The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

November 2000
 

30 November: RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi accused British and Sierra Leonean forces Thursday of attacking the town of Rokupr with three helicopter gunships. "At about 10:30 this morning, three helicopter gunships belonging to the British and the government of Freetown attacked Rokupr, killed 17 civilians and wounded 15," Massaquoi told the BBC Focus on Africa programme, adding: "This is a complete provocation and it is in violation of the ceasefire agreement." Massaquoi claimed the bombardment on Rokupr involved two British helicopters and one belonging to the Sierra Leone government. A Western source in Freetown, however, told the Sierra Leone Web the attack had been carried out by Guinean helicopters, which have recently been carrying out cross-border reprisal attacks against RUF rebels, whom they blame for raids on Guinean border villages. Massaquoi said one RUF fighter had been wounded in Thursday's attack. "The civilians have loaded their wounded and dead brothers and sisters in a boat and are heading to Freetown in an anger and tears," Massaquoi said. "In two or three hours from now the government will receive the wounded and the dead in the boats. They are heading for Freetown." In a separate interview with Radio France International, Massaquoi said he was planning to register a formal complaint with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, with UNAMSIL, and with the ECOWAS Committee of Six on Sierra Leone. "We are going to make our complaint, formally, to let them know that this is what has been happening," Massaquoi said.

Senior UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone government officials are set to meet with RUF rebel leaders at Mile 91 on Friday to discuss deployment of U.N. military observers in rebel-held areas, military sources told Reuters on Thursday. RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi confirmed plans for the meeting in a BBC Focus on Africa interview. "Tomorrow there will be a meeting between the government, the United Nations and the RUF at Mile 91 just to have confidence building, and the monitors will try to get in our territories and start monitoring the ceasefire," Massaquoi said. Reuters noted that it was still not clear whether UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande or interim RUF leader Issa Sesay would attend the meeting, or even whether the meeting would go ahead as planned.

Residents of Bo and displaced persons from the nearby "Splendid Camp" at Manjama who fought last weekend were reconciled Wednesday after mediation by the Resident Minister of the Southern Province, Foday Sesay, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. Sesay called the fighting "unfortunate," but declined to hold an investigation into who was at fault because "they are all from the same family." The disturbances reportedly followed a dispute over a rubbish heap between Bo residents and residents of the camp, which quickly turned violent. Sesay told the two sides to forgive each other, but warned the youths who took part in the fighting not to cast any insinuations which would aggravate the situation, Margao said. The local UNAMSIL commander promised that U.N. peacekeeping troops from Bo and Kenema would help the displaced rebuild their homes, many of which were destroyed in the fighting.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will leave New York for Freetown on Saturday, where he will hold meetings with President Kabbah and senior UNAMSIL staff, his spokesman said Thursday. Annan will then travel to Port Loko and Lakka to visit a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration camp, a rehabilitation centre for former child combatants, and will visit Nigerian peacekeepers in the field, the spokesman said. Annan will also meet with local chiefs and residents, who will confirm him with an honorary title, the spokesman added. The secretary-general will leave Sierra Leone for Cotonou, Benin on Sunday evening.

Human Rights Watch watch said Thursday that there was fresh evidence that civilians are continuing to suffer as a result of the nearly decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone. In a statement released in advance of a visit to Sierra Leone this weekend by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Human Rights Watch said it had provided evidence of ongoing atrocities by the RUF, and of recent attacks on civilians by pro-government forces. The human rights organisation urged the U.N. to set up the proposed Special Court to try those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious offenses under Sierra Leonean and international law "without delay." The group also urged that the court be given "Chapter VII" powers to enforce cooperation, and also that it should be given jurisdiction over crimes committed since the beginning of the conflict, in March 1991, instead of from November 1996, the date the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord was signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF.

