The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

August 2000
 

31 August: A spokesman for the West Side Boys said Thursday the renegade militiamen abducted eleven British troops and a Sierra Leonean soldier last week "because they entered into our area of responsibility; they had no communication with us and our commander." Five of the British soldiers were released on Wednesday. The spokesman, who gave his name as "Colonel Cambodia," called the BBC on a satellite telephone provided to the militia by the British Ministry of Defence in order to facilitate negotiations. He said the West Side Boys, a militia which includes disloyal soldiers and criminals released from prison during the 1997 militia coup, were still a part of the Sierra Leone Army. He said they distrusted the government, and would not disarm until their demands were met. "We won’t give up until we revisit the Lomé Peace Accord. That is the first one," the spokesman said. "And then secondly, they have to release all the AFRC detainees including our wives, our children, and our brothers. Only we need an interim government. In fact the AFRC has got a new leader. No more J.P. (Johnny Paul Koroma) because J.P. betrayed us. Now we have got another AFRC representative or a leader here, who is Brigadier-General F. Kallay."  "Colonel Cambodia" said the West Side Boys believed they could pass their grievances along to the government through the British hostages, and would hold them until their demands were met. "We overthrew the SLPP government (in May 1997)," he said. "The government is against us, although we are the strong forces in this country, but due to the activity or the negligence of the politicians, they don’t want to recognise us." Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said the West Side Boys had made no demands directly to the Sierra Leone government, and that those made by "Colonel Cambodia" on the BBC would not be met. He said members of the group under arrest were being held for criminal actions, and warned that the West Side Boys risked criminal charges if they continued with their actions. 

Five British soldiers released by the West Side Boys on Wednesday have been debriefed at Benguema Military Training Centre. "They were naturally tired. They have been taken to a place where they can recover and get some rest. They were medically checked. They are fit and well," said Brigadier Gordon Hughes, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone. "We have plans to continue the talks with the West Side Boys today," he added. The British military spokesman in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp, insisted no concessions were granted in exchange for the release of the soldiers. "We have done no deal with the West Side Boys," he said. He said negotiations were continuing in a "calm and positive manner" to secure the release of the rest of the hostages. "There is no time plan" he said. Meanwhile, a delegation of relatives of the West Side Boys went into the bush late Wednesday to appeal to the militiamen to release their hostages, former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma told Reuters. "We have plans to continue the talks with the West Side Boys today," Koroma said. He previously had indicated the meeting would have to be postponed until Thursday because of transportation difficulties. Koroma said the former soldiers still had not explained why they abducted the British soldiers. "They only said that the British went into their territory and for them to do that, the West Side Boys had to kidnap them," he said. One relative said the delegation had offered the former soldiers bread, sugar and powdered milk, but no money. "They assured us that they will soon come out of the bush after they release the remaining British hostages," the relative said.

A senior officer for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recommended an increase in U.S. assistance to provide shelter for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons in Sierra Leone. Hugh Parmer, USAID's Assistant Administrator for Humanitarian Relief, told Reuters that on a three-day visit to the country he founds tens of thousands of people crammed into overcrowded public buildings. "I'm going to recommend that we increase our contribution to the shelter program...We could probably provide sufficient plastic sheeting and, depending on the availability of lumber there, shelter for people in the tens of thousands," he said. He said the first step would be to send an officer from USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to Sierra Leone to assess how many shelters were needed, and the materials required to build them. He added that the best option would be shelters made of a light wooden frame and plastic sheeting, which could maintain a family "in reasonably clean and healthy circumstances." Parmer said he found the displaced persons in Sierra Leone in better health than in other countries with humanitarian crises. "I left with somewhat of a hopeful sense. If we can control the security situation, it's not something that's impossible to fix, from a humanitarian perspective," he said. In the current fiscal year the United States has spent about $40 million on humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone, including $23 million on food programmes.

UNAMSIL has transported five armoured personnel carriers recovered from the RUF to Port Loko, and plans to transport two more by helicopter shortly, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Six of the vehicles seized were handed over to UNAMSIL Deputy Commander Mohammed A. Garba  Wednesday at Makoth village. A seventh vehicle ran out of fuel on the way to Makoth, but UNAMSIL has sent more fuel to retrieve it, the spokesman said. The armoured personnel carriers were seized from Zambian peacekeeping troops in May. The spokesman said Garba was making contact with the RUF in an attempt to retrieve all the remaining weapons and equipment which had been seized by the rebels.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to act soon on a recommendations by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to increase the authorised strength of UNAMSIL from 13,000 to 20,500 troops, Council President Agam Hasmy of Malaysia said on Friday. Ambassador Hasmy said Council members would be discussing a British-sponsored draft resolution which took into account Annan's recommendations. 

30 August: The West Side Boys on Wednesday released five of eleven British soldiers they abducted last week after what what a foreign office spokesman in London described as "intense negotiation." The five were reported late in the day to have reached Freetown. "We'll continue negotiations first thing in the morning," the spokesman said. "The negotiations have got us this far, and we hope they will be successful in getting the rest released as soon as possible." The spokesman for the British forces in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp, welcomed the news of the soldiers' release, but expressed concern for the remaining six British soldiers and one Sierra Leonean still being held in the bush. He declined to give details on the circumstances surrounding the men's release or to say whether a deal had been struck with the West Side Boys. The five soldiers are expected to undergo a lengthy debriefing to determine the circumstances surrounding their capture and detention. "We have set procedures for this sort of reception, going through a full debriefing cycle," Cramp said. "That will involve taking them through their story and answering questions to give us information on their ordeal." Meanwhile, an initiative by former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma to arrange a meeting between the West Side Boys and a delegation of about ten relatives had to be postponed until Thursday because of lack of transportation. "We had to send in a letter to the West Side Boys through the Jordanian peacekeepers for them to know that relatives will be visiting them to discuss the release of the British," Koroma said. "We have received a reply. I believe they will be meeting tomorrow." In a call-in radio talk show Tuesday night, the relatives called on the West Side Boys to free their captives. "I am not really happy about the behaviour of holding the British people, simply because these people are here to assist us and this is a high time they should stop fighting and they should come on board so that we try to develop this nation," said the uncle of one of the kidnappers. Koroma said West Side Boys commander Brigadier Kallay had written a letter to him and to the British High Commission on Tuesday with new demands, including setting up an interim government in which he would be a member. Kallay described himself as the new chairman of the AFRC, the title held by Koroma during the period of junta rule. Koroma disassociated himself from the former soldiers earlier this month, saying that if a faction known as the AFRC still existed and claimed allegiance to him, it should be disbanded. Previous demands by the West Side Boys were said to include food and medicine, and the release of at least one of their commanders, named as "Brigadier Bombblast" or "Brigadier Papa." Earlier, Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp said negotiators met with one of the hostages on Tuesday. The soldier, accompanied by West Side Boys, met a negotiating team led by British Colonel Simon Fordham for just a few minutes.

The Deputy Commander of UNAMSIL, Nigerian Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, has rejected a British account of events which led to the abduction of 12 soldiers by the West Side Boys on Friday, 11 of them members of Britain's Royal Irish Regiment. Brigadier Gordon Hughes, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, said Monday the soldiers had been coordinating security arrangements with Jordanian peacekeepers at Masiaka. "The British troops completed their mission...and on their way back to Benguema (Military Training Centre) they were stopped and detained," Hughes said. But Garba said it wasn't true. "That is one thing I want to categorically deny, because the rate at which things are going, the British may have a tendency to shift blame on the U.N. troops deployed in that place," Garba said on Tuesday. He also denied the British claim that the soldiers were travelling back toward Freetown when they were captured. Instead, Garba said, they were travelling east from the capital when they made a left turn into an area known to be controlled by the West Side Boys. "They went in over six miles," he said. Garba denied the British soldiers had met the Jordanian troops, and said U.N. peacekeepers didn't know what the British troops were doing when they were captured. "The British did not say to U.N. peacekeepers in Masiaka that they were going into West Side Boys' rebel positions which I would describe as very dangerous," Garba said. Hughes played down the dispute Wednesday, saying it would not help secure the men's release. "It is really far too early to speculate on the circumstances surrounding the detention of our soldiers. Whenever they have been safely released there will be a full and accurate report released, that is normal procedure," he said. "My focus is very much making sure that our soldiers are released safely and quickly."

RUF rebels on Wednesday handed over six armoured vehicles they seized in May from Zambian and Kenyan peacekeepers. The vehicles were turned over to UNAMSIL's Deputy Commander, Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, by RUF commander Brigadier-General Moris Kallon at Makoth village, not far from the RUF stronghold of Makeni. "We have no problem with the United Nations," Kallon told Garba in front of reporters and U.N. personnel who accompanied the deputy commander to the town by helicopter. "We are handing over these vehicles and we will continue to give back the rest of the UNAMSIL weapons that we have in our possession in the interests of peace...This time around the RUF is ready to work with the government and the people of Sierra Leone in the interests of peace, as long as President Kabbah wants peace." Garba described the return of the vehicles as a turning point. "It's a clear manifestation that this time around you want peace," he told the rebel commander. In response to reporters' questions, Kallon showed little sympathy for the plight of British soldiers abducted by the West Side Boys on Friday. "As far as they are concerned, the British deserve the abduction by the West Side Boys because the British do not want to see peace in Sierra Leone," he said. "If they are determined to see peace, they should not have been training soldiers and sending weapons." Along with Kallon, Brigadier Bai Bureh and three RUF colonels were present at the handover ceremony, codenamed by UNAMSIL "Operation Turning Point."

The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, said Thursday that last week's meeting of chiefs of defence staff from UNAMSIL contributing countries debated the question of whether to change the force's mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. "The preponderance of opinion seems to be for the time being that there is no need to change the mandate from peacekeeping to thorough peace enforcement," Adeniji told reporters in Freetown. "What is required, according to most delegations was the faithful implementation of the present mandate and particularly the application of those windows within the present mandate which referred and which derived the authority from Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations." Adeniji said the recommendation to increase UNAMSIL's authorised strength from 13,000 to 20,500 would make it possible for the peacekeeping force to deploy beyond its present location. In order to avoid a repeat of the near-collapse of UNAMSIL in May when the RUF "decided to practically violate the Lome Peace Agreement and sabotage the peace process," Adeniji said UNAMSIL was consolidating its troops in its areas of deployment and would use the new troops to further strengthen the U.N.'s deployment in the country. Adeniji said was "shocked" at the seizing of British troops by the West Side Boys, but expressed hope for a peaceful end to the crisis. "After 'Operation Thunderbolt' a number of (the West Side Boys) came out for disarmament, whilst a dissident number of them proved themselves uncontrollable," he said. "My hope is for them to change their course for a peaceful solution." 

29 August: Talks continued Tuesday between U.N. and British negotiators and the West Side Boys militia over the fate of 12 soldiers — 11 of them from Britain's Royal Irish Regiment and one from the Sierra Leone Army — abducted by the militia on Friday. On Monday a senior British officer, Colonel Simon Fordam, and West Side Boys commander Brigadier Kallay met face-to-face at the UNAMSIL base at Masiaka. The spokesman for the British military forces in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp, stressed Tuesday that the fact dialogue was taking place was in itself progress. "The meetings are taking place in a calm atmosphere, and we wish to continue that," he told Radio France International. "So the fact that we are having meetings means the whole situation is moving on, and obviously we’re hoping for a speedy conclusion." Cramp confirmed that a team of negotiators had been flown in from Britain. He told reporters the group included members of the military and civilians, but he declined to comment on reports that the team included SAS special forces commandos. He said the detained soldiers had been in direct contact with their base and had confirmed that the were well and in good spirits. Meanwhile, about a dozen relatives of West Side Boys combatants met Tuesday at the best of former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma's, and are preparing to appeal to the fighters to release their hostages. "This was just an early meeting. There are other meetings planned when there will be more people," said BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. According t the London Times, Koroma accompanied Colonel Fordham to Monday's with Brigadier Kallay. Until recently the West Side Boys professed at least a nominal loyalty to Koroma, but earlier this month the former AFRC leader formally disassociated himself with the militia after they clashed repeatedly with government troops, and resumed harassing civilians along the main highway out of Freetown. The Times said no negotiations took place, but that Kallay was handed a letter from the Sierra Leone government telling him to release the hostages. 

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi said Tuesday the rebel group had been holding discussions with Deputy UNAMSIL force commander Brigadier-General M.A. Garba over the return of equipment seized from U.N. peacekeepers who were abducted in May. "We have made some suggestions to him as to where to pick up these things, and at the same time some of them are without fuel," Massaquoi told the BBC. "We’ve made that clear to him. We are discussing on the modalities, how to get these things out of our own territories." In New York, a U.N. spokesman said UNAMSIL was pressuring acting RUF leader General Issa Sesay to give back seven of its armoured personnel carriers and quoted Sesay as saying they might be returned on Wednesday. The promise came after the release on Friday of 171 RUF members who had been detained by the government, the spokesman said. Massaquoi said the Joint Implementation Committee set up to oversee the peace process was due to meet with the government and the RUF in Freetown, adding "and then we'll revisit the Lomé Peace Accord." The RUF spokesman said U.N. peacekeepers would be allowed to deploy in rebel-held territory, including the diamond-mining areas, but he appeared to indicate that only West African soldiers would be welcome. "We’ve made that in our press release to the ECOWAS leaders, that we want the ECOWAS sub-regional troops within UNAMSIL, who are to contribute troops, to deploy in our zones immediately," he said. Massaquoi denied a report Monday by BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers that RUF rebels were harassing civilians in Port Loko and Kambia Districts. "I could tell you that that information is incorrect," he said. "We have not harassed any civilians...we have a very good relationship with the civilians. We have thousands of civilians behind the rebel lines."

28 August: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Monday that UNAMSIL's authorised strength be increased to 20,500, including 260 military observers, to enhance the peacekeeping force's operational structure and overall effectiveness, and to allow the U.N. to deploy in key areas of Sierra Leone. "The presence of a robust and determined peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone should be part of a strategy to induce armed groups to disarm, in combination with strong incentives for their reintegration into Sierra Leone society," Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council. He also recommended a six-month extension of UNAMSIL's mandate, which is due to expire on September 8. The secretary-general stressed that the Sierra Leonean military remained an "essential element" of the peace process, and he urged the Sierra Leone government to extend its authority throughout the country, to consolidate its administration, and to develop the capacity to ensure its own security. He also appealed to the government and its international partners to prepare projects that would allow ex-combatants the opportunity of a "new and more constructive life." Annan told reporters Monday that the U.N. was taking steps to strengthen the peacekeepers by giving them the tools they needed to defend themselves and their mandate. "I think we cannot ignore or condone this tendency in Sierra Leone for rebels to take peacekeepers hostage," he said. "I think the rebels have to be careful not to go around believing that it is easy to take peacekeepers as hostages because they do have robust rules of engagement and they are going to be defending themselves. And I hope they'll be dissuaded from pursuing this tack."

Sierra Leonean and British negotiators are expected to meet with the West Side Boys in an attempt to bring about the release of 12 soldiers, including 11 British troops, abducted by the militia on Friday. "We don't believe that there is any other option (than negotiation), and we believe that our military observers and peacekeepers on the ground, especially the Jordanian battalion stationed around the area will do a lot to end the crisis," UNAMSIL military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Coker told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Meanwhile, negotiations continued by radio Monday in an effort to bring about the soldiers' release. "UNAMSIL military observers and Jordanian peacekeepers at Masiaka, close to the base of the West Side Boys, continue to have dialogue with the West Side Boys for the immediate release of the 11 British soldiers and one Sierra Leonean soldier," Coker said on state radio. British military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp said Monday that negotiations were taking place between British officers and the West Side Boys, with UNAMSIL facilitating the talks and providing security. Cramp said negotiators had opened a dialogue with the militia through one of its leaders, known as Brigadier Kallay. "The last 24 hours we have had continued dialogue with the West Side group regarding the detainees — the soldiers from the 1st Royal Irish Regiment — and we have been in contact with them directly and we do know they’re safe, well, they haven’t been harmed, and they are being looked after," Cramp said. Lieutenant-Commander Coker expressed hope that the soldiers would be freed soon, but he ruled out the use of force by the U.N. should negotiations fail. "UNAMSIL's position in Sierra Leone is for peace," he said. "We are not going to use force. We believe by the efforts of UNAMSIL, the government and the British themselves they will be released very soon." A British Ministry of Defence spokesman, however, hinted at the possibility of stronger measures should the talks fail. "We have every confidence to believe we will be able to secure the peaceful release of these soldiers, but we are not complacent," he said. Late Sunday, the spokesman confirmed that "a team of extra staff officers" had left for Sierra Leone to help secure the soldiers' release. Several British newspapers reported the government had sent a SAS special forces team and two police hostage negotiators to Sierra Leone in case they were needed, but the spokesman declined to confirm the report. "It is just a team of people who are going out there to help with the talks, and they are experts in helping with negotiations. We will not actually comment on who the persons are," he said. In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed hope for the soldiers' early release. "There are expectations that they will be released and progress will be made, and I hope that will be the case," he said. Brigadier Gordon Hughes, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, said the abducted soldiers had been coordinating with Jordanian peacekeepers on security arrangements in the Masiaka area. "The British troops completed their mission in the area on Friday the 25th, and on their way back to Benguema (Military Training Centre) they were stopped and detained," he said. The West Side Boys are reportedly demanding food and medicine, as well as the release of one of their imprisoned commanders, "Brigadier Bombblast," also known as "Brigadier Papa," in exchange for releasing the hostages. The AFP reported the West Side Boys were demanding the release of three of their officers, while the Pool newspaper reported they were insisting the government free another commander, "Brigadier 55." But Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer stressed the militia's objectives were not clear. "We don't quite yet know what they want," he said. "We need to be clear exactly why they carried out the abductions. We don't yet have that information. Whether we can rely on them - well, they are a group of unreliable people anyway, we will just have to see how it goes." Lieutenant-Commander Cramp also stressed that it was "too early to start speculating" on the West Side Boys' demands. "There’s nothing specific on that yet and we really wouldn’t want to prejudice any negotiations going on at the moment," he told Radio France International.

