30 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma met in Monrovia for the first time on Thursday, and held more than three hours of reconciliation talks mediated by Liberian President Charles Taylor. The two rebel leaders told reporters afterwards that they had ironed out their differences, but did not elaborate "I am satisfied. Everything is fine now,'' Koroma told reporters. Sankoh, who emerged from the meeting accompanied by a group of senior RUF commanders, said the rebel soldiers' grievances against the RUF were "mere opinion and misinformation." Said Sankoh: "We have no problems with (the rebel soldiers). They are our brothers." Strains between the two rebel factions became public in August when rebel AFRC soldiers abducted U.N. military observers, ECOMOG troops, aid workers and journalists to publicize their claim that they had been left out of the peace process, and to demand the release of Koroma, who they believed was being held prisoner by the RUF. In September, Koroma and 13 of his followers issued a document claiming they were "unrepresented, unrecognised and marginalised in all the deliberations and final outcome of the Lomé Peace Agreement" and that their interests had been ignored by RUF leaders. Among there demands were that they be reinstated into the Sierra Leone Army and that they be given a voice in the power-sharing agreement with the Sierra Leone government. Prior to the talks Taylor told the rebel leaders he had been in contact with the ECOWAS, the U.N. and the OAU to ensure that all parties to the Sierra Leone conflict were included in the government and "to make sure that as you prepare to go to Freetown, they are part of the process, that they are present and that they accompany you to Freetown.'' Taylor said he had contacted Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, the current ECOWAS chairman, to "finalise the arrangement" for their return home. Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah told reporters Wednesday night that Sankoh and Koroma would fly to Freetown on Friday and "will be escorted by some officials of the Liberian government." In Freetown, AFRC Brigadier-General Bazzy Kamara said Thursday that Koroma had confirmed by his arrival by telephone. "He will be arriving in Freetown tomorrow, while his family will be flown into Freetown today,'' he said. Sankoh was more ambiguous on the timing of his return, and appeared to indicate he might not reach Freetown until Monday. "You will know later after 72 hours," he said in response to a question on when he would return home.
The European Commission has approved 5 million Euros ($5.25 million) in aid for refugees and persons at risk in Sierra Leone, the European Union's executive body said in a statement issued on Thursday. The aid, which will be administered by the Commissions Humanitarian Office, will enable non-governmental organisations and international humanitarian agencies to carry out a variety of projects over the next ten months.
29 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh held talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor in Monrovia on Wednesday, shortly after being reunited with his battlefield commander, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured at left). "I am very happy to see you after six years," Sankoh told Bockarie as the two walked hand-in-hand into the Executive Mansion. There was no word on the substance of the talks. An official programme issued by the presidency said Taylor would hold talks on Thursday with former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma. The Liberian president would then attempt to bring the two rebel leaders together for talks, the statement said. Sankoh and Koroma have never met face-to-face. The Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting sources at the Executive Mansion, said that Taylor would hold talks with Sankoh at 5:00 p.m. Wednesday and with Koroma at 6:00. He then planned to hold joint talks with the two on Wednesday evening, the AFP said. According to the official statement, the two rebel leaders and their lieutenants are to leave Monrovia on Friday. While there have been some suggestions that Sankoh would fly directly to Freetown, the RUF leader told reporters in August that he planned to travel to Freetown by way of "the liberated zone, behind the rebel line of the RUF." A source close to Sankoh told the Sierra Leone Web that he would likely enter Sierra Leone through Kailahun District, the main stronghold of the RUF. Since arriving in Monrovia on Tuesday, Sankoh has held talks with Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Kemoh Salio-Gbao, Acting Liberian Foreign Minister George Wallace, and Vice President Enoch Doglea. Sankoh was also expected to meet with U.N. Special Representative to Liberia Felix Downes-Thomas on Wednesday afternoon, prior to holding holding talks with the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Bismarck Myrick.
Nigerian Ministry of Defence spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo has welcomed a recommendation by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to deploy some 6,000 peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone. "It's a good development for Nigeria because they (the U.N.) will take over responsibility for the force," Ugbo said on Wednesday. "Before, Nigeria was taking all the responsibility and the financial burden has been too much for us." Nigeria spent over $6 billion in Liberia and over $1 billion in Sierra Leone on peacekeeping operations, Charles Quaker-Dokubor of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs told Reuters on Wednesday.
France will support U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation to deploy a 6,000-member peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret said on Wednesday. "The lending of UN support for the resolving of this crisis is needed as soon as the Sierra Leonean parties respect their commitments in good faith," Gazeau-Secret said, in stressing the need for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to return to Sierra Leone to help implement the Lomé Peace Accord. "In general terms, we believe that it is important for the international community to lend its support to the resolution of African crises, especially when strong prospects of resolving the conflict exist, which is currently the case in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the parties make the necessary efforts for the implementation of these accords."
Over 500 rebel fighters have gathered at the town of Komende, about 20 miles from Kenema, where they have voluntarily assembled their arms and ammunition and are waiting for the official start of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday. "The rebels said that after waiting in vain to be disarmed they had left their former war base at Mabundu Junction and gone to Kenema to reaffirm their commitment to the Lomé Peace Agreement," Brima told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "Last weekend the U.N. Observer Mission in Kenema and the Civil Defence High Command visited the rebels at Komende on a confidence-building exercise."
In a press release issued on Tuesday, the ECOMOG High Command urged rebel commanders in Freetown to return to their bases for one week in order to educate their rank-and-file on the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord and the commencement of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. The commanders were also directed to furnish the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) with "information on the strength, locations, as well as the positions and descriptions of all known and unexploded bombs, explosive ordinance devices, minefields, booby traps, wire entanglements, and all other physical or military hazards" as required by Article 19 of the Peace Accord. Within the one week period, the ex-combatants should take steps to ensure free and safe access to every part of the country for ECOMOG, UNOMSIL, DDR officials, aid agencies and Sierra Leonean civilians. "This should be done with a view to paving way for immediate construction of arms collection sites and demobilisation centres in designated locations all over Sierra Leone," the ECOMOG press release said. Meanwhile, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported on Wednesday that rebel gangs had been harassing civilians and government in Freetown. "In the past two weeks there have been several complaints about rebels storming government offices and businesses demanding money and threatening the staff," Brima said. "Newspapers have also reported that civilians have been physically manhandled, and some reports have accused the rebels of being involved in armed robberies in the capital. A member of parliament, Rebecca Conteh, who is the latest victim of harassment at the hands of the rebels, told me yesterday that after demanding money from her the rebels sent her a letter threatening to deal with her if she failed to cooperate with them."
Several hundred civilians who have been trapped for the past nine months behind rebel lines in the diamond-mining town of Tongo have reached Kenema, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday. They said they were issued passes to leave by the RUF commander after the rebels ceased diamond mining operations in the town. "They said they were very happy to be in Kenema, as there was not enough food in Tongo, and they looked in pretty poor shape," Brima said.
Sierra Leone is among 36 countries eligible for debt relief, the U.S. government said on Wednesday.
28 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh left the Ivory Coast for Liberia aboard an official Ivorian government place. Sankoh has insisted on delaying his return to Sierra Leone until he had completed a regional tour to thank the presidents of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia for their contributions to the peace process. "Then I am going to Sierra Leone to make my own contribution to the peace accord," he said. Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday he planned to hold separate talks with Sankoh and with former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who has been in Monrovia for the past six weeks. "God willing we will see them off to Freetown," Taylor said on his private FM radio station. "I think this is an honour for this country and this government to play such an important role...Putting the final nail to the coffin of distress in Sierra Leone," he added.
RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh questioned a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to deploy some 6,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone. "This is something we have to negotiate," Sankoh said in Abidjan, prior to leaving for Liberia. "The U.N. proposal is not in the peace accord. We never asked the United Nations for a peacekeeping force. We talked about ECOMOG." While the Lomé Peace Accord is vague about an expanded role for United Nations peacekeepers, it calls on the U.N. Security Council "to amend the mandate of UNOMSIL (the U.N. Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone) to enable it to undertake the various provisions outlined in the present agreement." The Accord also stipulates that "a neutral peacekeeping force comprising UNOMSIL and ECOMOG shall disarm all combatants of the RUF/SL, CDF (Civil Defence Forces), SLA (Sierra Leone Army) and paramilitary groups" and that "UNOMSIL shall be present in all disarmament and demobilization locations to monitor the process and provide security guarantees to all ex-combatants." Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called on the U.N. last week to take "full responsibility" for peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, complaining that the cost of maintaining the Nigerian-dominated ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone was "unacceptably draining Nigeria financially." As of September 21, UNOMSIL had deployed 107 unarmed military observers in Sierra Leone, only about half of its authorised strength of 210. Sankoh suggested that Annan and the United Nations were biased in favour of President Kabbah, himself a former U.N. official. "They are all friends," he said. "They are all co-workers in the United Nations. This is the same thing they did in 1996: They destroyed the Abidjan peace accord because of sentiment." Sankoh insisted that the RUF had to be consulted on the peacekeeping force. "They can't treat the RUF like children," he said. "They have to respect the leadership of the RUF...ECOMOG can be expanded. So I see no reason why the United Nations is trying to cause problems in West Africa. Show me any place in the world where they have made peace."
Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai has welcomed the announcement of a United Nations peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone. "We are extremely very happy indeed," Kaikai told the BBC Focus on Africa programme on Tuesday. "The Secretary-General’s report was positively received in this country for the simple reason that it put responsibility for helping to bring about security in Sierra Leone exactly where it belongs, and that is at the doorsteps of the international community." He added that the Sierra Leone government had received assurances "that they will be here within the shortest possible period of time." Regarding U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation that the U.N. force incorporate troops from ECOWAS countries, Kaikai noted that the ECOMOG force had already accumulated considerable experience in Sierra Leone. "They are very much familiar with the terrain, they are very much familiar with he environmental factors relative to politics and culture and so on and so forth," he said. "If indeed we want to make a success of the entire force that is going to be here, it behooves all of us to use that experience which has been gained by ECOMOG to foster the security of this country...You recall that Ghana had a contingent here and Mali had a contingent here as well as Guinea. We believe that all of those if they are made a part of the group that will be here would be in the best interests of our people."