29 November: Sierra Leone will resume diamond sales on Friday following a compromise between Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen and Central Bank Governor Sampha Koroma on methods of payment, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Last week, Koroma refused to sign export certificates unless diamond exporters purchased inward letters of credit with the Central Bank. The exporters in turn complained that the bank was unable to refund any unspent money in dollars. "How would you feel if you came here with $100,000 in a Letter of Credit and couldn't get dollars to buy stones, or wanted to leave and were told (there were) no dollars?," a diplomatic source asked rhetorically. "An even worse example: You bring in $100,000 in cash, get charged five percent to deposit it, and when you want to leave in, say, two weeks (you) couldn't get what was left in anything but leones," the source told the Sierra Leone Web. Deen was quoted as saying that under the compromise, traders would be required to agree that dollars brought into the country to purchase diamonds would be channeled through the bank. The deal would also make it easier for the exporters to move dollars into and out of the country while preserving the government's need to ensure that the flow of funds is transparent.  

United States Ambassador Joseph Melrose Jr. (pictured left), presented the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Monday with eight 4.5-ton trucks, improving the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to rural areas of Sierra Leone, WFP Programme Officer Aya Shneerson told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Shneerson noted that the United States was the single largest contributor to the WFP, adding that the U.S. provided half the funds for the sole helicopter the WFP uses to deliver food in the country. As the U.N. presented its 2001 Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for humanitarian assistance this week, Shneerson told IRIN she hoped U.S. aid would continue in the coming year. "We do stress the importance of donor assistance to the region because needs have not decreased," she said.

Japan this month approved an allocation of $306,094 to the United Nations Trust Fund for Sierra Leone, a Japanese government statement said. The money will be targeted to programmes which support reintegration and rehabilitation projects for ex-combatants, former child soldiers and war-affected women and children, and will be carried out through UNAMSIL, the statement said. The funds donated by Japan include $110,740 for the construction of four police stations and the repair of an additional police station and a police training school, with the work to be done by ex-combatants. Also included is $160,460 to assist two local communities in making services available to women and girl victims of conflict-related violence; $12,430 to provide training for teenage girls who were abducted by rebel forces and who have been reunited with their families or are in alternative care; and $22,464 for the reintegration of child combatants in Kenema.

28 November: The United Nations launched a Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for 2001 on Tuesday, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealing to the world's wealthiest countries to contribute $2.26 billion to aid some 35 million victims of natural disasters and conflict in 19 countries. The new appeal is smaller than the $2.3 billion the U.N. sought for the current year, which has so far received only a 55.6 percent response. In 1999, the U.N. had received 67 percent of the amount needed for emergency humanitarian aid. For Sierra Leone, international donors had contributed 65 percent of the funds requested by the end of October, compared to the poor response in 1999, when U.N. agencies received only $42.1 percent of the requested $25.1 million. For 2001, against a backdrop of growing humanitarian need in the country, the United Nations is requesting a total of $78,121,202 for nine U.N. agencies: Food and Agriculture Organisation — $3,275,000; Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — $1,512,281; United Nations Children's Fund — $13,247,500; United Nations Development Programme — $4,995,090; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — $16,197,657; United Nations Populations Fund — $1,854,787; United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone — $651,400; World Food Programme — $34,214,453; World Health Organisation — $2,173,034. Broken down by sector, the U.N. is requesting $3,387,000 for agriculture, $2,430,000 for child protection, $3,989,900 for coordination and support services, $5,823,351 for economic recovery, $2,776,000 for education, $27,612,483 for food, $7,279,521 for health and nutrition, $1,071,400 for human rights, $1,629,800 for HIV/AIDS, $16,197,657 for repatriation, resettlement and reintegration, $2,900,000 for shelter and non-food items, $396,090 for security, and $2,628,000 for water and sanitation.

Sierra Leone and Cyprus signed have signed a protocol establishing diplomatic relations and paving the way for further bilateral relations. The document was signed On November 22 by the two countries' respective permanent representatives to the United Nations — Ambassador Ibrahim M'baba Kamara for Sierra Leone and Ambassador Sotos Zackheos for Cyprus. 