Residents fleeing from RUF-held areas of Port Loko and Kambia Districts are reporting renewed rebel harassment of civilians, resulting in the emptying of towns and villages, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Monday. "I understand from those fleeing that the RUF has resorted to levying heavy taxations on the people. One eyewitness told me that each household in his locality is forced to provide five litres of palm oil and Le 5,000 (about $2.00) a week to feed RUF rebels," Rogers said. "Parents are forced to pay ransom money of about $15.00 for the freedom of their children from conscription. Those who do not conform to the RUF demands are given 48 lashes on their buttocks with electric cables." There has been no independent confirmation of the accounts.

27 August: The West Side Boys militia is demanding food and medicine in exchange for the release of 11 British troops and one Sierra Leonean soldier they took hostage on Friday, a Sierra Leonean official was quoted as saying. The negotiations, which a British Ministry of Defence spokesman said were "at a very early stage," are reportedly being conducted by UNAMSIL and British commanders in Sierra Leone. A second Sierra Leonean official said the West Side Boys were also demanding the release of their reputed leader, "Brigadier Bombblast," also known as "Brigadier Papa," from Pademba Road Prison. "The West Side Boys are making demands for the immediate release of one of their leaders...who has been detained at the central prison in Freetown for almost two months," the official said. "Brigadier Bombblast" was involved in a shootout in June with another former AFRC commander, "Brigadier 55," reportedly over a vehicle they seized in May from RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma called on the West Side Boys to release the soldiers. "The continuing holding of people coming to Sierra Leone to assist in the peace process does not augur well. I therefore ask you that, the earlier the better, you free the British soldiers," Koroma said in a letter to the fighters. Koroma also demanded that they leave the bush and disarm. The West Side Boys previously professed loyalty to Koroma, but the relationship deteriorated after the fighters clashed repeatedly with Sierra Leone Army soldiers and resumed harassing traffic along the highway east of Freetown. Earlier this month Koroma formally disassociated himself with them, calling the West Side Boys a "minority group of hard core and wayward criminals" with no political ideology or legitimate cause. In July, UNAMSIL launched "Operation Thunderbolt" to clear the highway of West Side Boys checkpoints. Within weeks, however, some of the checkpoints were reported to be back in place. While the West Side Boys are nominally a faction of ex-soldiers loyal to the former AFRC military junta, BBC correspondents Mark Doyle and Lansana Fofana stressed Sunday that many of them were not former soldiers, but rather criminals who had been released from Pademba Road Prison. "They are therefore afraid to come back to town," Fofana said. "They are armed and dangerous, and they are used to the culture of violence, lawlessness, abductions, as well as dispossessing commuters on the highway." British Defence Minister John Spellar said the 12 soldiers were reported to be well. "We're very pleased that he has been able to report that the 11 of our forces and also the liaison officer from the Sierra Leone army are being well treated and also being fed, he said. "In the meantime we're obviously working very closely with the government of Sierra Leone in order for talks to start to secure their release." The British soldiers, most of whom are from Northern Ireland, are among some 300 troops of the Royal Irish Regiment's 1st Battalion posted at the Benguema Military Training Centre, where they have been training recruits for the restructured Sierra Leone Army. They were due to be replaced in mid-September.

26 August: Eleven soldiers from Britain's Royal Irish Regiment and one Sierra Leone Army soldier went missing Friday near the towns of Masiaka and Forudugu, amid reports they were abducted by former soldiers known as the West Side Boys. "The West Side Boys captured 12 soldiers attached to the British training team in Sierra Leone together with three military Land Rovers yesterday and they have been held hostage. The team of 12 was patrolling along the Freetown-Masiaka highway near to a small village called Forudugu where they were held by the armed West Side rebels and taken to their base, Reuters quoted a Sierra Leonean military source as saying." A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defence was less certain as to the whereabouts of the missing troops. "We have now confirmed that they are being held in Sierra Leone and we've had a message from one of the soldiers. That message concerned that they are in good health and being well looked after," he said. "It's not clear at this stage who they're being held by or why they're being held." A helicopter search for the missing men on Saturday morning was unsuccessful. The British soldiers are part of the approximately 300-strong detachment of military trainers and support troops posted at the Benguema Military Training Centre, where they were training Sierra Leonean recruits for the restructured army.

Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura gave details Saturday of maltreatment he suffered at the hands of Liberia's National Security Agency during his detention on charges of spying. Samura, the author of the acclaimed documentary "Cry Freetown," and three other U.K.-based journalists were arrested a week ago in their Monrovia hotel room and accused of manufacturing evidence to support charges the Liberian government was involved in diamond smuggling and gun-running on behalf of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "I was...smuggled into a dark room and the other three guys were put into one cell," Samura told the BBC. "And then somebody came me with a knife and he was brandishing the knife saying, since I was there to write "Cry Liberia" he was going to split my chest and eat my heart and then use my blood to write 'Cry Samura'." He said the guard fanned smoke into his cell to make it difficult for him to breathe, and threw cockroaches on him in during the night. After lawyers for the journalists complained publicly about their treatment, the Minister of Justice ordered them removed from the National Security Agency and returned to Monrovia Central Prison. Samura acknowledged it was a "mistake" to enter Liberia with a lurid shooting script which, among other things, described President Taylor as a womanizer and a Mafia boss who earned $100 million a year on the sale of illicit diamonds and marijuana, and implied the Liberian leader had engaged in cannibalism. "That was only a proposal, and we had to write something attractive to get funding so that we will be able to do the documentary that we had wanted to do," Samura said. "But there is no way that we’re going to use part of what was on that document to do the documentary, because...I’m working absolutely in the interest of Africa, because I have got the West to understand that it’s about time we Africans take part in our own business. It’s about time we tell our own stories. So the documentaries were intended to make Africa’s case against some of the things that the West have not seen." Samura hinted that he might be willing to return to Liberia to finish the film. "I still think that there are people there whose story needs to be told, and I think it’s about time we Africans take part in our own business," he said. "We have to tell our own story. And if our leaders don’t get that, I think it’s about time they start getting it quite clear that we are ready to tell the African stories and turn the continent around."

25 August: The Sierra Leone government Friday released 171 persons from prison, most of them RUF members who had been held under the country's emergency regulations. Reuters quoted Moses Showers, the Deputy Director of Pademba Road Prison, as saying 84 persons were freed in Freetown, with the rest let go at Bo and Kenema. He said most of those released were RUF fighters, but there were also some civilians with ties to the RUF. Senior RUF figures such as Mike Lamin, who served as Minister of Trade and Industry in the unity government which followed the Lomé Peace Accord, and Alimamy Pallo Bangura, who served as Minister of Energy and Power, remain in detention.

The Liberian government has dropped all charges against four foreign journalists arrested in Monrovia a week ago. The four, including Sierra Leonean Sorious Samura (pictured left), were charged with espionage after the government alleged they had prepared "false documents" to support allegations that Liberia was involved in diamond smuggling and gun-running in Sierra Leone. Justice Minister Eddington Varmah said Friday the journalists had been freed on "humanitarian grounds" in exchange for an apology from them and their employers. "As far as the government is concerned, with the dropping of these charges, this case is closed,'' Varmah told reporters. Throughout the day Thursday defence lawyers and prosecutors met to work out a deal, and on Friday the journalists apologised to President Taylor in a handwritten note "for any offense which our action or statements have caused." In a BBC interview following their release, Taylor (right) said the journalists would be allowed to remain in Liberia and work without fear of harassment. "We want to make it very clear that journalists have nothing to be afraid of in Liberia — absolutely nothing," he said. "Even the tapes that they shot here, we are not seizing them from them. They may take them. I mean we don’t have anything against reporting the facts." But Taylor said his government was opposed to "people coming here with pre-conceived ideas, hypotheticals, misinformation, half-truths, only to prove a point." According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the four were released from Monrovia Central Prison early Friday and driven to the British consulate in Monrovia. From there, they were expected to travel to Abidjan before returning to London. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the four journalists would be allowed to leave Liberia "later this afternoon." Britain's Channel Four television, which hired the journalists, has insisted that they were in Liberia working on a documentary on how an African country could end a cycle of violence. "The film was discussed in detail with the Liberian authorities before we went, we had official written permission to film, we explained what the film was about and we had already interviewed the minister of defence," Programme Director Tim Gardham told the BBC on Tuesday. But an excerpt from the team's shooting script published by the BBC on Friday, written in London before the journalists ever arrived in Liberia, appears to take direct aim at Liberian President Charles Taylor: "Eight o'clock at night, Monrovia, Liberia. The streets are deserted. Reports have been heard earlier in the day of two murders of Mandingo tradesmen to the west of the city. The government has denounced dissident conspirators known to be plotting an invasion of the country in a five star bar in Freetown. Channel Four presenter Sorious Samura awkwardly checks his bowtie in the bathroom mirror of his decrepit hotel bedroom. He’s about to meet Africa’s first Mafia head of state — a fugitive from American justice known for his Rolls Royces, endless dating of beauty queens, and $100 million annual earnings from the illicit trade in diamonds and marijuana." According to a source at the BBC, the script also erroneously states that former President Samuel K. Doe was tortured to death by ULIMO-J leader Roosevelt Johnson, and his dismembered body paraded through the streets of Monrovia. In fact, Doe was captured and murdered in 1990 by Prince Johnson, a former Taylor protégé who broke away to form his own splinter group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

Nine Sierra Leone Army soldiers were killed and four others, including two Nigerian UNAMSIL troops, were injured in clashes with RUF fighters at the town of Kabatha, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported. "An escapee who arrived in Lungi told me yesterday that RUF rebels first attacked Port Loko town on Wednesday, but the attack was completely repelled by pro-government forces, and five rebels reportedly lost their lives," Rogers said. "Pro-government forces, in trying to extend their hold on the Port Loko District, launched an attack on an RUF position on the Port Loko-Kambia axis, but met with stiff resistance from the rebels. The report said pro-government forces had to rapidly retreat but Nigerian UNAMSIL troops hit back, inflicting heavy casualties on the rebels." Army Director of Media Relations Major John Milton said RUF fighters attacked government positions in Port Loko District on Thursday, seriously wounding two soldiers. He said five rebels were killed. Milton called on the RUF's new acting leader to stop the attacks. "I personally know General Issa Sesay and I know him as somebody who may be committed to peace," Milton said. "Therefore, I am calling on him to order his men to desist immediately from attacking government troop positions and to stop harassing civilians."

Army and intelligence sources told Reuters Friday that 27 members of the West Side Boys militia had been executed on Wednesday by their commander, Brigadier-General Kallay. He suspected them of wanting to surrender to UNAMSIL troops at Masiaka, Reuters said. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. 

The programme to reintegrate ex-combatants into society has resumed at the Lungi Demobilisation Centre following its suspension in May as a result of renewed fighting in the country, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Friday. Since August 15, the programme has processed 176 former combatants, including 107 from West Side, 45 from Wilberforce, 8 from Kabala and 16 from Port Loko, the NCDDR said in a press release. Reintegration Unit officials are currently exploring the possibility of attaching some of these ex-combatants to vocational institutions and public works programmes. "For this new phase to be speeded up, activities in the demobilisation programme have been scaled down considerably," the NCDDR statement said. Ex-combatants now receive relevant information on the Lomé Peace Accord, the DDR programme, and the re-entry plan: civic education and recreation. At Kenema earlier this month, more than 100 ex-combatant and non-combatant youths received certificates after completing the Youth Reintegration Training and Education Programme at Kenema. Aspects of the programme included agricultural production, child protection and health care. The programme was organised by the U.S. Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) and World Vision, and was sponsored by USAID. About 300 youths received certificates after taking part in a similar programme in Freetown organised by the OTI and the Sackville Community Youth Organisation. On Monday, about 400 wives of ex-combatants were registered for micro-credit assistance, aimed at providing for their family needs. During the first cycle in the Western Area, the programme will benefit some 600 households. At Daru Demobilisation Centre, the NCDDR said there were currently 667 RUF and SLA combatants, 160 of whom had arrived since UNAMSIL's "Operation Kurkri" in early July. On August 15, the NCDDR and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) signed a memorandum of understanding to ensure provision of technical assistance to support the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of child combatants. UNICEF Reintegration Officer Andy Brooks was quoted as saying that about 40 percent of the estimated 5,400 war-displaced children would never been reunited with their families due in part to difficulties in tracing their relatives. He said the challenge for child protection agencies was to set up alternative long-term care centres apart from existing interim care centres.

Finance Minister Dr. James O.C. Jonah said Friday the Sierra Leone government was satisfied with a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that would increase the authorised strength of UNAMSIL from its current 13,000 troop limit. "I think in terms of the situation on the ground you must take into account that the secretary-general is basing figures his on the report of his commander in the field, and I think this is the right figure for the time being," Jonah told the BBC. "It may well be that at some future date they might increase it or maybe may decrease it. For now it is the correct figure." Jonah, who formerly served as Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said that while his government would prefer UNAMSIL's mandate be changed from peacekeeping to peace-enforcement, there was no consensus for such a change among troop-contributing nations. "If you decide to go on peace enforcement, then you must be certain that the troop contributors are going to go along with you," he said. "So if they are not yet ready to do that, then it’s prudent to go with peacekeeping, but giving them the robust capacity to react to any attack from the RUF."

The BBC announced Friday it had begun test transmissions on its new 24-hour relay station in Freetown. The station transmits on a frequency of 94.3 FM.

24 August: Sierra Leone Army troops and Nigerian peacekeepers came under attack Wednesday from RUF fighters in the Port Loko area, according to U.N. sources. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu was quoted as saying the attack on government troops took place late Wednesday at Kabatha Junction, about 80 miles north of Freetown. She said the army repelled the attack with an undetermined number of casualties on both sides. Later that night the rebels attacked a U.N. post along the road from Port Loko to Lungi. Two Nigerian soldiers were injured, Befecadu said. "The situation has now been brought under control," she told reporters. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the attack on U.N. peacekeepers involved about a company of RUF combatants, and lasted some four hours. He said the area was now quiet, but that troops had been placed on maximum alert.

Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah denied Thursday that four U.K.-based journalists held in Monrovia on espionage charges had been tortured. "At no time did anybody put a finger on any of the defendants as being alleged by their counselor Varney Sherman that they were beaten," Mulbah told the BBC. In fact, Varney only alleged the journalists had been subjected to "mental torture" by members of Liberia's National Security Agency, a charge Mulbah dismissed. "Well I think that Varney is looking for international sympathy. He knows that he has no case," he said. Liberian soccer star George Weah on Wednesday joined Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Rev. Jesse Jackson and others in calling for the journalists' release, but Mulbah said Liberia intended to purse the charges. "We do not think it would be fair on our part charging defendants for particular crimes without the trial taking place — we just go and set them free," he said. "There is a procedure and we are definitely going to pursue the procedure until otherwise. A case has been carried to court. He who is brought down guilty will face the full weight of the law." Late Thursday the Associated Press, citing an anonymous source close to the defence and an independent Liberian radio station, reported defence lawyers had reached a deal with the government to release the journalists. The AP said an announcement was expected at a Friday news conference called by the Justice Ministry. Earlier, a spokeswoman for Channel Four television in London, which contracted with the journalists to produce the documentary, said lawyers would appeal the judge's decision to deny bail. "We are lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court over the bail decision," she said. In its indictment handed down on Monday, the Liberian government alleged the journalists, including Sierra Leonean Sorious Samura, were preparing a "damaging and injurious documentary on Liberia," that they had conducted interviews and filmed sensitive areas intended to be used against Liberia "during diplomatic confrontations and military events," and that they had prepared "false documents" to support allegations that "Liberia is involved with diamond trading and gun-running in the sisterly state of Sierra Leone." The government also alleged the defendants "filmed various scenes and criminally matched them to the various counts of the already-distributed script to show that the Government of Liberia is indeed involved in the civil conflict in Sierra Leone," and that their script portrayed Liberian President Charles Taylor "as a murderer to the viewers and the international community."

Sierra Leone's Embassy in Washington, D.C. warned Wednesday that time was running out for Sierra Leoneans and former Sierra Leone residents to take advantage of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which provides legal protection for those who have become de facto refugees in the United States or who entered the country illegally. Under TPS, Sierra Leoneans are allowed to apply for a visa and a work permit, and gain the right to hold employment and to travel without fear of arrest or deportation as long as the programme is in force. "The current TPS programme for refugees and illegal U.S. residents from Sierra Leone will terminate on November 2, 2000," the Embassy said in a statement. "After that date, further requests for TPS visas and work permits will not be accepted." The Embassy noted that Sierra Leoneans with valid student visas were also eligible to benefit from TPS. "We encourage them to apply for TPS visas and work permits, as this will enable them to lawfully seek full time employment," the statement said.

Army chiefs of staff from most of the nine countries contributing troops to UNAMSIL have told senior U.N. officials their soldiers could not be expected to participate in a "peace enforcement mission" in Sierra Leone, which would be tantamount to going to war against the RUF, a U.N. spokesman said. The military officers, from Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia and Zambia, stressed the responsibility of the international community to provide material support for the mission, and to promote a political solution to the conflict. The troop contributors also stressed the importance of a commitment by the Sierra Leone government "to do its utmost to stabilize the situation in the country, as well as to maintain political and military pressure on the RUF," the spokesman said.