Britain's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said Tuesday that his country strongly supports the early deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. "The United Kingdom will be in the lead in pushing this resolution through, getting the force agreed and getting the peacekeepers out on the ground to help the peace agreement,'' he said. "The United Kingdom is very much for an early, robust and credible force in Sierra Leone, to back up the work which the U.N. and the West African states have already done in that country." Greenstock said that in East Timor the U.N. Security Council "turned around a situation in two weeks that was going badly wrong" and that the same should be done for Sierra Leone. "Africa should be no slower than Asia in this respect," he added.
Deputy Defence Minister and coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), Sam Hinga Norman, turned over 89 child combatants Saturday to Vice President Albert Joe Demby, according to Liberia's Star Radio. A child advocacy group, Children Associated With the War, has promised to reunite the children with their families. Star Radio quoted Norman as saying there were more than 11,000 children serving with the CDF.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proposed Tuesday the imposition of international controls on the sale of uncut diamonds in order to stop illegal sales which are fuelling conflicts in Sierra Leone and Angola. "The diamond market is pretty tight. The places you can sell uncut diamonds are pretty limited," he said. "It should not be beyond our wit to devise an international regime in cooperation with the diamond trade that cuts off that flow of diamonds to those who use them to buy arms and fuel conflicts." Cook added that Britain favoured international controls on the illegal sales of small arms, which had caused three million deaths while international efforts had focused on controlling weapons of mass destruction.
Braima V.S. Kebbie has been sworn in as the new Director of Public Prosecutions, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Tuesday. Kebbie, resigned his post as Deputy Justice Minister in order to take the position.
27 September: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended on Monday a 6,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force to help implement the Lomé Peace Accord signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in July. In his report to the Security Council Annan said the new force, to be named the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMIL), would supercede the functions of the unarmed Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). The force required to implement the Lomé Peace Accord should include six infantry battalions, each about 750-strong, Annan said. There would also be about 250 specialised support troops, to provide logistics, communications, engineering and air and other transportation. A helicopter-borne rapid reaction unit would consist of about 200 troops, bringing the total to some 6,000. Annan expressed the hope that the U.N. force would incorporate troops from ECOWAS countries, whose ECOMOG force is currently being withdrawn from Sierra Leone. "It would be my intention to seek contributions of troops for a significant part of the force from ECOWAS countries, in particular those currently contributing to ECOMOG," Annan said. "Such troops could be deployed fairly rapidly to Sierra Leone if they are not already stationed there as part of ECOMOG." He stressed that without the security, it would not be possible to disarm and demobilise the estimated 45,000 combatants in Sierra Leone. The Secretary-General also called for the immediate return to Sierra Leone of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in order to "assume important functions within the government of Sierra Leone," adding that a commitment to the peace agreement by Sankoh and other rebel leaders, including former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, was an essential element to its effective implementation. Annan said in his report that more money would be needed than the $19 million already contributed by the international community to a trust fund established by the World Bank to support the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme.
Sierra National Airlines, the ground handling agent at Lungi International Airport, has disputed a report that war-related damage to the airport has left it incapable of handling large aircraft. On Friday it was reported that U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who will visit Sierra Leone in October as part of a six-nation African tour, would need to use Guinea as a transit point to enter Sierra Leone because of damage to the airport. "Please be informed that no damage was done to Lungi Airport," Sierra National Airways Managing Director J.S. Kamandah wrote in a letter to the Sierra Leone Web. "Since March 1998 SNA has been handling all types of aircrafts including B747 for both passenger and cargo. Independent sources would confirm that no damage was done to the airport...Both the managements of Sierra Leone Airports Authority and Sierra National Airlines took appropriate measures to ensure that both aeronautical and ground handling services continue uninterrupted since the return to constitutional order in 1998."
26 September: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said in New York on Friday that about 1,000 Nigerian soldiers had died in Liberia and Sierra Leone while serving in the ECOMOG force, according to Nigeria's Sunday Punch newspaper. The Nigerian government and the ECOMOG force have previously refused to release casualty figures.
25 September: Rebel forces holding Koidu, in Kono District, are engaged in a massive diamond-mining exercise, according to 45 Koidu residents who escaped from the area and arrived in Bo after walking some 170 miles on foot. One escapee, 35-year old Edward Dowai, told BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima that all structures in Koidu and surrounding villages had been razed to the ground. He added that none of the roads had escaped damage from rebel mining activity, and that all roads in the area are now inaccessible to vehicular traffic. "Dowai and other escapees said civilians in Kono District are directly under the jurisdiction of the RUF/AFRC rebels. Forced labour and jungle justice are the order of the day," Brima reported. Local Court Chairman Sahr Komba, who was among the 45 escapees, described the humanitarian situation in the district as "appalling," with people dying daily from starvation and lack of medical facilities. He added that the movement of people is restricted unless clearance is secured from the rebels. Any attempt by anyone to escape is punished by torture or death. "Mr. Komba said health conditions in Koidu were deplorable," Brima said. "There are no health officials left except for one doctor, Dr. Gborie, who was abducted when the rebels invaded Kono. This lack of medical facilities has forced people to revert to reliance on traditional medicine using mainly herbs." Rebel forces overran the last remaining ECOMOG outposts in Kono District in early December. Despite provisions of the cease-fire agreement and the Lomé Peace Accord which require both sides to grant humanitarian agencies unhindered access to the civilian population in areas under control, aid workers have yet to receive clearance from rebel leaders to enter Kono District.
24 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh is expected to leave Ivory Coast for Liberia on Sunday, an RUF official said in Abidjan on Friday. "We are now looking at Sunday for the trip to Liberia," the official said. Sankoh has delayed returning to Freetown to join in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government in favour of a regional tour to meet with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia. It is not clear whether Sankoh intends to proceed from Liberia directly to Freetown, or whether he will enter Sierra Leone through Kailahun District on the Liberian border, the main stronghold of the RUF. Meanwhile, a presidential aide told Reuters on Friday that both Sankoh and former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma were expected back in Sierra Leone by October 1. "What we don't know is whether Sankoh and Koroma will be arriving from Monrovia together. But both men will be in Freetown before October 1," the aide said. "We are in constant communication with Sankoh and Koroma. And both of them informed the government yesterday that they will be arriving in Freetown in the next few days." He said the government had completed housing and security arrangements for the two rebel leaders, and that RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers, who headed an RUF advance team to Freetown, has travelled to Liberia to brief them.
Former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma has broadcast a VHF radio message to rebel SLA forces in Sierra Leone warning them against resorting to hostage taking or acts of violence as a means of pressing their demands, the BBC reported on Friday. Koroma told reporters at his Hotel Africa suite that he had instructed all area commanders to ensure that the warning is taken seriously and violators punished. He did not elaborate. He said that after a lengthy meeting Wednesday night with Liberian President Charles Taylor that everything regarding the soldiers demands — which include reinstatement in the army and benefits — was now on course. Koroma has called for a meeting between himself, President Kabbah, and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to be held in Nigeria "to put the cards on the table," and has insisted he would not return to Sierra Leone until the demands of the rebel soldiers had been addressed. President Taylor is said to have agreed to facilitate such a meeting, but also reportedly warned all parties to the Sierra Leone conflict to work towards consolidating the peace, as the patience of the sub-region was running out.
Several hundred former Sierra Leone Army soldiers at the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration camp at Lungi protested Wednesday over a cutback in their supplies, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Friday. The soldiers "refused to eat their breakfast they prepared for them, and then proceeded to set up barricades to prevent their commanders from going out and inside the camp. And they wanted an explanation from their commanders," Rogers told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "According to the ex-combatants, there has been a reduction in their dues. For example they were saying instead of giving them two spoons, two buckets, they only gave one of each of the items they were supposed to get." Rogers said the situation was defused Thursday when ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe went to speak to them. "(the ex-combatants said) they were happy with the explanation given by the authorities yesterday. And some of these items have now been supplied to them," Rogers said.
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will travel to Africa October 17-27, where she will visit Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania, State Department James Rubin announced on Friday. "The visit will focus on America's evolving partnership with Africa, and the common interest we share in ending conflicts, promoting democracy, and supporting economic reform across the continent," Rubin said. Albright will reportedly enter Sierra Leone from Guinea, as damage to Lungi International Airport during the country's civil war has left the airport incapable of handling large aircraft. "In Sierra Leone a recent peace agreement offers hope for ending a conflict characterized by horrendous abuses of human rights," Rubin said. This will be Albright's third trip to Africa since becoming Secretary of State.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun relocating Sierra Leonean refugees fleeing fighting between rebels and Liberian security forces in northern Lofa County, Liberia, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said in a statement issued in Geneva on Friday. After the Liberian government finally gave permission Tuesday for the refugees to be relocated, the UNHCR immediately sent a first convoy of trucks to Tarvey, where more than 9,000 of the refugees have sought safety and assistance, he said. 308 of the refugees were moved Wednesday to Sinje Camp, in Cape Mount County north of Monrovia, which currently shelters 5,000 refugees but has space for an additional 15,000 to 20,000 people. Convoys will ferry refugees to the site every three days. The refugees began moving to Tarvey in August, after armed attacks on villages around Kolahun forced aid workers to withdraw from the area. In the past ten days 5,000 refugees have reached Tarvey — 900 of them in the past two days alone — after a five-day walk through the forest, Janowski said. Several thousand more are reported to be on their way. An estimated 300 to 400 more elderly, handicapped or ill Sierra Leonean refugees remain at Kolahun, unable to make the trip to the transit point at Tarvey on foot. The UNHCR has requested an armed escort for a convoy to transport the group to Sinje, and hoped to get approval on Friday. The UNHCR continues to provide basic supplies and medical assistance to the refugees at Kolahun by helicopter, but aid workers have been unable to return by road for security reasons. Slightly different numbers were given Friday by Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) Chief of Mission Amanda Harvey, who described some 7,000 refugees on the move, including elderly people in wheelbarrows. "This group includes a significant number of vulnerables — people too elderly and infirm to take on the long journey towards safe refuge and humanitarian assistance," Harvey said. She told reporters that the transit camp at Tarvey was already overcrowded and that there were already cases of bloody diarrhoea among the refugees arriving there. She said about 16,000 Sierra Leonean refugees were living in Kolahun prior to attacks in the area by Liberian insurgents in August. According to the UNHCR there are some 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, of whom 35,000 were in northern Lofa County before the recent fighting.
