The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

October 2002
 

31 October: The United Nations has begun the process of reducing its troop strength in Sierra Leone with the rotation of 480 Nigerian peacekeepers from NIBATT 9 at Goderich, of whom 73 will not be replaced, UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker told the Sierra Leone Web. NIBATT 13 will take over for NIBATT 9, while NIBATT 14 is taking over from NIBATT 10 at Spur Road in Freetown. Soldiers from BANARTY, the Bangladeshi artillery unit at Lunsar, will also begun to pull out on Saturday. "The movement of peacekeepers from the Nigerian contingent and Bangladeshi artillery will continue tomorrow, 2 November - 5 November," Coker said. The reduction is in line with a call by the United Nations Security Council for the world's largest peacekeeping force to downsize by 600 troops before year's end, and by a total of 4,500 troops by May 31.

The U.S. Attorney-General announced the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sierra Leonean nationals who have been allowed to live and work in the United States while their country was deemed too dangerous for them to return home. The programme had been due to expire on November 2. Without Thursday's extension, approximately 2,209 Sierra Leoneans currently enrolled in the programme would have been required to leave the U.S. within six months. The Department of Justice noted recent progress towards peace and stability in Sierra Leone, but stressed that no decision had been made as to whether conditions in the country continued to satisfy statutory standards for an extension of TPS. Instead, at the attorney-general's discretion, the programme was extended by twelve months to allow the U.S. government time to monitor the situation in the country. Those currently covered under TPS now have until December 30 to re-register. The attorney-general will make a determination 60 days before the programme expires next November 2 as to whether Sierra Leone still meets the conditions for further extension of TPS, or if TPS benefits for Sierra Leoneans should be terminated.

A report on Monday's operation aimed at eliminating ghost workers from the government payroll is due out next week, Information Minister Septimus Kaikai said on Thursday. Tens of thousands of government workers were required to appear in person at about 1,000 sites around the country to receive their salaries from government accountants in the presence of observers. Kaikai noted that there were officially around 30,000 employees on the public payroll, which runs into the billions of leones. "There are doubts that the number may not be as high as the 30,000, and in the interests of accountability and transparency that day was set aside as a national payday for get de dieman, to make sure that people who are supposed to be on the payroll are actually there and will present themselves to pick up their pay," Kaikai told the Sierra Leone Web. He added that the exercise appeared to have gone relatively smoothly. "We believe it was very successful – successful in the sense that there was no problem of any magnitude at all," he said. "One or two concerns here or there were raised by a few people."

30 October: Sierra Leone's average life expectancy is the lowest in the world at just 34.2 years, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The healthy life expectancy for Sierra Leoneans was said to be 26.5 years. Sierra Leone was one of six sub-Saharan African countries where life expectancy was below 40 years. The average for the continent as a whole was 47 years, but would have been about 62 years in the absence of the AIDS epidemic, the report said. At the other end of the spectrum was Japan, whose citizens can on the average expect to live for 81.4 years and enjoy good health until age 73.6, followed closely by Australia, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, all with life expectancies of over 80 years.

Fourah Bay College and a U.K.-based partner, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, have received a prestigious Darwin Initiative grant which will allow the university to develop the capacity to map land cover and habitat change in Sierra Leone using satellite data. Since its inception in 1993 the Darwin Initiative, which is funded by Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has provided small grants to scores of projects around the world aimed at promoting biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of resources in less developed countries. Dr. Richard A. Wadsworth of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology noted that by transferring the skills and remote sensing technology to Sierra Leone, it would for the first time give Sierra Leonean experts the ability to map what is locally relevant. "Maps should be ephemeral and single purpose," Wadsworth said. "There are lots of projects that try and produce multi-purpose definitive maps. In my view maps should be produced to answer specific problems or questions, but to do that you need to have the basic data and skilled people already in place." Wadsworth, who worked in Sierra Leone as a VSO "swamp development officer" at the Magbosi IADP project in the early 1980s, said the resulting maps could provide clues to changes in Sierra Leone's environment, including the possible spreading of the Lophira Savannah, the amount of inland swamp and upland "bush fallow" rice currently under cultivation, the extent to which cash crop plantations have been affected by neglect during ten years of civil war, the health of Sierra Leone's forest resources, the extent of erosion damage around Freetown caused by population pressure on the city's marginal land, and the health of the country's mangrove swamps.

A United Nations Panel of Experts has recommended an arms embargo against Liberia be extended when the Security Council meets next week to review existing sanctions against the Liberian government. The measures were first approved in March 2001 because of the Charles Taylor government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The sanctions were renewed last May when the Security Council concluded that Liberia had failed to comply with U.N. demands. According to the report, which was turned over to the Council's Sanctions Committee on Liberia on Wednesday, the panel uncovered evidence that Liberia had used shadowy intermediaries and arms brokers to import at least 200 tons of old Yugoslav weapons purchased from a Belgrade arms dealer, using forged end-user certificates. "To avoid detection, a sophisticated trail of double documentation was set up," the experts said. "Officially, the arms were sent to Nigeria and flight authorizations and cargo manifests were issued for the aircraft to fly to Lagos. At the same time, flight requests were issued for the same aircraft to fly to Liberia but the specification on the cargo manifests stated that the arms on board were 'mine drilling equipment' for a diamond mine in Monrovia." The panel also alleged that the Liberians were using RUF rebels as part of its military, in violation of the U.N. requirement that the Liberian government expel RUF members and cease its support for the rebel group. "RUF strength in Liberia is 1,250-1,500 men, operating in elite military units. They enjoy the patronage of government and continue to play an important part in Liberia’s military capability," the report said. The panel pointed to evidence that different factions of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) were being supplied by road from Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea. The panel therefore recommended that the arms ban be extended to cover LURD as well as the government.

29 October: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is organising an airlift to repatriate some 40 Sierra Leonean refugees from Abidjan who were made homeless last month after government security forces burned down their homes. Following a military uprising, Ivorian officials alleged that mutinous solders had received sympathy from foreigners living in the city's shantytowns. The Sierra Leoneans, along with hundreds of Liberians, had been assisted since September 19 at five different sites in Abidjan. A UNHCR spokesperson said the agency was concerned about the continued razing of shantytowns throughout the country's commercial capital, despite assurances from President Laurent President Gbagbo that the "clean-up operation" would be restricted to areas surrounding the city's military installations. There are currently about 72,000 registered refugees in Ivory Coast, about 2,000 of them from Sierra Leone.

A Sierra Leonean national was among 61 would-be illegal immigrants whose overcrowded boat landed Monday on the island nation of Malta. Kambia District native Idriss Sankoh and his fellow passengers, many of them women and children, had set out in an overcrowded craft from Libya five days before though increasingly rough seas. They were bound for Italy and what they hoped would be a better life in Europe. Instead, they landed at Malta's M'Xlokk Port, where they were taken into custody by local authorities. They are currently being held by the Maltese Armed Forces at Safi. Five of the passengers who claimed Sierra Leonean nationality were interviewed by Sierra Leone's Honorary Consul in Malta, Joseph Dougall (pictured left), but he ascertained that only Sankoh was from Sierra Leone. "This daring young man travelled over land extensively firstly through Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and then by truck to Chad and then to Libya," Dougall told the Sierra Leone Web. "According to him, he managed to run and squeeze himself in the boat without paying." An increasing number of small craft have attempted the dangerous trans-Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe in recent weeks, and a several of the boats have come aground in Malta, a tiny country which has been feeling the financial strain of caring for so many refugees. Dougall said his office was following the episode closely, but that under an agreement with Libya the illegal migrants would probably be returned to that country "without much fuss."  "The least I could do for him is to request that he be fed rice instead of the usual cheap pasta dishes, something which the officer-in-charge promised to do," Dougall said.