The interim leader of Sierra Leone's opposition National Unity Party (NUP), John Oponjo Benjamin (pictured left), announced Tuesday the launch of his party's official website, in advance of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, the NUP won 5.2 percent of the vote and elected four members to Sierra Leone's Parliament. The NUP's presidential candidate, John Karimu, won 5.3 percent of the vote to finish fourth among the thirteen political parties contesting the election.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has set up reintegration projects in areas affected by a recent influx internally displaced persons from the northern border with Guinea, and by returnees from Guinea, where attacks on foreigners in September caused many refugees to return to Sierra Leone. At Lungi, the agency is assisting some 10,000 refugees who returned by foot or by bus from conflict zones along the Guinean border, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. Some of the returnees had been hiding in the bush for two months since leaving Guinea's Forecariah Prefecture, where some of the attacks took place. Returnees are being hosted in eight villages in Lokomansama Chiefdom, on the Lungi Peninsula, and the UNHCR is planning to open an office there. During a mission to Lungi last week, UNHCR officials found the returnees in need of supplementary food and medicine. The spokesman said that while the agency promised additional aid, the UNHCR urged the returnees to gain a degree of self-sufficiency by using the land and agricultural tools given to them. The UNHCR is planning a similar reintegration project in Kenema District, where some 5,000 returnees have been identified. The UNHCR is awaiting government approval to start construction on a transit camp which would be used to help resettle returnees in the local communities, the spokesman said. Meanwhile, the arrival of returnees from Guinea by boat has decreased significantly, with only the government-owned ferry still transporting Sierra Leoneans from Conakry, the spokesman said. However, a greater percentage of those returning are in need of assistance — about 80 percent of the passengers on the last ferry, many of whom had fled to Conakry from refugee camps in the Gueckedou area. 2,000 persons arrived by boat on Monday, bringing the total to 17,000 returnees on 37 boats since September. More than 4,000 of those were former refugees, of whom three-quarters were given temporary accommodation at a UNHCR transit centre outside Freetown. A second transit centre will be opened soon, increasing the agency's temporary hosting capacity to around 2,000. "Spontaneous returns by land and by boat may have significantly decreased the number of Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, which stood at 330,000 before the series of border attacks in September and the following restrictions imposed on refugees in Guinea," the spokesman said.

27 November: UNAMSIL's newly-appointed Deputy Force Commander, Major-General Martin Luther Agwai of Nigeria, arrived in Freetown on Saturday, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. Agwai replaces Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, also of Nigeria. Meanwhile, the new UNAMSIL force commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, is continuing his familiarization tour to areas of UNAMSIL operational responsibility. On Wednesday, Opande visited Indian peacekeepers (INBATT 2) at Mile 91, as well as viewing the Mabang Bridge, which is currently being reconstructed by UNAMSIL engineers. On Thursday, Opande visited U.N. peacekeepers and military observers at Port Loko, and on Friday he met with Bangladeshi and Kenyan troops at UNAMSIL Sector II Headquarters in Lungi and Mape. Opande will visit Nigerian peacekeepers (NIBATT 5 and NIBATT 6) on Tuesday. 

Britain's Armed Forces Minister said Monday that his country had no deadline for the withdrawal of troops from Sierra Leone. John Spellar was answering charges that the British government's military presence in the country was "an open-ended, undisciplined commitment."  "Putting a deadline on to any operation would be the best encouragement to the Revolutionary United Front and others to hold out until that deadline was reached," Spellar told the House of Commons. "As to why we intervened in the first place, there was a very real risk of Freetown falling and of murder, massacre and mayhem taking place in that area. I think the British public understand very well, having seen on their televisions the appalling acts perpetrated on civilians during the war, exactly why we intervened in order to bring peace and stability and some chance of a better life for those people."