Liberian Defence Ministry officials are investigating reports of a shooting incident between Liberian soldiers and Kamajor militiamen September 17 along the Sierra Leone-Liberia border at the Pokonu crossing point in Grand Cape Mount County. According to Liberia's Star Radio, the incident was occasioned by a disagreement between the soldiers and the militiamen over a deal to allow the Kamajors to move people across the Mano River into and out of Liberia. The Liberian government last year closed its border with Sierra Leone after accusations by Sierra Leone and the international community that Liberia was providing support to AFRC/RUF rebels. Allegedly, the soldiers were demanding money to allow the Kamajors to cross the border. "AFL soldier Pewee Harris reportedly shot between the legs of two Kamajors," Star Radio reported. "They allegedly crossed people into Liberia without paying the agreed fee. The report said the two Kamajors later ran for safety into Liberian bushes. The incident prompted dozens of Kamajors to storm the Mano River bridge at Bo Waterside in demand of their men." Defence Minister Daniel Chea said the illegal operation had compromised national security and that the soldiers involved would face court martial.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its implementation partners in Sierra Leone delivered 115 tons of assorted food to some 6,400 vulnerable persons at Masiaka and three villages along the Freetown-Masiaka stretch of highway, the WFP said in an Emergency Update issued on Friday. The food distribution had been postponed three times because of insecurity in the nearby Okra Hill area. In Kenema District, WFP implementation partners have begun distribution of 60 tons of seed rice, which will be sufficient to cultivate 1,950 acres in Small Bo, Kandu Leppiama and Dodo Chiefdoms. Loans of 925 tons of lentils by Catholic Relief Services, CARE and World Vision International have allowed the WFP to continue major feeding programmes in the Western Area through September. WFP and ACF have also agreed to use up to 100 tons of ACF-supplied lentils for joint distributions in the Masiaka area. New shipments of WFP food are expected to reach Sierra Leone by the end of September. Food handed over by the WFP to its implementation partners between September 15 and 21 totalled 213 tons of assorted commodities for distribution to some 17,940 recipients.
23 September: The Canadian government announced Wednesday Canadian $4.5 million (approximately U.S. $3.1 million) in assistance to support peace efforts and help victims of conflict in Sierra Leone. The announcement was made jointly by Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy (pictured left) and International Cooperation Minister Maria Minna (right), who along with Canada's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, David Pratt (MP for Nepean - Carleton) and Jean Augustine (MP for Etobicoke - Lakeshore) were in New York to discuss the plight of child soldiers and to raise the awareness of the plight of children in war-affected situations. According to a Canadian government press release, the funds will be spent on humanitarian aid for displaced persons and refugees, and on the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme for former combatants. This latest contribution brings to $9 million the amount invested by Canada in Sierra Leone since December 1998. "Far too many children, women and men have suffered physically and emotionally after being forced from their homes during this devastating conflict," Minna said. "We have to act swiftly for the people of Sierra Leone, to sustain peace and prevent further violence and war." The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) will provide $2.5 million to the World Bank Trust Fund for Sierra Leone, while another $1.5 million will go to international and Canadian organisations to provide assistance to children affected by war, and to amputees. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, through its Peacebuilding Program, will contribute an additional $500,000 for a variety of peace building efforts, with priority on assisting the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers, and supporting other children affected by the conflict. "The effective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, in particular child soldiers, is a human security priority," said Axworthy. "We have to ensure that these people are provided with adequate education and tools to build a new future."
Ten Croatian military officers are set to depart for Freetown on Monday to join the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), Zagreb HINA (state radio) announced on Thursday. "Officers are fully prepared for the mission," Croatian Defence Minister Pavao Miljavac told a press conference on Wednesday. Miljavac (right) confirmed that the U.N. had requested that Croatia provide 200 soldiers for UNOMSIL. He said, however, that 30 days was too short a time to prepare that number of soldiers, and that he believed Croatia would not be able to respond positively to the request.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (pictured left) called on the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to replace Nigerian ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone. The U.N. should take "full responsibility" for peacekeeping operations in that country, he said, adding: "Nigeria's continual burden in Sierra Leone is unacceptably draining Nigeria financially. For our economy to take off, this bleeding has to stop." Last month Nigeria, which has contributed the vast majority of soldiers to the ECOMOG force, began a phased pullout of its troops from Sierra Leone. The withdrawal was halted in September at the request of President Kabbah, but is due to resume in October. Last week, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, was quoted as saying that six or more battalions of U.N. peacekeepers would soon be deployed in Sierra Leone in order to ensure the disarmament of combatants. In his July 30 request recommendation that the Security Council increase the authorised strength of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone from 70 to 210, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said one of their tasks would be the "preparation of plans for the deployment of neutral peacekeeping troops" as envisaged by the Lomé Peace Accord. However, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday that Annan's recommendation regarding deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping battalions, each of which would reportedly comprise 750 troops, is not now expected until next week. He added that 150 UNOMSIL observers are expected to be in place by the end of September, and that the full contingent of 210 should be deployed by the end of October.
22 September: Several hundred teachers demonstrated outside the New Englandville offices of the Ministry of Education on Wednesday to demand salary arrears of seven months or more. The protest disrupted traffic for several hours. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah, most of the teachers "came from provincial towns and villages now effectively under rebel control, and where there is no formal schooling taking place," and without salaries have found life in Freetown difficult. "Whilst they are there raising hell for their salaries, some officials from their department are currently standing trial in the courts for the embezzlement of tens of thousands of pounds meant to settle their arrears," Fofanah added. In July, six Ministry of Education officials were arrested and charged with the embezzlement of money which had been appropriated to pay the salaries of provincial teachers.
Former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma told the BBC Wednesday that he would not go to Freetown until the grievances of rebel SLA soldiers had been addressed. "There are a lot of other things concerning their benefits: Those who were killed in action, those who were wounded in action should be taken care of, and those who don't want to serve in the army again should be given their benefits, and also some other areas that have to do with political issues." Koroma said in Monrovia. He added that while he wanted to see the people of Sierra Leone, "It is better for me to stay here and solve the problems before going in. When I get inside, people will know that the whole issue has been resolved peacefully." Koroma denied he was concerned by the ending of a temporary 30-day suspension of the United Nations Security Council's ban on international travel by junta members to allow him to meet his followers in Monrovia after their seizing of hostages in early August. "No, it doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I was not given any grace period. I was told that the ban was lifted for 30 days. That was something I cross-checked with (Liberian) President Taylor and he was making arrangements for a total lift. I am sure they have lifted everything and my stay here is for a purpose, and I cannot just rush because people are talking about 30 days, so I should just be in a hurry to go back. I am at liberty to do whatever I want to do and to make sure the issue is resolved." Koroma insisted his fighters were "waiting patiently" for his return to Sierra Leone. "They are not in to fight again," he said. "They have listened to my instruction that we are not going to fight. It is an issue resolved peacefully like civilized people, and I am sure they will adhere to that as they are waiting, and we will make sure we look into their problems...I am sure President Taylor, President Obasanjo, and their colleagues in the sub-region will work speedily to make sure the issue is resolved because I am quite sure all of them are interested in this issue, and they want this issue to be resolved peacefully." Responding to a question as to whether he still wanted power in Sierra Leone, Koroma replied: "We are in a position now wherein I think what all of us should be thinking of at this point in time is peace, not power. We should try by all possible means to bring peace to the people of Sierra Leone. All other interests will come later on but now, we should be talking peace, peace, peace. That's all for now."
ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade denied Wednesday that the ECOMOG force was prepared to violate the cease-fire if rebel soldiers failed to return arms and equipment they took from Guinean soldiers a week ago. On Tuesday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted the commander of the Guinean ECOMOG contingent, Lieutenant-Colonel Haji Konte, of threatening military action "if your ammunition seized by rebels is not retrieved within a week." However, Olukolade told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Wednesday that only the ECOMOG High Command could approve such a measure. "I don't believe he will have said such a thing. He cannot violate the ceasefire unilaterally," he said.
RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh reportedly left Abidjan on Tuesday for the Ivorian town of Danane, on the Liberian border, where he said he wanted to meet with Sierra Leonean refugees in the area. Reuters quoted unnamed diplomatic and rebel sources who suggested that Sankoh might be reconsidering his plans to return to Sierra Leone. "Our reading of the situation is that Sankoh does not want to go to Freetown. That is out of the question for now," a rebel source in Liberia was quoted as saying. Reuters also quoted "rebel associates" who expressed concern about Sankoh's state of mind and lifestyle — the perception that Sankoh was living in luxury while his fighters were still in the bush. RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley dismissed such speculation on Wednesday, insisting that Sankoh was "anxious to consolidate the peace process and to support policies that would encourage the process of reconciliation." A source close to Sankoh told the Sierra Leone Web Monday that the RUF leader "will be in Freetown definitely before October 1. He’s not going to be there this week, of that I can assure you. He will be there by the end of September."
The Liberian government has given its approval for the relocation of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees caught up in fighting between Liberian rebels and government security forces in northern Lofa County, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman said on Wednesday. The refugees are being transferred to Sinje Camp in Cape Mount County. That camp currently houses 5,000 Sierra Leonean refugees, but has the capacity for an additional 15,000 to 20,000 people. Because the rainy season has made access to Lofa County difficult, most of the refugees are forced to travel to one of two transit points in Lower Lofa County, where the UNHCR has trucks to transport them to Sinje. "Some of the vulnerable cases have been airlifted by helicopter. Yesterday a couple of them were airlifted to Tarvey, and then from Tarvey there were taken by trucks to Sinje," the spokesman told the BBC. He added that health conditions among the refugees were good. "When they were in Lofa we up to last Friday we had a weekly humanitarian mission to Lofa to see how they were doing," he said. "And all the times we’ve been there since we pulled out of Lofa in August, we haven’t received any complaints of any major diseases except for a few mild headaches, and stomach aches, and pains and all these things. But the medical facilities in the camps in Lofa were still working even when we were not there on the ground." He said the refugees had asked to be moved because "they don’t believe that the aid agencies will return (to Lofa County) in the immediate future. and then the second aspect of the problem was that there were complaints by the refugees of constant harassment by the Liberian security forces." He said the UNHCR had brought the problem to the attention of the authorities "but we thought that since we’re not going back in the immediate future because this entire Lofa area has been now declared by the U.N. Security Office Phase 5, which is the highest phase in the security scale, which means that aid agencies cannot go back. So with those reasons we proposed to the government that since there is enough space available at Sinje, it would be better in the interests of the refugees and ourselves and the government too, of course, to move the refugees to Sinje."