28 October: Tens of thousands of public workers waited in line for their October salaries at 1,000 centres throughout Sierra Leone Monday under a new system designed to rid the government payroll of "dieman" employees, or ghost workers, the Agence France-Presse reported. The exercise was overseen by accountants, independent monitors and plainclothes police officials. Anti-corruption officials believe they may be paying out more than one million dollars a month to non-existent employees, the news agency said. In Bo, some real employees reportedly discovered their names were not on the payroll. Police in the town said they had made "some arrests of impersonators" but gave no details. "The exercise will not only provide salaries to genuine government workers on time, but also give an accurate figure for the government's monthly salary bill without the extra baggage of ghost salaries," an official was quoted as saying.

Members of the New York-based World Diamond Council began two days of talks in London Monday ahead of next week's Kimberley Process meeting in Switzerland. That meeting is expected to be the last in a process which began in South Africa more than two years ago when officials from diamond exporting and importing states and representatives of the diamond industry joined to hammer out a way to control the trade in illegally-mined "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The November 5 meeting at Interlaken, Switzerland is expected to put the finishing touches on a mine-to-manufacturer certification system which would be presented the the United Nations General Assembly in December, and would take effect in January 2003. World Diamond Council chairman Eli Izhakoff told the BBC that the participation of governments was key to the plan's success. Officials from more than 40 diamond exporting and importing nations are already involved in the process, and another 30 countries are expected to join. "I'm confident that we will be able to come up with a type of system that will be workable," Izhakoff said. "But putting the certification system in place clearly is going to make it extremely difficult for anybody to try to deal in this type of diamond. Anybody who is trying to sell diamonds better have proof where those diamonds come from." Not all those involved in the Kimberley Process, however, agree with Izhakoff's assessment. In a report released on Monday, Partnership Africa Canada said that without an independent monitoring system, the proposed certification system would be ineffective in controlling the illicit diamond trade which could account for as much as one fifth of all diamonds sold. In the absence of such a system, the group said, "the Kimberley Process will create a false sense of security, allowing conflict diamonds to continue entering the system, ultimately placing the entire diamond industry at risk." In an interview with the Voice of America Monday, Partnership Africa Canada Research Coordinator Ian Smillie (pictured left) said this week's World Diamond Council meeting was significant because the industry was going over proposals for an ‘industry chain of warranties’ to control the trade in rough diamonds. "As part of the intergovernmental control system on rough diamonds – and that comes on stream in January – in some countries it will rely on a chain of warranties that the private sector implements itself," Smillie said. "This chain of warranties will be audited by governments, but it’s going to be quite important that the industry have a good system in place. The controversy around the meeting that’s taking place in London is because the industry has taken so long to come forward with this proposal." Smillie argued, however, that any plan which relied on the diamond industry and diamond-producing nations to police the diamond trade on their own without independent oversight would be seriously flawed.  "(The chain of warranties) will have to be monitored and audited," he said. "Not every diamond dealer is going to be checked, but there’ll have to be enough spot-checks in the system to make sure that it really is functioning properly."

A Libyan trade delegation is expected to arrive in Sierra Leone next week to look into the possibility of commercial ventures in oil and gas exploration and electrical generation. According to a communiqué issued at the end of President Kabbah's visit to Tripoli last week, Libya has agreed to open a trade office in Freetown and invest in the Brookfields Hotel, until recently home to scores of CDF militiamen in the capital city. The Libyans have also agreed to invest in ferry transportation in Sierra Leone and to enlarge the production capacity of Freetown's water bottling plant.

27 October: Government paymasters will fan out across Sierra Leone on Monday in an effort to weed out so-called "dieman" employees, or ghost workers, from the civil service. The accountants will be carrying the payroll for ministries other than their own to reduce the possibility of collusion with local officials who may be collecting salaries for non-existent employees. David Tam-Baryoh, who is spokesman for the National Accountability Group, a civil society organisation which monitors anti-corruption efforts, said the government didn't have accurate information on how many people it was supposed to be paying each month. "What they want to do is that tomorrow, every person who is working for government, you are allowed to assemble at a particular place and then you’ll be paid," Tam-Baryoh told the Sierra Leone Web. "Then they want to prove that anybody who is not there, that means that person is not actually working for that institution but has been collecting salary." Tam-Baryoh said the problem of ghost workers was significant. Two years ago, he said, there was evidence that only half of the 26,000 teachers on the government payroll really existed. A similar exercise to root out "dieman" workers in 1982 had mixed results, because, he said, "they who were paymasters were going around paying and ended up being rich, because they had a lot of returns they did not bring back to government." This time around, employees have been given pay slips which will be matched against their names, their salary levels, and their photo IDs. Tam-Baryoh added that the government would likely rely on local workers to identify persons who showed up to claim salaries but were not actually employees. "They want to do it openly," he said. "They believe that other members of that labour force will say ‘I don’t know this person – in which department is he working'?"

26 October: President Kabbah has pledged his "unwavering determination to combat corruption in all its forms" during a meeting with Val Collier, the head of Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Sierra Leone has come under strong pressure from international donors in recent month, especially from Britain, to crack down on public corruption or face the loss of millions of dollars in foreign aid. In May, Kabbah announced that the fight against corruption would be a hallmark of his second presidential term. The meeting between Kabbah and Collier was overshadowed by recent allegations in the British press that unnamed government officials were actively working to undermine the commission's efforts. According to a government statement released on Saturday, Collier complained to Kabbah of obstacles to the commission's work, including the slow pace at which cases referred by the ACC to the Attorney-General's office were being acted upon. Of some 40 cases turned over to the Attorney-General for prosecution in the past two years, only eleven have even made it to court. The government statement pointed to a lack of professional staff in the Law Officers' Department, a dearth of judicial personnel, and the unwillingness of private lawyers to take up government work because of the low pay. The president was quoted as saying that the appointment of a judge to handle corruption cases only, along with the hiring of an expatriate prosecutor to expedite prosecutions, should help to alleviate the problem. Kabbah also pointed to the removal of a major bottleneck: a pending amendment to the Anti-Corruption Act which would remove the requirement that witness testimony can only be made before the ACC commissioner personally.

25 October: A forensic anthropologist working for Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal has completed his initial assessment of some 30 mass grave sites located throughout the country, a spokesman for the Special Court said on Friday. But Dr. William D. Hagland (pictured right), who also worked as the United Nations' Senior Forensic Advisor for the International Criminal Tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, stressed that it would be impossible to locate all the grave sites, or even to identify all the victims of atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Spokesman David Hecht told the Sierra Leone Web that the sites visited so far were all outside of the Freetown area, but that "specific details can’t be given because we don’t want to compromise the investigation." He added that there were likely many more sites than the 30 which have been identified. Hagland is expected to return to Sierra Leone with a forensics team to follow up on the preliminary work, possibly before the end of the year. Hecht stressed, however, that indictments by the court were not dependent on the forensic experts completing their work. "Certainly even the initial assessments could be enough to indict," he said. "They’re very serious in the office of the prosecutor. You can see there’s a hive of activity. The indictments could happen any time from now." The Special Court is mandated to prosecute the handful of persons believed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the country's decade-long civil war. The number of those to be tried has not yet been determined, although the fact that the court is building a detention centre with just 26 cell blocks suggests it may be relatively low. It was also not clear whether the prosecutor would wait to hand down the indictments until the Special Court's judges are sworn in on December 2nd, or whether the indictments, when they come, would be sealed. Hecht said the initial indictments would probably come "in a chunk," but that this would not preclude further indictments from being handed down at a later date.

