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would soon begin work on plans to return refugees home to Sierra Leone. One of the most important tasks ahead, Annan said, was the disarmament of rebels and pro-government militias. He added that there was "an immediate need for ECOMOG and military observers to move very quickly, for the rebel troops and militia to disarm and to be directed to more productive activities." While visiting Sierra Leone, Annan held separate talks with President Kabbah, the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), and ECOMOG officers. Later Thursday, Annan flew to Monrovia for closed-door talks with President Charles Taylor. "I have come to encourage the peace processes that are taking place, and to encourage the leaders and people of the region to work together to stabilize the region so that we can move on with the process of economic development," Annan told a news conference shortly after his arrival from Freetown. "What I would like to say is for us to avoid these regular conflicts, unnecessary killings and destruction that we see around the world today. "We need to develop a culture of peace, tolerance, to accept and celebrate diversity, and build a society based on rule of law and respect for human rights." 

Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the United Nations had agreed that there was "a great need here to consolidate peace, particularly because the war ended in such an ugly and brutal way." While technical assessments still had to be carried out, Eckhard said, a campaign to raise financial aid to support a peacekeeping force had already begun at the U.N.'s New York headquarters. "Donors have already been approached, the subject has been raised several times at Security Council level. But Mr. Annan's visit here is the beginning of a public appeal," he said. He added that Annan had already "quietly met" with U.N. peacekeeping officials who were now determining which countries could provide logistics sophisticated enough to get the job done. Eckhard said that while a future peacekeeping force would be made up largely of African countries, "it will not be exclusively African." He said there were only "half a dozen countries in the world" which could play the necessary role.

Nigeria will begin a "gradual and phased withdrawal" of Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, in line with the stage-by-stage implementation of the Lomé Accord, a spokesman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said in Abuja on Thursday. "The assignment of the ECOMOG will be centered around reconstruction, disarmament, mobilisation, and integration of the citizenry; training of the Sierra Leonean Armed Forces, and providing security for VIP's in that country," said Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Donyin Okupe. During the Nigerian presidential campaign, Obasanjo promised to withdraw Nigerian troops from Sierra Leone. After the election he pledged that Nigeria would remain in ECOMOG until security was restored to Sierra Leone, but has come under increasing pressure to bring the Nigerian troops home. Meanwhile, President President KabbahKabbah thanked countries that had contributed troops to the ECOMOG force. "Let me on behalf of all of you express thanks to Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Mali, who, at the time of our grief, came to our rescue," Kabbah (pictured left) said in a brief speech to Parliament which was broadcast over state radio. Kabbah acknowledged that implementing the peace agreement would be difficult. "After so much pain and suffering and destruction, what has been achieved from the peace agreement should not be measured in terms of what the government has given away to the rebels," he said. Diplomats in Lomé warned Thursday that unless Western countries, especially Britain and the United States, did more to guarantee the peace the accord could still unravel. "Militarily the rebels are stronger than the government. If you take away ECOMOG, the rebels will take over the next day," one diplomat told Reuters.

A United Nations-led inter-agency humanitarian mission has received RUF assurances of security for humanitarian workers in Sierra Leone, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said on Thursday. Senior members of U.N. agencies and non-governmental organisations met with RUF officials in Buedu, Kailahun District, on Wednesday. RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Steve Williams, coordinator of the RUF's humanitarian wing, also agreed to participate in the planning of humanitarian missions as early as next week. The first missions would go to Makeni, Kambia, Kabala, and Koindu. Vieira de Mello welcomed assurances of safety for relief workers, which he said would allow humanitarian agencies to evaluate and address the needs of some 2.6 million civilians who have remained inaccessible since 1998.

Renegade Sierra Leone Army soldiers are "definitely committed" to the peace accord signed in Lomé on Wednesday, former Brigadier-General Ibrahim Sesay told reporters at Masiaka. "We want the world to know that this peace signed by President Kabbah and rebel leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, we the fighters are definitely committed to it," Sesay said. "Any attempt by any force to destabilise this peace accord will face a serious challenge from rebel soldiers from the Sierra Leone Army. Therefore I appeal to our colleagues, the RUF, to adhere strictly to the call for peace."

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, terming it "a significant achievement for all concerned and a historic turning point for Sierra Leone and its people." In a statement read out by current Council President Ambassador Agam Hasmy of Malaysia, Council members called on both sides to fully implement the agreement signed on Wednesday. In the statement, the Council said the United Nations, which will organise a peace-keeping force, will have a key role in implementing the agreement. During closed-door talks, the Netherlands expressed misgivings over a blanket amnesty for those who had committed gross human rights violations, arguing that war crimes could not simply be dismissed. Hasmy indicated that the issue would likely be taken up "when a more formal statement is made in a couple of days."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the peace accord signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on Wednesday. "I believe that this agreement offers the people of Sierra Leone the prospect of an end to the terrible suffering they have endured over the past eight years of conflict," Blair said. "The people of Sierra Leone now have a chance to rebuild their lives and their country in peace and stability and in a spirit of national reconciliation. Britain will help them in their efforts to sustain and develop their democracy." Blair said Britain expected both parties to implement the agreement in full. "Britain and the rest of the international community will be watching closely, particularly during the crucial disarmament phase," he said. "Successful disarmament and security for all will be critical." Blair added that all those committed to making lasting peace in Sierra Leone a reality "can be assured both of Britain's full backing and of our commitment to encouraging further international support for Sierra Leone." 