21 September: 5,000 bags of rice and an assortment of medicine donated by Nigeria to combatants in Sierra Leone was handed over in a ceremony in Freetown on Tuesday. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah, two thirds of the rice was earmarked for rebel fighters and one third for the pro-government Civil Defence Forces. "That translates into 4,000 bags for the rebels and 1,000 bags of rice for the CDF," Fofanah said. "The assorted medicines will also be distributed on the same basis...2,000 (bags) will go to the AFRC and 2,000 to the RUF." Fofanah said it remained to be seen as to whether the donation of rice would speed up the disarmament process as Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had intended. "The ECOMOG force commander, General Kpamber, said that he hopes the rebels will see with him and stop making new demands and complaints, that if they have any problems...they should try and make sure they go through negotiations, and that this should encourage them to turn over their weapons and their ammunition," he said. RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers, who spoke on behalf of the rebels, said they "appreciate the gift and that they were prepared to disarm because according to him they no longer consider the Nigerians as their adversaries," according to Fofanah. He added that AFRC commanders told him after the ceremony that their problem was not with disarmament per se, but that they wanted to see their leader, former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, face to face. "And also one of them said that they want Johnny Paul Koroma to be taken to Ghana and not in Liberia which, according to that commander, Liberia is RUF-friendly." Major-General Kpamber told the rebels ECOMOG was prepared to provide the logistics to transport the rice to their bases. He stressed that ECOMOG was "never going to attack the rebels at all, but rather they are now a peace-keeping force" which was ready to work with any group of combatants as long as they were prepared to turn in their weapons.
The commander of the Guinean contingent of ECOMOG troops, Lieutenant-Colonel Haji Konte, threatened Monday that ECOMOG would violate the cease-fire if rebel troops did not return arms and ammunition they took from Guinean troops a week ago, the Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on Tuesday. The AFP quoted ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade as saying RUF rebels stole the weapons and briefly abducted several Guinean ECOMOG soldiers along the Mange-Kambia highway last Tuesday. Olukolade was quoted as saying that ECOMOG staff were in contact with the RUF leadership and that he "hoped the situation could be resolved before such action is taken." On Friday, the BBC reported that Guinean soldiers attached to the ECOMOG contingent at Port Loko had come across rebel AFRC soldiers at the town of Barmoi, and were invited to visit their base, about six miles from the main road. The rebel soldiers then seized their weapons and vehicles, claiming that the Guineans, who were reportedly on their way to reinforce their border, had violated the cease-fire by moving from their operational area — a charge ECOMOG has denied.
U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the United Nations Tuesday to take collective responsibility to stand against "hot-blooded hatreds and stone-cold hearts." "We cannot do everything and be everywhere," Clinton said in his speech before the General Assembly. Calling the United Nations the world's one "indispensable" institution, Clinton said: "Sometimes promising too much can be as cruel as doing too little.... But we cannot be indifferent to the destruction of innocents." He added that the response "cannot or should not" be the same in every case. "Sometimes collective military forces is both appropriate and feasible," he said. "Sometimes concerted economic and political pressure, combined with diplomacy, is a better answer, as it was in making possible the introduction of forces in East Timor. Of course, the way the international community responds will depend upon the capacity of countries to act, and on their perception of their national interests. NATO acted in Kosovo, for example, to stop a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing in a place where we had important interests at stake, and the ability to act collectively. The same considerations brought Nigerian troops and their partners to Sierra Leone, and Australians and others to East Timor. That is proper — so long as we work together, support each other, and do not abdicate our collective responsibility."
20 September: 15 people are reported to have drowned over the weekend when two canoes in the Moa River at the Tongaru crossing point. The victims, who included women and children, were among a group of people travelling from Daru to Segbwema in an attempt to escape from rebel-held areas in Kailahun District, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Monday. Brima quoted one of the survivors who reached Kenema, Musa Kallon, as saying that "thousands of people are now languishing behind rebel lines in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone without any food or medicine, and are being denied passage to any other parts of the country." Kallon said people were being prevented from leaving rebel-held areas as a result of delays in implementing the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and also on account of the rains, which have made the roads impassible. "Kallon told me that the situation among the civilians being held behind rebel lines is deteriorating," Brima said. "Malnourishment is common, (Kallon) said, especially among children, and people are dying daily of hunger and starvation."
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged world leaders Monday to take unified action to ensure that massive and systematic violations of human rights, wherever they might take place, not be allowed to stand. Intervention, he said, should be defined "from the most pacific to the most coercive" and applied fairly in all regions. Annan told world leaders gathered for the opening of debate in the 54th General Assembly that there are many people around the world, from Sierra Leone to Sudan and from Angola to Afghanistan who needed "more than just words of sympathy from the international community."
19 September: About 200 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone have departed from Freetown for Liberia aboard a ship chartered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
18 September: In a radio message recorded in Liberia and broadcast Saturday in Freetown, former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma urged his followers to abide by the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord and not to do anything that would threaten the peace process. "I urge you not to fire a single shot against your brothers and sisters," he said in an appeal addressed to rebel SLA soldiers. Koroma also said he wanted three-way talks between himself, President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh prior to his returning to Sierra Leone. "Let me assure you, the fighters and the civilian populace, that I shall be coming to Freetown very soon,'' he said, but added: "I want President Tejan Kabbah, Corporal Foday Sankoh and myself to meet in Nigeria to put the cards on the table in a manner where there would be no problem to the ongoing peace." Meanwhile, rebel AFRC soldiers issued a statement on Saturday apologising for atrocities they had committed, but also setting forth several demands. As reported by BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah: "The AFRC soldiers said they deeply regret and apologise for all what they’ve done to the people of this country. The soldiers added that they are fully conscious of the misery and suffering which they have caused Sierra Leoneans and therefore pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy. 'It is not enough for us to say we are sorry,' the statement read, adding that this serves as an opportunity to explain what they describe as their long and difficult story." According to the statement, the rebel soldiers want to renew their pledge of allegiance and loyalty to the state, and said that they are ready to observe the rule of law and observe basic human rights. "In trying to justify their mutinous conduct, the soldiers said in their statement that issues like governmental corruption, misuse of funds allocated to the military, and neglect of their welfare were a compelling force behind their action," Fofanah said. "With regards to the present peace deal struck between President Kabbah’s government and the RUF, the AFRC soldiers claim that their interests were not represented in the Lomé Peace Accord, and that the RUF cannot effectively represent them. Therefore, they said, any future talks should involve their active membership." The soldiers argued that since military officers who participated in May 1997 coup could not realistically resume their careers without fear, these officers should be considered for roles in any future government.
A team of government officials and international and local non-governmental organisations are planning to travel to Koidu to assess "the alarming health situation" in Kono District, state radio reported on Saturday. The radio spoke of hunger and disease, including a suspected cholera outbreak. Rebel forces overran the remaining ECOMOG positions at Koidu and its environs early last December.
Assistant U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Soren Jessen-Petersen has appealed for greater access to rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone, calling it one of the main obstacles in helping victims of the country's civil war. "The only problem in the way of the organisation's activities is the inaccessibility of...rebel-held areas where there are people deprived of humanitarian services," Jessen-Petersen told Vice President Albert Joe Demby on Saturday. Following a meeting with government and rebel officials, U.N. staff members and ECOMOG officers, Jessen-Petersen said the security situation in Sierra Leone remains too unstable to start repatriating the country's estimated 500,000 refugees, most of whom live in camps in Guinea and Liberia. "Unless we are satisfied that we are bringing them back to a relatively stable and safe environment, then they are not going back," the UNHCR official said. He urged the rapid deployment of the 210 military observers authorised last month by the U.N. Security Council and the immediate disarmament and demobilisation of combatants. "If you can move fast with those two and consolidate what is still a very fragile peace, then I think there is hope," Jessen-Petersen said. "But there is no doubt that we are right now probably in the most dangerous period."
17 September: Rebel AFRC soldiers last week seized "a large quantity of sophisticated arms and ammunition" and seven military vehicles from Guinean ECOMOG troops at the town of Barmoi, near Kambia, journalist Sulaiman Momodu said in a BBC report aired on Friday. "Eyewitnesses say that on arrival at Barmoi the rebels told the Guinean troops to visit their base some six miles from the main road," Momodu reported. "The troops were a part of the Guinean contingent in Port Loko who were travelling in order to reinforce their border as a result of recent cross-border raids by armed men the Guinean government says are Liberian soldiers. At their base the rebels reportedly told the Guinean ECOMOG soldiers that they had violated the cease-fire which stipulates that there should be no movement of arms and ammunition from one place to the other." While several efforts to retrieve the weapons proved futile, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said Monday that the rebels, who last week released two Guinean ECOMOG prisoners-of-war in the same area, had "promised to release all prisoners of war and military hardware in their possession." Olukolade also argued that although part of the Guinean ECOMOG contingent had left Port Loko, they were still in their mission area and so had not violated the cease-fire. "Meanwhile, some drivers now refuse to carry armed men for fear that rebels would seize their vehicles on the grounds that they had violated the cease-fire," Momodu said.