A Sierra Leonean academic and a Canadian researcher have won the Canadian Policy Research Initiative's 2002 Outstanding Research Contribution Award for their work on documenting the link between the illicit diamond trade and conflicts in Africa. Lansana Gberie (pictured right) and Ian Smillie (below left), both of Partnership Africa Canada, received the prize Thursday evening for the best cooperation between a Northern and a Southern researcher. Gberie, a journalist and historian who is currently completing his Ph.D at the University of Toronto, said the award should be "a tremendous boost to our work" in drawing attention to the problem of conflict diamonds. "The one significant issue remaining, even with the Kimberley Process, is the issue of monitoring," he said. "(We need) to have an independent body of monitors who will have to subject all the participating nations – all the nations involved in the diamond trade – to very close scrutiny. The books of all nations involved in the diamond trade should be open to these independent monitors." Smillie noted that the recognition reflected the work of many people and groups, and he stressed that there was still a long way to go in addressing the problem of resource-funded conflict in Africa. "This is a team effort," he said. "The media had been very important in turning this into a major public issue, especially the media in West Africa and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in Sierra Leone have also taken a huge interest in this. It really wasn’t an award about two people; it was really a team thing which involved a lot of people."

The massive influx of Liberian refugees into Kailahun and Pujehun Districts dwindled in October, but the border area remains unstable and vulnerable to refugee movements, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. The agency said it was supporting 13,257 refugees at the Jembe and Gerihun camps, while nationwide the WFP provided food aid to some 92,100 persons. The WFP acknowledged some glitches in October. Bad roads interfered with the distribution of food in some areas such as Sorogbema Chiefdom in Kenema District. A delay in the October shipment of 4,500 tons of bulgur to the first week in November resulted in the WFP approaching Catholic Relief Services for a loan of 100 tons of bulgur until the delayed shipment arrives. The food pipeline situation for Sierra Leone is also being monitored as the agency balances the needs of refugees and displaced in Sierra Leone with the emerging needs in strife-torn Ivory Coast.

24 October: Poor health once again prevented Foday Sankoh from appearing before Sierra Leone's High Court on Thursday, where the jailed former rebel leader and dozens of his RUF followers face charges ranging from murder to attempted murder and conspiracy, the Associated Press reported. The ailing RUF leader is said to have suffered a mild stroke in recent weeks which left him weakened on his left side. Judge Patrick Hamilton adjourned the case until December 5, saying he was sure Sankoh "would be well by then." The RUF defendants each face 70 charges in connection with a May 2000 shooting at Sankoh's Freetown residence, when his bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators. More than 20 people died as a result. Sankoh's case is widely expected to be transferred to Sierra Leone's Special Court, a war crimes tribunal established to prosecute the handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for the country's wartime atrocities. Most of his co-defendants, however, are likely to face trial before the Sierra Leonean courts, and several of them expressed frustration Thursday at the continued delays in their trial. "From May 8, 2000 when I was arrested, we are being brought to court, but we see no progress in the case," said Ibrahim Koroma, who was handcuffed in the dock to his co-defendants.

23 October: Sierra Leone ranks 72nd among 139 countries surveyed in its respect for the freedom of the press, according to a new report published by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The rankings were based on responses to questionnaires sent to journalists, researchers and legal experts asking about attacks on journalists and the media in their country, the legal environment in which the media operates, and the behaviour of the government towards the public media and the foreign press. The report took into account instances of murders, imprisonment, physical assaults and threats against journalists as well as the degree of censorship, confiscation, searches and pressure against the media and the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. The questionnaire also looked at punishment for press offences, whether the state claimed a monopoly on news reporting, and the existence of a state regulatory body. It also noted the main threats to a free flow of information on the internet. At the top of the list were Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands, while the worst offenders were deemed to be North Korea and China. In Africa, Benin was ranked a respectable 21st, four places below the United States. South Africa, which finished in 26th place, along with Mali in 43rd, Namibia in 31st and Senegal in 47th were also deemed to have "genuine press freedom." In the sub-region, Guinea was ranked 79th and Liberia 109th.

Sierra Leone will be able to export as from Wednesday some 2,000 additional products to the United States duty-free under the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced this month. The act is aimed at improving economic development in Africa by promoting increased trade and investment in Africa. When the AGOA was passed two years ago, Sierra Leone was designated both as a "beneficiary sub-Saharan African country" and a "lesser developed beneficiary sub-Saharan African country," but with delayed implementation due to the instability caused by the country's civil war. That restriction has now been lifted. The new trade benefit does not cover textiles and apparel, but Sierra Leone may now begin the process to become eligible for exemptions on these articles. Among other things, the U.S. requires guarantees that textiles and apparel will not be transshipped from other countries in order to get around U.S. laws banning child labour, or to evade the payment of tariffs.

Former RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi has denied reports that he was questioned by Sierra Leone's Criminal Investigations Department last month about a possible army mutiny. Rather, he said, the police were interested in his relationship with Mohamed Silla, a close associate of interim RUF leader Issa Sesay. "All the questions they asked me were basically on the relationship myself and Mohamed Silla," Massaquoi told Radio France International. "He last communicated with me on the 21st of last month and the communication (was) basically issues of monetary between himself and me, although I was later asked about them plotting and I told them I was not aware at all."

22 October: Deputy Defence Minister Joe Blell denied reports Tuesday that military officers had been arrested in connection with a possible army mutiny. "There is no truth to this coup story," Blell told the Sierra Leone Web. "(In) a country after a war, you expect careless talk, soldiers drunk, and then if you call somebody for interrogation it doesn’t mean he’s been arrested or is being detained." Blell said police began an investigation four weeks ago after receiving a report of "basically careless talk" by soldiers. "Maybe it’s at a pub, somebody is drunk," he said. But, Blell added, in a country just emerging from a decade of civil war, such reports have to be taken seriously. "When such a thing happens, there’s no way you’re going to sit out and not say ‘well let’s investigate'," he said.

United Nations investigators said Tuesday they were unable to confirm reports of widespread sexual exploitation of refugees in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The allegations came to light last February, when a team representing the UNHCR and the British-based charity Save the Children (UK) said they had uncovered an extensive pattern of exploitation of refugee children involving some 70 aid workers employed by 40 different agencies. According to the team, aid workers and peacekeepers had demanded sex in exchange for food and other essential relief supplies. But investigators from the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) who looked into the charges between February and July this year said most of the accusations appeared to be baseless. "Despite weeks of effort, the stories reported by the consultants could not be substantiated, as information was vague and general," the report said. "The few sources that could be traced were mainly relating third-hand stories of events they had not witnessed themselves." The OIOS team investigated 43 cases of possible sexual exploitation, but found only ten that were substantiated by evidence. While the investigators disputed whether sexual exploitation was "widespread," they nevertheless concluded that "conditions in the camps and in refugee communities in the three countries make refugees vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation and such vulnerability increases if refugees are female and young." The OIOS said it was making 17 recommendations to assist the UNHCR and its partners in further addressing the issue, and would follow up with agencies whose staff had been accused of exploiting the people they were bound to protect.

The first British trade mission to visit Sierra Leone in ten years is due to arrive in Freetown on Tuesday. The four-day mission, which was organised by Trade Partners U.K., will include representatives of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and a range of companies representing infrastructure and other sectors, such as power, health, ports, roads, mining, water and airports. A much larger British trade mission is expected to visit Sierra Leone in 2003.

A representative from the British development organisation Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) is due to visit Freetown to evaluate whether to send volunteers back to Sierra Leone, a British official told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday.