OAU Secretary-General Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, his report to the OAU Council of Dr. Salim Ahmed SalimMinisters on Thursday praised Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema and others involved ''in the search for a lasting solution to the unfortunate conflict in Sierra Leone.'' Salim (pictured right) noted humanitarian and human rights problems faced by Sierra Leoneans in areas under rebel control. ''The number of refugees and displaced persons has increased over the last months. Most of those living under the rebel-controlled areas have been denied their rights to sufficient food, shelter and health care,'' Salim said. He expressed grave concern over rebel atrocities in the country, including ''summary executions, mutilations, limb amputations, abductions, sexual abuse as well as the large scale destruction of property.'' Salim urged the two sides ''to persevere and give peace a chance,'' while at the same time calling on the international community to provide financial assistance to support ECOMOG in its peacekeeping role. ''I wish to renew my appeal to the international community to extend concrete support to ECOMOG to enable it sustain its important operation in Sierra Leone in view of the newly-signed peace agreement between the government and the rebels," Salim said.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh told the BBC Thursday that he was not 100 Foday Sankohpercent happy with the Lomé Peace Accord, but added, "There is nothing in politics that can be 100 percent." Sankoh assured the BBC's Network Africa programme, however, that the rebels were committed to peace. "For the past almost one month since we declared a cease-fire, my men have been committed to the cease-fire, observing it without no violation of cease-fire and the civilian population is happy, roads are open," he said. "Nongovernmental organisations are going up and down, nothing happens. We almost keep things under control, whereby...which is leading us to a peaceful settlement in Sierra Leone. So, our people should trust us this time. I am appealing to them, as the leader of the Revolutionary United Front, to bear in mind that we have to forgive one another. Let them know that this time we are really committed to peace." Sankoh rejected as "malicious propaganda" suggestions that the RUF had plunged Sierra Leone into civil war merely to get a role in the government, or that the rebels had committed atrocities during the country's eight-year long civil war. "I challenge you and the international community to go behind the rebel lines," Sankoh replied. "How can they cause their malicious propaganda to tarnish the reputation of the RUF? Our ideology does not call for destruction of life and property and amputating people. I condemn that." The rebel leader said he would be in Freetown within two weeks time. "I have a lot to do, to meet friends in this western region, especially leaders of ECOWAS," he said. "We are all working very hard to transform the RUF into a political movement. We have our political agenda and we are preparing to take part in the next general elections. So, therefore, we are laying a political foundation to have a part to play in politics in Sierra Leone." Sankoh told the BBC that the RUF had "a political agenda, an economic agenda," and denied a suggestion that RUF leaders simply wanted to enrich themselves. "I do not believe in materialism. There is no proof," he said. "I am the poorest rebel leader in the world. I challenge you or the western power to investigate and prove whether Sankoh has any bank account in any part of the world. I do not believe in materials and the people of Sierra Leone know that. I am not a dog to lick my vomit. When I say no, I mean no. I condemn corruption and I will never be a party to corruption in Sierra Leone."

The New York based human rights monitoring group Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the United Nations on Thursday for acting as a moral guarantor of a peace agreement which includes a blanket amnesty for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war. While United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, signed the accord with a notation saying that the U.N. did not recognise the amnesty as it applied to gross violations of human rights, the notation does not bind the warring parties within Sierra Leone. "Everyone wants this terrible civil war to end," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, in a press release. "But the peace deal can't simply ignore eight years of atrocities. The U.N. should know that any peace built on impunity is unlikely to last — and may well serve as an invitation to more atrocities in the future...The U.N. should never have gotten involved in an accord that contains such an amnesty. Rather than fixing its mistake, the U.N. is trying to cover up for it." RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers said he was unaware of the U.N.'s reservation on the question of amnesty, and that it "could create a problem" for the peace process. "This is a surprise that the U.N. has come out with this kind of suggestion that they will not grant amnesty for people who have engaged in conflict," Rogers said. "It is the best way to achieve lasting peace." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Deputy Spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said in New York that the goal was to end Sierra Leone's civil war. "It's not a perfect situation. No one is saying its perfect," he said. "This is what was possible and we are making very clear that that amnesty, from the point of view of the United Nations, does not cover certain categories of crimes." Annan himself was quoted as saying that Sierra Leoneans should put the conflict behind them. "I know the people of Sierra Leone have gone through painful experiences. Who can forget the brutal amputations and all the atrocities?," he said. "But I hope, following the signing of the peace agreement, all of that will be a thing of the past."