16 September: Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured left) and Guinean President Lansana Conte (right) have signed an agreement at the ECOWAS emergency mini-summit aimed at easing tension between the two countries following fighting along their common border, and with Sierra Leone as it struggles to end more than eight years of civil war. "(West African leaders) urged the heads of state of Guinea and Liberia to establish direct communication lines between them," according to the final communiqué issued after the meeting. Under the agreement, the three countries are to compile lists of known dissidents with a view to their expulsion, set up a joint security committee, and revive the Mano River Union. Tensions between Liberia and Guinea increased after Liberia alleged that insurgents who launched attacks in northern Lofa County last month were operating across the border from Guinea. On Monday, the Guinean government threatened to retaliate against Liberia after Guinean Prime Minister Lamine Sidime accused Liberian troops of crossing into Guinea last Saturday and killing 28 civilians near the town of Macenta. Both sides have denied the allegations. ECOWAS Information Director Adrienne Diop said the main problem was lack of communication. "They were acting on rumours of this and that, so the setting up of a joint committee will mean they are both there and they can take joint action," she said. Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are bound by a non-aggression and security cooperation agreement, most recently noted at a November 1998 summit in Conakry aimed at reviving the Mano River Union. The leaders of the three countries have also pledged not to allow their countries to be used as springboards for attacks against their neighbours. Attending the mini-summit to mediate between Taylor and Conte were the leaders of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Togo and Nigeria, along with the foreign ministers of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
15 September: Donor nations have pledged only 30 percent of the $300 million requested by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to fund operations in Africa this year, UNHCR official Soren Jessen-Petersen said in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday. "We are seeing in the UNHCR some disparity, something I would call discrimination, between other parts of the world and toward our activities in Africa," Jessen-Petersen said, referring to the strong response by the international community to help refugees in Kosovo earlier this year. Because of the lack of funding the UNHCR is unable to move Sierra Leonean refugees away from the border area where they have been subject to attack, or help Liberian refugees return home, he said. There are about 7 million refugees in Africa, a third of the world's total. On Tuesday, Jessen-Petersen welcomed the peace accords in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. To stem the growing flood of refugees the international community should seize these successes and build on the agreements, "no matter how fragile," he said.
Lottie Betts-Priddy, who served as a Sierra Leone government delegate to the peace talks in Lomé, Togo, died Monday from a heart attack while on a visit to the U.K. She reportedly was undergoing treatment for a severe attack of malaria. She is survived by her husband, E.T. Priddy, formerly of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Acting Clerk of Parliament. Betts-Priddy was an educator. In Lomé she represented civil society and spoke on behalf of the National Consultative Conference on the Peace Process held in Freetown on April 7, prior to the Lomé peace talks.
14 September: Rebel SLA soldiers in the Okra Hill area east of Freetown have released two Guinean ECOMOG soldiers, National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray said on Tuesday. He said the Guineans had been held at the rebel stronghold (Camp Lion) at Rogbere Gbana. "Although the release of abductees is very slow, the government appreciates that with the continuing process of confidence building, very soon large numbers of civilians will be freed," Mansaray said.
Kamajor militiamen reportedly clashed with rebel fighters at Nomo and Tonkia Chiefdoms in Kenema District over the weekend after the rebels raided several towns, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Tuesday. Area residents who reached Kenema on Monday told Brima the rebels had looted food and property, and had abducted several civilians who were forced to carry their loot. "Kamajors in nearby towns and villages spontaneously responded by chasing the rebels and successfully retrieved all the looted property, and also rescued the abductees," Brima said. The BBC Focus on Africa programme described the incident as "another breach of the Sierra Leone cease-fire" and "a series of clashes," but there has been no first-hand confirmation as to the scope of the incident.
United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo has met with former AFRC chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma in Monrovia and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in Abidjan, according to a U.N. statement. "Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Lomé peace accord" and gave assurances that they would return to Freetown shortly, the statement said.
The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has begun posting military observers in the provinces in preparation for the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants. U.N. officials said one of the towns which where observers would be posted was the rebel stronghold of Daru, in Kailahun District.
ECOWAS member nation heads of state from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Togo will hold an emergency meeting in Abuja, Nigeria Thursday on the deepening border crisis between Liberia and Guinea. The Guinean government has accused Liberian soldiers of killing 28 Guinean civilians, and has threatened to retaliate. "We are ready to repulse this aggression with equal force," Guinean Prime Minister Lamine Sidime said Monday in a television broadcast. Liberia in turn accuses Guinea of harbouring Liberian insurgents who launched attacks in northern Lofa County last month, forcing large numbers of Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees to flee the area.
Despite an agreement in principle to transfer thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees who fled fighting in northern Liberia to safer site near Monrovia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not yet received final clearance from the Liberian government, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said in a press briefing issued in Geneva on Tuesday. The agency is seeking to transfer 5,000 who fled to the town of Targbe in August, as well as another 8,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who have remained in Kolahun, in Lofa County. "UNHCR has so far been able to move only 350 particularly vulnerable cases to Sinje, an existing camp which can accommodate an additional 15,000-20,000 refugees. There are 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, around 35,000 of whom were in Lofa County," the UNHCR spokesman said. Medical care and supplies are still able to reach the refugees by helicopter, but the UNHCR is concerned about the security of its aid workers, and worried that access to this remote area could be cut off by further fighting.
17 persons have died of cholera since the beginning of September and 352 have been infected, according to Dr. Haroun Turay, the Head of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health. "From 9-10 September, 14 deaths and 29 cases were recorded in Port Loko District alone," Turay told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Monday. He described the situation in Port Loko as "bad" due to the high rate of fatalities and the movement of traders from neighbouring Kambia District. Turay said cholera preparedness in Kambia District was poor because aid agencies had been unable to pre-position medical supplies. "Accessibility has been a problem," he acknowledged, "but we hope to have supplies arriving tomorrow." A World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman in Freetown said the agency was attempting to determine whether the disease was present in other parts of Sierra Leone, particularly in Kambia District which the WHO describes as a "reservoir of cholera." The WHO spokesman said "there is currently sufficient capacity in Sierra Leone to treat 2,000 cases" of cholera. The WHO has provided IV fluids, oral rehydration salts and technical guidance to the district medical team in Port Loko and to Lungi Hospital, which serves the district. During 1998, there were 2096 cases of cholera reported to the WHO, with 57 deaths recorded.
13 September: United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Momodu M'bai told the BBC Monday that Sunday's relief convoy to Makeni "didn't encounter any problems on the road," but described the humanitarian situation in the city as "not very good." "That’s why we tried, this is the second time we tried to go in Makeni with convoys, and this time we succeeded, and we brought in something like 1,200 metric tons of food in the convoy of 65 trucks," M'bai said. "Knowing that since nearly one year nothing has gone through Makeni because of security problems, it’s a significant breakthrough to that area, and we allow more assistance to get in Makeni and even in the Northern Province and Eastern Province which are also difficult areas and needy areas." The food distributed in Makeni should provide between 10 and 20 kilos per person, or about three weeks supply with proper use, the WFP spokesman said. In response to a suggestion that the rebels might seize the food once the aid agencies left the city, M'bai said the combatants had displayed a "very disciplined attitude" and were respecting the principle that the aid agencies assist only civilians, but he acknowledged that "We don't have any guarantees." M'bai said that when the convoy returned to Freetown on Wednesday, aid agencies on the Food Aid Committee would meet to "assess the situation and to have lesson learned and to prepare another strategy, either to Makeni or to other areas back in the east — Kailahun and the north with Kono."
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director to a second five-year term, his spokesman said on Monday. Fred Eckhard said Bellamy's second reappointment will take effect on 1 May 2000, when her current term expires. Bellamy, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, New York politician and Peace Corps director, has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of children worldwide. During an October 1998 visit to Sierra Leone, she demanded an immediate end to the recruitment of child soldiers, and condemned the use of children as combatants.
12 September: A 60-truck United Nations relief convoy carrying over 1,000 metric tons of food reached Makeni on Sunday, and food distribution has already started, U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Wagdi Othman announced from Abidjan. The convoy travelled without military escort and met no obstacles along the way. "Everything went smoothly," Othman said. "For us this is a big breakthrough because it gives us hope of further access to other civilian populations." Along with the WFP, other agencies involved in the relief effort in Makeni are World Vision International, Catholic Relief Services, and CARE.
Sierra Leone Council of Churches General Secretary Alimamy Koroma on Sunday blamed the slow pace in implementing the peace accord on a lack of support by the international community. "We are just at the very beginning of implementing the peace process in Sierra Leone. When I say that it has been rather slow to take off because of a number of reasons, primarily hinging on lack of financial resources to support the various activities within the peace agreement," Koroma said in a BBC Focus on Africa interview. "Sierra Leone has the manpower and is making its own contribution, but it is expected that the international community will continue to accompany us in our efforts to consolidate that peace agreement." Koroma, who was involved in helping to mediate the Lomé peace talks, disputed a suggestion that the international community was unwilling to commit resources because it lacked faith in the peace process. "In fact the international community has contributed immensely into making this agreement the way it is," he said. "And if there’s another risk there’s a risk in everything, and I’m sure in other places risks have been taken. And if it is a risk, I think for Sierra Leone it is a risk worth taking for the people of our country." Concerning complaints by rebel AFRC soldiers that they had not been represented at the peace talks, Koroma said members of the former military junta had in fact taken part in the negotiations. "I saw for myself the participation of some AFRC personnel," he said. "After the coup on the 25th of May in 1997 we were made to understand or to believe that the AFRC and the RUF were one from that point onwards. And so it was just logical that they negotiations or the dialogue took place and went along those lines where we had a combination of RUF and AFRC under the one umbrella of RUF." Koroma said that while he could not advance any reason for the "physical absence" of former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma from the peace talks, "There were at least two ministers — cabinet ministers — in the AFRC government in Lomé."
11 September: The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, left Monrovia for Abidjan on Friday, where he will hold talks with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Okelo arrived in the Liberian capital on Thursday for talks with former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma. Okelo is urging the two rebel leaders to return to Freetown to help consolidate the peace process.
Seven people have died of cholera since the beginning of September and 150 more have contracted the disease with 43 of them in serious condition, health officials said on Saturday. Five of the deaths occurred in Port Loko and two in Freetown. In 1998 there were 55 recorded deaths from the disease and a total of 2,477 cases were recorded.
10 September: The Nigerian government has sent 5,000 bags of rice to Sierra Leone along with a consignment of medicine to provide for the welfare of AFRC/RUF rebels in the bush, ECOMOG Chief Military Information Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said on Friday. AFRC rebels in the Okra Hill area east of Freetown twice last month seized hostages, with the delivery of food and medicine being among their demands. Meanwhile, following a series of coordinating meetings on the launching of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation programme, a rebel delegation comprised of RUF and AFRC commanders has been despatched to rebel bases to update their members on developments, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported on Friday.