23 August: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told army chiefs of staff from countries contributing troops to UNAMSIL Wednesday that the near-collapse of the mission in May exposed serious issues within the force which needed to be addressed. One problem, he said, was that of command and control, which needed to be united in order to decrease the risk of casualties. "I am sure you would agree that UNAMSIL needs to function as a single integrated unit that reflects the will and solidarity of the international community," Annan said. He went on to say that many of UNAMSIL's problems could be attributed to a lack of essential equipment, and he stressed that the U.N. was ready to work with troop-contributing nations to overcome logistical obstacles. Another problem involved the mission's rules of engagement, which had been "in a state of flux" since the force's establishment, leading to questions about when it was allowed to use force. "UNAMSIL has always been intended as a robust peacekeeping force — impartial in terms of its political position vis a vis the parties, but strong in its ability to deter attacks and to defend itself and its mandate should this become necessary," Annan said. "As I have often stressed, at times the United Nations needs to show force to avoid having to use it. And if the use of force is unavoidable, the United Nations should be capable of delivering in a credible fashion." Referring to the U.N. Security Council's call for a strengthened mandate for the peacekeeping force, Annan told the generals: "As you will understand, a strengthened mandate will also mean a need for more troops, and we may therefore have to ask you to provide additional units." He added that the U.N.'s priority was to avoid the use of force whenever possible and to first seek a political solution. The secretary-general stressed the importance of the U.N.'s peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone. "We must succeed in this endeavour, for the sake of the soldiers under our command, for the people of Sierra Leone, and for other countries where the peacekeeping abilities of the United Nations will be needed in times to come," he said. 

Four U.K.-based journalists arrested Friday night in Monrovia were denied bail Wednesday, amid charges by their head lawyer they had been tortured. "They were abused, and tortured and maltreated," Varney Sherman told the BBC. "They were threatened, they put cockroaches into their cells, they even threatened that they would cut them up," he said, adding that this constituted "mental torture." In a series of radio and print interviews, government officials have alleged the journalists were manufacturing evidence to support British and American allegations of Liberian government involvement in diamond smuggling and gun-running in support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The four, including Sierra Leonean journalist Sorious Samura, were charged with espionage on Monday, and taken to the headquarters of the National Security Agency, a criminal investigation unit that reports directly to President Charles Taylor, where the abuse allegedly took place. After hearing the allegations of maltreatment, Judge Timothy Z. Swope ordered the men returned transferred back to Monrovia's Central Prison. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Britain was "extremely worried" about the reports of mistreatment. But she said a doctor from the U.S. Embassy examined the four after Wednesday's court hearing and had given them a clean bill of health. Sherman also decried the judge's decision to deny the defendants bail. "The judge said it is...a capital crime, and it is not a capital crime — it is not a capital punishment," he said. "And more than that, the judge says that the evidence is great, the presumption is great, the evidence is overwhelming, and what does he rely on? He relies on what he heard on VOA, he relies on what he heard on the radio. The judge went as far as saying that the crime has been committed against him and against the Liberian people. I mean, if the judge says that, what do you expect?" Sherman insisted the right to bail was not at the discretion of the judge. "It is mandatory," he said. "The right to bail is absolute, it’s constitutional, it’s statutory." Meanwhile, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said in London Wednesday he had urged Taylor to release the reporters when the two met in Monrovia on Monday, and he predicted that they would soon be free. "We impressed on President Taylor what we see as the danger of continuing to hold those four journalists and we deliberated together what we thought should be the way out," he said. "I must say he agreed...and I believe, sooner than later, those people will have their freedom." Obasanjo said Taylor had showed him a copy of the documentary script, which he termed as being in bad taste. "But having said that, there was not any doubt that those journalists were not spies, and we made that point clear," he said. But Taylor's spokesman, Reginald Goodridge, said pleas for the journalists' immediate release were unlikely to be successful. "Such appeals put our president in a quandary, because it is difficult for the president to interfere in the judicial process. This would make a mockery of our system of justice," he said. "We do have a system of justice here in Liberia and it will serve the journalists well. If they are found to be innocent, we will say 'We are sorry, please go.' If they are found guilty, it is at that point that the president could use his good judgment to pardon them or make any decision he wishes to make."

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim visited the Murray Town Amputee Camp and a camp for displaced civilians Wednesday on the second day of his two-day visit to Freetown aimed at obtaining first-hand information on the changing situation in Sierra Leone. The OAU delegation also met with President Kabbah and senior government officials, UNAMSIL officers and detained RUF leaders at Pademba Road Prison. On Tuesday the OAU delegation donated $250,000 — $100,000 to the amputees, $100,000 to the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and $50,000 to the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace.

The first 14 members of a group of about 200 U.S. military trainers and support staff arrived in Nigeria Wednesday to begin training Nigerian troops for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone. The Americans are expected to train and equip about 3,000 Nigerian and Ghanaian troops to serve in the UNAMSIL force, including up to five Nigerian battalions of around 600 troops each. U.S. defence officials said the equipment will include mortars and machine guns, which would allow the soldiers to enforce peace if given the mandate. The U.S. has stressed human rights considerations, and one official said there would be "a significant component" of the Nigerians' training stressing the rules of war. "The aim is not to detoughen them, but to keep them legal," the official said.

Switzerland said on Wednesday it would join a United Nations embargo on the sale of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone unless they were accompanied by a government-issued certificate of origin. Switzerland is not a member of the U.N., but typically observes U.N. trade embargoes. The United States says it has evidence that Sierra Leonean "conflict diamonds" routinely pass through Switzerland, the Netherlands and Russia after being smuggled out of Africa.

22 August: The RUF said Tuesday it was prepared to co-operate with United Nations peacekeepers to implement the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. "The RUF High Command calls for the early deployment of UNAMSIL troops from the sub-region in our areas of operation in Sierra Leone, and assures of our readiness to cooperate with them in order to ensure the success of the DDR programme in particular and the peace process in general," the RUF said in a statement issued in Monrovia. In May, the RUF abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers who had deployed in RUF strongholds in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. They were freed only after a contact team sent by Liberian President Charles Taylor negotiated with RUF field commander General Issa Sesay for their release. Sesay was named Monday as acting RUF leader in place of Foday Sankoh, who was arrested in May. But Sesay himself was among those accused of maltreating U.N. abductees, including conducting a mock execution of an unarmed Norwegian military observer. "He threw a can of stout on my chest, then picked me up, put his pistol to my head and 'click'," Commander Knut Gjellestad told the British newspaper "Independent" after his release in late May. In its statement Tuesday, the RUF pledged to work with ECOWAS in bringing lasting peace to Sierra Leone, and said it hoped the Sierra Leone government would "fulfill its total obligations under the Lomé Accord."

General Issa Sesay, who on Monday was named to head the RUF in place of the imprisoned Foday Sankoh, is only an interim leader, Gibril Massaquoi (pictured right) told the BBC. "We still believe Foday Sankoh is our leader until whatsoever crime the government in Freetown feels he has committed is proved beyond all reasonable doubt, guilty, and whatsoever step will be taken against him," said Massaquoi, who was Special Assistant to Sankoh. "But we feel that it’s time to give the people of Sierra Leone peace, and during the process we will fight his case." Massaquoi spoke to the BBC from Monrovia, where Sesay was holding talks with Liberian leaders. He said the RUF's political and military wings had agreed on Sesay "because he has been the man in command." In a separate interview with Radio France International, Massaquoi said the RUF High Command had sent a letter to Sankoh through ECOWAS representatives suggesting that Sesay become interim leader, and that Sankoh had approved the change. "What we have done is we have consulted both the political and military wings of the RUF, and we deem it necessary to appoint General Issa Sesay as interim leader, so as to revisit the Lomé Accords and have it implemented to the letter," Massaquoi said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received reports of some 10,000 people waiting to cross the Melie River from Kono District to Gueckedou, Guinea, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. Over the weekend only 489 were able to cross due to the small size of the which can carry only 15 passengers at a time. The UNHCR is concerned at the poor condition of the canoes, and has recommended the purchase of 50 life vests and four big pirogues capable of transporting 400 persons at a time. The newly-arrived refugees are transferred to Katkama Refugee Camp under an understanding with Guinean authorities, who are allowing them to enter on condition they be relocated to areas further from the border. The UNHCR currently has two camps with a capacity of 2,500 refugees and is considering building another at Guelo for up to 16,000 people. "Asylum seekers are in bad condition, as they have been fleeing from renewed fighting, bombing and harassment of the civilian population by the RUF rebels in the Kono District," the spokesman said. "Three children and a pregnant woman died while waiting for authorisation to enter Guinea." After an influx of more than 2,500 refugees in early August, the Guinean authorities had been reluctant to allow more Sierra Leoneans to cross the border for fear of infiltration by the RUF. After discussions with the UNHCR, the Guineans agreed to allow vulnerable persons and the elderly to enter through three designated humanitarian corridors. The presence of former fighters has been reported among the asylum seekers, and the UNHCR believes several hundred may be among those waiting to cross. The agency has asked that they be separated from the civilian population. To avoid the legal selection process, about 1,000 persons attempted to cross the river at Bamba, several miles from the legal entry point, but failed because of high water. There are currently some 331,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the Gueckedou and Forecariah prefectures of Guinea, including more than 10,000 who arrived since the peace process broke down in early May.

A Liberian judge has postponed until at least Wednesday a decision on whether to grant bail to four U.K.-based journalists arrested in Monrovia Friday night, saying he needed more time to study the applicable law. The four were charged with espionage in connection with a documentary on Africa they were filming for Britain's Channel Four television and CNN. One of those charged was Sierra Leonean Sorious Samura, who won multiple awards last year for his documentary "Cry Freetown." Two of the others are British nationals and one is South African. The judge, Timothy Z. Swope, said that under Liberian law espionage is a first degree felony, but he said he could use his discretion to grant bail if he were convinced the accused might not be found guilty of espionage. In London, British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain (pictured left) called for the their immediate release. "They are not spies, they are journalists, and this is an attack on international press freedom," Hain told the BBC. "It brings the Liberian government into collision course not just with the United Nations, which it already is over sanctions busting and support for the rebel forces in Sierra Leone, but now also against the whole international climate, which favors press freedom...They should be released forthwith and the charges immediately withdrawn." Former South African President Nelson Mandela also appealed to Liberian President Charles Taylor Tuesday to release the journalists. Mandela told Taylor that even if the Liberia authorities had a watertight case, "it would be a wonderful gesture if he could pardon or release the four journalists," according to his spokeswoman. She said Taylor told Mandela he would need a couple days to consider the matter. Late Monday, however, Taylor said it would be wrong for him to interfere in the judicial process. "There is nothing going to happen to anyone in this country in violation of his or her rights under the laws of Liberia," he said. "You will be treated as human beings, fairly, with due process of law. But you will face the law."

A British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman has denied Liberian claims that British weapons supplied to the Sierra Leone Army were finding their way into the hands of anti-government insurgents fighting in Lofa County. "The British government has been among the collaborating governments which have posed a direct threat to the security of Liberia by re-arming a non-restructured Sierra Leone Army and the Kamajors...which include special forces of Liberian dissidents in Sierra Leone," Taylor told West Africa magazine. The FCO spokesman dismissed the allegations. "The British government provided the government of Sierra Leone with weapons as part of a package of assistance to establish a new and democratically accountable armed forces," he told the Pan African News Agency (PANA). "This assistance is required to enable the government of Sierra Leone to defend its people against horrific rebel attacks. We hope the government of Liberia would share in that concern for a fellow democratically-elected government." He added President Kabbah had promised the British government that the weapons would be used only by the Sierra Leone Army. 

Army chiefs of staff from the nine countries contributing troops to UNAMSIL will discuss ways to make the mission more effective when they meet in New York on Wednesday, a U.N. spokesman said. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley and the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, are also expected to attend. The meeting will "provide an opportunity for the troop-contributing countries and the (U.N.) secretariat to exchange views on UNAMSIL's mandate and tasks, and any revised concept of operations," in line with a Security Council resolution which called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to make recommendations on restructuring the force after consulting the troop contributors. "The meeting will also address the issues of equipment requirements in UNAMSIL, as well as identifying possible means of assistance in this area," he said. 

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) donated $250,000 Tuesday to help rebuild peace in Sierra Leone and to help victims and former combatants in the conflict, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. Visiting OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim handed the donation over to President Kabbah. The money will go to the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, to the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and to those who had limbs cut off by rebel fighters.

UNAMSIL's civilian police chief, Maaritz Dutoit, met Monday with Vice President Albert Joe Demby to discuss the release of detained RUF combatants, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Monday. Demby said the government was planning to free 187 RUF members from custody. A government press release issued on Monday indicated President Kabbah was planning to release 171 RUF members held under Sierra Leone's emergency regulations. "So far today, the screening process is still going on for the RUF prisoners who are to be released," the spokesman said.

Britain will send a third army short-term training team to Sierra Leone in mid-September, British Defence Minister John Spellar said on Monday. The new soldiers will replace some 300 troops from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, who themselves replaced a similar number of troops from the Royal Anglian Regiment in July. By the end of the third team's course, over 3,000 soldiers will have completed the training programme, a Ministry of Defence statement said.

21 August: The RUF has named General Issa Sesay to replace Foday Sankoh as leader of the rebel movement, the Sierra Leone government said on Monday. According to the statement, Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare arrived in Freetown Monday with a letter from the RUF's High Command informing the government of what they said was their unanimous decision. The statement said President Konare, who is the current ECOWAS chairman, President Kabbah and President Obasanjo met with Sankoh in Freetown Monday to acquaint him with the changes in the RUF movement. "Sankoh handed the two visiting presidents a reply for the RUF indicating his understanding and full agreement with the proposal of the RUF High Command," the government statement said. Kabbah also agreed to release 171 RUF members detained under the country's emergency regulations, including 156 held in Freetown, 11 in Bo and four in Makeni. Issa Sesay is reportedly from Makeni and, according to one account, is about 34 years old. In an interview last year with the New African, Sankoh said he had recruited Sesay and former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie from among young expatriate Sierra Leoneans in Liberia and Ivory Coast who had been unable to make a living in their own country. "You see, people like Sam Bockarie and Issa I rescued from the slums in Cote d'Ivoire," Sankoh said. "People say they are Liberians; but take it from me, they are not!" Sesay was promoted to battlefield commander after Bockarie publicly split from Sankoh in December last year.

UNAMSIL said Friday's RUF attack on Kabala came a day after the World Food Programme and other agencies delivered food aid to the town, using U.N. helicopters. The attack was repulsed by pro-government forces. UNAMSIL said the situation was now calm, and said it was believed the attackers were seeking food and ammunition.

The Kono Donso militia, backed by the Kamajors, has captured a number of towns in Kono District following fighting between the CDF and RUF forces, according to the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA). There was no independent confirmation of the claim, which was attributed to "sources...in Kenema." According to SLENA, the CDF has captured the town of Jaiama Sewafe and the nearby villages of Gold Town, Mambudu (Mambudu Checkpoint), and Njagbwema Nimikoro. SLENA said the CDF was in control of the Sewa Bridge on the highway linking the RUF strongholds of Koidu and Makeni.

Defence chiefs of troop-contributing countries for UNAMSIL will hold a meeting in New York on August 16, a U.N. spokesman said on Monday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed "outrage" Monday over the arrest on Friday of four journalists in Liberia. Government officials accused the four, including award-winning Sierra Leonean filmmaker Sorious Samura (left), of espionage. "We urge you to drop this absurd charge and release the journalists immediately," the CPJ wrote in a letter to Liberian President Charles Taylor. "We also demand that Liberian police return the equipment and videotapes that they apparently seized from the journalists' hotel rooms prior to their arrest, in flagrant violation of their right to report the news, as well as your own government's written permit allowing them to report in Liberia." The four were reportedly charged in court Monday without their lawyers present. Britain's Channel Four television network, which contracted the journalists to film a three-part documentary and had provided eight lawyers to represent them, said Monday night it was "concerned and disappointed" at the indictments. "We understand the charges — of espionage and criminal design — were brought in court without legal representation for the men," it said. "Lawyers appointed by Channel Four to represent the four men were not informed that the indictment was taking place." The four were charged with entering Liberia with "criminal design" and carrying out "interviews and filming in sensitive areas of the republic." The four were remanded to Monrovia's Central Prison. Meanwhile, former South African President Nelson Mandela added his voice to calls for the journalists' release. Mandela's spokesman said he tried to contact Taylor on Monday, but was unable to reach him because the Liberian leader was meeting with the presidents of Nigeria and Mali over the peace process in sierra Leone. Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) also protested the arrests Monday in a letter to Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah.

20 August: Sierra Leone defeated Togo 2-0 Sunday in their preliminary round African Nations Cup qualifying match. The Leone Stars' defence held Togo to only a few shots on goal at Freetown's National Stadium, while the offence dominated but missed several chances to convert. Scoring for Sierra Leone were Ibrahim Bah in the 33rd minute, and Abu Kanu in the 51st. The first-leg match had originally been scheduled for July, but was postponed at the last minute when the Togolese team refused to travel to Freetown, citing security concerns. The return leg will be played in Lomé on September 3. 

Army troops repelled a rebel attack on Kabala, military sources in Freetown told Reuters on Sunday. The sources said four soldiers and two civilians were killed in the attack, along with ten RUF fighters. There has been no independent confirmation of the account. The sources also confirmed reports of fighting in Kono District over the past four days, but declined to give details. Reuters quoted civilians who fled Kono to Freetown as saying a government helicopter gunship had bombarded the area.

An RUF commander identifying himself as Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel [L. Jama] has denied a claim by the Kamajor militia to have captured Jaiama Sewafe and the nearby village of Gold Town in Kono District. [Jama] told the BBC the Kamajors had attacked RUF positions in the two towns, but said they had been repelled with heavy casualties. "I left from there only last night, travelled to Makeni to inform the world" that the reports were false, he said. "We never lost these towns. (The Kamajors tried to capture them) but they were repelled immediately, and the two areas are right now under the control of the RUF." [Jama] also dismissed a Kamajor claim that the militia had captured 22 RUF fighters who were preparing to counter-attack, including an RUF commander called Tamba Bockarie, also known as "Tamba Fanta." "No, that is false. It is not to our knowledge at all," he said. "We do not even have such a man in our deployment areas at Sewafe and Gold Town." The RUF commander also denied reports that the rebels had launched an attack on Kabala. "The north is still under our control. Our previous areas that we are control, they are still under our control," he said, adding: "We are not attacking Kabala." 