7 July: President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh have signed a peace accord to end more than eight years of civil war in Sierra Leone. The Lomé Accord was finalised during seven hours of talks with the presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Liberia and Burkina Faso which lasted into the small hours of Wednesday morning. The agreement was signed at about 5:00 p.m. Wednesday in a formal ceremony at the Palace of Congress in Lomé, in the presence of the four West African leaders, OAU, ECOWAS and UN mediators, members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, and representatives from civil society groups. President Kabbah called on Sierra Leoneans to "forgive and forget," declaring that "civil war in our country is at an end, and we have all resolved never again to take up arms to settle our political Memunatu Mansaraydifferences." Kabbah dedicated the accord to Sierra Leone's children, whom he called "the most vulnerable victims of war." Before signing, he lifted up three-year old Memunatu Mansaray (pictured left), whose right hand had been hacked off by rebel fighters. In her remaining arm the little girl clutched a teddy bear. "This is the product of war," Kabbah told the gathering. "I hope we shall all learn from this and try to embrace peace." Kabbah also signed a warrant pardoning Sankoh and freeing him from any form of prosecution, and he gave the rebel leader a Sierra Leonean passport. Sankoh was convicted and sentenced to death on treason charges last October, and his appeal was still pending before the Appeals Court in Freetown. Sankoh was silent throughout most of the ceremony, but afterwards he urged forgiveness for atrocities. "We, the RUF, deplore all atrocities," he said. "We are asking for forgiveness for all those who have committed these atrocities, be it RUF, Kamajors, ECOMOG, Sierra Leone Army. As a leader of a political organisation I say we are sorry. We are ready to give peace a chance...Let us try to forgive. We are asking for forgiveness. We need the support of everyone, especially our brother the president."

Under the Lomé Accord, the RUF will receive four ministerial posts, one of them senior, in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government. The rebel group will also receive four deputy-ministerial posts. Sankoh himself has been offered the post of chairman of a commission in charge of mineral resources and postwar reconstruction which would be "nearly the equivalent" of the position of vice president, according to Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh. The accord also consolidates the cease-fire which took effect on May 24, and mandates a pardon for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. The agreement also grants an "absolute and free pardon and reprieve to all combatants and collaborators," who have committed war crimes, but sets up a "truth commission" to allow victims to "tell their stories" and a "human rights commission" which would "strengthen machinery for addressing grievances...of alleged violations of basic human rights." The accord calls for the disarmament and assembly of combatants, including the rebels and the pro-government ethnic militias, the restructuring of the army, the transformation of the RUF into a political movement, and access for RUF members to posts in the army and administration. The role of ECOMOG will also be adapted to the new circumstances. The rebels dropped their demand that ECOMOG withdraw from Sierra Leone after Liberian President Charles Taylor advised the RUF to accept ECOMOG's policing role, conference sources said. Taylor pointed out that ECOMOG had played a similar role in Liberia, despite his own initial reservations about its neutrality.  In an interview with Africa No. 1 (Gabonese state radio) Koffigoh described how Wednesday's agreement differed from an earlier draft accord. "What is new in the current agreement is that there is a provision for a follow-up mechanism; otherwise, several points in the Abidjan accord are also found in the Lomé agreement, but there is a follow-up mechanism," he said. "We have the Committee of Seven on Sierra Leone to which will be added other bodies that have been set up, as part of the implementation of this agreement. Provision has been made for periodic meetings, at least one meeting every quarter."

Reaction to the signing of the accord in Freetown has been "very overwhelming," according to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah. "I drove for most part of the day today across the city, from the east end to the west end, I could see little children, adults, civilians, policemen, all jubilating," Fofanah told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "I mean they were very excited that today is the day, today is the day that they’re going to sign the peace talks in Togo. In fact at some stage it was rumoured that it has been signed already. And I could see people dancing all over the town. Even the amputees and the displaced people at the camps were rejoicing."

The final draft of the peace accord was hammered out overnight at a mini-summit attended by Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, and Liberian President Charles Taylor. Obasanjo flew back to Abuja after the mini-summit ended at about 2:30 a.m., but Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said Wednesday morning he would return to Lomé for the signing ceremony. "They will be ready for the final documents at 11:00 a.m.," Koffigoh told reporters. "Obasanjo will arrive at 12:30." Earlier, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh confirmed that he had approved the agreement. "I am going to sign an accord today. An accord has been reached," Sankoh said. An RUF official told the Associated Press that the rebel movement was united behind Sankoh, despite having expressed misgivings about provisions of a draft agreement earlier in the week. "Nobody rejects the leader's commands," the official said. "We must have peace for the country and we are going to give the nation peace." The Togolese foreign minister also expressed optimism that the accord would finally bring peace to Sierra Leone. "The best guarantee is renewed confidence in the hearts of the leaders and the hearts of the population," said Koffigoh, who headed mediation efforts at the talks. "Sierra Leoneans are tired of the war and the whole sub-region is fed up with the fighting."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has "warmly welcomed" the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, "ending years of Kofi Annanbrutal and painful warfare," according to a statement issued Wednesday by his spokesman's office. "(Annan) sincerely hopes that the people of Sierra Leone can now begin rebuilding their country and their lives," the statement said. "He now calls on the parties to the peace accord to honour their commitments, and he offers the vigilant support of the United Nations in their efforts at reconciliation and rebuilding." Annan's Deputy Spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told journalists Wednesday that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, would sign the Lomé Accord on behalf of the United Nations "with a notation saying that the United Nations will not recognize that amnesty as it applies to gross violations of human rights." The Deputy Spokesman said that while a sovereign state could grant amnesty for violation of its national laws, "Our view is that amnesty and pardon shall not apply to international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law." 

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday to reject any peace agreement that includes a general amnesty. In a letter to Annan timed to coincide with his July 8 visit to Sierra Leone, HRW urged Annan to disassociate the U.N. from any general amnesty for those who have committed atrocities during the country's eight-year civil war. "The atrocities committed in Sierra Leone have shocked the world," the executive director of HRW's Africa division, Peter Takirambudde, said in a press release. "The United Nations must not sponsor a peace agreement that pretends they never happened."