New Mexico, U.S.A.-based Nord Resources Corporation announced Friday that 92 percent of its shareholders had voted in favour of selling its 50 percent interest in Sierra Rutile Limited to MIL (Investments) S.A. The transaction is expected to take place within two weeks. The sales will result in the cancellation of seven million shares of Nord Resources common stock owned MIL, the receipt of $1.25 million in cash, and the release of the company's guarantee of $6 million in loans to Sierra Rutile. Nord Resources will retain a 5 percent stake in the Sierra Rutile interest sold. The company's mine at Mokanji is considered vital to the Sierra Leone economy. In 1994 the company produced 144,000 tons of rutile (titanium dioxide), a quarter of the world's output. In 1993, rutile accounted for 57% of Sierra Leone's mineral export earnings, which totaled $108 million. Sierra Rutile was forced to suspend operations in January 1995, after the mine was overrun by RUF rebels.
9 September: The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo (pictured left), has urged RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma to return to Freetown to help implement the peace accord signed in Lomé, Togo in July. According to a press release issued Thursday by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), Okelo will travel to Monrovia, Liberia to meet with Koroma and urge him to return home. Meanwhile, Sankoh is in Abidjan awaiting the return of Ivorian President Henri Konan Bedie and Foreign Minister Amara Essy from an extraordinary OAU summit in Libya. The RUF leader has insisted on visiting the leaders of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia before returning to Sierra Leone.
The pro-government Kamajor militia has begun demobilising and disarming its fighters in Bo in advance of the government's official Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation (DDR) programme, according to Kamajor National Public Relations Officer Charles Moiwo. "What we are doing, we are registering the men with arms and ammunition," Moiwo told the BBC's Lansana Fofanah. "We get their names and the type of arms they get, and then we take it and pack it together, awaiting for the UNOMSIL (United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone) to come and collect. And then get the registration paper of the people who have the arms." Moiwo refused to say how many militiamen had been disarmed or where the weapons were being kept, but he put the number of those who fought in the Civil Defence Force's ethnic militias at some 60,000 — a figure more than double the estimate of 25,000 total combatants referred to earlier this month by the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu. Moiwo said the demobilisation had gone easily and successfully, and that the combatants were returning to their previous professions. "A lot of them have been farmers before, some of them have been miners, some of them have been carpenters, some of them I think contractors," he said. "And among us we have lecturers, we have teachers, a lot of them, since now our president has signed peace that we should now disarm and do everything, they have gone back to their various works of life."
The United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, urged Sierra Leonean leaders Thursday to take “bold and concrete measures” to implement the Lomé Peace Accord and so bring the country's eight-year civil war to an end. “This is ultimately the best way to guarantee the protection of children in Sierra Leone,” Otunnu said at a press briefing. The former Ugandan foreign minister called for the early return to Sierra Leone of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma to help consolidate the peace, and for the launching of the programme to disarm combatants. Otunnu told reporters he had been deeply shocked by the magnitude of the suffering inflicted on the children of Sierra Leone. Many had been maimed, he said, including the brutal severing of their limbs. Many had been abducted, including more than 4,000 during the attack on Freetown in January. About 3,000 were still behind rebel lines. Otunnu estimated that 60 percent of the abducted children were young girls, most of whom had been sexually abused. Of the three million Sierra Leoneans who had been displaced by the war, both inside and outside the country, well over 60 percent were children. He also estimated that up to 10,000 children had served as combatants in the conflict. According to U.N. estimates, 2.5 million Sierra Leoneans were internally displaced, with 60 percent — and in some areas 70 percent — of them being children. More than 500,000 Sierra Leoneans were refugees in Guinea and Liberia, while a significant number who fled the war had not registered as refugees. Some 2.6 million people remain behind rebel lines are not accessible by aid agencies for security reasons. Otunnu said it was his clear view that, apart from the imperative of re-establishing peace and security in Sierra Leone, the country's most important challenge was the "crisis of the children." As a response to that, Otunnu said, he had made proposals for action to help Sierra Leonean children, including an initiative to cover Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia which would deal with such issues as the flow of small arms, the movements of refugees, and the cross-border recruitment of child soldiers. Otunnu appealed to the international community not to let the children of Sierra Leone down by adopting a "wait and see" attitude. He stressed that the Lomé Peace Accord was fragile and would require a lot of local and international support for its implementation and consolidation.
Over 800 military recruits have completed training at the Benguema Training Centre, Liberia's Star News reported on Thursday. The trainees, who have been recruited into Sierra Leone's new military force, learned basic map reading, intelligence, weaponry, and leadership. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe warned the recruits against harassing civilians, Star News said.
Sierra Leone's participation in the All Africa Games in Johannesburg, South Africa is in doubt because organisers have yet to be informed of the team's arrival day, Games spokeswoman Perusha Reddy said on Thursday. On the eve of the competition, 12 of the 51 countries expected have so far failed to arrive.
Sierra Leone is among 35 countries which have failed to respond to an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) request to provide information on their preparedness for the Y2K problem. Older computers and some embedded chips in order to save memory space were programmed with two-digit year codes. Next January 1, those systems will not be able to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900 and in some cases will crash. The uncertainty has caused some to express concern about the safety of travellers who find themselves in the air as the clocks roll over to New Year's Day. The information was to have reached the ICAO by July 1.
Doyle L. Sumner, who held various cabinet posts in the SLPP government in the 1960s, including the portfolios of Education, Health, Trade and Industry, passed away this week at the age of 95.
8 September: RUF Brigadier Mike Lamin, one of five abducted rebel commanders freed by rebel AFRC soldiers on Monday, described their treatment in captivity as "really, really very inhumane," and said they had been "very seriously" tortured. "I don’t need to go to the details, but you know, just tied and beaten mercilessly to the point I even lost consciousness," he told the BBC Network Africa programme, but added: "I’m much more relaxed and at the same time I’m being urged to work very harder so that incident will not occur again." Lamin downplayed the apparent rift between the AFRC and the RUF. "Well not really, not really, it’s not something that is insurmountable," he said. "It’s just few people, few people that causing the problem, you know. But we will be patient with them, we will try to take our time to talk to them, we will try to be so that we encourage them to understand the new reality, the new situation...We intend to keep calm and encourage them so that they can accept the reality and let peace prevail." He dismissed a suggestion that the Lomé Peace Accord signed between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government was in danger of collapse. "Not at all, not at all," he replied. "I’m very very much optimistic that it will be implemented to the letter, and the people of this country will enjoy lasting peace."
7 September: Rebel Sierra Leone Army soldiers have freed five RUF and AFRC commanders whom they abducted in the Okra Hill area (or by one account at Rogberi) eight days ago, the ECOMOG High Command said in a press release issued on Tuesday. The five, who were identified by ECOMOG as RUF Brigadiers Mike Lamin and Dennis "Superman" Mingo and Colonels Santigie Kanu, Jackson Swarray and Foday A.I. Sesay, were released Sunday following "intensive diplomatic and political negotiations" by President Kabbah, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, and former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, and have since been transported to Freetown. [The Agence France-Presse named the freed commanders as Dennis Mingo, Mike Lamin, John Rey, Amadu Sesay and Borbor Santigie Kanu.] The soldiers had reportedly complained about being left out of the peace process and the resulting power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government, and were demanding back pay for the time spent in the bush, as well as food and medicines. "They tied our hands and we were beaten," Brigadier Mike Lamin told reporters in Freetown Monday night. Lamin nevertheless maintained that the experience had been useful. "We do not regret our abduction because it has helped bring an understanding between ourselves and our ex-soldier rebel colleagues," he said, adding: "What is needed now urgently is for Corporal Foday Sankoh and President Kabbah and Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma to meet quickly to avoid this kind of problem like abduction. The government should take food and medicine to them urgently." Lamin also warned against any attempt at reprisals against his abductors. "Any attempt to attack the ex-soldier-rebels at the camp because of their action will escalate another war," he said. His words were echoed by Brigadier Foday A. I. Sesay. "The main problem has been a complete breakdown of communication, and any attempt to attack the ex-soldiers will only escalate another war," he said. Sesay blamed the increased tension on the delay in implementing the disarmament called for by the Lomé Peace Accord. "The former soldiers had been committed to the peace accord since it was signed in Lomé," he said. Meanwhile, Johnny Paul Koroma downplayed the split between the AFRC and RUF, and dismissed rumours of an imminent attack on Freetown by rebel soldiers. "I want the whole world to know that the rumours circulating in Freetown about an attack are false. That is propaganda," Koroma said in Monrovia, Liberia. "There are some politicians who do not want to see the peace process in our country on course, but they are lying. I want the whole world to know that the RUF and AFRC are still in alliance. Nobody will divide us." [Note: Descriptions of military rank are inconsistent because the Sierra Leone government has refused to recognise promotions conferred following the May 1997 military coup.]
6 September: Rebel AFRC soldiers holding three RUF commanders have issued a message threatening a new attack on Freetown unless their demands for a share of power were not met. The letter was read to journalists on Monday by freelance journalist Patrick Kai Banya, who was among those abducted last week. Banya said he was released outside of Freetown on on Sunday. "We don't want to fight anymore, but if the RUF rebels continue to give the impression to the world that they are really in command by trying to marginalise us...we have no alternative but to overrun the Freetown capital once more, ECOMOG or no ECOMOG...This time it will be the final end," the Agence France-Presse quoted the letter as saying. The rebel soldiers said they were "ready to join President Kabbah to fight (the RUF)", but if Kabbah "was working with RUF's leader Foday Sankoh," then the former soldiers would attack Freetown alone. "We want the Lomé, Togo, peace accord to be revisited so that former soldiers of the Sierra Leone can form their own party," the AFP quoted the letter as saying. Reuters reported only that the rebel soldiers had threatened to block roads leading from Freetown to the interior if their complaints were not addressed. "They also demanded for food and medicine to be delivered to their camps," Banya said. Despite an order by former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma last week that the RUF commanders be released immediately, the rebel soldiers said "There is no way we are going to release them because we believe they are traitors." Banya said the soldiers told him Koroma "does not seem to understand what is happening on the ground." Among those still being held are RUF members Dennis "Superman" Mingo, Brigadier Mike Lamin and John Rey, along with AFRC members Amadu Sesay and Borbor Santigie Kanu. Meanwhile, RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh downplayed the crisis and said he planned to visit rebel-held territory on his return to Sierra Leone, in order to clear up differences between the two rebel factions. "There will be no fighting. You wait and see when I get back," Sankoh said in Ivory Coast. "They are looking for trouble. But this is proof to the world that RUF has not been the problem in Sierra Leone." Sankoh said he was directing negotiations with the abductors and that he expected his commanders to be freed soon. "Don't be surprised if you hear tomorrow that they have been released," he said. Responding to threats by the rebel soldiers, he added: "There can't be two leaders. If you're under the RUF then you have to be careful." Sankoh said he planned to remain in Ivory Coast for a few more days in order to meet with President Henri Konan Bedie and Foreign Minister Amara Essy. Bedie and Essy, who were attending the Francophone Summit in Canada when Sankoh arrived in Abidjan last week, were in Libya on Monday to attend an extraordinary OAU heads of state summit.