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman, were due to arrive in Sierra Leone on Sunday, according to state radio. The two are expected to proceed on to neighbouring countries for discussions with Liberian President Charles Taylor and Guinean President Lansana Conte before returning to Freetown on Monday to brief President Kabbah on the result of the talks. Kabbah held talks Wednesday with Obasanjo and Konare in Abuja, which reportedly centered on efforts by the RUF to choose a new leader to replace Foday Sankoh, who has been imprisoned since mid-May. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web Sunday that Monday's visit to Freetown "is connected to the RUF leadership issue." He said the government was expected to release a press release on the the subject on Monday, but added there were indications the issue was "not as tacked down as thought" as of Friday.

Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would enforce a ban on Sierra Leonean rough diamonds, in accordance with a U.N. global ban. A statement by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Trade said the ban would cover all diamonds not accompanied by a certificate of origin issued by the Sierra Leonean government.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday he had appealed to Liberian President Charles Taylor to release four journalists arrested in Monrovia Friday night and accused of spying. Jackson, who serves as President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, said he tried unsuccessfully to reach Taylor on Saturday, but that the Liberian president telephoned him on Sunday. "I urged him to consider using his powers to free them," Jackson said. "I said that their detention would only further isolate Liberia and escalate calls for sanctions."  Taylor promised to consider Jackson's appeal, but told him the journalists were expected to face a magistrate on Monday. Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah alleged Saturday that the four, including Sierra Leonean Sorious Samura, had been trying to manufacture evidence linking the Liberian government to diamond smuggling, gun running, support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and human rights abuses. Jackson, in an earlier CNN television interview, said a free press was essential to the integrity and credibility of a democracy. "I hope these charges will be dropped because nobody in the world community believes these journalists were there as spies," Jackson said. "Their detention will only contribute to isolating Liberia, inviting more pressure on the poor and escalating calls for sanctions." Liberia's Deputy Information Minister, Milton Teahjay, quoted Taylor as telling Jackson he could not intervene to release the journalists until their cases had been processed through the courts. "If the process of going through the courts has been exhausted, then it comes to the point where his intervention will become necessary, then he will do that," Teahjay told the BBC. Teahjay said the group had received accreditation from the Ministry of Information, but that they had not been given permission to film. "And without waiting for such an approval to be granted, they went around and started interviewing security forces," he said. He accused the journalists of entering Liberia with "pre-manufactured evidence" to validate U.S. and British allegations of Liberian involvement in diamond smuggling and gun-running, and suggested they were spying for the two countries. "In the process of searching we discovered documents, their scripts, both the instructions from the State Department and perhaps what appears to be the British Foreign Office, and the answers to those scripts affirming and confirming that Liberia was involved in diamond smuggling and gun-running," he said. "That is typical espionage." Meanwhile, staff from Britain's Channel Four television have flown to Liberia to negotiate for the journalists' release. "The best we can hope is that they get deported, the worst is that they get charged," said Channel Four television spokesman Matt Baker. The four journalists were involved in filming a three-part documentary for Channel Four and CNN.

19 August: Liberian police have arrested four journalists, including Sierra Leonean Sorious Samura (pictured left), who in his 1999 documentary "Cry Freetown" filmed atrocities committed by both sides during January's rebel attack on Freetown. The four work for Insight News Television, which was commissioned by Britain's Channel Four television network and CNN to produce a three-part documentary series called "Sorious Samura's Africa." According to BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, the arrests were led personally by Police Director Paul Mulbah. "Mr. Mulbah said he obtained a warrant for the arrests after a search of the journalists’ hotel rooms, where he said police had found documents which had raised eyebrows," Paye-Layleh said. "The Liberian authorities are now viewing tapes and other material collected by the journalists over the past three weeks that they’ve been in Liberia." Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah said Saturday the four had "engaged in acts against the security of the state" and were arrested "on suspicion of espionage against the Republic of Liberia." He accused the film crew of trying to manufacture evidence against the Liberian government, which has been accused by Britain and the United States of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels by smuggling illicit diamonds and arms trafficking. Varmah said Liberian investigators had both written and physical evidence against the journalists which would be presented in court. "The police discovered damaging instruments against the interest of the Liberian state...designed to provide false and malicious information to foreign powers," he said. "The intent of this clandestine activity is apparently designed to injure not only the image and character of the president of Liberia, but also disrupt the economic, social and political fabric of Liberia by providing assistance to foreign powers in their ongoing diplomatic confrontation with Liberia." Varmah said the film crew's activities were linked to "allegations of diamond smuggling, gun running, support to the RUF and human rights abuses" against Liberia. According to Paye-Layleh, Mulbah said the journalists would be charged within 48 hours as required by Liberian law. "The four arrived in Liberia on August 1 and went through the formal accreditation procedures at the Ministry of Information. But it appears they’re fallen foul of a clause in their accreditation letters which prevents them from filming in what the ministry calls 'strategic places'," Paye-Layleh said. Channel Four spokesman Matt Baker insisted the four were innocent. "The tapes that have been confiscated, when they are viewed, will prove they are on legitimate journalistic business in the country," he told Reuters. "There is no basis for any accusation of espionage." Those arrested with Samura were identified as Britons David Barrie and Timothy Lambon, and South African Gugulakhe Radebe.

Liberian Finance Minister Nathaniel Barnes denied Saturday the Liberian government had received any revenues from smuggled Sierra Leonean diamonds. "I have not seen one penny from any revenue from the purported sale of diamonds," he told the BBC. "Look, Liberia has had diamonds. Historically Liberia has always had diamonds. We have a very, very difficult time implementing an effective monitoring and control process for diamonds. It’s a very portable product, it can be very easily concealed, and we have a very difficult time because we lack the capacity to monitor and manage of control of diamonds within our own borders. I mean officially I don’t know of any revenue that we’ve gotten from this."

18 August: Some 254 SLA ex-combatants were airlifted Thursday from the Daru DDR camp in eastern Sierra Leone to Kenema after successful screening by UNAMSIL to join the restructured Sierra Leone Army, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Friday. She said they would eventually be sent to Benguema Training Camp for military training. Befecadu told reporters UNAMSIL helicopters had assisted Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in transporting humanitarian assistance consisting of food and medicines to Kabala residents. In Kenema, she said, UNAMSIL had opened a Level II hospital staffed by Jordanian peacekeepers. "We have unconfirmed reports that Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia might be returning to Sierra Leone," Befecadu said. "Humanitarian assistance is being consolidated for such an event and UNAMSIL and other agencies are working on the process."

The Kamajor militia's National Director of War, Moinina Fofana, claimed Friday that the Kamajors had captured the towns of Jaiama Sewafe and Gold Town in Kono District, 30 miles west of Koidu. According to BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima, Fofana said the pro-government militia had killed eleven RUF fighters in a two-day battle, and wounded several others. He said 22 more had been captured. There was no independent verification of the account, and no figures on Kamajor casualties were provided. "The captured men, including the dreaded commander Tamba Bockarie, alias 'Tamba Fanta', were handed over by the Kamajors to a Ghanaian UNAMSIL battalion in Kenema," Brima said. "According to Fofana, the men were seized as they headed to counter-attack Jaiama Sewafe from Kailahun and Tongo." A conflicting account was given by UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu, who told reporters in Freetown that 22 RUF fighters, including one child combatant, "presented themselves to the Civil Defence Forces" in the Kenema area and handed over 16 weapons, including AK-47s and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). She said the RUF fighters had been handed over to the UNAMSIL Military Observers Centre in Kenema.

Britain formally requested Thursday that the United Nations Security Council discuss the "role of diamonds in fuelling conflict" when it meets on September 5, Reuters reported on Friday. In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Deputy Permanent U.N. Representative Stewart Eldon asked that the issue be added to the session's agenda. In a memorandum accompanying the letter, Eldon noted that in a number of conflicts "rebel forces have gained access to local diamond mines and illicitly exported diamonds to help finance arms purchases and other activities." He pointed out that the diamond industry "has called for each rough diamond importing country to prohibit the import of rough diamonds unless they have been certified by an accredited authority in the exporting country," adding: "The worries of consumers about the origin of diamonds have a potential impact on the legitimate trade. The issue should therefore be addressed by the General Assembly with a view to taking appropriate action to deal with this problem."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will lead an inter-agency assessment food-needs assessment mission to Bumbuna August 18-20 following reports of a deteriorating humanitarian situation and the arrival of 7,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the town, the WFP said on Friday. "Food security situation in the entire northern area is presumed to be critical, but only Bumbuna and Kabala are currently accessible, and even these only by air," the WFP said, adding that the agency was advocating resumption of dialogue on humanitarian access between the warring parties. At Daru, NGOs screened some 600 children under age five after the WFP received conflicting reports about the nutritional status of residents and IDPs in the town. "Although the reports are still awaited, there are indications that the level of malnutrition might not be too serious," the WFP report said, adding that the reopening of the Kenema - Daru road several days before the assessment had led to increased availability of food at significantly reduced prices. On August 8, the WFP verified a count of 19,981 IDPs at the Port Loko IDP camp and in surrounding buildings. The WFP and CARE are currently conducting a registration exercise at Mile 91, covering both the resident and IDP populations. The WFP is currently assisting 38,189 IDPs in 28 rural villages on the Mile 91 - Masiaka - Moyamba - Bo and Magburaka axis. The WFP is simultaneously conducting a sensitisation campaign in Kaffu Bullom and Lokomasama Chiefdoms to mobilise community initiatives for food-for-work and agricultural recovery projects. A similar exercise is planned for Pepel and Tasso Islands later in August. A UNHCR mission to Kenema confirmed that 1,400 returned refugees in IDP camps were in need of assistance. "Refugees are increasingly returning to Sierra Leone on their own, due to insecurity in Liberia," the WFP said. "Relief agencies are discussing a strategy to address the spontaneous repatriation." In the past week, the WFP distributed 752 tons of food aid to 42,352 beneficiaries in Sierra Leone. As of August 14, available food stocks totaled 8,397 tons, including 3,406 tons of cereals.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Bank: [$] 1900 / 2450. [£] 2850 / 3450.  Frandia: [$] 2250 / 2450  [£] 3000 / 3500; Continental: [$] 2250 / 2450  [£] 3100 / 3500; Sierra Forex: [$] 2250 / 2450  [£] 3200 / 3500.

17 August: A battalion of Indian UNAMSIL troops were deployed Thursday at Mile 91, where humanitarian workers are continuing efforts to accommodate and feed some 35,000 internally displaced persons from northern Sierra Leone, the Deputy Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, told reporters. "Prior to the Indians' arrival, Nigerian and Guinean troops had also tried to provide protection for the large numbers of internally displaced, given the threat posed by the movements of Revolutionary United Front rebels and bandits in the vicinity," he said.

Gibril Massaquoi, the former Special Assistant to imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh, accused the Kamajor militia Thursday of killing 46 suspected RUF members and of commandeering ten vehicles in Kenema four days ago. "All these civilians were alleged to be supporters of the RUF. They were not armed; these are civilians. They are out of the political wing of the RUF," Massaquoi (pictured right) told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. There has been no independent confirmation of his claim, which was denied late Thursday by Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer. "The claim is false," Spencer told the Sierra Leone Web. A high-level delegation led by Vice President Albert Joe Demby visited southern and eastern Sierra Leone last week to investigate complaints against the militia, and on Monday warned Kamajors in Kenema to desist from acts of lawlessness. On Wednesday, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the Deputy Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, said U.N. human rights workers who visited Bo had reported on Tuesday that civilians suspected of having links to the RUF had been harassed by the CDF. Massaquoi also alleged Thursday that RUF members disarmed under the DDR programme  "have been taken away from their camps and treated as prisoners of war, detained at Pademba Road, whilst others have their ears cut off." Massaquoi's allegations were dismissed by Dr. Francis Kai-Kai (left), Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). "I know Gibril knows very well how the NCDDR has been doing its best to ensure ex-combatants get a fair chance to [relive] back in society here in Sierra Leone again," Kai-Kai said. He also rejected Massaquoi's claim that RUF ex-combatants were being imprisoned. "What we have tried to do is make sure that we bring together all the ex-combatants who cannot make it to areas especially occupied by the RUF, since they are afraid of going back to those areas occupied by their own compatriots," he said. "And these are now in Lungi and in Port Loko, and we are trying to do everything possible with reintegration programmes in those areas whilst we wait for the RUF to come on board again."

One Guinean UNAMSIL soldier is dead and another was injured in a traffic accident at Moyamba on Tuesday, a U.N. spokesman said. The two were evacuated to Conakry on Wednesday, where one of the soldiers died. The other's condition was not disclosed. 

Nigeria has sent eight officers and, by varying accounts, 42 or 51 enlisted men to Egypt for treatment of wounds they suffered while serving with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. Director of Army Public Relations Colonel Felix Chukwuma said the soldiers, who were suffering from various disabilities which could not be treated in Nigerian hospitals, left aboard an Egypt Air flight on Monday. The plight of the wounded former ECOMOG troops was highlighted in July by Nigeria's Post Express newspaper, which said over 100 soldiers in the ECOMOG Ward at the Nigerian Army Base Hospital at Yaba were threatening to burn the hospital, and themselves with it, unless they received treatment for their wounds. Chukwuma told the Post Express that a lack of funds was preventing the government from sending its injured soldiers abroad for treatment. The BBC quoted Chukwuma as saying Thursday the soldiers who left this week were the first batch to be sent for treatment in eight months, adding that others would leave for Egypt soon. The last ECOMOG troops left Sierra Leone at the beginning of May.

A day after the Guinean government agreed to help stem the flow of illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds through their country, Sierra Leone's Minister of Mineral Resources Mohamed Swarry Deen said it was difficult to determine the volume of illegal diamonds being smuggled through Guinea. With the United Nations focusing on Liberia, he told Radio France International on Thursday, "one would expect that people would then try to deviate from Liberia, and the only other point likely for them to turn is Guinea. So whatever volume had been going through Liberia is likely either the same or slightly less through Guinea." Deen acknowledged it was difficult to determine how many diamonds were being produced by the RUF. "Diamonds are mined in areas that are not controlled by government, and the routes that they are taking is not really controlled by government, so really we only know by the amount of weapons they carry and the evidence that we have got from their leader (Foday Sankoh) recently when he was arrested," he said. The minister stressed the government's "main aim" was to reassert its authority over the diamond mining areas. "Once government takes control over the main diamond-producing areas, Kono and Tongo, gets rid of the rebels in these areas, and again at the same time stops the whole conflict in the country, then when there is no conflict there will be no conflict diamonds," he said.

16 August: President Kabbah and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current chairman of ECOWAS, travelled together to Abuja on Tuesday for talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Radio France International reported. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web the talks would center on efforts by the RUF to select a new leader to replace Foday Sankoh, who has been imprisoned since May. The source was unable to verify local press reports that RUF field commander General Issa Sesay had been chosen to replace Sankoh. "Issa's name has come up several times and was mentioned in the letter the RUF sent Konare, but according to people that talk to the RUF the letter confirmed that he was the military commander only," he said.

Liberia has turned up its war of words with the United States and Britain, accusing the two countries of supporting anti-government insurgents in Liberia's Lofa County, and alleging the United States was involved in a plot to assassinate Liberian President Charles Taylor. The charges first appeared Saturday in a pro-government newspaper, the Patriot, and were subsequently broadcast over KISS-FM, a radio station personally owned by Taylor. The United States and Britain have accused the Liberian government of diamond smuggling and gun-running in support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels — charges which have brought an angry reaction from Liberian officials. According to the Voice of America, the KISS-FM story was attributed to an unnamed senior Liberian government official, and alleged the United States had brought people into Liberia, including American citizens, to kill Taylor. These persons were posing as missionaries and embassy officials, the radio claimed, adding that the United States had made two million dollars available to carry out the plot. The allegations were rejected by U.S. Ambassador Bismarck Myrick. "The allegations attributed to 'reliable sources' in the Patriot newspaper edition of Saturday, August 12, 2000 and broadcast on the Liberia communications network are completely false and baseless," Myrick said in a statement released on Monday. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department acting spokesman Philip Reeker warned again Tuesday that Liberia would face sanctions if it "failed to cease the activities that are fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone." Reeker noted statements by the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso that they would cooperate with investigations into diamond smuggling and illegal arms sales, but said the U.S. was looking for action and results. "There is continuing strong evidence that Liberia has been the primary patron of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone," Reeker told reporters. "We have urged the Liberian Government to take steps to end support for the RUF and to stop the illicit diamond trade immediately. We haven't seen anything to suggest that the illegal trade in diamonds and arms in support of the RUF has ceased...We're looking for a concrete change in policy from both of those governments, in fact, and feel strongly...that they need to make a genuine commitment to regional peace and then act accordingly. And we're going to obviously know when they have done so."

Fatou Mbaye Sankoh, the wife of imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh, expressed concern Wednesday that a proposed court to try those guilty of serious offences under Sierra Leonean and international law would not be just. "One (concern) is the dominant role Sierra Leonean authorities would play in this process, because as we know, they will never be fair," she told the BBC's Newshour programme. "And the second one is the setting up of the court just to try Foday Sankoh and the RUF leadership." Sankoh accused the Sierra Leone government of pursuing "an agenda against" the RUF. "I read a lot of declarations from the authorities saying that Foday Sankoh is a principal perpetrator of atrocities in Sierra Leone," she said. "The only thing they (are) concerned about right now is trying Foday Sankoh....I know that Sierra Leone government, pro-government press and media, demonize my husband. They keep demonizing this man over and over...The whole world thinks that my husband is not a human being." Fatou Sankoh said that the RUF would be prepared to present evidence showing who was responsible for committing atrocities in Sierra Leone. "The RUF, they are not fighting to kill, to rape," she said. "They’re not the ones bringing the killings and the rape. We have factions, and they all have blood in their hands." She expressed regret over the plight of atrocity victims in Sierra Leone. "I’m very sorry about that. This is very sad," she said. "And we will see, as I have said. We will come with clear and convincing evidence that it’s not only member of RUF. We have the evidence here. That’s very sad to see that." When asked whether she thought her husband bore any responsibility for atrocities in Sierra Leone, Fatou Sankoh was more cautious: "No one is above the law," she said. "And right now, my thinking is let’s come up with evidence that my husband has done this. I’m not saying he did not do it. But let’s wait for the evidence."

UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said Wednesday it was a "misunderstanding" when it was announced that Deputy Force Commander Brigadier-General had been deputised by Major-General Vijay Jetley during his brief absence. Befecadu told reporters in Freetown that a Pre-Discharge Orientation Course for 40 ex-combatants had started in Lungi, and would run through August 18. She added that 35 police officers at Moyamba had been selected for further training in Hastings by UNAMSIL Civilian Police (CIVPOL).

Guinea has agreed to help Sierra Leone combat the illicit trade in diamonds by RUF rebels, Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarry Deen told Reuters on Wednesday. Guinea has agreed to confiscate any diamonds not certified by the Sierra Leone government, and could prosecute traders who handle them. Richard Holbrooke, the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone last month that 40 percent of illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds were being smuggled through Guinea. The agreement between the two countries came after talks in Conakry on Tuesday between delegations headed by Deen and his Guinean counterpart, Ibrahima Soumah. "It appears as if Guinea realises that, apart from Liberia, whose connection to the rebels vis-a-vis the smuggling of Sierra Leone's diamonds is well known, their country is the other port for the smuggling of our diamonds," Deen said. A joint monitoring committee of Sierra Leonean and Guinean officials will be set up to monitor the movement of diamonds in the border area and in the part of Conakry where diamond dealers are based.

UNAMSIL peacekeepers from Bangladesh rescued 50 persons travelling from Guinea to Freetown by boat Tuesday after their craft was damaged in a storm, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hiurt Befecadu said on Wednesday. "All 50 passengers and their goods were rescued by our Bangladeshi patrol boat," she said.

Amid reports of a buildup of troops along the Sierra Leone - Liberia border, BBC presenter Robin White found the area calm last week when he visited the area on both sides of the Mano River Bridge, which links the two countries. The local Liberian commander at Bo Waterside told White there had been no trouble in the area since he took over command, and he said he had experienced no problems with the Kamajor militia, which controls the Sierra Leonean side of the border. "The working relationship is cordial," he said. "We will walk there. You will meet them. There is no problem. They come to us, we go to them. We talk." A Kamajor militiaman on the Sierra Leone side of the border confirmed that their relationship with the Liberians was currently "cool and calm," but he informed White that four Kamajors had been wounded some days previously when Liberian troops began firing across the border. "But we went there to tell them that we don’t want no war in this country no more," he said. The local Sierra Leonean police commander said he could not confirm the incident. "Here, the downside of the river on our own side, there’s no problem like that for now," he said. He described the relationship between the Sierra Leoneans and their Liberian counterparts, including immigration, police and the military, as "very cordial." He added that the police and the Kamajors maintained a close working relationship. "We interact, in fact most of the things we discuss commonly so that we will know how to tackle (them) in case of any future problem," he said. "We adjust ourselves before that." White said he later discovered the shooting incident referred to by the Kamajor was "a little row over payment for drugs — nothing too serious."

15 August: Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara, has said a proposed mixed Sierra Leonean and international court should be located in Sierra Leone. "The security situation in Sierra Leone has tremendously improved, and I believe it’s only but proper the court should sit in Sierra Leone," Kamara told the BBC's Network Africa programme. Kamara stressed that an amnesty granted by last year's Lomé Peace Accord did not apply to crimes prosecuted under international law. "In the first instance, the United Nations Security Council entered reservation on the Lomé Accord," Kamara said. "They never agreed to the blanket amnesty given to the people who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, and crimes of a genocidal nature." The ambassador denied that the tribunal was specifically targeting the RUF. "The resolution makes it quite clear it’s for persons, and it’s quite open," he said. "It’s quite broad." He also denied that the government intended to pursue a vendetta against rebel leaders. "If you are brought to court and there are proofs that you have committed such crimes, then you’ll be facing an international court — not a court of only Sierra Leonean judges, but a court of eminent judges from the diaspora," he said. Kamara insisted there was still room for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as called for in the peace agreement. "If you look at the resolution itself, there is a provision for the TRC," he said. "There are certain crimes that will be taken over to the TRC and certain crimes that will come to this court. And what government has done is only answer to the call of the people and to the call of the international community for truth and justice, for peace and justice."

Liberian President Charles Taylor has again denied charges he was providing arms to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. In a taped interview with BBC presenter Robin White broadcast on Tuesday, Taylor dismissed claims by the United States and Britain that they had evidence and eyewitness accounts linking him to the rebel group. "There is a satellite over Liberia every 48 minutes. We are aware of that," Taylor said. "You want to tell me they don’t have — the United States can take a picture of a matchstick, or even a safety pin — they don’t have any evidence of anything? I mean, why would now all of a sudden it is an eyewitness? That's not true." Taylor argued that the United States and Britain had been given sufficient time to produce evidence of Liberian complicity in gun-running, and they had failed to do so. "Isn’t it practical for the great United States to confront this little country with evidence that everyone will say ‘yes you are wrong'?" he asked. "They don’t have it because it does not exist...How did the RUF get tanks? Almost 20 of them? How did they get them? What, they flew them through there? How did they get tanks? How did they get heavy artillery?" Taylor denied he had control over the RUF, and said he had used his knowledge of the rebel movement constructively, as in negotiating the release of over 500 U.N. peacekeepers abducted by the RUF in May. "We reasoned with them that it was in the best interests of peace to release them. We did not instruct them," he said. Taylor said he was not in telephone contact with the RUF leadership. "I wouldn’t do that," he said. "If this were true, the British and Americans would have my voice on tape. We know they listen to every bit of telephone conversation...I have people that talk to them through radio. And mind you, that frequency is known by all military groups in this sub-region, including the United Nations, the British warships that are offshore, the American intelligence. They all, if they had it, they would bring it forward."

RUF leader Foday Sankoh will be tried before a tribunal to be set up jointly by Sierra Leone and the United Nations, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa told Reuters on Tuesday. Despite a provision of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the court which gives it jurisdiction over crimes committed prior to the Lomé Peace Accord, Berewa said those who had adhered to the agreement and had pursued peace since its signing would still benefit from its amnesty provision. "Those who have not will face trial," he said. Berewa said the court, which will include both Sierra Leonean and international judges and prosecutors, will have its "primary seat" in Sierra Leone. "The court can be removed out of Sierra Leone only in the unlikely event that the security situation becomes worse. Then another venue will be found for the sitting," he said. Asked whether former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma could be tried by the court, Berewa responded: "RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has been the principal perpetrator of atrocities in Sierra Leone since 1991 to today, therefore he is definitely going to be tried. In the case of Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, there are a number of issues raised." Following the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord, Koroma joined the government as chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace. Berewa said he hoped the court would advance the peace process by sending a message to rebels still holding out. ""With that at the back of their mind, they should see it in their own interest to give up their arms and try to join the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) process," he said.

Gibril Massaquoi, the former Special Assistant to detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, told the BBC Tuesday that the rebel group had no objection to an international tribunal as long as it was objective and not biased against them. "If the international community can make the trial free and fair, and not being politicized in favour of the current government because of (President) Tejan Kabbah being a former worker of the U.N. and a friend of the U.N. secretary-general, then the RUF believes the call for such trial will be justifiable," Massaquoi said from Makeni. He stressed that the RUF was concerned about plans for the court to sit in Freetown. "We know what the government in Freetown is capable of doing," he said. "You cannot imagine somebody may go to an amputee and tell him 'Now look, you just say it’s just Mr. Joe that’s cut your hands off in the RUF.' It can happen. But what we are saying is that we believe as long as the victim is not being spoon-fed by the government, and that he can identify a particular person that committed the atrocity against him, we have no case about that." Massaquoi said the RUF believed the court should operate in a third country. "Most courts in Sierra Leone are not free and fair," he said. "So we are appealing to international community, if they want to get the true story, let it be done out of Sierra Leone." Massaquoi insisted the RUF was not alone in violating the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord. "It is unfortunate that those (the) Security Council sent never reached the RUF to get their own side of story, and have taken decisions based on what the government in Freetown has told them," he said. "After the signing of the Lomé Accord, almost all parties have violated that agreement, ranging from using helicopter gunship, killing innocent civilians, blocking the highways, raping market women on the Okra Hill highway. All horrible things have been going on." In a separate interview with Radio France International on Tuesday, Massaquoi said the RUF feared the tribunal was "a witch hunt against them," and called for all those guilty of crimes to be brought before the court. "Since 1991, all parties have been committing atrocities, even those that are the cause of the rebel war," he said. "We believe that people are making a lot of propaganda against the RUF, that we have been the sole committers of crimes in Sierra Leone." Massaquoi said the RUF did not oppose the formation of the court, but added: "We have made our position clear to the ECOWAS head of state that it will derail the peace process. But notwithstanding that, the people are yearning for peace. And we must be committed to the peace process, with or without Foday Sankoh."

A high-level government delegation led by Vice President Albert Joe Demby warned thousands of members of the pro-government Kamajor militia in Kenema Monday to desist from acts of lawlessness and to work for peace and stability in the region, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Tuesday. "The remarks by Vice President Demby follow persistent complaints of alleged harassment, atrocities and general lawlessness by the Kamajors against the populace in towns and villages in southern and eastern Sierra Leone within the past month," Brima said. "This fresh wave of violence, including armed robbery in the region, has created panic among the people." Demby, along with Deputy Defence Minister and National CDF Coordinator Sam Hinga Norman and Security and Safety Minister Charles Margai, visited southern and eastern Sierra Leone to investigate a spate of recent complaints against the militia. Norman warned that "the Civil Defence Forces are not an organisation for sheltering criminals, adding that anyone caught involved in any criminal activity will face the full force of the law," Brima said. 

14 August: The United Nations Security Council agreed unanimously Monday to a resolution supporting the creation of a special tribunal to try "persons who bear the greatest responsibility" for serious crimes under Sierra Leonean and international law, including leaders who, in committing them, had endangered the peace process. The resolution authorises U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to negotiate an agreement with the Sierra Leone government to create the court, which will try crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of both international humanitarian and Sierra Leonean law. Annan has 30 days to make recommendations to the Council on the type of tribunal and on the form of the appeals process. The resolution also emphasises the importance of ensuring "the impartiality, independence and credibility" of judges and prosecutors, who will be drawn both from Sierra Leone and from the international community. With hours of the adoption of the resolution, the U.N. Secretariat's Office of the Legal Counsel began consultations with the Sierra Leone government through its Permanent Mission on implementation of the resolution, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web. In an interview with the BBC, U.N. Information Officer Farhan Haq stressed that the Security Council had not approved approved a specific court. "This is in many ways an initial resolution, and over time the Council will be presented with a more precise plan of what a court to try the Sierra Leonean nationals will entail," he said. "Ultimately, the Security Council will have to consider and presumably approve that court, and only after that could you really start to formally establish a court." He said that once a number of legal issues had been worked out, "(the Security Council) will have the opportunity to craft another resolution approving a very specific type of court." Haq said the scope of the court had not yet been worked out precisely, and that it might take up crimes committed prior to the Lomé Peace Accord, which granted a blanket amnesty for acts committed before July 1999. "I imagine they’re going to at least consider the idea of dealing with a long range of crimes, and as you know this has been going on for most of the decade," he said. "But the precise details of how far back the court’s jurisdictions go and so forth are among the issues that are to be determined."

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara, called the Security Council's adoption Monday of a resolution to create a war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone "a bold step, considering the present situation in our country," and a "step forward in bringing sanity" to Sierra Leone. "We believe that this will ally the fears of most of our nationals, that peace and justice are intertwined together, and that our country will enjoy peace and justice very soon," he told reporters. Kamara insisted all those guilty of offenses falling under the courts jurisdiction would be brought to justice, even if they had fled the country. "We will find ways of bringing them," he said. "Not all those who are guilty of offences are in The Hague or in Arusha, but they've been brought in one after the other. So anyone who is indicted will be brought into Freetown or wherever the court may sit to face justice." Meanwhile, a Sierra Leone government statement welcomed the Security Council resolution and pledged to cooperate with a team of experts U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to send to the country. "By this resolution, the United Nations and the international community have gone beyond the mere expression of abhorrence and shock at the atrocities committed against the people of Sierra Leone," the statement said. "They have sent a clear message to perpetrators of hideous crimes that collective action is now being taken to end impunity in this country."

Human Rights Watch has welcomed the U.N. resolution supporting the establishment of a court to try war criminals in Sierra Leone, but warned Monday that a "mixed" Sierra Leonean and international tribunal dominated by the Sierra Leonean judiciary might not be even-handed. "The justice effort in Sierra Leone must examine the criminal responsibility of all parties in order to be effective," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. Human Rights Watch Executive Director for Africa Peter Takirambudde was more blunt: "This court must not stop at prosecuting one man or faction," he said. "Diplomats keep talking about the 'Sankoh resolution,' as if rebel leader Foday Sankoh were the only one responsible for the widespread war crimes in Sierra Leone." The rights group expressed concern that a possible dominant role by Sierra Leonean authorities "could lead to political manipulation of the process, leading to biased prosecutions and inadequate protections for persons standing trial before the tribunal." Human Rights Watch argued that the Sierra Leonean judiciary did not have the capacity to play more than a limited role on the court. The group urged the United Nations Security Council to set up "a credible, even-handed, and well-funded court with a strong international component." In a BBC interview late Monday, Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Joanna Weschler said the group was concerned that the court's jurisdiction be "crime-specific rather than person-specific." "That is, people who committed particular kinds of crimes should be tried, and it should not be limited to a particular person or a particular faction," she said, adding that justice must be seen to be even-handed. Weschler said the court's jurisdiction should extend back to March 1991, when the RUF first took up arms in Sierra Leone. "We also feel that the Security Council should declare the jurisdiction as ongoing until the Council will be able to declare that the conflict no longer poses a threat to international security," she said. Weschler noted that Human Rights Watch had opposed the amnesty provision of the Lomé Peace Accord. "A peace process that’s built on impunity is no peace process," she said. "As a human rights organisation we are very, very deeply concerned that there is no possibility to have a lasting political solution unless and until you deal with the justice issue." Weschler said Human Rights Watch was not advocating the prosecution of children who had been forced to commit atrocities during the Sierra Leone conflict. "We do not try the ten-year olds," she said. "Certainly we would not be advocating that. No, we prosecute and try their leaders, and people who are responsible for having ten-year olds commit those horrible acts."

The United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, welcomed the adopting of the U.N. resolution asking U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a special court in Sierra Leone. "We hope that those people who have consistently violated all the rules of international and national behaviour, who have committed such gross violations of human rights, will understand that the noose continues to tighten around them as this policy evolves and gets more and more firm and robust as we move forward," he told reporters. Holbrooke stressed that the resolution did not acknowledge distinctions between acts committed before or after the Lomé Peace Accord, which granted a blanket amnesty to all crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil conflict. "So let the word go forth that people are going to be held liable under this approach for actions that they committed prior to the Lomé Agreement, if those actions constituted crimes against humanity," he said. "That is the core point here as far as I am concerned." Holbrooke said that provisions for the Lomé Peace Accord should be respected, but argued that aspects of the agreement were no longer valid. "The concept of bringing the parties together in a peaceful way should continue," he added. "But the RUF leadership has written itself out of any legitimate role in this process."

Government soldiers captured the northern town of Mamakama on Saturday, Army Director of Media Relations Major John Milton told reporters Monday. He said one government soldier died in the fighting, while 50 RUF troops were killed. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. Mamakama is located about ten miles from Port Loko.

A number of RUF combatants surrendered to UNAMSIL troops at Daru over the weekend, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Monday. "Five of them have submitted their weapons and have joined the DDR programme," she said. "But there were two who have also come without their weapons and UNAMSIL would like to assure them that any combatant with or without their weapons are welcome to join the DDR programme for screening." Befecadu added that one member of the West Side Boys militia had surrendered with his rifle to UNAMSIL troops at Port Loko. Asked why combatants were now being accepted into the DDR programme without turning in a weapon, UNAMSIL military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Coker replied that at the recent national conference by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), "The DDR programme was reviewed."

13 August: Sierra Leone's Inspector-General of Police, Keith Biddle, confirmed Sunday that detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh was being held in Sierra Leone, but declined to disclose the location. "Mr. Sankoh has never left the shores of Sierra Leone since the day he was arrested on the 17th of May. He is in the custody of the Sierra Leone authorities, the police and the prison service," Biddle told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. "We’ve prepared a number of locations around the country that we can rotate him through, and at the moment he’s in one of those locations...He’s a very high profile prisoner. There’s a lot of people would like to get hold of him for a variety of reasons. So we have to make sure, to ensure his security and his safety, that we can move him from time to time." Biddle said that Sankoh was not being held incommunicado, and had received visits from two international delegations since his arrest. He declined to identify them, but a Kenyan government delegation reported meeting with the rebel leader shortly after his arrest. Biddle said Sankoh was in good health. "He’s fit and well," he said. "He gets regular visits, almost daily visits, from a doctor. He did have a minor bullet wound to his lower left leg, and that’s being treated by Sierra Leoneans. And he’s now recovered as far as that goes. He’s in clean surroundings, he sleeps on a bed, and he has the food that he likes to eat every day. He’s probably eating a lot better than a lot of other people." Biddle insisted that any decision on prosecuting Sankoh would be made by the Sierra Leone government. "There’s a tremendous amount of evidence being gathered, I can say that, by a team of very, very skilled and dedicated detectives — again from Sierra Leone alone," he said. "There’s no other nation being involved in preparing the case against Mr. Sankoh."