21 October: Six army officers, including a major, were detained for questioning Thursday over their involvement in a suspected mutiny plot, the Reuters news agency reported. The six were reportedly alleged to have encouraged other soldiers to carry out an uprising. "We are also investigating whether the uprising would have led to a coup to overthrow the government," a source was quoted as saying. The six were said to have been arrested at the Benguema military training centre outside the capital. Among those reportedly arrested was Major Francis Gottor. Meanwhile, the BBC quoted the Democrat newspaper as saying eight army officers had been arrested. The BBC added that a number of people had been questioned by the Criminal Investigations Division, including former RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi. 

Former Sierra Leonean ambassador Abdul G. Koroma was re-elected Monday to a second term on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. In separate secret ballots, Koroma received 13 of 15 votes from the United Nations Security Council and 134 votes from the 191 member U.N. General Assembly. Four other candidates for the five open posts also received a majority of votes from the two bodies and went through on the first ballot: Hisashi Owada of Japan, current ICJ vice president Shi Jiuyong of China, Peter Tomka of Slovakia, and Bruno Simma of Germany. One of those who failed to win election was U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell of Sweden, who was instrumental in setting up Sierra Leone's Special Court. The 15-member International Court of Justice – the United Nations' principal judicial organ – adjudicates disputes between nations and also gives advisory opinions to the U.N. and its agencies. In a landmark decision last week, the court ruled in a territorial dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria involving the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. Koroma was nominated by Algeria, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. His new term will expire in 2012.

19 October: The Leone Stars, fielding a team of mostly locally-based players, defeated the Black Stars of Ghana 2-1 Saturday in a friendly match played at the National Stadium in Freetown. The game was played as part of the Ghana - Sierra Leone Trade Week festivities.

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone will send home 600 troops by year's end, and an additional 3,900 by May 31, UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Daniel Opande said on Saturday. The move is in line with last month's Security Council resolution calling for a reduction in the U.N.'s presence by 4,500 troops over the next eight months. According to Awoko newspaper editor Kelvin Lewis, Opande said 450 troops from the BANARTY, the Bangladeshi artillery battalion at Lunsar, would leave Sierra Leone on November 2. A company of 150 Nigerian soldiers will also depart by December 31. During Phase 2, which begins on December 31 and runs through May 31, a further 3,900 troops from the Kenyan contingent in Freetown and the Guinean contingent in Bo will end their tours of duty and not be replaced. By the end of Phase 2, UNAMSIL will have been downsized from its current 17,380 troops to around 13,000. The number of UNAMSIL's operational sectors will also be reduced from its current five to three: East, which will include Kono, Kailahun and Kenema Districts; Central, to be based in Magburaka and which will comprise the districts of Bombali, Koinadugu, Tonkolili, Moyamba, Bo, Bonthe and Pujehun; and West, which will consist of Kambia District and the Western Area. Opande said the U.N. presence would remain strong in the east, along Sierra Leone's volatile border with Liberia. "My biggest concern...is the Sierra Leone - Liberian border, because I consider it as the border which is at the moment very unstable," he said. "Unstable not only because there may be a threat to the security by armed people – bandits or who knows who – but also because of the large number of Liberian refugees who continue to cross into Sierra Leone." The centre of the country will see a reduction in deployed troops, but will be covered by an increased number of patrols. Opande insisted that even with the troop cuts, his forces would still be able to guarantee Sierra Leone's security. "I will still have sufficient troops to cover the entire countryside," he said. "My deployment is such that we will still be able to give assurance to the people of this country that if there is any problem, anywhere, any corner of this country, we will be there to protect." In Phase 3, further troop reductions would be linked to a number of benchmarks, including the situation in Liberia, and progress by the police and the army in taking over responsibility for the country's security, Opande was quoted as saying.

18 October: Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2050 / 2250. [£] 3000 / 3250. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3050 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2150 / 2300 [£] 3000 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2150 / 2300 [£] 3050 / 3350. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2240 / 2300 [£] 3200 / 3300.

17 October: The African Development Bank has approved $21.16 million in funding to rebuild schools in Sierra Leone, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Wednesday. The funds, which include a $19.84 million loan and a $1.32 million grant, would go to rehabilitate or expand 460 primary schools, 100 junior secondary schools and 40 community education and vocational training centres. It also includes the construction of 138 houses for teachers. "The project will have an important impact on poverty reduction. Several impoverished parts of Sierra Leone will benefit from school construction or rehabilitation in their communities and 600 schools will benefit directly from the school maintenance programme countrywide," the bank said in a statement, adding that the reopening of the schools would promote national reconciliation by restoring normal school life to children and youths whose lives were disrupted by Sierra Leone's decade-long civil conflict. Many of Sierra Leone's schools were looted, vandalised or destroyed during the war.

The Gambia-based airline RedAir has suspended flights from London to Freetown and Banjul, industry sources confirmed on Thursday. The company's agent in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web that RedAir had ceased operating on the route as of October 7, but planned to resume service in November. He deferred all other comment. A statement on the airline's website said only that services had been temporarily suspended "due to the non-availability of the DC-10 aircraft." RedAir, which is part of the Redcoat Group, first began offering twice-weekly service between London, Freetown and Banjul in April. One industry source said the company currently "has no planes" and that passengers with RedAir reservations were being rescheduled, where possible, on the competing Sierra National Airways. A source in the Gambia told the Sierra Leone Web late Thursday that RedAir was forced to suspend operations when the company it leased its planes from, Africa One Ltd., was grounded for not paying grounding and landing fees it owed worldwide.

16 October: The United States has provided $13 million in emergency humanitarian assistance this year to meet the needs of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who have been uprooted by conflict in the sub-region, the U.S. Embassy in Freetown said on Wednesday. The funds – accounting for just over one third of all U.S. aid earmarked for refugees and victims of conflict in West Africa – are being used to support the repatriation and reintegration of returning Sierra Leonean refugees, to respond to the emergency needs of Liberian refugees fleeing to Sierra Leone to escape conflict in their strife-torn country, and to improve the standards of protection and care for the new refugees. The United States is also a major contributor to United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organisations which operate in Sierra Leone.

The Chief Prosecutor of Sierra Leone's Special Court visited the former RUF headquarters town of Makeni Tuesday, where he met with ex-combatants and victims of the country's decade-long civil war, as well as representatives of local civil society groups and religious leaders. The visit was prosecutor David Crane's second to Sierra Leone's interior to explain the court's mandate. Last month he met with residents of the country's eastern Kono District. A team from the prosecutor's office had arrived in the town several days before Crane's visit to hold discussions with diverse groups in the community, including Sierra Leonean soldiers, on how to further what understanding people in the area already had of the court's work. The Special Court is was set up to prosecute a handful of persons thought to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during the latter half of the conflict. In Makeni, Crane met with community members at the Pastoral Centre, and then spoke with 500 school children at the St. Francis Secondary School. Crane plans to travel to all of Sierra Leone's 14 districts by the end of the year.

15 October: Energy ministers from the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will meet in the Guinean capital Conakry on Friday to adopt a regional protocol on cooperation in the energy sector, the Agence France-Press reported. The protocol will establish a legal framework for long-term cooperation in the energy sector, including increased regional trade and investment. The ministers are also expected to adopt an information and communication system to warn member states about impending power shortages and to identify measures to prevent them within the West African Power Pool (WAPP), a mechanism set up a year ago to promote and improve electrical network interconnection among member states. 