President Kabbah, who arrived in Libya on Sunday to attend an extraordinary OAU heads of state summit has held talks with Libyan leader Mohammar Khadafi, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. According to SLENA, "The discussions centred on the need for the consolidation of African Unity and the solution of on-going African conflicts by Africans."
United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu has called on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma to return to Sierra Leone to help implement the peace process. Otunnu said late Sunday that in the rebel leaders' continued absence the international community would have serious doubts about their commitment to rebuilding Sierra Leone and that the country's children would continue to suffer. "Nothing can be done for children until Koroma and Sankoh arrive in Freetown," he said.
5 September: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Sunday that his country cannot afford to maintain its troops in the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, but confirmed that his government would not jeopardise the peace accord by pulling them out. "It cost us a lot of money. We want to use that money for other things internally," Obasanjo told Nigeria's Sunday Guardian newspaper. "Now, I have to pay attention to that and I will do it in such a way that Sierra Leone's security is not undermined." In a national television interview on Sunday, however, Obasanjo said that Nigeria would resume withdrawing its troops next month. "ECOMOG on the ground and the Sierra Leone authorities agreed the disarmament and demobilisation will go on. While that is going on for the month of September there will be no withdrawal of troops, but after that it will go on," he said. Obasanjo said he had been unable to come to an agreement with the United Nations on peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone. "I said to them there are two things you can do: You can leave it for the ECOMOG and give us the wherewithal to do it, or you can let us go and you handle it. They still thought that what I said was not going to happen, so when the peace agreement then translated to peace I made a phased withdrawal plan which would have got 2,000 out every month to December, leaving about 2,000."
4 September: Nigeria has suspended its phased withdrawal of troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone following talks between President Kabbah and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Friday, and amid rumours of a possible new rebel attack on Freetown. In an address to the nation Friday evening, President Kabbah said Nigerian ECOMOG troops would not return to their country before the consolidation of the process of national reconciliation. The sudden reversal in policy by the Nigerian government was confirmed by Saturday by ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber. "The movement of Nigerian ECOMOG troops to Nigeria, which started this week, has stopped forthwith," said Kpamber, who participated in Friday's talks. "Let me say here that the rumours spreading throughout the country...that rebels are coming to attack Freetown once more are unfounded and baseless," he said, adding that even if the rebels attacked, "We are prepared to protect you and your property." Said Kpamber: "Nigerian troops will remain in Sierra Leone." Together with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), ECOMOG will work to disarm the combatants, he said. In a BBC Focus on Africa interview on Saturday, Kpamber said the withdrawals of Nigerian troops had been halted at the request of President Kabbah and the United Nations. "The reasons centered on the security of the State of Sierra Leone," Kpamber said. "The peace accord is holding, but it’s still very fragile. United Nations were supposed to bring in observers and a peace-keeping force, but that is taking unduly long for the actualisation of that plan. We were supposed to have started disarmament about two weeks ago, but we’ve not started. So leaving the arms in the hands of the rebels who are also anxious to be disarmed, has become a majority security problem for the State of Sierra Leone." Kpamber referred to ECOMOG's mandate from ECOWAS to participate in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Programme. "The U.N. has no objections to this, but we were waiting for the United Nations to also endorse that mandate, and to give us the necessary logistics and financial support to carry on with the mandate." Kpamber acknowledged that some of his men had already returned to Nigeria, but refused to give numbers "for security reasons." He said only that the troops remaining were "quite adequate to carry out any mandate that is given to us." Kpamber said his troops were "in high morale," and denied that Nigerian soldiers remaining in Sierra Leone were disappointed that they would not be returning home. "No, they are not disappointed. The troops are happy to continue with the job. My troops are loyal to their country," he insisted.
Former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma has emphasised differences between the former soldiers and the RUF over the Lomé Peace Accord, and called Friday on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to handle the dispute between the two factions with maturity and in the interest of a lasting peace. "Let’s not pretend that there is no problem," Koroma said. "This is a problem that cannot be neglected...Under the peace plan, I don’t care if I am given a job or left out. But the concern of the Sierra Leonean soldiers, which is their exclusion from government, has to be addressed." Koroma's statement followed Friday's distribution of a position statement by a group claiming to represent the interests of the former Sierra Leone Army soldiers. According to one media report, the group consisted of Koroma himself and 13 of his followers. Koroma said Friday he was aware of the document, but he stressed that it was only meant to explain the dispute to regional leaders who were attempting to break the impasse between the two rebel factions. He added that the AFRC statement was not intended to confront Sankoh. Koroma denied that he had incited the disgruntled soldiers, arguing that it was he who had fought to bring the AFRC and RUF together following the May 1997 coup.
According to the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA), rebel AFRC soldiers holding two RUF commanders, Brigadier Dennis "Superman" Mingo and Brigadier Mike Lamin, are accusing rebel leaders of neglecting their interests, as well as demanding food, medicine, and their salaries for the time they have been involved in armed struggle against Sierra Leone's civilian government.
A five-member team from the U.S.-based charity World Hope International left for Freetown on Saturday to launch what the group described as a "massive limb fitting effort" aimed at eventually providing prosthetic limbs for all of the victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war. The group is introducing an innovative socketless mounting system designed specifically for Sierra Leone by Dr. Charles Holder, himself a triple-amputee. The World Hope preparatory team, which includes three medical professionals, will fit a a pilot group of 12 amputees ranging in age from 8 to 55. The team will also finalise plans for a major effort in November, in which World Hope International hopes to fit 500 amputees during a two week period.
3 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh warned former soldiers of the AFRC junta Friday against doing anything which would jeopardise the peace process in Sierra Leone. "We are going to implement the Lomé Peace Accord. He who tries to destroy it...he will see what happens to them," Sankoh (pictured left) said in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The rebel leader's statement came in response to a letter issued earlier Friday by a group of rebel soldiers — according to the Agence France-Presse consisting of Koroma and 13 other AFRC members. The former soldiers claimed they had been "marginalised" by the peace process and that Koroma had been "humiliated" by the RUF. Sankoh warned the former soldiers, who on Monday abducted two of his commanders, against any further acts of hostage taking. "They were responsible for the atrocities, the amputations in January if you remember," Sankoh said, referring to the rebel invasion of Freetown in January which left over 6,000 dead. He dismissed the soldiers' claim that the AFRC had been left out of the power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government. "(Koroma) cannot say that he was left out of the peace process," Sankoh told reporters. "His people were present (at the Lomé peace talks). Sankoh also lashed out at the former AFRC chairman. "He's making a big mistake...he's ungrateful," Sankoh said. "He cannot claim leadership." He added that no government would choose Koroma as a minister, but said Koroma might be given an ambassadorial post. Sankoh also contended that the AFRC was no longer a military or political force in Sierra Leone. "The AFRC is gone...they have been overthrown," he said. He maintained that the rebel soldiers, whom he referred to as "my brothers," were now "part of the RUF."
President Kabbah (pictured left) made a one-day visit to Nigeria on Friday for with President Olusegun Obasanjo, even as the first contingent of Nigerian soldiers withdrawn from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone continued to arrive home. "The visit was in continuation of the regular consultations between the two leaders on the consolidation of peace, security and stability in Sierra Leone," a Nigerian presidency statement said. Meanwhile, 1,200 Nigerian ECOMOG troops have returned home, Defence Ministry Spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo told reporters on Friday. "Five hundred soldiers arrived at Port Harcourt and another 700 arrived at Kaduna," he said. Officials were quoted as saying another group was expected at the weekend, which would bring the total to the 2,000 announced last week by Nigerian Information Minister Dapo Sarumi.
The United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, expressed shock Friday after touring "a whole community of amputees" at a camp for victims of atrocities in Murray Town, a suburb of the capital. "You have more than 250 people whose limbs have been cut off," he said. Otunnu arrived in Sierra Leone on Monday in order to identify priority areas in helping children affected by the country's eight-year long civil war. "In the January invasion more than 4,000 children were abducted and some 3,000 of those children remain at large behind rebel lines," the former Ugandan foreign minister said. About 60 percent of those children were girls "many of whom have been subjected to unthinkable sexual abuse. Nine out of 10 girls abducted have been systematically raped." In a BBC interview on Friday morning (quoted by the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur and translated from German), Otunnu called on the rebels to free the abducted children still under their control. "It is indescribable how many mutilated and abused children who served as soldiers in the civil war are still found in the rebel ranks," he said. Otunnu also expressed concern over the slow pace in the disarming of combatants. "Only a few hundred have laid down their weapons so far; 25,000 are still running around armed," he said. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski, in a statement released in Geneva on Friday, said that Otunnu was visiting refugee camps in the Kissidougou area of Guinea to look into the situation of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugee children. "UNHCR and partner NGOs have registered over a thousand separated refugee children so far in camps in Guinea. In the Kissidougou area, more than 90% of the separated children are Sierra Leoneans," Janowski said. The UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee are working to identify former child combatants among the refugee population "giving them special psycho-social care, putting them in education programs and working to ensure they are not excluded by their community," the statement said. For chose children detained by the authorities as former rebel fighters, "UNHCR staff have tried to accelerate due process for these children and are trying to make sure their rights are respected under international law." Janowski said the UNHCR and Otunnu "will discuss the need for additional support to programs aimed at children in the region, which are in need of greater financial support." Guinea hosts some 350,000 Sierra Leonean and 130,000 Liberian refugees.
RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh arrived in Ivory Coast on Friday, on the second leg of his three-nation tour prior to returning to Sierra Leone. Ivorian Foreign Ministry officials said Sankoh was on a private visit which was expected to last about three days. They said he would leave and return to visit President Henri Konan Bedie and Foreign Minister Amara Essy, both of whom were attending the Francophone Summit in Canada.