Chiefs of defence staff from UNAMSIL troop-contributing countries will meet at the United Nations headquarters in New York later this month to discuss peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Sunday. ECOWAS has offered an additional 3,000 peacekeeping troops for Sierra Leone, contingent upon the international community bearing the expense. Befecadu said UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley would also take part in the meeting. According to Reuters, Befecadu said Jetley had been treated for malaria during his recent trip to the United States, and would take a short period of leave prior to the U.N. meeting. In his absence, UNAMSIL would be under the command of Nigerian Brigadier General M. A. Garba, she said.

Sierra Leone has been ranked 31st of 52 African countries in the latest monthly rankings published by FIFA, soccer's world governing body. In first place was South Africa, followed by Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Cameroon, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Angola, Ghana and Nigeria. At the bottom of the list were Sao Tome e Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, Djibouti and, in last place, Somalia. 

San Jose Earthquakes forward Abdul Thompson Conteh urged Americans Saturday to come to the aid of war-torn Sierra Leone. Conteh, a former member of Sierra Leone’s national football team, made his appeal on nationwide television at the halftime in his team’s losing effort against the Tampa Bay Mutiny. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday, Conteh said he planned to use his visibility as a professional athlete to raise funds for war-affected people in Sierra Leone. "I’ve been thinking about my country for so long," he said. "What I’m looking to do is help, in one way or another, financially." He said his efforts were "in the early stages" and that he had not yet identified a specific project, but was planning to work through the Red Cross and Washington-based Friends of Sierra Leone. "What I’m going to do is raise funds," he said. "I'm going to be involved in fundraising, 110%." Conteh said he had received a positive response from potential donors, including corporations and Major League Soccer, but he expressed concern about ensuring that the money would reach those in need. "I will want to use that money to help in some sector," he said. "What I don’t know is how to get that money into the country." Conteh moved to the United States as a teenager, but played for the Leone Stars from 1994 to 1997, including three African Nations Cup matches in 1996. He has also played for professional teams in Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Sunday his government would prefer that a special mixed Sierra Leonean and international tribunal being considered by the United Nations would sit in Sierra Leone. "That is what the government would prefer and we believe that is what is going to happen," Spencer told Radio France International. "I think the resolution does call for that, but also makes provision for an alternate location for the court if it is deemed necessary for it to move out of Sierra Leone." Spencer said the tribunal would be a Sierra Leonean court with "an international flavour."  "It’s going to be a Sierra Leonean court, but with United Nations assistance and mandate to try crimes under Sierra Leonean law as well as crimes under international law," he said. "So the court will be able to try those who have committed human rights violations and crimes against humanity, as well as local criminal offenses in Sierra Leone. It’s going to be made up of judges drawn from the international community, perhaps some Sierra Leonean judges. It’s going to have powers of arrest and prosecution; it’s going to have prosecutors, some of whom will be local and some international." Spencer said the court would primarily be concerned with acts committed after the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord, which granted a blanket amnesty for crimes committed before July 1999. But for crimes against humanity, the court would have a mandate to prosecute crimes committed before that date. "In our view, those who have abided by the terms of the agreement, who have not committed violations after that date, those who have shown remorse, those who have indicated that they are committed to peace in Sierra Leone, would continue to enjoy (the amnesty)," he said. "Those who have clearly demonstrated that they had no respect for the Lomé Agreement and continue to carry out violations, of course they cannot then claim amnesty."

12 August: Only three weeks after UNAMSIL's "Operation Thunderbolt" to clear the Freetown - Masiaka - Lungi highway of illegal West Side Boys checkpoints, the West Side Boys have re-established themselves along the road and have resumed extorting money from vehicles, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Saturday. "A few days ago, and in the company of other journalists, I saw on that highway at least three checkpoints being manned by the West Side Boys, who now make a living out of the illegal taxes they impose on motorists," Fofana said. "They charge a fixed fee of Le 2,000 per vehicle, which is about a dollar, and seem to be operating without any let or hindrance." He added that some vehicles carrying foodstuffs had been escorted by armed West Side Boys, who extorted protection money. "The Jordanian Second Battalion deployed on the Masiaka highway say the presence of armed West Side Boys militia on that road is merely a confidence-building measure and not at all a security threat," Fofana said. "They freely interact with the militia boys, sometimes allegedly helping them with food and medicine while encouraging them to hand over their weapons and join the DDR programe."

Thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees at Sinje have protested plans by the Liberian government to uproot them once again. Many of the refugees at Sinje Camp were forced to flee Liberia's northern Lofa County last year after fighting in the area between insurgents and Liberian troops. On Saturday the refugees presented a petition to the visiting Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nyudueh Morkonmana. According to BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, the refugees said they had built structures in the area and made farms, so that moving them now would not only be time-consuming but would present an economic hardship. "(Morkonmana) said that it was not the pleasure of the Liberian government to relocate them from the area, but because of the persistent rumours that people were attempting to attack Liberia from neighbouring countries the government did not want the presence of the refuges in the area to by people who want to make trouble in Liberia," Payle-Layleh said. The speaker promised to forward the petition to the upper house of parliament and to the central government, and said any decision would be relayed to the refugees. In mid-June Liberian Foreign Affairs Minister Monie Captan accused the refugees of involvement in illicit diamond mining, and announced that 10,000 Sierra Leoneans would be relocated from Sinje to the town of Clay in Bomi County, 30 kilometres from Monrovia.

President Kabbah visited Kenema and Bonthe Friday on a second day of travels which on Thursday took him to Moyamba and Mile 91. In Kenema, Kabbah first visited diamond dealer Hashim Hashim, then presided over the graduation ceremony for "Education for Peace," a youth reintegration training programme designed to provide literacy trainers for eastern Sierra Leone, and visited an interim care centre for child ex-combatants. Those who accompanied the president in the convoy of two PAE helicopters and a helicopter gunship included U.S. Ambassador Joseph Melrose, Acting Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Tom Carew, Minister of Presidential Affairs Momodu Koroma, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs Shirley Gbujama, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Teresa Koroma, parliamentarian Martin Sama, NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai,  Inspector-General of Police Keith Biddle, Captain Sam Yaja, reporters and videographers.

11 August: The United Nations Security Council has postponed until Monday a vote on setting up a mixed Sierra Leonean and international court to try those suspected of "egregious crimes" during the country's civil conflict. Council President Hasmy Agam of Malaysia said one Council member was "waiting for final instruction." Reuters quoted other sources as saying the vote was postponed at the request of Russia.

More than 4,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived in Guinea in the past two weeks, with some 2,500 crossing the border in the past four days alone, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday. A UNHCR statement issued in Geneva said the rate of new arrivals in Guinea had been intensifying since the last week in July. Between May and July, there were only 600 new arrivals. "Intensified fighting in Sierra Leone’s diamond area, fear of government bombing over rebel-held positions and harassment of the population by members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are among the reasons cited by the refugees for leaving Sierra Leone," the statement said. The refugees are being accommodated and interviewed by aid workers at Mangay Camp, in Guinea's Gueckedou District. Among the latest arrivals were a number of women and girls who said they had been held by the rebels against their will, some for several years. They had been serving as domestic workers or guards for rebel camps. Some of the adult women said they had been abused. Also identified among the new arrivals were 15 child soldiers, including at least two girls, who said they had served period of from one to seven years with the rebels or, in the case of one, with the Sierra Leone Army. "All said they had been heavily drugged with cocaine, and acknowledged they had been extremely brutal and aggressive," the UNHCR statement said. "They said they had been captured by armed rebels and forced to fight. They are now asking to be removed from the camps, where they fear some of their former victims may recognize them. They are currently separated from the rest of the camp population and are receiving medical and psychological attention."

President Kabbah visited Moyamba and Mile 91 on Thursday in order, a presidential spokesman told the BBC, to brief local residents at the district and regional levels about the security situation in the country. Kabbah was accompanied by Minister of Rural Development and Local Government J.B. Dauda, Acting Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Tom Carew, U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joseph Melrose, and Inspector-General of Police Keith Biddle. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web that Kabbah would travel to Kenema and Bonthe on Friday. At Moyamba, Kabbah told a packed hall that peace and stability was now in sight and appealed for unity among Sierra Leoneans, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. "(Kabbah) made a special appeal to all Sierra Leoneans to embrace all former RUF fighters who are now surrendering to ensure sustainable peace in the country," Fofana said. "This appeal came following a series of incidents in which ex-RUF combatants who had surrendered were harassed, lynched, and in some cases prevented from visiting their home towns and villages by the populace because of the atrocities they are alleged to have committed." At Mile 91, where tens of thousands of people from northern Sierra Leone have taken refuge, Kabbah addressed over 85,000 people, and saw for himself the misery of the internally displaced persons, Fofana said. According to an aid worker, the president presented 1,000 bags of rice to the displaced.  

Liberia's House of Representatives has set up a 13-member committee to investigate allegations, made most recently by the United States and Britain, that the Liberian government is involved in trading illicit diamonds and supplying illegal arms to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Liberian leaders have denied the charges and have demanded their accusers submit proof of their allegations. "The committee is not to indict, but to find out the truth on these allegations," House Speaker Nyudueh Morkonmana told reporters. "Accordingly, I call upon all individuals, institutions, organizations or countries that have any iota of evidence relevant to the allegation to submit same to the committee...I am writing the Parliament of Great Britain and the Congress of the United States and also the Sierra Leone parliament to urge and encourage them to provide any evidence they may have to the committee to make its work easier." The committee has been mandated to submit its report seven days before the legislature adjourns in December, Morkonmana said. According to the Liberian newspaper The News, the committee will be headed by Bassa County Representative Hilary Reeves and includes Representative Sando Johnson of Bomi County, Roland Kaine of Margibi County and Victor Wilson of Rivercess County.

Sixteen youth soccer players who disappeared from a Sierra Leonean youth team following a tournament in Norway have all applied for political asylum, Norway's NTB news service reported. "All of them will be interviewed during the next three or four weeks,'' said Frode Forfang, spokesman for the Directorate of Immigration. He added that no asylum-seekers from Sierra Leone had been deported in recent years. Six other members of the "Freetown Vikings" football team along with their coach, Norwegian aid worker Svein-Arne Laukli, returned to Freetown on Tuesday.

10 August: Journalists were taken to Masiaka Wednesday to witness the surrender of 28 members of the West Side Boys militia to Jordanian UNAMSIL troops. Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson said the leader of the group, Colonel Daniel "Hard Guy" Sandy, told reporters they had been assured by the Jordanians they would not be killed, and that some of the former soldiers wanted to join the restructured Sierra Leone Army. The Jordanian commander at Masiaka told reporters that more than 150 members of the West Side Boys militia had already turned turned in their arms. "Many West Side soldiers, in a good will to disarm...told me that they are willing to put themselves under the disposal of the government and under the disposal of Sierra Leonean Army, the regular army," the commander told the BBC. "I believe they are nice people. I believe they mean what they told me. Really, I am very optimistic today. More are coming."  "Among those who turned up yesterday from the jungle were women and children, some as young as two, and they handed over such weapons as light machine guns, self-loading rifles and AK-47s," said BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana. "The ex-combatants told journalists that they were well-treated by the Jordanians to the extent that they felt confident enough to come out of the bush." Jordanian officers said the Freetown - Lungi highway was now relatively safe thanks to 24-hour patrols and checkpoints manned by U.N. peacekeepers. "I cannot tell you that the highway is 100 percent safe because we are dealing with terrorists, but relatively it is safe," one officer was quoted as saying.

The United Nations Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution to create a mixed Sierra Leonean and international tribunal for Sierra Leone. The resolution would authorise U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to negotiate an agreement with the Sierra Leone government to create an independent special court charged with prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian and Sierra Leonean law. Annan would have 30 days to make recommendations to the Council on the form of the tribunal, its jurisdiction, and the appeals process, including the "feasibility and appropriateness" of creating a separate appeals process, or of using the one created for war crimes tribunals set up for Rwanda and Yugoslavia. The draft resolution asks Annan to suggest a possible alternative country for the court in case circumstances make it impossible for it to operate in Sierra Leone. It also authorises the secretary-general to send a team of experts to Sierra Leone, if necessary, to prepare his report. While the Lomé Peace Accord granted a blanket amnesty for crimes committed prior to 7 July 1999, the draft resolution recalls that the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, signed the accord with a stipulation that the U.N. did not recognize the amnesty as it applied to genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of humanitarian law. The resolution recommends that the tribunal have jurisdiction over leaders who, in committing such crimes, "have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone" — a reference to RUF leader Foday Sankoh. The Council is due to vote on the proposal on Friday.

Vice President Albert Joe Demby visited the UNAMSIL base at Daru on Wednesday, according to state radio, which described it as the first such visit by a senior government official since President Kabbah was elected in 1996. The UNAMSIL battalion commander at Daru, Colonel Satish Kumar, welcomed the vice president's visit. "The people of Daru town and some of its environs are safe, and indeed some members of the RUF continue to disarm every day, though on a small scale," Kumar was quoted as saying.

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley, who last week briefed the United Nations Security Council and met with senior U.N. officials in New York, told reporters in Freetown Thursday that reservations by some U.N. member states to increasing UNAMSIL's authorised troop strength had been resolved. The United States, which had voiced opposition to raising the current ceiling of 13,000 troops by 3,500, said last Friday it planned to support an increase. Jetley said UNAMSIL was currently involved in dialogue with Sierra Leone's warring factions to persuade them to lay down their arms. "Our aim as a neutral peacekeeping force, is to create security awareness and assure combatants of their safety," he said. "This has yielded dividends, and just one month after Operations 'Khukry' and 'Thunderbolt,' approximately 250 RUF combatants have presented themselves for the DDR programme from the Kailahun and Masiaka area, and we are expecting other combatants, including the West Side Boys." Jetley said "Operation Khukry," the rescue of 233 UNAMSIL peacekeepers in Kailahun last month, had been taken as a last resort. "We are peacekeepers and we maintain peace through dialogue and not aggression," he said. He told reporters UNAMSIL's mandate had not changed, and that additional troops were needed to allow U.N. peacekeepers to deploy around the country. The general said he was unable to confirm a BBC report on Wednesday alleging one faction of RUF fighters had attacked another group attempting to surrender to U.N. troops at Daru. "It is an unconfirmed report," he said. "But we support any combatants who wish to join the DDR programme."

A Liberian rebel leader, "General" Joe Wylie, has told the BBC that weapons used by his group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, were seized from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. There has been no independent confirmation of his claim. The insurgents launched attacks into Liberia's northern Lofa County in early July. Wylie made a similar claim in a Voice of America interview last month, and has suggested that the weapons had been supplied to the RUF by the Liberian government. 

The United States may send several hundred military personnel to Nigeria, Ghana and possibly an unnamed third country to train and equip troops to participate in peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said on Thursday. "It probably only takes around a dozen people to train a battalion, but by the time you put in support troops, it adds up," Bacon told reporters. "And if we have to train them in separate places, that would increase the infrastructure necessary." Bacon said the West African troops would be vetted to ensure they didn't include child soldiers or human rights abusers. "It's mainly done through the embassy, and the embassy, through its various good offices, follows these types of things and they're in a position to make these determinations," he said. "They are right on the ground in dealing with the country, with the military leaders, on a day-to-day basis, so they can do this more quickly than we could." 

9 August: The United Nations Security Council gave approval Wednesday to a plan to certify diamonds originating in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. However, a diplomatic source subsequently disputed whether Sierra Leone had been given the "green light" to proceed with its certification system. Last month the Security Council imposed a global ban on the export of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds in order to prevent the RUF from marketing illicit diamonds to fund its insurrection. The ban affects all diamonds not accompanied by a government certificate of origin — effectively banning all Sierra Leonean diamond exports until a system of certification is in place. "I think this is a major step,'' said Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who chairs the Council's Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee. "It will really bring in hopefully some legitimate earnings into the coffers of the Sierra Leone government, which hopefully will be used for the well-being of the people." Minister of Mineral Resources Mohamed Swarry Deen told the Security Council last week the certificates would be numbered, on forgery-proof security paper. A matching numbered label on the parcel of diamonds will carry a warning that tampering is a violation of the Security Council resolution, and must be returned by the recipient. Antwerp's High Diamond Council has offered to set up an electronic database of Sierra Leonean diamond exports, with electronic confirmation when the parcel reaches its destination. Digital photographs of the diamonds would accompany the documentation. 

Sir Banja Tejan-Sie, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice, and Sierra Leone's last Governor-General, died Tuesday in the United Kingdom, Mano Vision Publisher Ronald Taylor-Lewis told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. Tejan-Sie reportedly collapsed while walking near his home in Willesden, North London.

RUF rebels have blocked the Kenema - Kailahun highway after a clash on Monday between two rebel factions, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday, citing residents who fled the area. According to Brima, the fighting broke out at Gerihun when one group of RUF rebels attempted to prevent another group from surrendering to UNAMSIL troops at Daru. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. 

Diamond imports to Switzerland from Liberia have soared to $29.7 million for the first half of this year, as compared to $15.3 million in 1998 and none in 1997, Swiss customs official Heinz Baumann said on Wednesday. Baumann said the quality of the gemstones made it clear that some of them did not originate in Liberia, adding that fears they had come from RUF-controlled areas of Sierra Leone were well-founded. The Associated Press quoted Othmar Wyss, the head of Switzerland's Export Controls and Sanctions Secretariat, as saying the Swiss government would consider legislation to ban both direct and indirect diamond imports from Sierra Leone after its summer break, mirroring a similar ban by the United Nations Security Council. Switzerland is not a member of the U.N. Wyss said Switzerland would find it difficult to ban diamonds from Liberia without similar action by the United Nations and the European Union.