U.S. President Bill Clinton congratulated President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on signing an agreement which, he said, "offers the hope of ending nearly eight years of terrible conflict in Sierra Leone and bringing peace and a brighter future for its people." In a statement issued by the White House press office, Clinton said the United States was prepared to work with ECOWAS, the U.N. and the OAU to ensure appropriate support for implementing the agreement and beginning reconciliation efforts. "We will work with the people of Sierra Leone and the international community to support the safe return of more than one million refugees and internally displaced people and the reconstruction of the country," Clinton said.

Some 20,000 Makeni residents are in danger of starvation unless emergency relief supplies reach the city immediately, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. Makeni has been cut off from humanitarian aid since rebel forces seized the city in December. "People are starving to death in Makeni," said Ibrahim Sesay, head of the Caritas Mission. He added that most of the people would die if aid convoys did not reach the city quickly. "Since all food stocks have been used up, people have started to eat snakes and frogs," Sesay said. Meanwhile, Dr. Fasineh Samoura, the Medical Doctor in Charge of an emergency clinic in Kabala, has called for an urgent supply of rice and other foodstuffs to reduce malnutrition and avert a food crisis in that city. Samoura told the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) that Kabala residents have been surviving on mangoes for over a year, which has resulted in many deaths and left dozens of children malnourished.

6 July: Five West African presidents met in Lomé, Togo in a preliminary session Tuesday evening prior to the convening of a mini-summit called to help resolve difference in peace negotiations between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. Attending were Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, Liberian President Charles Taylor and President Kabbah. The summit, which was to have begun on Tuesday, had to be postponed when President Kabbah's arrival was delayed. According to Freetown's Concord times newspaper, Kabbah was stranded at Freetown's Lungi International Airport when his Air Dabia flight failed to show up. Alternative arrangements were eventually made with a domestic carrier, Inter-Tropics Airlines, the newspaper said. According to the BBC, the RUF reinforced its delegation with about ten additional members who arrived on Tuesday afternoon. Togo's Minister of Communication, Koffi Panou, said Monday the summit's objective was to help the warring sides reach a "definitive agreement" to end the country's civil war. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh also expressed optimism, suggesting to reporters it was possible that a power-sharing agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF could be signed during the meeting. "Through the mediation of the heads of state, the two parties will remove the remaining obstacles to the signing of a Sierra Leone peace accord, including the ultimate withdrawal of ECOMOG," Koffigoh said. "If things progress well, it's possible (an accord could be signed)." In an address to the nation on Monday, Kabbah accused the RUF of continuing to make "unreasonable demands...prolonging the suffering of our people and delaying the start of reconciliation and the healing process," but said he was nevertheless going to Togo "to finalise a comprehensive peace agreement, an agreement which, by God's grace, will lay a solid foundation for sustainable peace which has eluded us over the past nine years."  Prospects for an immediate breakthrough were cast into doubt, however, after RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh told the media on Monday that the RUF People's War Council and High Command had rejected key elements of a draft peace accord, including a government offer of four ministerial cabinet posts and three deputy-ministerial posts. Sankoh said the RUF wanted seven ministerial portfolios, including the Ministry of Mines, and the vice presidency. 

Sierra Leone's state prosecutor on Tuesday dropped spying and arms possession charges against to Independent Observer journalists, Managing Editor Jonathan Leigh and Staff Writer Jerry Tryson, citing the need for national reconciliation. The two newsmen had been accused of passing along information prejudicial to the State of Sierra Leone to the National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS). The prosecution also alleged that ECOMOG forces had discovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in the newspaper's No. 1 Short Street Offices. Magistrate Claudia Taylor said at Tuesday's hearing that the prosecution had decided to drop all charges "in the interest of peace and reconciliation." Leigh and Tryson had been held for 20 days before being charged last week. No pleas were entered at the first hearing.

The Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF- Reporters Without Borders) accused the RUF on Tuesday of "engaging in the systematic elimination of journalists" in Sierra Leone. The RSF said it sent a delegation to Guinea last month to meet some 20 Sierra Leonean journalists "and their accounts confirm...the RUF's deliberate and systematic policy to eliminate journalists." According to the RSF statement, "When the rebels and their allies entered Freetown on January 6, 1999, they decided to physically eliminate those journalists accused of criticising them and supporting President Kabbah." Journalists James Ogogo, Jenner Cole, Mohamed Kamara, Paul Abu Mansaray, Alpha Amadu Bah Bash, Muniru Turay, Mabay Kamara and Associated Press photographer Myles Tierney were killed during the rebel attack on Freetown. Several journalists interviewed in Guinea told the RSF that when rebels failed to find their at home, they killed close relatives instead. The press group called on international authorities and Western governments to make a special fund available to help the Sierra Leone press, which it called "an essential player in establishing peace, and to earmark funds for helping Sierra Leonean journalist refugees, both materially and psychologically."