14 October: [Sports Feature by Andrew Masuba in Freetown, for the Sierra Leone Web.] The Leone Stars of Sierra Leone marshalled what they described as their "death squad," including nine foreign-based players, for Saturday's African Nations Cup qualifier against Gabon. The Gabonese, on the other hand, arrived in the Sierra Leonean capital with just fifteen players instead of the normal eighteen, and only four of them were internationals – two from Portugal and two from France. Play started at exactly 4:30 p.m., with each team playing a different formation: Gabon began with the 4-4-2, while the Leone Stars started off with the 3-5-2. A first chance came in the 5th minute which should have put Leone Stars in the lead, when Sierra Leonean defender No. 3 Mustapha "Pa Saffa" Sama, and the man who is arguably Sierra Leone’s most prolific attacking sensation, Paul "Senegal" Kpaka (Belgium), were both seen going for a header from a John Keister (England) corner kick. But Pa Saffa’s header sailed over the crossbar.

A United Nations Panel of Experts has recommended that the Security Council renew an arms embargo against Liberia next month after finding evidence that the Liberian government had imported more than 200 tons of military equipment in recent months in violation of U.N. sanctions, the Associated Press reported. The U.N. first imposed the arms ban on Liberia in March 2001 for the Taylor government's alleged backing of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. The sanctions, which also included a ban on international travel by senior Liberian officials and an embargo on the sale of Liberian diamonds, were renewed in May 2002. The Panel said it had uncovered evidence that six cargo aircraft loaded with light weapons, ammunition, missile launchers, mines and spare parts had landed at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia between June and August. Forged end-user certificates described the cargo as drilling equipment for a Liberian diamond mine, or as technical equipment for the Nigerian Ministry of Defence which was supposedly bound for Lagos. In fact, the report said, the cargo consisted of more than 200 tons of older military equipment from Yugoslavia, supplied by a Belgrade-based company in violation of U.N. sanctions. The August shipment included a new rotor engine and blades for Liberia's lone helicopter gunship, which had been idled for several months. The helicopter was quickly repaired and immediately began resupplying government forces fighting LURD rebels in the northwest, the panel said. The report also quoted Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese national who fought with the RUF and a number of other insurgent groups, as claiming that between 1,250 and 1,500 hard core former RUF rebels had been incorporated into Liberia's feared Anti-Terrorist Unit. Last year the Washington Post reported that Bah, also known as Ibrahim Balde, had been the go-between who arranged for the sale of RUF-mined diamonds to representatives of the terrorist Al-Qaeda Network between 1998 and 2001.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is operating with a two-person skeleton staff after the contracts of its interim staffers and consultants expired on October 4, Executive Secretary Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff acknowledged on Monday. A source familiar with the workings of the commission suggested that the TRC commissioners had missed an opportunity for a seamless transition with unnecessary delay in the hiring of permanent staff. But Jusu-Sheriff called it a "hiccup" which was not likely to cripple the TRC's work. "I don’t think it’s particularly a delay," she told the Sierra Leone Web. "It’s just quite an ambitious plan." Jusu-Sheriff pointed out that while public hearings are not due to begin until next March, the seven commissioners – three Sierra Leoneans and four internationals – were continuing to pursue an ambitious schedule of education and sensitisation meetings in the country's interior. At present, she said, they were visiting five districts up country including the former rebel strongholds of Kono and Kailahun. "The response by people up country has really been very, very positive," she said. "The idea that these people are really willing to to go the extra mile has done wonders for us I think in terms of our credibility." Television coverage of the TRC's travels throughout Sierra Leone showing "the amount of times they’ve got stuck or had to turn back" because of the poor condition of the rain soaked roads has made people in Freetown realise for the first time the conditions outside the capital, she said. "It’s important to (travel up country), because everybody keeps saying 'Sierra Leone is not Freetown, Freetown is not Sierra Leone'," she said. "So you’ve got to really work and make it a reality." Accompanying the commissioners on their trip are a number of Sierra Leonean interim staffers whose contracts had run out and who are working without pay, including several who did not apply to be permanent staff members. Jusu-Sheriff said she was heartened by their dedication to the TRC's mission. "We won’t let the commission be unattended," she said. "It will all work out in the end. Everyone wants it to work out, so it will."

Construction has begun in Freetown on the foundation for a complex of court buildings and a detention centre which will house Sierra Leone's Special Court – the war crimes tribunal charged with prosecuting a handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The first buildings erected on the 11.5 acre site will be prefabricated in the interest of speed. A permanent $3.2 million building which will house the court and its appeals chamber is due to be completed by May 2003, with the total construction budget put at $6 million. The land, which is located between Jomo Kenyatta Road and Willoughby Lane, was previously occupied by the Prisons Department and contained prison cell blocks, staff quarters and recreation facilities. Most of the buildings were structurally unsound and had to be demolished. Two cell blocks on the site are being renovated to house defendants. "We are readying 26 cells," the court's Deputy Registrar, Robert Kirkwood, said in a statement. "If some cells are not required we can always use them for other purposes. If more are needed then we can quickly build them." All of the accused will be held in individual cells built in accordance with international standards. 

12 October: Goals by two Sierra Leonean internationals were enough to bring the Leone Stars a victory Saturday over Azingo Nationale of Gabon Saturday in their African Nations Cup qualifying match. Belgium-based Paul Kpaka (pictured left) scored on a penalty in the first half, while Alphajor Bah of China beat two defenders in the 52nd minute to add the insurance goal for a final score of 2-0. The Leone Stars, who played Saturday before a home crowd in Freetown, are now undefeated through their first two qualifiers. Last month, the Sierra Leoneans defeated Equatorial Guinea by a score of 3-1 in Malabo. Their next qualifying match in against Morocco, on March 29 in Freetown. Gabon's national team, also known as Les Panthères (the Panthers), lost its first qualifier to Morocco in September, and is now 0-2 in Group Seven. Other weekend results: (Group One) Malawi 1, Angola 0, in Blantyre. (Group Two) Liberia 1, Niger 0, in Monrovia; Ethiopia 1, Guinea 0, in Addis Ababa. (Group Three) Tanzania 1, Sudan 2, in Dar es Salaam; Zambia 1, Benin 1, in Lusaka. (Group Four) Mozambique 0, Republic of Congo 3, in Maputo; Burkina Faso 2, Central African Republic 1, in Ouagadougou. (Group Five) Togo 1, Mauritania 0; Cape Verde 0, Kenya 1. (Group Six) Eritrea 0, Zimbabwe 1, in Asmara; Mali 3, Seychelles 0. (Group Seven) Sierra Leone 2, Gabon 0, in Freetown; Morocco 5, Equatorial Guinea 0, in Casablanca. (Group Eight) Gambia 6, Lesotho 0, in Banjul. (Group Nine) Democratic Republic of Congo 2, Botswana 0, in Kinshasa; Swaziland 2, Libya 1, in Mbabane. (Group Ten) Mauritius 0, Madagascar 1. (Group Eleven) South Africa 2, Burundi 0, in Bloemfontein. (Group Twelve) Algeria 4, Chad 1, in Annaba. (Group Thirteen) Ghana 4, Rwanda 2, in Accra.