The United States may send "a couple hundred" military personnel to West Africa to train troops from Nigeria and Ghana for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone, Pentagon Spokesman Ken Bacon said on Wednesday. "We believe it's in the security and regional security interests of Africa to be involved, and therefore (we) believe it's in our own interests to be involved in a limited way," Bacon said. "We have gone about this in a very deliberate way, and we are going to commit these resources to this because we do think it's in our interests." The U.S. has so committed $20 million for training and equipping the West African troops, who are expected to join the UNAMSIL force.

8 August: Johnny Paul Koroma formally disassociated himself Tuesday from renegade soldiers of the AFRC, including the West Side Boys militia. "I want the Sierra Leonean public and the international community to know that with effect from this announcement...I have dissociated myself from any armed faction or military wing or group and none of this group is under my command," Koroma said over state radio. He called on the former soldiers to turn themselves in at Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camps and, if they were found eligible, to join the restructured army. Koroma, who was named chairman of the government's Committee for the Consolidation of Peace following the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord, blamed a "minority group of hard core and wayward criminals" with no political ideology or legitimate cause for causing trouble, Reuters reported. He said they were carrying out "unpatriotic and diabolical actions, falsely hoping that protection can be provided for them and using me and the AFRC as a shield." Koroma added that if a faction called the AFRC still existed and claimed allegiance to him, it should be dismantled.

The U.S. military has sent several dozen troops to Nigeria and Ghana to train those nations' troops for a possible peacekeeping role in Sierra Leone, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said on Tuesday. The U.S. troops, who arrived in late July, are reviewing equipment needs and assessing how the West African troops can be trained on U.S.-supplied equipment, Bacon said. The equipment is part of $20 million in aid pledged by President Clinton to strengthen peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone. Bacon said the U.S. is considering outfitting one Ghanaian and three Nigerian battalions with communications gear and small trucks. "That money will probably be spent, in large part, helping to equip some Nigerian battalions," Bacon said. "And we now have a team in Nigeria and part of the team is also in Ghana because we may do the same with a Ghanaian battalion, reviewing what their equipment needs are and what their training needs are for using the equipment." He said the U.S. military teams would probably finish their assessments in a week or so and then make recommendations on how to proceed.

7 August: Some 800 ex-SLA soldiers in Kailahun District have surrendered to the Sierra Leone Army, SLA Director of Media Operations Major John Milton said on Monday. He said the former soldiers had been taken to Kenema. "These 800 former soldiers will be screened and brought back to Freetown. They could undertake British military training," Milton said, referring to the British-run programme at Benguema Training Centre aimed at training new recruits for the restructured Sierra Leone Army. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said Monday that over 300 ex-combatants and their dependents had reported to a disarmament centre at Lungi over the past ten days. The number included 53 former members of the Sierra Leone Army and 82 members of the West Side Boys militia. Among them were two child soldiers. "We are very happy with the fact that more and more of the West Side Boys and the RUF are coming in to the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process," Befecadu was quoted as saying. She said Dr. Francis Kai-Kai (pictured right), the Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, was on hand at Lungi to welcome those who had come forward and to urge others to do the same.

Svein-Arne Laukli, the founder and coach of the "Freetown Vikings" youth football team, expressed frustration Monday over the disappearance of most of the players who travelled with him to Oslo last month to participate in the Norway Cup soccer tournament. The team was to have returned to Freetown on Tuesday; instead, 21 members of the 23-member team disappeared over the weekend. As of Monday, six of the players had applied for asylum in Norway, ten were still missing, and seven were preparing to return home. Laukli told the BBC he had discussed with his players in advance the necessity that they return to Sierra Leone after the games. "But I also believed so much in the boys, and that’s where I made my big error," he said. "I trusted them...when they was swearing to me that they would go back after the tournament." Laukli said the player's refusal to return home would make difficult to find future sponsors for Sierra Leonean teams. "That’s not why we brought them here," he said. "Personally, I wanted to give them something that they should remember for the rest of their lives. I’ll tell you I’m very disappointed." Laukli said he felt the players' chances of receiving political asylum in Norway were slim. "But if they change it to other reasons they might stand a better chance; I mean, if they go on the humanitarian reasons or something like that." Laukli, a project manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council, founded the Vikings team in Freetown last year. Their trip to the Norway Cup tournament was sponsored by the Norwegian Refugee Council. In an earlier BBC interview on Monday, Council Secretary-General Steinar Sørlie (pictured left) said the players would not be eligible to remain in Norway because they were "not in a category that you could be able to stay on." Sørlie told the BBC Network Africa programme that Laukli had worked with the team on a voluntary basis. "He has put some money into it, he has used one year of his life to compose this and to coach these (players)," he said. "We looked upon this possibility to get these boys to Norway, to get them inspiration, to return them to Sierra Leone, to continue and to inspire other boys and girls to do the same." Sørlie acknowledged the risk that young people taken from a war zone might not wish to return to their countries. "But I don’t think this should stop us from really taking those actions," he said. "It’s a part of the [consolidatory] work, it’s a part of the inspiration that these boys could get." He expressed sympathy for Laukli, whom he said felt disappointed and let down by his team. "But on the other side, like I told him today, he knew it could happen, it was a calculated risk, and it’s not your fault," Sørlie said. "I mean, let’s do this together and hopefully on Tuesday he will be able to return at least 12 or 13 of the boys (to Freetown)."

Freetown was tense overnight Sunday after a shooting which left one Sierra Leone Army soldier dead, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. He said U.N. peacekeepers were rushed to the area and the situation was brought under control. Two SLA recruits and a civilian technician were arrested and an investigation is underway, he said. SLA Director of Media Operations Major John Milton told reporters six soldiers had been arrested after a shootout in central Freetown the early hours of Monday morning, in which an army lieutenant was killed.

RUF field commander General Issa Sesay arrived in Monrovia over the weekend to discuss with fellow RUF fighters who should succeed detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "Sesay got into town on Saturday to see about ways of electing a new leadership," a Liberian military source told Reuters. RUF leaders have been meeting in Kailahun since last week to select a new leader — an undertaking they reportedly agreed to in a meeting with West African leaders in Monrovia late last month. Last week Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan said Liberia had helped the RUF to narrow its choice to two jailed RUF officials who joined the government as part of a power-sharing arrangement mandated by the Lomé Peace Accord.

The Russian foreign ministry on Monday welcomed the fact that last week's United Nations Security Council resolution on Sierra Leone did not change UNAMSIL's mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. The Russian U.N. delegation "clearly stated our fundamental position on the inadmissibility of re- orientation of the UNAMSIL mandate to the use of force, which would practically turn the U.N. into an indirect party to the conflict in Sierra Leone," a foreign ministry statement said, adding that such a dangerous "correction" was incompatible with Russia's participation in the U.N. mission and would discredit the U.N.'s peacemaking image. "As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia intends to continue efforts aimed at achieving a speedy political settlement in Sierra Leone," the statement said. Meanwhile, Itar-Tass reported that Russia would airlift the remaining 90 members of its peacekeeping contingent to Sierra Leone on Monday. An Il-76 transport will take off is due to take off at 11:30 p.m. local time, the news service said. In June, Russia agreed to contribute 115 troops and four Mi-24 helicopter gunships to participate in the UNAMSIL force.

6 August: 20 teenage members of a Sierra Leonean amateur soccer team taking part in the Norway Cup in Oslo disappeared from the tournament over the weekend, news services reported. Five members of the "Freetown Vikings" later turned up at police stations in the Norwegian cities of Stavenger and Trondheim, where they requested asylum and were taken to refugee centres. Six more players and a coach were found before dawn Saturday in the Swedish border town of Stroemstad and were returned to Oslo the same day, where one requested asylum. "They did not give much explanation over why they left. They said they had gone looking for their comrades, but we don't know why they chose to go to Sweden," said police spokesman Reidar Bruusgaard. Nine players were still missing as of Sunday evening. The teams founder, Svein-Arne Laukli, said most of the team members were attending school in Freetown and were not politically active. "I want to cry. I took months putting this team together so it could come to Norway. Today, everything is in ruins," he said. 1,278 teams from around the world comprising nearly 20,000 players took part in the seven-day tournament, which ran from July 30 to August 5. The team was due to return home on Tuesday.

The United States and Britain have submitted detailed evidence to the United Nations Security Council's Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee linking Liberia and Burkina Faso to illicit diamond deals and illegal arms trafficking with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, the BBC reported on Sunday. Liberia and Burkina Faso have denied the allegations, and their foreign ministers last week challenged the U.S. and the U.K. to provide proof of their accusations. According to the BBC, the evidence includes details of a July 5 meeting in Ouagadougou between RUF representatives, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Liberian President Taylor, where the RUF allegedly brought diamonds to pay for "material support" from Burkina Faso, and details of a meeting between RUF representatives and Taylor in Monrovia a few days later, where the RUF was said to have bought military equipment. "It’s alleged RUF rebels delivered a consignment of diamonds to Liberia at the beginning of June, that President Taylor has been orchestrating the rebels, and that Liberia has supplied food, medical supplies and military equipment to them by helicopter," BBC correspondent Nick Childs said. "Burkina Faso has been accused of supplying manpower and equipment, including weapons from Eastern Europe, with false end-user certificates. And President Compaore has allegedly designated a senior military figure as liaison with Liberia and the RUF." The Sanctions Committee is due to meet again next week to consider a Sierra Leone government plan to certify legal diamond exports. 

5 August: Burkinabe Foreign Minister Youssouf Ouedraogo has denied accusations by the United States and Britain that his country was involved in illicit diamond trading and arms trafficking with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "Burkina Faso is not guilty," Ouedraogo told the BBC. "Those who think Burkina Faso is guilty have to give the proof. Because now we say that we are [tired] people are always accusing Burkina Faso what we are providing weapons or something like this. We are not concerned, and we ask them please to give the proof." Ouedraogo said Burkina Faso's only interest in Sierra Leone was to ensure that the implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord.

UNAMSIL has denied a report that the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, met with RUF commanders this week during his trip to Liberia. Adeniji held talks in Monrovia Wednesday with Liberian President Charles Taylor. The Reuters news service on Friday quoted UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu as saying "Ambassador Adeniji...met with RUF commanders in Monrovia and efforts for the selection of a new RUF leader are in progress." On Saturday, U.N. sources indicated Befecadu had been misquoted. Adeniji "did not meet with RUF commanders during his visit to Monrovia, where he held consultations with the President of Liberia," UNAMSIL said in a statement. "They discussed, among other things, the election of the new RUF leader. This consultation was a follow-up to the meeting held on 26 July by ECOWAS and OAU Heads of State and other officials of the sub-region."

4 August: The United Nations Security Council adopted unanimously on Friday a British-sponsored resolution to extend until September 8 the mandate of the UNAMSIL force and to strengthen its capacity. UNAMSIL's original six-month mandate was due to expire on Monday. The resolution said UNAMSIL's military component "should be reinforced through accelerated troop rotations, with further aviation and maritime assets, a strengthened force reserve, upgraded communications, and specialist combat and logistic support assets." The resolution said U.N. peacekeepers would help the Sierra Leone government to extend its authority over areas of the country under RUF control by deploying at key locations and main population centres, and would "deter, and where necessary, decisively counter, the threat of RUF attack by responding robustly to any hostile actions" or threat of imminent use of force. The resolution calls on the U.N. force as a priority to main security around Freetown and at Lungi International Airport, to patrol main access routes to the capital,  to promote efforts to disarm and demobilise combatants. "Widespread and serious violations" by the RUF of the Lomé Peace Accord "constitute a breakdown of the prior generally permissive environment based on the agreement" and predicated on the cooperation of the warring parties, the resolution said. Until security conditions allow progress toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict, "there will continue to be a threat to UNAMSIL and the security of the state of Sierra Leone," it added. An initial draft of the resolution called for UNAMSIL's authorised strength to be increased from 13,000 to 16,500 troops, but in the face of U.S. opposition the the resolution was amended to call on the secretary-general to recommend measures to strengthen and restructure the force. But following the vote, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Nancy Soderberg said her country would support a troop increase. "It is our expectation and intention to support, after close examination of the details, the request for strengthening UNAMSIL that we expect to receive from the secretary-general," she said. "We already have begun consultations with Congress concerning this important issue." Following the vote, British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock (pictured left), the resolution's sponsor, said the Security Council would continue to strengthen UNAMSIL's capacity to deal with the RUF until the rebels realised the military option was pointless. "Given that (UNAMSIL troops) are still being threatened by a pretty brutal rebel force in Sierra Leone, which is also harassing and murdering the population and illegally exploiting the diamond-bearing areas, it is time for the RUF to take a decision to stop their fighting, to stop opposing the government, and to take the political route to a resolution of this problem," Greenstock said.

About 25 rebels were reportedly killed in northern Sierra Leone Wednesday when they were attacked by a Sierra Leone Army helicopter gunship while trying to flee across the Little Scarcies River in two dugout canoes. "The rebels who were escaping were armed and they were spotted by the helicopter gunship," a military source told Reuters. He said some of the rebels drowned, while the gunship shot and killed those who swam away. Military sources were quoted as saying there had been daily fighting in Kambia District as government forces attempted to wrest control of villages in the area from the RUF.

The United States is discussing imposing sanctions against Burkina Faso for its role in supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels,  Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nancy Soderberg told Radio France International on Friday. Soderberg declined to discuss what evidence the U.S. had of involvement by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, but said, "We’re fairly confident that there’s direct involvement of the president in (arms trafficking)...There’s a series of actions that are going on through (Ouagadougou) that would not be possible without his knowledge." Soderberg said the purpose of this week's hearings at the United Nations had been to make the allegations public. "One of the clear options on the table is whether or not we could broaden the sanctions ban on diamonds and perhaps have some punitive measures and sanctions," she said. "We’re just beginning to discuss that so I’m not really in a position to prejudge the outcome there, but that certainly is the obvious next step."

A British lawyer representing Fatou Mbaye Sankoh, the wife of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, has told the BBC that Thursday's action to obtain a writ of habeas corpus from London's High Court was aimed at determining whether Sankoh was still alive, well and in good health. "That’s the first thing," Jack Rabinowicz told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "The second is to find out why and on what basis he’s continued to be held. And thirdly, hopefully to have him released if there are no charges against him." Rabinowicz alleged that Sankoh had been taken into custody by British forces which were then deployed in Sierra Leone. "Since then no one seen him, heard from him, been allowed to visit him," he said. "He has not been charged, he has not been formally arrested. And no one will say who is holding him or why they are holding him." Rabinowicz said Fatou Sankoh believed her husband was still being held by British forces "and that the British armed forces or the British government together with the Sierra Leone government cannot make up their minds what they want to do with him." He added that if Sankoh were being held by British armed forces acting on a British royal warrant, they would be subject to a writ issued by a British court. Both Sierra Leonean and British officials have maintained that Sankoh is in the custody of the Sierra Leonean government. Sankoh was captured May 17 by an ex-SLA soldier after nine days on the run, following an incident when his bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in front of his residence. He was initially taken to Lumley Police Station, and from there to the home of AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who turned him over to the authorities. Sankoh was then transported to Defence Headquarters at Cockerill before being flown in an RAF Chinook helicopter to a "secure location" at Lungi International Airport. The rebel leader underwent surgery for a bullet wound received during his capture, reportedly on board a British frigate. He met with a Kenyan government delegation on May 23, but has not been seen in public since his arrest. Sankoh is being held under an emergency decree at an undisclosed location, and reportedly has not yet been charged. "He was held at Pademba (Road Prison) initially and subsequently moved," a diplomatic source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. "To the best of my knowledge he is not held at Pademba, but may have been taken there on occasion."

Amnesty International said Friday that a proposed mixed Sierra Leonean and international tribunal under consideration by the United Nations Security Council must be credible and effective, and meet international standards of fairness if human rights abuses are to be ended. The human rights group said the court should have the ability to prosecute all those responsible for human rights abuses, and that to this purpose an independent prosecutor should be selected to decide why should be prosecuted. "Those most responsible for these crimes, whether they are members of the RUF, the AFRC, the Sierra Leone Army or the CDF, and regardless of their current political position or allegiance, must be brought to justice," the group said in a statement. Amnesty International also argued that the jurisdiction of the court should not be limited to Sierra Leonean nationals, but should extend to nationals of other countries who have committed human rights crimes. Amnesty International called on the Security Council to reaffirm that the blanket amnesty included in the Lomé Peace Accord does not apply to crimes under international law committed during the conflict. "The special court should have the jurisdiction to try crimes under international law, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as certain grave crimes under national law committed since the conflict began in 1991," the statement said.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2000 / 2450. [£] 2950 / 3450 Frandia: [$] 2250 / 2450 [£] 3000 / 3500; Continental: [$] 2250 / 2450 [£] 3100 / 3500; Sierra Forex: [$] 2250 / 2450 [£] 3000 / 3500.

3 August: UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley told reporters in New York Thursday he had asked the United Nations Security Council for additional troops, but said he gave no specific numbers. "I did make a statement that there is a requirement of many more troops over there — many more troops to be given to us as quickly as possible — but I didn't make any number guessing," Jetley said following a closed-door briefing of the Council. In May, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended the Council increase UNAMSIL's authorised strength from 13,000 to 16,500 peacekeepers.  The proposal has faced opposition from the United States, which believes the mission should be better equipped and restructured to meet the more volatile situation in the wake of renewed hostilities. The Security Council is due to vote Friday on a British-sponsored resolution which would give UNAMSIL a more robust mandate and broader objectives, and requests that Annan make recommendations on strengthening and restructuring the peacekeeping force. ECOWAS has pressed the Council to change UNAMSIL's mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement, but Jetley said Thursday that the current mandate was sufficient. "As far as I am concerned, the mandate is very adequate," he said. "These two operations we fought where we used force, including deadly force, proved that the mandate is quite adequate. I don't think there's a requirement to change the mandate at all.'' Jetley dismissed a suggestion by Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Capan that the U.N. post troops along the Liberia - Sierra Leone border to verify whether illicit diamonds were being smuggled to Liberia to support Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "Guarding international borders is the responsibility of a sovereign state itself. The United Nations is never given a task of guarding anybody else's border,'' Jetley said, adding that guarding the frontier would be difficult because the area was heavily forested.