A shipping container containing medical supplies and some books donated by United States and Canadian groups is set to leave for Sierra Leone on Wednesday, Sierra Leone Relief Fund Director Warren Berry announced on Tuesday. Shipping costs for the container were paid in part with donations made by U.S. residents listed in the Sierra Leone Web e-mail directory. "I am deeply moved by the compassion of everyone who helped through their generous donations of time, materials, and funds for shipment," Berry said. "There is no doubt that many in Sierra Leone will be helped. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude."

The United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) will step up its efforts to eradicate polio by the end of the year 2000 with a programme which will concentrate on six nations in conflict — Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tajikistan and Somalia. The WHO will organise "Days of Tranquility" to allow mass vaccination campaigns known as "National Immunisation Days" (NIDS). The WHO will also focus its efforts on Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, where the disease is most concentrated. "It won't only be about eradicating the polio virus, the risk of the disease, but also the $1.5 billion in expenditures for a year right now will be written off," said Dr. Bruce Aylward, Coordinator of the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The eradication programme involves routine vaccination of children soon after they are born, and the use of NIDS to vaccinate all children under the age of five, regardless if they have been vaccinated before. NIDS are carried out over the period of a few days and repeated a month later. "The whole goal of this initiative is to reach children who aren't being reached and to use the lessons that we've learned from the community involvement, the logical and technical problems to rethink the way we're delivering preventive services to people in these populations," Aylward said.

Makeni residents arriving in Freetown have spoken of severe food shortages in that city, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Tuesday. "According to a civil servant who did not want to be named, all the food that was in the town before the rebel occupation about seven months ago was now finished. And whatever little food there is is consumed by the RUF/AFRC rebels," Rogers said in a Network Africa report. The civil servant told Rogers that even the cassava and mangoes were finished, and that last week people in Makeni had resorted to eating reptiles. "The people are in dire need of food and medicine, and if urgent steps are not taken to rescue them they will die before the signing of any peace treaty between the RUF and the government," Rogers reported.

5 July: The RUF People's War Council has rejected a draft peace accord reached between Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators at peace talks in Lomé, Foday SankohTogo, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said on Monday. The draft agreement would have given the rebel group four ministerial posts and three deputy-ministerial positions in a government of national unity. "The People's War Council have told me it is not enough," Sankoh told the Agence France-Presse. "They are asking for seven ministerial posts. They do not accept four, and they want the vice presidency." The agreement also called for Sankoh to be made chairman of a new nine-member commission which would regulate the exploitation of the country's mineral resources. "The council wants the Ministry of Mines, because they say rebels already control the mining areas," Sankoh said. The rebel leader did not rule out the possibility of reaching a compromise agreement "within the next few days." Said Sankoh: "Anything is possible, we have to reach a compromise...I am not ruling out anything." He said he was studying the changes proposed by the RUF War Council and would present their to mediators. Asked whether he thought the RUF counter-proposal was reasonable, Sankoh replied, "Anything is reasonable. It's just a matter of negotiating in good faith." Meanwhile President Kabbah, in a nationwide address on Monday, declared that the two sides were closer to a power-sharing arrangement. Kabbah promised "to finalise a comprehensive peace agreement" in Lomé on Tuesday, according to Reuters. "The issue is to find a sustainable peace to end the suffering of the people and to ensure security for all Sierra Leoneans," Kabbah said. In a separate BBC Network Africa on Monday, Sankoh said the RUF People's War Council and the High Command had not rejected the entire draft peace accord, but had suggested changes to the agreement. "Now this is the position of the People’s War Council and the High Command," Sankoh said. "They looked at the draft peace accord which was sent to them. They looked at it and made their own observations. It doesn’t mean that they reject the whole accord. There are some changes they made which they observed that should be in the interests of a lasting, genuine peace in Sierra Leone." He said the RUF leadership had expressed concern about the future role of the ECOMOG force, and that they felt the mediators in Lomé should consider the matter seriously. "We are talking about a peacekeeping force, neutral peacekeeping force that has not taken part in the crisis in Sierra Leone," Sankoh said. "This is their own position." The rebel leader also referred to the government's offer of four cabinet posts and three deputy-ministers to the RUF. "There are not enough! That should be increased to seven, and they also asked for the vice president should be given to the RUF, and above all the Ministry of Mines should be given to the RUF — this is their own request." Sankoh denied, however, that the decisions were being made by RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. "It’s not Sam Bockarie. Don’t put it that way," he  said. "The People’s War Council, the High Command, and the Civil Society behind the rebel lines. This is what you call democracy." He denied that the RUF was holding up the peace process by quibbling over the number of ministerial posts to be allocated to the rebels. "We are not holding the people of Sierra Leone at ransom. We are saying the right thing should be done. A document that will give the people of Sierra Leone everlasting peace...We are not wasting time in making requests. We are not after position. Foday Sankoh is not after being a prime minister or vice president — that is not the case." Sankoh said the question on numbers of posts should be directed to mediators at the peace talks. "You better ask the facilitators," he said. "They increased the ministries to eighteen, from fifteen to eighteen. We are not asking for ministerial posts. Mind you, they asked 'what do you want,’ and if you are asked 'what do you want' then you tell them what you want!"

The presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso will hold a Joseph Kokou Koffigoh"mini-summit" in Lomé, Togo on Tuesday to address developments in the Sierra Leone peace process, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said on Monday. "The meeting to discuss the crisis in Sierra Leone is being organised by President Gnassingbe Eyadema," said Koffigoh (pictured right). The four leaders will hold talks with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh.