11 October: The Canadian government introduced a bill in parliament Thursday which, if adopted into law, would make Canada the first diamond producing country not in conflict to institute a certification system designed to curb the illicit export of rough diamonds. The proposed law is in line with the Kimberley Process, a series of consultations begun two years ago between officials of diamond producing and exporting countries and representatives of the diamond industry aimed at ending the trade in so-called "conflict diamonds" – illegally mined gems which are blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone and a number of other African countries. Canadian Parliamentarian David Pratt (pictured left), who has served as Canada's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday that the Canadian decision to require its diamonds to be exported in tamper-proof containers accompanied by certificates of origin should have a "significant impact" in cleaning up the industry. Pratt stressed that while only a relatively small percentage of the diamonds reaching the world market were illicit, there was widespread concern that the illegal trade could undermine the legitimate diamond industry. "I think that countries like Botswana, Russia and even Canada are concerned that they didn’t want their legitimate diamond industries to be tainted by conflict diamonds, and so this goes a long way I think in terms of maintaining the integrity of the diamond trade internationally," he said. Canada's emerging gem industry already produces nearly six percent of the world's diamonds, and that percentage is expected to increase when its Diavik mine in the Northwest Territories comes on line in 2003. Russia and especially Botswana already rely on the industry for significant chunks of their national income. Pratt said there was also concern about the use of rough diamonds "as a liquid asset that could be moved quickly and easily across borders to fund terrorist activities." Last year it was alleged that al-Qaeda, the terrorist group blamed for the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, had purchased diamonds from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels in an effort to conceal their assets ahead of an anticipated crackdown on their activities. In the absence of a certification system, Pratt said, there was just no way for countries to know whether the diamonds they were importing had been mined by rebel groups or traded by terrorists "We simply would not have known what sort of diamonds were coming into the country," he said. "I think that’s obviously a major concern. Not just Canada, but other countries were in the same situation." Pratt stressed that the proposed law should be seen as a first step in controlling the illegal trade. "We’re going to have to monitor how the Kimberley Process works and whether or not it’s doing everything we expect it to do from the standpoint of the illicit diamond trade," he said. "If huge quantities of diamonds are still making it onto world markets, that’s something that clearly has to be dealt with." Pratt first proposed controlling the conflict diamond trade in a private members bill he introduced in the House of Commons, but that bill was overtaken by the Kimberley Process. In retrospect, he said, some of the provisions in his original bill were probably "a bit too ambitious" in terms of controlling not only rough diamonds, but also cut and polished stones and even finished jewelry. "We really do have to walk before we run in terms of getting this legislation up and running, and I don’t think it’s likely we’re going to see controls on diamond jewelry going across borders," he said. But Pratt added that he hoped the federal government would take a look at other provisions of his earlier bill, including the establishment of a monitoring committee to advise the Minister of Natural Resources on how the legislation was working, and a measure which would prohibit the Canadian Commercial Corporation from lending money to any company operating or intending to operate a diamond mine in a country that was not part of the Kimberley Process. At a meeting this week in the Belgian diamond centre of Antwerp, some representatives of the diamond industry suggested that the trade in conflict diamonds was a problem which had largely been resolved. Pratt stressed that such a conclusion was premature. "I don’t think that we can afford to be complacent with respect to the illicit diamond trade," he said. "I think we’ve got to be continually vigilant about the people that may have a very, very strong inclination to trade in illicit diamonds for a whole lot of reasons, and I think we’re going to have to continue to watch countries like Sierra Leone and like Liberia and Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo." Said Pratt: "I believe the government of Sierra Leone is completely committed to the Kimberley Process. Not everybody in that country is committed to the process. I think that’s clear enough."

Jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who recently suffered a mild stroke in prison, is receiving medical attention from an American doctor, the Director of Prisons said on Friday. "Even the psychiatrist...visited him, wrote his report, and submitted to the Chief Medical Officer," Foday Conteh told journalists. "He's receiving attention. 24 hours a day there are nurses to make sure he's treated. His two children have visited him."

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, ended a four-day visit to Sierra Leone Friday for her London-based charity Children in Crisis. Ferguson's visit included a tour of schools in Freetown, including the Milton Margai School for the Blind, and trips to Makeni and Port Loko. 

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has completed the transfer away from the border of over 3,400 Liberian refugees who arrived in Sierra Leone last week, fleeing fighting in the Kolahun area of northwestern Liberia, a spokesman for the agency said in Geneva. About 1,000 of the Liberians were taken to the Largo refugee camp, with the other 2,400 receiving temporary shelter at the Kailahun and Dauda way stations until the UNHCR can increase the capacity of the newly-created camps: Largo in Kenema District and Gondama in Bo District. More than 60,000 Liberians have fled to Sierra Leone this year as the security situation continued to deteriorate in their own country. Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea has gone slower than expected. 47,000 Sierra Leonean refugees still live in Guinean refugee camps.

10 October: International donors have pledged $72 million to fight river blindness in Africa, with $13.5 million of the amount earmarked to removing the last pockets of the disease in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Togo by the year 2007, the Associated Press reported. The rest of the money will go to treating disease victims in 19 countries with drugs donated by the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 18 million people are infected with the parasite, which is carried by the black fly, with 99 percent of those cases in Africa. About 270,000 people are believed to have lost their sight as a result of the disease.

9 October: A constitutional dispute between the Sierra Leone Bar Association and the government over the appointment last June of Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway without parliamentary approval went before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, but was postponed due the absence of two justices. "Justice Thompson Davies is not in town and Justice Ademosu is sick so they took an adjournment for a month," Awoko newspaper editor Kelvin Lewis said. The Bar Association instituted the action in late June, claiming that the appointment contravened Article 56(2)(c) of the constitution, which requires that all cabinet nominees face the scrutiny of parliament. The government has argued that Article 64 of the constitution establishes the post of Justice Minister and Attorney-General as a separate position which does not require parliamentary approval. 

Jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh did not show up for a court hearing on Wednesday, and is reportedly in a prison hospital following a mild stroke, the Associated Press reported. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway was quoted as saying that the judge was unavailable. The hearing was postponed until October 24.

8 October: The founder of two private radio stations in Sierra Leone is one of two international journalists who will be honoured Tuesday with the 2002 Knight International Fellowship Award. In announcing their decision, the Washington, D.C.-based International Center for Journalists cited Andrew Kromah's "extraordinary devotion" to his craft in the midst of conflict, and his efforts to improve the state of journalism in Sierra Leone. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web late Monday, Kromah explained that he hadn't set out to pursue a career in journalism. After receiving masters degrees in Development Economics and Agricultural Economics from the University of Texas at Prairie View, he returned to Sierra Leone in 1989 to set up a development organisation aimed at helping local farmers and miners realise the value of their land. His efforts were disrupted in 1992 by the outbreak of his country's civil war, and Kromah said he realised the need for citizen participation in resolving the conflict. So Kromah took his savings and in 1993 he launched the independent radio station KISS-FM in Bo. This was followed three years later by the Freetown-based SKYY-FM. "I invested that money into radio because there was this need for information, and I believed very much that a vigorous media institution would be the answer to be able to somehow just pass information about the war," Kromah said. "For some reason I just got interested in that area without any planning at all. I just decided that that is what I would do, and I just went ahead and did it." It was not all smooth sailing. The station was frequently plagued by shortages of funds due to the lack of a wartime economic activity in the Bo area and, Kromah said, Sierra Leone's independent media received scant encouragement from the government. "They instead invested in the government radio station, which was perceived as part of the conflict," he said. He persevered, and during the May 2000 election Kromah was chosen to coordinate the ad hoc Independent Radio Network, which sent reporters equipped with mobile and satellite telephones around the country to report the election results as the votes were counted. The project was a success and it was, perhaps, a first step towards Kromah's dream of creating a permanent independent public radio network for Sierra Leone. When he returns home, Kromah said, he will work to institutionalise his radio stations and to ensure opportunities for the next generation of Sierra Leonean journalists. "I am going to invest in Media Foundation for Peace and Democracy – that’s the NGO (non-governmental organisation) that I am investing in now," he said. "My fear is if I die right now, anything happens, the whole project will die, the whole idea will die down. So if I could establish a foundation that will take over as an Independent National Public Radio, I think that will sustain the whole idea itself. That way you provide jobs for the journalists, you provide activity for journalism, and it provides an end-user for the students who are graduating from the Mass Communications and Journalism Department at Fourah Bay College."

Jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh is suffering from hypertension which resulted in a mild stroke on his left side, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway said on Tuesday. "That’s the report from the medical officer in charge of the Freetown Central Prison," he told the Sierra Leone Web by telephone from Freetown. The former rebel leader and more than 50 RUF co-defendants each face a 70-count indictment in Sierra Leone's High Court on charges ranging from murder to attempted murder and related offences. Sankoh's medical condition has kept him out of court since last month. Halloway noted that a UNAMSIL doctor had been to see Sankoh last week, and he said the government was still awaiting a report on his condition. "This was last week," he said. "The Director of Prisons has sent a reminder but up to now they’ve not submitted a report of their findings." A UNAMSIL spokesman confirmed that a doctor had visited Sankoh, but he said the purpose of the visit was only to verify reports circulating about his condition and that the U.N. medical personnel had not been equipped to perform a complete medical examination. "We only reacted based on the fact that there was information being carried about Foday Sankoh’s state of health and the mission deemed it necessary to cross-check some of this information, coupled with the fact that we have been doing that to other people within the country throughout the peace process," he said. He added that UNAMSIL did not typically issue reports in such circumstances. Meanwhile, Sankoh's Senegalese-American wife Fatou Mbaye Sankoh (pictured right) was in Freetown last week, but reportedly left the country without seeing her husband. "We spoke, and I said she should phone me again and let’s look into her request, of course producing evidence that she is the wife of Foday Sankoh," Halloway said. "But then she went away without contacting us. She never came back."

Diamond industry executives meeting for two days of talks in the Belgian city of Antwerp have resolved to try and eliminate the trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone and other African countries, the BBC reported. The gathering comes in advance of next month's meeting between representatives of diamond producing and importing nations and the diamond industry as part of the two-year old Kimberley Process, which is seeking to find a solution to the proliferation of illicitly-mined gemstones mined by rebel groups. The industry, in a bid to counter the negative publicity generated by concerns over the link between diamonds and war, also plans to set up a "diamond relief fund" aimed at poverty reduction in the world's poorest diamond-producing countries. Nicky Oppenheimer, the chairman of De Beers, complained that the specter of conflict diamonds" threatened to unfairly tarnish the legitimate diamond industry, the Associated Press reported. Oppenheimer insisted that "less than four percent" of the gems could be classified as conflict diamonds. Some advocacy groups, basing their numbers in part on a higher estimate of the illegal diamond trade and partly on a definition which classifies all diamonds mined in a war zone as conflict diamonds, suggest that the real percentage could be much greater – as high as 15 percent, according to the London-based group Global Witness. Peter Meeus, the managing director of Antwerp's High Diamond Council, claimed that the industry was winning the fight against the illegal trade. "We are now in the post-conflict diamond era," he said, adding: "The diamond business has changed."  But Partnership Africa Canada's Bernard Taylor (pictured left) suggested that it was still too early for the industry to declare victory. "We can't just sit back and say the problem has gone away," he told the Associated Press. "Conflict diamonds remain a threat...the diamond industry really has to make sure the process works."

Sierra Leonean Foreign Affairs Minister Momodu Koroma (pictured right) and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, signed a joint communiqué in Teheran Sunday which envisages an expansion of bilateral relations between the two countries, particularly in the fields of trade and commerce. The signing came at the start of a four-day visit to Iran by a high-level Sierra Leonean delegation. According to the Teheran Times newspaper, Koroma urged Iran to reopen its embassy in Freetown, which was closed by Teheran in November 1998 as a cost-cutting measure, and to appoint a new ambassador to Sierra Leone. The two ministers touched on the need to resolve regional tensions in Africa through peaceful negotiations, condemned terrorism and stressed the need to dismantle weapons of mass destruction worldwide. The communiqué also called for further cooperation among developing nations within the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement and South-South dialogue. The two sides rejected the establishment of what they called a "unipolar system" in the world, and unjust relations between powerful countries and developing nations, the newspaper said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has postponed a trip to Conakry scheduled for Tuesday until the conclusion of a Mano River Union ministerial-level meeting being held in the Guinean capital, the Agence France-Presse reported. A Liberian official told the news agency that Taylor would propose that the leaders of the three-nation union, comprising Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, meet for a summit in the Moroccan capital Rabat. Meanwhile, President Kabbah met with his counterparts in Guinea and Guinea Bissau on Tuesday for talks that were expected to focus on ways of defusing tensions in the sub-region and the crisis in Ivory Coast, the news agency said. "I have just visited my friend and brother (President) Kumba Yala, with whom I share a common viewpoint on many questions concerning the sub-region," Kabbah told reporters at the Bissau airport.

7 October: Renewed fighting in the Liberian town of Kolahun between government forces and LURD rebels has caused an estimated 3,000 people to flee into Sierra Leone, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Monday. The fighting intensified on Wednesday, and by Thursday some 200 Liberian refugees were crossing into the Kailahun District town of Manduvulahun every hour. The new arrivals appeared to be in bad condition, including women and small children badly in need of food, shelter and medical assistance. Sierra Leone is now hosting around 60,000 Liberian refugees, 46,000 of whom arrived since the beginning of the year. About 38,000 are in camps, 16,000 are awaiting transfer away from the volatile border area, and another 8,000 are staying in urban areas.

6 October: Liberian President Charles Taylor will visit Conakry on Tuesday at the invitation of his Guinean counterpart, President Lansana Conte, where he will propose a new Mano River Union summit, the Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday, quoting a Liberian official. The leaders of the Mano River Union, which comprises Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, last met in Rabat, Morocco in February to discuss ways of restoring peace and stability in the sub-region.

5 October: One of Sierra Leone's most eminent historians died in Freetown on Saturday. Professor Akintola Wyse had been a Professor of History at Fourah Bay College since 1989, and was appointed Dean of Post-Graduate Studies in 1997. He was also the college's Vice Principal, and in June 2000 he was nominated by President Kabbah to head Sierra Leone's Public Service Commission. Wyse received his Ph.D from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He was the author of a number of books on Sierra Leone's past, including "The Krio of Sierra Leone: an Interpretive History," and "H. C. Bankole-Bright and Politics in Colonial Sierra Leone."

Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal is only in the initial stages of investigating a suspected mass grave in the eastern town of town of Tombodu, the Special Court's chief investigator said on Saturday. Human remains found at the site, not from from Koidu, and testimony from local residents suggests that scores of persons may have been executed and their bodies thrown into a flooded diamond pit. Estimates on the number of victims vary widely, from 100 to 1,000. "We had found a femur bone that looked like an adult femur bone that had been found in a lake area that was up in the Tombodu area," Dr. Alan White told the BBC. "As we were clearing a potential crime scene, some of the marsh that was cut away we found a bone while we were there. We immediately secured that area for further investigation which is what we’re in the process of doing right now." White said he had called upon Dr. William Haglund (pictured right), a forensic anthropologist and director of the International Forensics Programme for the group Physicians for Human Rights, to come to Tombodu and assess the situation. "We’re in the process of evaluating what else we need to do as far as assessing a forensic pathology examination as well as a further detailed anthropological evaluation and assessment of the area," he said.

4 October: Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2050 / 2250. [£] 3000 / 3250. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3050 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2150 / 2300 [£] 3000 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2150 / 2300 [£] 3050 / 3350. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 3100 / 3200.