U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering warned Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan Thursday the U.S. was prepared to impose sanctions the Liberian government did not end its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "I told him we were disappointed that we hadn't seen any significant change" in Liberian policy," Pickering told the Washington Post following a meeting between the two men. "I told him we hoped there would be change...and that we'll know it when we see it." Pickering met in Monrovia last month with Liberian President Charles Taylor and warned that Liberia could become an international pariah unless it stopped supporting the RUF — a charge Liberia has denied. The United States is reportedly considering a series of U.S. and international sanctions, including barring foreign travel by Liberian officials, freezing Liberia's foreign assets, and reducing embassy staff and suspending visa services in Monrovia. Captan has said Liberia is ready to cooperate with the international community, but warned his country would accept sanctions passively. "The U.S. government has to realize that we too can reciprocate," he said. "You seize our assets, we'll seize yours." Captan said Liberia had launched a new initiative during a July 26 meeting in Monrovia which brought together ECOWAS leaders, Sierra Leone government officials, and about half a dozen key RUF commanders. He said President Taylor was ready to exclude RUF leader Foday Sankoh from any future role in Sierra Leone, and that Liberia had helped the RUF leaders narrow their search for a new leader to two jailed RUF officials who had formed part of the Sierra Leone government after the Lomé Peace Accord. He declined to give their names, but one is widely reported to be Minister of Energy and Power Alimamy Pallo Bangura. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Howard Jeter, voiced skepticism about Liberia's intention to play a positive role in Sierra Leone. ""If they are able to somehow get the [RUF] to come out with a consensus on the fact that they should be prepared to fully disarm and demobilize...we would be all for it," he told the Post. "But given their history...I don't think anyone is going to place a great deal of trust in them."

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, has repeated charges that Liberian President Charles Taylor and Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore are involved in helping the RUF market illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds. "The 'dirty diamonds' trade, the 'blood diamonds' trade, the diamonds that fuel the civil wars of Africa, are being marketed, mined, stolen from their rightful owners, the people of these countries, by organisations that include African leaders, including the president of Liberia and the president of Burkina Faso," Holbrooke said in a Voice of America interview broadcast on Thursday. Holbrooke said the illicit diamond trade and the illegal trafficking in arms was not limited to Africans. "There are plenty of non-Africans in the diamond trade stretched all over the world who have participated in this by selling these dirty diamonds, knowing they come from plunder, and there are plenty of people who are shipping weapons into places like Sierra Leone and Angola, knowing full well that these weapons are being used to kill innocent people and to shoot down U.N. peacekeeper planes as happened in Angola a couple of years ago," he said. Holbrooke noted that Liberia and Burkina were signatories of the Lomé Peace Accord, and he warned that the United States was prepared to back sanctions against the two countries if they continued to provide support for the RUF rebels. "The rebels signed the Lomé Agreement last year, and in return for signing it the international community and the West African states said the rebels could be part of a united government," he said. "It wasn’t a great deal to begin with. A lot of people have questioned it and with good reason. But they did sign it. They then broke it. Anyone who aids and abets them is breaking the agreement that they all witnessed and pledged to support, and that the U.N., the OAU and ECOWAS...has pledged to implement. The traditional diplomatic approach of carrots and sticks is correct here, and we hope that moving to the next step, which would be really tightening the screws on the violating countries, will not be necessary, but I want to assure you that if it’s necessary the United States will vigorously support it."

The government of Burkina Faso rejected allegations Thursday that it was involved in aiding Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "Burkina Faso is committed to the return of peace in Sierra Leone and so would not support the United Nations in that respect while doing something else behind its back," said Burkinabe government spokesman Tertius Zongo. "We can only protest our innocence. Let he who accuses us show the proof."

Fatou Mbaye Sankoh, the American wife of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, has launched legal proceedings before Britain's High Court seeking a writ of habeas corpus to require that the Sierra Leone government release the detained rebel leader from custody, Britain's PA News reported on Thursday. The action comes as RUF commanders were reportedly meeting in Kailahun to choose a new leader for the rebel movement. A statement issued on her behalf by London solicitor Jack Rabinowicz said Foday Sankoh was arrested at about the same time Britain sent troops to Sierra Leone to evacuate European and Commonwealth nationals. The statement notes newspaper accounts that Sankoh was arrested by a "combined team" in Freetown and was flown in a British helicopter to a "secure location" at Lungi International Airport. "Foday Sankoh was originally arrested in Freetown by a Sierra Leonean militiaman calling himself 'Scorpion,' BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said from Abidjan. "But in the confusion that followed the dawn seizure of Sierra Leone’s most wanted man, I saw about a dozen British soldiers arrive at the military barracks he was taken to." Doyle quoted eyewitnesses as saying Sankoh was flown to Lungi International Airport in an RAF Chinook helicopter, presumably because the authorities feared the rebel leader would be lynched by angry crowds. "The official position, of both the British and Sierra Leonean governments, is that Mr. Sankoh is in the custody of the Sierra Leonean police," Doyle said, adding that most people in Freetown believed British forces in Sierra Leone must at least be aware of Sankoh's whereabouts. "The last 'hard' information is that he was in the custody of this country's armed forces, although it has been said in the world press that he may have been handed over by them to Sierra Leonean authorities: my client simply does not know," Rabinowicz said in the statement. In a brief hearing Thursday before Justice Dyson, Fatou Sankoh's counsel, Philip Engelman, said her husband was "presently detained, we know not where." The case was adjourned until August 14.

Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Thursday that detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh was in the custody of the Sierra Leonean authorities. "Our hope is that we should be able to work out the modalities very shortly as to the nature of (a mixed Sierra Leonean and international) tribunal, and then Foday Sankoh will definitely face trial, and his henchmen," Kaikai told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. Kaikai insisted that despite Sankoh's arrest, the Lomé Peace Accord was still in effect. "Foday Sankoh signed on behalf of the RUF. And the fact that he is now under custody, and the fact that he is going to face a trial does not mean that Lomé is dead," Kaikai said. "He signed it on behalf of a group. There are other people in the RUF. RUF is an organisation. RUF is supposed to be an organisation, and the Lomé Peace Accord will continue." Asked whether the Sierra Leone government was currently talking to RUF leaders, Kaikai responded, "At this moment there are contacts, but my understanding is that they should be coming up with a leader pretty soon, the person who should be representing them. And when that happens then of course we will talk to them about the rest of the things that we have to do to move the country forward. And that’s basically what we’re going to do." The spokesman said the question of whether Sankoh would be tried was not up to RUF leaders. "It’s a question of justice in this particular instance," he said. "It’s a question of making sure that people are held accountable for the crimes that they commit. It’s a question of people being held accountable for the things that they admit to doing. In this particular instance Mr. Sankoh, based upon what we know as of this moment, he did not adhere to the very document that he had signed, he agreed to do certain things; he did not do them. And to the contrary, he even went so far as to try to subvert the entire process. He has to be brought to bear for those actions."

Two Ghanaian peacekeepers have been found dead at their base in Kenema amid speculation they may have committed suicide, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu told the BBC on Thursday. "They died from gunshot wounds," Befecadu said. "And since it’s in their working place, in their own camp, there was no outside attack, they felt that this is supposed as suicide, but there is no way I can confirm to you, because there is a board of inquiry that goes into that and actually establishes whether it’s suicide or not." Befecadu said the bodies had been taken to the U.N.'s hospital in Freetown, where an autopsy would have been performed. "Then the board of inquiry will have to establish exactly what the cause of death was," she said. "And it was only on the 25th of July (that the soldiers died), so it could take even longer." Befecadu said morale was high among soldiers of the Ghanaian battalion at Kenema, which took part in last month's rescue of 233 U.N. peacekeepers at Kailahun. "The morale is high, their conditions are good, the area is very pleasant area, so that’s why it will need to be established as to why and what happened," she said.

Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, held talks in Monrovia Wednesday with Liberian President Charles Taylor on the progress of the security situation in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Thursday. Befecadu said the security situation was "fairly calm" Wednesday in all areas where UNAMSIL was deployed, but said Nigerian Battalion 4 had reported sporadic gunfire from the hills around Hill Cut Road overnight Tuesday after curfew. "They are continuing their patrols in that area," she said.

Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi will lead a group of 45 youths to Italy this month to take part in World Youth Day activities in Rome. The youths, ranging in age from sixteen to thirty, are of both genders and were chosen from different parts of Sierra Leone. "In Sierra Leone we have received sponsorship from an Italian bishop and from the Italian Catholic Action, so we are able to send a total of sixty young men and women to the meeting in Rome," Biguzzi told the Sierra Leone Web. "Sixteen already left for Italy on the 30th of July." The group will leave Sierra Leone on August 9, and will visit Assisi, Rimini, the tiny Republic of San Marino, Cremona, Padova and Venice. "The big event will take place on the 19th with an evening rally in an open field outside Rome, and a Morning Mass on the 20th in the same place," Biguzzi said. "The evening show will be attended by the Pope, who will celebrate also the Morning Mass on the 20th." The group of 16 will follow a different itinerary, joining other young people from war-affected countries. "Our youths are very excited. For most of them it might be a once in a lifetime chance," Biguzzi said. "Our youths will be able to contribute their own joy, friendliness and deep faith." The group will return to Sierra Leone on August 28.

Some 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have recently arrived at Bumbuna from Kono District, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. He said food was in short supply and that some of the IDPs appeared to be malnourished. Bumbuna is held by troops from the Sierra Leone Army's First Battalion. Meanwhile, more IDPs have arrived at the town of Bendugu, the source said. 

A consultative workshop sponsored by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) July 27-28 agreed that an "effective and credible" DDR programme constitutes a key component to lasting peace in Sierra Leone, the NCDDR said on Thursday. Participants agreed that key elements of the programme must nclude a well-coordinated framework of conflict resolution including political arbitration, the provision of security through robust peacekeeping, security sector reform, and civilian resettlement and community reconstruction. They also urged the NCDDR to continue with interim disarmament and demobilisation activities despite the current problems of insecurity, large-scale civilian displacement and limited access to parts of the country, but added the NCDDR should prepare for rapid expansion in the case of a "reinvigorated implementation" of the Lomé Peace Accord. The workshop recommended that the NCDDR examine the nature of the safety net with a view to maximize impact and minimize administrative costs,  including shortening the time of encampment and, in the interest of credibility, honouring Transitional Safety-Net Allowance (TSA) commitments made to ex-combatants prior to May 6, when the DDR process was put on hold following renewed hostilities in the country. While "sustainable long-term reintegration in the communities of return remains a difficult challenge in the current environment," the workshop concluded, the NCDDR should move aggressively to refer former combatants to employment, training and educational opportunities, and to take into consideration the needs of the ex-combatants' dependents "with a view to ensuring that their needs are addressed during and after encampment." Participants also agreed the NCDDR should identify organisations capable of providing counseling services in the areas of drug abuse, reconciliation, trauma and human rights in relevant communities.

2 August: A five-member panel of experts named to investigate the link between the illicit sale of diamonds and illegal arms trafficking in Sierra Leone will hold an organisational meeting during the week of August 21, a U.N. spokesman said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently visiting his native Ghana, confirmed the appointments to the panel on Wednesday. The panel is due to report back to the Security Council's Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone by the end of October.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Wednesday: [Buying / Selling] Frandia: [$] 2250 / 2450 [£] 3000 / 3500.

1 August: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Tuesday that the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) should be extended for an additional six months when its mandate expires on August 7. In his report to the Security Council, Annan said the situation in Sierra Leone, while it has shown some signs of improvement, remains "dangerous and volatile." The threat posed by the RUF is a matter of "grave concern," with the rebel group continuing its attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and pro-government forces and showing "no credible sign" that it is ready to resume the peace process. Bringing the Sierra Leone crisis to an end, Annan said, would require the disarmament and reintegration of all combatants, the restoration of government authority throughout the country, the establishment or strengthening of primary institutions including democratically accountable armed forces and a national police force, and the holding of democratic elections. The secretary-general argued that it was unlikely such objectives could be met in the short term through political or military means alone. The preferred collective approach, he said, should concentrate efforts for a political solution backed by a robust and credible international military presence. Annan also repeated his belief that UNAMSIL should be further strengthened in order to allow it to fulfill new tasks. The enhancement of the U.N. mission's strength would depend ultimately on the willingness of member states to make the necessary well-trained and well-equipped troops available to the U.N., as well as on support for troop-contributing nations, Annan said. The report also expressed concern over reports of abductions, rapes and sexual abuse, destruction and looting of civilian property, and the forced recruitment of children in Sierra Leone.

The United Nations Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone announced Tuesday a five-member panel which will conduct an investigation into the link between the illicit sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds and arms trafficking. The panel will be headed by Martin Chungong Ayafor of Cameroon, and will include Ian Smillie (pictured left) of Partnership Africa Canada (PAC). Smillie, a former CUSO volunteer in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District and later executive director of CUSO, co-wrote PACs January 2000 report "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone Diamonds and Human Security." Also named to the panel were Johan Peleman (Belgium), an expert on arms and transportation, Harjit Singh Sandhu (India), an expert from Interpol, and Atabou Bodian (Senegal), an expert from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The appointments, announced by sanctions committee chairman Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh at the close of two days of hearings on Sierra Leonean diamonds and arms trafficking, must still be approved by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Liberian officials have rejected accusations by the United States and Britain that the Liberian government was involved in facilitating the illicit diamond trade and trafficking in arms with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "It is a useless accusation and there is no truth in it," Information Minister Joe Mulbah told Reuters. "We are ashamed of great countries like Britain and the United States, with all the sophisticated devices on land, sea and air, not (producing) any proof to us." Foreign Minister Monie Captan also denied the accusations. "One would expect that at a meeting at the United Nations where there is a hearing including experts from the diamond industry that the superpowers that have claimed to have sufficient intelligence information to indict this country have not brought anything forward at this meeting other than mere accusations," Captan told the BBC Network Africa programme. "I did request that they submit concrete tangible evidence of the accusations that they have made, and I believe they are on obligation to do so." Captan suggested that the allegations were the result of Liberian President Charles Taylor using his influence with the rebel group to resolve the Sierra Leone conflict. "What we thought and what we have been operating on is the premise that President Taylor’s influence with the RUF would be used in a positive manner to help solve the Sierra Leonean crisis," he said. "That means bringing this war to an end. But the moment President Taylor takes an active role in helping to resolve the conflict, he’s then indicted that he does have the influence...How do you want him to use that influence? He can use it positively if you want, or he can disengage. And the U.S., Britain and ECOWAS have asked President Taylor to engage the RUF in a positive manner. Now this is what he’s trying to do, but all it’s leading to are further criticisms." In a separate interview with the BBC's The World Today programme, Captan acknowledged that diamond smuggling was occurring, but denied Liberian government involvement. "It is quite probable that there is illicit trade in diamond going on, and that has been going on since the fifties," he said. "That has nothing to do with the war in Sierra Leone and we have asked even the U.S. government to provide us with the assistance to build the capacity to monitor and control this illicit trade. We are being affected. Liberia’s a diamond-producing country. We have not been able to realise the benefits of these resources because they are being smuggled." Captan rejected statistics indicating that Liberia exports more diamonds than it mines. "If you look at the records, if you refer to De Beers reports, it has been stated very clearly that Russian diamonds are being brought into Antwerp and declared as Liberian diamonds because Liberian diamonds do not attract a tax surcharge," he said. "If there are any diamonds coming into Antwerp declared as Liberian diamonds that we have not certificated, then you are welcome to seize all of them — arrest the diamonds."

Russia is expecting to complete the airlift of its peacekeeping troops to Sierra Leone before August 15, a Russian defence ministry spokesman told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. On Monday, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said the rest of the Russian troops were expected to arrive by August 7. 32 members of the 115-man Russian contingent left their country for Sierra Leone on Sunday aboard an An-124 Ruslan plane, while an IL-76 cargo plane delivered their four Mi-24 helicopter gunships. The same two Russian Air Force planes will be used to fly in the rest of the contingent. An advance group of 12 Russian peacekeepers arrived in Sierra Leone a week ago. 

The U.N. received reports of fighting Monday near Mange and Mansanka, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Tuesday. She said she had no information on what groups were involved, but said U.N. peacekeepers remained on alert. Befecadu said two more members of the West Side Boys militia reported to the UNAMSIL DDR registration centre at Masiaka for disarmament on Monday, in addition to the two who surrendered on Sunday. "Clearly there is now a pattern of West Side Boys disarming," she said. "Although they are arriving in small numbers, the total continues to grow...However, the situation will not be stable until they have all disarmed, and until then UNAMSIL will continue to maintain its robust patrolling in areas where the West Side Boys are reported to be."

Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings has dismissed speculation that RUF leader Foday Sankoh could face trial in Ghana, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported on Tuesday. "As long as I remain the president of Ghana I will not allow that monster to be tried here," Rawlings said. "That man is fit for the a psychiatric hospital or a zoo. I hope media reports that he might be tried in Ghana are speculations." Under a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council, a joint Sierra Leone - international tribunal could be convened in a third country in the sub-region, depending upon the security situation in Freetown. 

Four Sierra Leonean aid workers missing since July 21 were released on Monday by the West Side Boys, according to their agency, the Christian Health Association of Sierra Leone (CHASL). The four disappeared after organising an educational workshop in Mattru. CHASL Executive Director Marion Morgan told reporters last week that Kamajor militiamen had commandeered the aid workers' vehicle, and that the agency suspected their staff members had been abducted by the Kamajors.