A convoy consisting of three Road Transportation Corporation buses and five trucks loaded with food and medicine and carrying over 500 passengers reached Makeni on Tuesday night, according to to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) in a report filed on Friday. According to Sierra Leone Professional Drivers’ Association (SLPDA) Accident Officer James Marvah, who led the convoy, the drivers and passengers were assured of their safety by the RUF commander in Makeni, Colonel Gibril Massaquoi. Massaquoi also welcomed the resumption of regular vehicular traffic to the area. SLPDA President Abubakarr Sillah said he would lead a large convoy to Makeni this weekend as "a confidence building measure" for drivers and RUF/SLA members, and has appealed to relief agencies to contact transport operators so that they can be part of the convoy, SLEAN reported. Meanwhile, the abduction of two RUF commanders by rebel soldiers in the Okra Hill area caused the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners to postpone food convoys to Makeni which had been planned for Tuesday. The U.N. Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) said Sierra Leone's humanitarian community will re-evaluate the security situation for the resumption of relief operations in up-country sites as a result of the incident, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Friday. According to HACU, 30 armed men, thought to be rebel AFRC soldiers, detained a team of RUF/AFRC commanders, United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) officials and ECOMOG officers on their way back to Freetown from Makeni, robbing them of personal clothing, radio handsets, satellite phones and bullet-proof jackets. Four UNOMSIL military observers and two members of ECOMOG were later released, but the RUF members "were stripped naked and mistreated," HACU said. RUF brigadiers Mike Lamin and Dennis "Superman" Mingo were detained, while AFRC officer Idrissa "Leather Boot" Kamara escaped.
Croatian troops will take part in the United Nations peacekeeping effort in Sierra Leone, the first such mission since the country gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia's foreign ministry announced on Friday. In a statement, the foreign ministry said it had responded positively to a request from the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), and that candidates were now being selected. The Croatians are expected to be deployed by the end of September, the statement said. Radio Zagreb HINA put the strength of the proposed Croatian contingent at about a dozen.
The Paris-based journalists' organisation Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) protested to Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa Friday the arrest and detention of Emmanuel Sanossi, Editor-in-Chief of the Reporter newspaper. In a letter to Berewa, RSF urged him "to use his influence to ensure that Emmanuel Sanossi is released immediately," RSF said in a press release. According to press statement, Sanossi was arrested by CID officials on August 27 as the result of an August 20 article about government weapons purchases which, Sanossi had argued, could derail the peace accord. Sanossi was released after four hours of police interrogation, but was re-arrested two days later. Meanwhile, Freetown's Progress Online reported Friday that the journalist, a Cameroonian national, is to be deported. The Progress Online quoted Deputy Inspector-General of Police Kandeh Bangura as saying the authorities had already signed his deportation order. Bangura said Sanossi was to be expelled on the grounds that he was operating an unregistered newspaper. Further, Bangura said, the journalist's travelling documents had expired since he entered Sierra Leone five years ago, making him an illegal alien.
2 September: Former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma said Wednesday night he had ordered the immediate release of two RUF commanders, Brigadier Dennis "Superman" Mingo and Brigadier Mike Lamin, who were abducted Monday night by rebel soldiers in the Okra Hill area, near the town of Magbini. "They have not given me any reason for their action, and in fact I’m not interested in knowing their reason because what they did was wrong," Koroma told the BBC in Monrovia, adding that the commanders would be released at all costs on Thursday. Koroma described the abductions as "unfortunate and embarrassing," and said RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, who is currently in Burkina Faso, had confronted him over the situation. "He presented the inquiry as if I myself had ordered the hostage taking. I never did," he insisted. Koroma revealed in the interview that, prior to his being taken to Liberia last month to defuse a previous hostage crisis, he had not been in contact with his followers in 18 months. In a separate interview Thursday with the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Koroma alleged that the RUF had briefly hijacked a United Nations helicopter sent on Tuesday to bring his family to join him in Liberia. The helicopter was supposed to pick up 12 family members, but "for reasons unknown," rebels at Buedu commandeered it over for several hours, he said. Koroma said the helicopter had now reached Freetown, but his family remained in buedu. The incident was confirmed by ECOMOG sources, who told the AFP the hijacking had been ordered by RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. Koroma for his part acknowledged that "there is actually some tension (between the AFRC and the RUF)," but said "It's nothing I think we can't resolve peacefully." He added that the rebel soldiers' immediate concerns were to be "reintegrated into the Sierra Leone Army."
Guinean authorities have freed some 120 former AFRC junta officials and supporters who fled to Guinea following the ouster of the military regime by ECOMOG in February 1998. Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Guinea, Sheku Saccoh, said the detainees were released from two major prisons on Wednesday and Thursday. 20 of those freed were army officers who participated in the May 1997 coup which overthrew the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The rest were said to be businessmen and government officials accused of having collaborated with the junta. Two of the freed officers were identified as Tamba Allieu, who served as Secretary of State for Finance in the latter days of junta rule, and Colonel S.S. Gottor, the AFRC's Resident Minister Northern Province. The detainees were handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is expected to arrange their return home. Ambassador Saccoh told the BBC Thursday that the Guinean government's gesture in releasing the prisoners was "a clear manifestation of their genuine support for peace efforts in Sierra Leone." He added that only a handful of Sierra Leoneans now remained in Guinean prisons. Those still in jail, he said, had been caught committing criminal acts and were now facing trial before the courts.
RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore (pictured right) held talks Thursday in Compaore's home town of Ziniare. The two are scheduled to hold an official meeting in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou on Friday. Sankoh left Lomé, Togo on Wednesday and has announced his intention to visit the leaders of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia before returning to Sierra Leone, where he will participate in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government.
1 September: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh left Lomé, Togo for Ouagadougou Wednesday aboard a Togolese military jet on what is to be the first leg of a three-nation tour before he returns to Sierra Leone. Togolese officials had reportedly urged Sankoh to fly directly to Freetown, but the rebel leader insisted on visiting the leaders of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia before returning home.
Sierra Leonean refugees fleeing fighting in Liberia's Lofa County are experiencing harassment by Liberian security forces, Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) Executive Director Alexander Kulue said on Wednesday. Kulue told Liberia's Inquirer newspaper that refugees had been intimidated and prevented from heading to Monrovia to join their families. He said refugees had also complained of being forced to pay government troops 10 Liberian dollars (25 cents U.S.) in order to register at refugee camps set up at Tarway in northern Lofa County. He said the LRRRC had appealed to Liberia's Ministry of Defence "to put a stop to the unruly behavior perpetrated by state security forces," adding that the conditions for the refugees "are very pathetic, and the behaviour of the security will only intensify the already worse humanitarian situation in their new camp." Kulue said more than 7,000 Sierra Leonean refugees had fled fighting between Liberian government troops and Liberian dissidents which began on August 10. The French aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) has begun building shelters, latrines and a health care dispensary for refugees at the Tarway camp, and has also begun distributing rice. Meanwhile, the BBC said Wednesday that hundreds of Sierra Leonean refugees who fled the fighting in Lofa County had begun arriving in Freetown on foot. "At least 150 of the refugees gathered at the tiny Sierra Leonean Embassy in the Monrovia northwestern suburb of Virginia this morning in search of food," the BBC said. A spokesman for the group, Joseph Jones, said the vast majority of them had fled the town of Kolahun. ""A large number of refugees got killed in the attack on Kolahun because the rebels hit at dawn and all of us were taken unawares," Jones said. Another refugee, Daniel Pratt, described the killing at Kolahun as "to much," adding: "I can’t tell you the exact number of bodies I saw because we were running. But what I can say for sure is that a lot of them were refugees." Most of the refugees arriving in Monrovia have complained of harassment by security forces because many of them lack the refugee identification cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the BBC reported.
The ECOMOG force has condemned Monday's abduction of RUF commanders Brigadier Dennis "Superman" Mingo and Brigadier Mike Lamin by rebel AFRC soldiers, calling it an "unacceptable violation of the ceasefire." In a statement issued on Wednesday, ECOMOG said it "frowns on the unfortunate development at this crucial stage of the peace process," and urged the RUF and AFRC to resolve their differences through "political and diplomatic means." Meanwhile, it has been reported that the freelance journalist Patrick Kai-Banya was also among those abducted on Monday.
The United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, who is currently visiting Sierra Leone, has met with government officials and visited a camp hosting some 200 children who have been the victims of amputation, the Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, said on Monday. There are an estimated 900 children in Sierra Leone who have suffered from "this heinous form of torture," he told reporters. According to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), Ottunu met with President Kabbah and officials of all ministries, ECOMOG, national NGOs and humanitarian agencies do discuss issues related to war-affected children. He also visited projects for street children and a family home care centre for former child soldiers in the Freetown area, as well as the amputee rehabilitation centre, IRIN said. Otunnu is due to visit Bo and Kenema on Wednesday, where he will visit a camp for internally displaced persons, tour a training programme for children and inspect a therapeutic feeding centre. He is expected to meet with Kamajor leaders in Bo to discuss the recruitment of child soldiers. Otunnu will later visit a camp for Sierra Leonean refugees in the Guinean border town of Gueckedou. Otunnu is scheduled to meet with former child soldiers and children who were held as prisoners-of-war. On Tuesday, Otunnu told Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sama Banya that the purpose of his mission to Sierra Leone was to see for himself the situation on the ground so as to be able to identify priority areas in addressing the needs of children affected by war, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA).
The Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders), in a letter sent Wednesday to Sierra Leone's Speaker of Parliament, S.M.F. Kutubu, expressed concern about the Independent Media Commission Bill recently tabled before Parliament by Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer. "Even if the intention of government to create an independent commission is, without doubt, a good way to guarantee freedom of expression, the Bill still permits substantial intervention by the government," RSF said in a press release. The group urged Kutubu "to propose amendments to withdraw those clauses that are harmful to press freedom."
The first group of 500 Nigerian soldiers withdrawn from the ECOMOG force returned to Nigeria Tuesday night and sent by special flight to their unit at Port Harcourt, Defence Spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo said on Wednesday. Another group is due back Thursday and will head back to their base at Kaduna, Ugbo said. The Pan African News Agency (PANA) noted that unlike in previous cases, there were no ceremonies for the returning troops.