A group representing United Nations agencies and non-governmental humanitarian organisations will meet on Tuesday with RUF leaders at Buedu in Kailahun District to discuss the possibility of carrying out humanitarian assessment missions in rebel-held areas of northern and eastern Sierra Leone,  United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone Kingsley Amaning said in an IRIN interview published on Monday. "Specifically, we will make requests to make interagency assessments to Makeni, Kambia, Magburaka, Masingbi, Kono, Segbwema and Kabala," Amaning said. He pointed out that relief agencies, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross, have had very little contact with the RUF throughout Sierra Leone's civil war, and so it was important to meet with rebel leaders. "Access has to be managed in a way that is effectively and safely implemented. For this reason we have to meet the RUF command to establish basic operational procedures for humanitarian agencies in RUF areas, to ensure the obligation of the RUF to provide safety for agencies and their beneficiaries, and to take practical steps to start assessments of the humanitarian situation," Amaning said. "Another issue is that the RUF command structure is unfamiliar to us and we will be more assured if we are in direct contact with them. We hope that the RUF High command will inform all RUF commanders across the country of the commitments which they make at the meeting." Amaning said the group had received "firm guarantees from all the parties" as to Tuesday's meeting "and we know that the RUF is waiting for us." He said there had been some logistical difficulties last week, but added: "I am confident that the mission will proceed."

4 July: Some 200 civilians arrived in Freetown on Saturday after rebel leaders in Makeni allowed them to leave that city in search of food and medicine. A spokesman for the civilians, schoolteacher Alimamy Sesay, said rebel commander Colonel Abdul Turay had summoned residents to a football field in Makeni and told them the rebels were pleased at the way the peace talks were progressing. "Colonel Turay told the civilians that those who feel they can go to areas where they can find food and medical facilities can do so without fear,'' Sesay told reporters. "Since the peace talks started, there has not been any problem between the rebel soldiers and civilians. The main concern in Makeni now, and very urgent, is food and medicine." He said Makeni residents, both civilians and rebels, were dying every day due to shortages. Sesay said the civilians had walked for two weeks to reach Freetown, and had passed through the rebel-held town of Lunsar during their journey. Six people, including two children, died during the trip, he said.

Two persons named Friday by Freetown's Concord Times newspaper as rumoured possible RUF nominees to a government of national unity, All Peoples' Congress (APC) Secretary-General Eddie Turay and Focus on Sierra Leone publisher Ambrose Ganda, responded to the report  on Saturday. In a statement forwarded to the Sierra Leone Web through a spokesman, Turay said the APC's position was that "if a national government in the present circumstances is a solution to the problems of Sierra Leone, the party may be willing to nominate someone to serve in such a government for the sake of unity and peace." Ganda told the Sierra Leone Web that the Concord Times article was the first he had heard of the rumour, but had no comment.

3 July: The RUF has handed over ten Nigerian ECOMOG prisoners-of-war to an ECOWAS delegation after four days of negotiations which were facilitated by a Liberian negotiating team, the BBC reported on Saturday. The rebels, who claim to be holding some 300 ECOMOG prisoners-of-war, called the release of the first ten a peace gesture. Under the terms of a cease-fire agreement which went into effect on May 24, both sides agreed to release all prisoners-of-war and non-combatants in their custody. According to Ambassador Moses Z. Blah, who led the Liberian negotiators, the ten were taken to Monrovia on Friday where they were given new uniforms and taken to hospital for medical examinations. They were expected to be returned to the ECOMOG force on Saturday. Blah said the RUF told the ECOWAS delegation they were now demanding six ministries in a transitional government, including the Ministry of Mines. The RUF High Command resolved that RUF leader Foday Sankoh would only sign a peace accord resulting from the Lomé talks if he were released and declared a free man, Blah said. The rebels also insisted that as part of any peace agreement all civilians declared as rebel collaborators by the Sierra Leone government should be granted unconditional amnesty. Blah said that, as part of Liberia's contribution to find a solution to the Sierra Leone crisis, he urged the RUF to reduce the four-year period for which they want a future transitional government to run.

Ghanaian Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho expressed optimism on Saturday about the progress of the peace talks in Lomé, Togo between Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators. "There are pieces of news coming from Lomé to the effect that we might see a breakthrough this week," Gbeho told the BBC. "We all have reasons to be quite optimistic at this point." Gbeho condemned atrocities which had been committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, but said Ghana believed the two sides should resolve their differences through dialogue. "There is no way anybody can defend the atrocities committed by the RUF or anybody else. They stand condemned, and Sierra Leoneans will never be able to forget easily those atrocities," Gbeho said. "In any case, there are children who have been traumatised by this, there are children who are victims because their limbs have been mutilated, and those children who probably will live to the age of seventy, eighty, ninety, will carry the scars of those brutalisations their whole years. And therefore we cannot defend this in any way. Having said that, let me go on to Jerry Rawlingsexplain to you that here in Ghana we believe in putting dialogue first before resorting to arms." Gbeho brushed aside any suggestion of a strain in relations between Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings (pictured right) and President Kabbah. "That famous phrase attributed to him meant when he said it that when negotiations were held previously, and the Sierra Leonean government was expected to implement certain decisions incorporating the rebels, that government did not act with dispatch on it. Hence the slide back to violence. It wasn’t meant for President Kabbah as a person. It was the government’s failure to handle the situation well. That was what he was referring to. Since then he has had the opportunity to discuss this matter in detail with President Kabbah himself. I don’t think that there is any misunderstanding any longer."