3 October: A senior U.S. military official arrived in Sierra Leone this week to discuss security issues with the country's senior civilian and military leaders, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Freetown. U.N. Marine Corps General Carlton W. Fulford Jr., who is Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. European Command, praised the strides made in the reorganisation and retraining of Sierra Leone's military, and he said the United States would "make every effort" to continue to provide three U.S. military officers to the British-led International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). He warned, however, that military reform could only succeed in the context of "aggressive and concerted efforts" to address the root causes of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war: corruption and the legacy of decades of poor governance.

Leaders of Sierra Leone's largest opposition party met with their supporters in United States this past week for the first time since their All People's Congress (APC) finished second in last May's presidential and parliamentary elections. APC party leader Ernest Bai Koroma (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web that while the visit was "essentially a fundraising trip," it gave party officials a chance to talk to members who had been unable to travel to Sierra Leone for the election. The five APC leaders also met with United States and United Nations officials, Koroma said, as well as with representatives of "institutions that have been working towards the building of our democracy, and basically to say thanks and discuss with them on the way forward." In the May elections, the first held since the end of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, the APC took just 27 of the 112 ordinary seats in parliament, finishing a disappointing second to President Kabbah's Sierra Leone People's Party. Koroma said while he had reservations about the fairness of the polls, his party had accepted the result in the interest of helping to restore peace to their war-torn country. "I had gone into the election with a full view that the election should be part of the peace process," he said. "And anything we do subsequently should be focused on enhancing and strengthening our peace process. The fact that we accepted the outcome was as a result of the fact that we wanted to give peace a chance." The APC leader said his party would commit itself to providing a vigorous and effective democratic opposition in parliament. "At the end of an election, whatever the outcome, if you are democratic not only in words but in deeds you should accept the outcome and serve in the role in which you find yourself eventually, which is the role of the opposition," he said. "We are not going to be obstructionist – we are not going to oppose because we are in the opposition. We are going to provide a constructive opposition. We are going to support the issues that are in the interest of the country. We are going to raise our voices where we believe that issues are not in the interest of the general citizenry, and we have been doing that. We have provided support in the areas wherein we believe that government deserves support and we have supported government on many issues." Koroma said it was important for the democratic process that there be a mutual respect between government and opposition. "There should be an exchange of ideas, there should be consultations, and on national issues I think provision or facility must be made for the views of the opposition to be heard," he said. "We are not up to it (yet), but I believe we are working towards it, and I believe that should be the only way forward. Anything short of that will be unfortunate for the country." While Koroma said he accepted the results of the election, he pointed to what he said were "irregularities" in the voting process, including problems with voter registration, a lack of voter education on the new voting system, complaints that some candidates had been prevented from campaigning in their constituencies, harassment of opposition supporters, and impossibly high voter turnout in some areas which in some districts exceeded 100 percent. "There was room for us to say no," he said. "We could have pursued it...We thought, don’t let us reverse whatever gains we have made. We accepted, but we knew that if the elections were transparent and were free, we would have made much more (of a showing) that what we have." Under President Siaka Stevens and later President Joseph Saidu Momoh, the APC party governed Sierra Leone for nearly 25 years. But by the time it was overthrown by disgruntled soldiers in 1992, the party had become identified in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans with their country's problems of poor governance and corruption, and the APC had largely collapsed around its base in the north. Koroma, who often refers to the party he leads as the "new APC," said these problems were not unique to the All People's Congress. "The APC itself is a political party, and at any given time the focus of that party is decided upon by the ground rules that the party commits itself to, and personalities of the leadership," he said. "Now I am the first person who made the comment that mistakes were made in the past. Mistakes were made by the APC. Mistakes were made because power was concentrated in the hands of a few people. Mistakes were made because of the fact that we had a one-party system. But when you talk about the APC, you’re referring to individuals." Koroma emphasised that it was important for the APC to attract persons who were committed to its philosophy as a political party. "We must have a party that respects and stands for democracy," he said. "We will have a party that believes in transparency and accountability, and that is why the new leadership is coming forward as a leadership that will adhere to the principles." And the party, Koroma added, should set its sights on achieving sustainable development for Sierra Leone. "The illiteracy level is high. The mortality rates are very high. The social delivery services are poor," he said. "We must focus on ensuring that we improve on those terrible social indicators, and the only way to do it is for us to ensure that the government becomes an effective government in laying the rules and not becoming a player in itself – disengaging from the activities of business, reducing the activity of government and enlarging the private sector, ensuring that there is transparency (and) fight fiercely against corruption. These are the issues that the new APC stands for."

2 October: UNAMSIL Chief Military Observer Major-General Syed Athar Ali presented more than three tons of rice and equipment to disabled residents in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District over the weekend, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The aid was donated by two Pakistani non-governmental organisations. Since their deployment in Kono last year, Pakistani peacekeepers have at their own expense funded free clinics for district residents, many of whom had not received medical care for years due to the country's civil war. The peacekeepers also built and furnished an Islamic school in Koidu, and refurbished the city's Catholic cathedral. 

1 October: About 100 Sierra Leoneans are among hundreds of African refugees who were forced to seek UNHCR assistance in the Ivory Coast after security forces burned their homes in Abidjan in response to last week's military uprising. Police and loyalist soldiers set fire to shantytowns in the country's commercial capital, reportedly alleging that rebel troops had received support from the immigrants living in the city's poorer neighbourhoods. "The refugees had to leave their houses hurriedly, often chased off by security forces. Many had no time to take anything with them. Some reported having been robbed of the little money they had," the UNHCR said, adding that the government's policy of burning down shanty towns in the city's "precarious" districts – particularly in areas adjacent to government buildings and military installations – was continuing. The Sierra Leoneans are asking to return home and the UNHCR is arranging for their voluntary repatriation. The agency estimates that as many as 6,000 Ivorians, immigrants and refugees have been made homeless in Abidjan alone. Meanwhile, as ECOWAS nations prepared to try to mediate the crisis, the Ivory Coast's Ambassador to the United Nations, Djessan Philippe Djangone-Bi, described the rebels as "a bunch of mercenaries and deserters" from neighbouring countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burkina Faso. There has been no independent confirmation of his claim.

About 250 Sierra Leoneans and supporters met in a Maryland (U.S.A.) church Sunday for a thanksgiving programme to mark the end of more than ten years of civil war in their country. In a message read on his behalf, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told those gathered that while many in the international community had worked together to achieve peace in Sierra Leone, it could not have come about without the steadfastness demonstrated by the government and people of Sierra Leone. "I therefore wish to pay tribute to the courage, sacrifices and continued determination of the people of Sierra Leone in the search for lasting peace and stability in their great country," Annan said. The secretary-general observed, however, that the country still faced major hurdles in consolidating its still-fragile peace, and he called on Sierra Leoneans themselves to take a leading role in the process. "I therefore wish to use this opportunity to appeal to all present here to endeavour to contribute your own quota to the consolidation of  peace and the reconstruction of your country," he said. "It is also time for all Sierra Leoneans to work towards international cohesion and reconciliation, and achieving justice." One of the event's organisers, Rev. Alice FitzJohn, said the local Sierra Leonean community had gone through "many bad experiences" on account of the war, but that things had begun to improve. "Now the tide has turned, and we seem to be going smoothly," she said. FitzJohn said that with the restoration of peace in their country, many in the Sierra Leonean community felt it was important to give thanks. "You know we are very prayerful people, and we feel that over these rough years our spirituality has never been so on top of everything, because groups are praying all the time," she said. "God has blessed us and he has a purpose for us and we feel that purpose is unfolding. That’s the reason we are saying ‘come let us gather in grateful prayerful thanksgiving to God', because it’s His will that Sierra Leone should be back where we started – even go further than what we have been able to achieve."