Sierra Leone's rebel forces are using palm kernel oil as a substitute for diesel to keep their vehicles running, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Friday. According to MISNA sources, the thick black liquid is boiled, filtered, and poured into tanks. For engine oil, the rebels are said to be using raw wild honey. The ingredients are supplied by people in the villages under rebel control: "Some sort of a tax the MISNA source says is proportionate to the size of the population," the news agency added.

2 July: Some 100 Fourah Bay College students were fined this week for their part in a May 29 protest over water shortages on campus and a lack of transportation. The students were accused of destroying property at the residence of the FBC principal, Professor Victor Strasser-King. On Monday, a university disciplinary committee recommended various punitive measures against students who took part in the disturbances, depending on their level of involvement. The committee's report, which must still be ratified by the University Senate, called for fines of Le 70,000 ($27) and suspensions of one academic year for Student Union President Baba Sillah and Secretary-General Fadiru Koroma. Twenty other students would receive $200 fines and be banned from residential status on campus for two years. Seventy others would be fined $75 and lose residential status for one year. Ten more students are to receive $40 fines for being involved in a "conspiracy" to hijack a bus donated by the Ministry of Education. Students who fail to pay the fines by seven days before the start of examinations in August face the prospect of being barred from the exams, the report said. National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS) Edmond McCarthy said the committee's report was too tough. "The students have regretted their actions and shown remorse by apologising to the college administration, pledging to turn away from such conduct in the future," he told journalists. Many classes at the college were shut down on Friday due to a student boycott and security concerns by some lecturers who decided to stay away from campus. In a broadcast over state radio, the Ministry of Education warned students that it would be "premature and ill-advised for any students to embark on any action that has the potential of further jeopardising the already adjusted academic year."

ECOMOG and RUF facing one another at Laia, near Okra Hill, are desperate for peace, United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) spokesman Major Jim Gray told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa (IRIN) on Thursday. "ECOMOG and the RUF are living in close proximity and tolerating each other," Gray said. "They are tired of fighting one another and are waiting for positive news from Lomé." He said the two sides were about a mile apart, and that UNOMSIL was trying to establish boundaries between them. He added that UNOMSIL was trying to negotiate the release of some 240 people who had been abducted by the RUF and were being held at Laia. On their release they would be screened by ECOMOG and brought to Freetown, he said. Gray said UNOMSIL now had 29 military observers and a presence at Freetown, Lungi and Bo. The observer force was planning to expand to 70 by the end of July, he said, and a possible total of 150 military observers was being proposed. Gray said a key element of UNOMSIL's mandate would be to assist in the disarmament of combatants if a peace accord was signed in Lomé. "The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process is the crux of achieving lasting peace," he said.

A visit to Rokupr this week by a humanitarian assessment team marked the first time aid workers have gained access to a rebel-held area of Sierra Leone since humanitarian agencies returned to the country in March. The team, led by Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), with representatives from the United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU), Action Contre la Faim, and the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa (IRIN), travelled to Rokupr via Port Loko and Mange which are under ECOMOG control, and Romeni Curve Village, which is held by the RUF. At Romeni Curve the humanitarian team waited for two and a half hours before getting clearance from the RUF area commander to proceed to Rokupr. "A local commander said he knew of the Lomé statement signed by his leader, Foday Sankoh, guaranteeing humanitarian agencies 'free and unhindered' access to areas under RUF control, but needed clearance from senior regional commanders before allowing the team to go on," IRIN reported. On arrival at Rokupr, the team was introduced to the RUF brigade commander, Colonel Bondema, who was in charge of the area which includes Kambia. Bondema told the humanitarian team he was not authorised to allow aid agencies to begin operations at Rokupr. Clearance, he said, had to come directly from Brigadier Dennis "Superman" Mingo, from the RUF High Command at Makeni. A civilian official, the Chairman of the Civic Community, told the team he was willing to cooperate with future humanitarian missions. However, HACU official Andrew Cox told IRIN that as in other areas of the country, the provision of humanitarian relief in Rokupr would depend on first making a full assessment of needs. "There was little time to conduct a proper assessment, but the team could see that the market was busy, with goods boated in from Guinea and Freetown. Two trucks from Makeni offloaded cassava and there were plenty of rice nurseries by the roadsides," IRIN said. 

The Sierra Leone government's reintegration officer for the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration said Wednesday that 509 soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army would be discharged on Thursday and Friday. The soldiers have undergone a three-week "pre-discharge orientation" at the Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown. A first group of 254 former soldiers was discharged on June 24.

The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the "NINJAS) has denied having links to two Independent Observer journalists charged in Magistrates Court on Wednesday with spying and the possession of arms and ammunition. Managing Editor Jonathan Leigh and Staff Writer Jerry Tryson were accused of passing along information prejudicial to the State of Sierra Leone to the NINJAS, which the government has accused of having ties to the RUF - a charge the NINJAS have denied. "Jonathan Leigh, Managing Editor of the Independent Observer Newspaper and Jerry Tryson, Staff Writer have never been members of the National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone," NINJAS Editor-in-Chief  "Joe Williams" told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. "On December 12th 1999, when the NINJAS was being formed, we did not even contemplate inviting Leigh because we knew that he was one of those pro-government journalists. It is most unfortunate now that Leigh, who together with Sylvester Kanyako of the Herald Guardian single-handedly challenged the AFRC illegal regime at a point in time when even the so-called 'fearless' For di People Newspaper went underground in 1997, is today in 1999 being falsely accused of being an AFRC collaborator. Leigh resigned from the Expo Times Newspaper and set up his own paper in 1997 because, as he stated in press releases published in all local newspapers, his principles would not allow him to continue to act as editor for a 'pro-junta' paper like the Expo Times." Williams said the NINJAS believed what he termed the "trumped up" charges against Leigh "are a result of his personal differences with certain ECOMOG Officers, whose brutality and recklessness he had had cause to expose many times over in his paper." 

The British-based medical charity Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN), in a press release on Friday, said it is currently providing nutritional feeding to some 450 severely malnourished and 1,400 moderately malnourished children at hospitals in Kenema and Blama. In addition. MERLIN said it is running an 80-bed temporary children's hospital in Freetown and re-establishing and stocking one hospital and 32 health centres in Kenema and Bo Districts to care for 300,000 persons, especially mothers and young children. The medical charity is also operating four mobile teams to provide basic health care and re-establishing three health clinics in Freetown which were destroyed in Sierra Leone's civil war, the statement said.

1 July: RUF leaders have rejected provisions of a draft peace agreement which would have allocated four ministerial and three deputy-ministerial cabinet posts to the rebel group, a "senior government official" official said in Freetown on Thursday. He told Reuters the rebels were demanding seven cabinet portfolios in a transitional authority which would replace the current elected government. The RUF is also demanding control of the Ministry of Mines, the official said. There has been no official confirmation of the report by the Sierra Leone government, and no public reaction by the RUF. The Sierra Leone government has insisted that any power-sharing arrangement should take place within the framework of the country's 1991 constitution. "It is unlikely given the setback that President Kabbah will be travelling this weekend to Lomé (to sign a peace agreement)," the official said. Officials said Thursday that that Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who heads the government delegation at the Lomé talks, had flown back to Freetown on Wednesday night with the latest RUF position, adding that President Kabbah and his inner cabinet had been locked in crisis talks. Togolese mediators said the Government of Togo had not yet been briefed on the RUF position, but that there were now no plans for signing a peace accord on Saturday.

Two journalists arrested last month were charged in Magistrates Court Wednesday with spying and with possessing arms and ammunition. Independent Observer Managing Editor Jonathan Leigh and Staff Writer Jerry Tryson were accused of passing along information prejudicial to the State of Sierra Leone to the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS). The prosecution also said ECOMOG forces had seized a cache of arms and ammunition in a search of the newspaper's No. 1 Short Street offices on June 10. Principal Magistrate Claudia Taylor denied the journalists bail after prosecutor John Allieu argued that the charges were "very serious," and the case was adjourned until next Tuesday. The two were taken to Pademba Road Prison. Three other journalists arrested during the raid on the newspaper were released last week without charges. In a letter to ECOMOG on May 11, the Paris-based Reporteurs sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) said it had information suggesting that the weapons had been planted at the Independent Observer offices to frame Leigh. Leigh had previously been detained on May 17, and was held for two days for allegedly having ties with the rebels.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Foday SankohThursday that he was awaiting final approval from RUF officials before he could sign a draft peace accord reached with the Sierra Leone government in Lomé, Togo. "If it is approved, I will sign the accord, but as in any democracy I have to get a mandate from the masses," Sankoh said. On Saturday, a three-member RUF delegation led by People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers left for Kailahun to submit the draft agreement to rebel leaders. Sankoh told the AFP that the delegation was expected to return to Lomé later on Thursday. He acknowledged he had "mixed feelings" about the draft accord because he did "not yet have the total support" for the deal from his members. Under the agreement, the RUF would receive four ministerial portfolios and three deputy-ministerial cabinet posts, while Sankoh would become chairman of a nine-member Mineral Resources Commission that would oversee the country's mineral wealth. Sankoh referred to a Voice of America report earlier in the week in which RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie said he felt the offer of four cabinet seats was inadequate. Sankoh said, however, that approval of the accord did not hinge solely on Bockarie's approval. "Bockarie is a single entity. He is just a commander," Sankoh said. "I need the support of the RUF high command, of civil society members and the rest."  He added that he was "having problems" communicating with Bockarie by telephone.

The Guinean government on Thursday denied an Agence France-Presse report which said that Sierra Leonean men had been banned from entering the country by sea. "Guinea has never, never restricted (the entry of) Sierra Leonean males," said Alhousseine Thaim, chairman of Guinea's National Refugee Coordination Office.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will leave Sunday on a two-and-a-half week trip to Africa and Europe, his spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Thursday. On Tuesday, Annan will begin a five-nation tour of West Africa, including Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria, Eckhard said. On July 11 he will attend the opening of the OAU summit in Algeria. Annan will visit Slovakia and the Czech Republic from July 15-17, and will end his trip in Vienna, Austria. During her two-day visit to Freetown last week, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson announced that Annan would visit Sierra Leone on July 8.