Police in Bo arrested 32 people Sunday after fighting broke out at the weekend between displaced persons and city residents, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported On Monday. IRIN quoted a humanitarian source as saying the trouble started when the owners of land adjacent to an internally displaced camp objected to the displaced persons disposing of garbage on their property. The source was quoted as saying the fighting started when a displaced person slapped an elderly town resident. "One person from the community was stabbed in the neck," the humanitarian source said. No deaths were reported. In Freetown, a UNAMSIL spokesperson confirmed Monday that U.N. peacekeeping troops had put down the riot at the Bo Internally Displaced Camp. The spokesperson said 25 "huts" were destroyed and that a number of people had received minor injuries.

The first phase of the withdrawal of the Indian battalion (INBATT 1) from Daru concluded over the weekend when Colonel Satish Khuman handed over to Lieutenant-Colonel Mahunu, commander of the Ghanaian battalion (GHANBATT 2), a UNAMSIL spokesperson said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed to U.N. member nations Monday to fund $22 million in emergency expenditures for peacekeeping operations next year, to add 250 staff members to the U.N.'s peacekeeping department, and to create a new unit that would gather and analyze intelligence information. "It is in the field that we succeed or fail," Annan said. "This is truly an emergency requirement, demanding emergency action." Annan's initiative follows publication earlier this year of the so-called Brahimi Report, which identified shortcomings in the U.N.'s peacekeeping operations and made recommendations for improvement. Annan also pointed to a "commitment gap" by richer countries which, he said, have a "lack of political will to contribute to peacekeeping missions in Africa." But Annan also warned poorer nations that U.N. support for development could not come at the expense of peacekeeping missions. "It would be folly to imagine that we can make adequate resources available for development by preventing the United Nations from developing an adequate capacity to pay for peacekeeping," he said.

26 November: 33 homes were destroyed and 13 persons seriously injured in Bo at the weekend when residents clashed with internally displaced persons in the east of the city. BBC correspondent Richard Margao said the cause of the disturbances were unclear, but that they were apparently ignited by a trivial dispute between residents and refugees. "When I visited the Manjama section in the eastern part of Bo town, I saw people fighting with machetes, sticks and stones," Margao said. "Women were involved too, and gunshots were heard. When the police were called in, they were chased away." He said he saw people with "deep wounds and broken bones," and that the 13 victims were taken to Bo Government Hospital. "The violence only stopped when the Resident Minister, Foday Sesay, arrived," Margao said. "He was swiftly followed by a contingent of Guinean UNAMSIL troops, who created a buffer zone between the residents and the refugees. One U.N. soldier was slightly hurt." Margao said the internally displaced camp at Bo, which normally houses some 12,000 persons, was deserted on Sunday. "Everybody had left, carrying with them bundles of personal possessions, fearing further attacks and reprisals," he said. "Many were making for safe areas in Bo, but others were saying they were heading back to their homes in Kono District. More police and soldiers are arriving in Bo to try and prevent any further bloodshed."

25 November: The legal export of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds, which resumed only last month, has been temporarily halted over a dispute over the method of payment, Reuters reported on Saturday. The news agency quoted a senior official at the Ministry of Mineral Resources as saying Central Bank Governor Sampha Koroma had refused to sign export certificates unless the exporters open inward letters of credit. The dispute, which has frozen the sale of some $8 million in stockpiled diamonds, has been referred to President Kabbah for a ruling. Kabbah intervened last month when the same dispute threatened to block a $4.7 million sale. According to Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson, exporters say they would agree to open letters of credit with the Central Bank if the bank would repay any unspent money in dollars — a requirement they say the bank is not in a position to fulfill. Meanwhile, Koroma is reportedly anxious to ensure that diamond exporters work through Sierra Leone's banking system. "The decision by the bank governor for all exporters to go through the bank system is most welcome," the Mineral Resources official said, but argued that an exception should be made for gems stockpiled during the three-month U.N. embargo on the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds.

24 November: Thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Freetown to the National Stadium Thursday in support of British troops in Sierra Leone, and to protest a demand by Liberian President Charles Taylor that the British leave the country, the BBC reported. On Monday, Taylor said British troops were in Sierra Leone "for mischief and to destabilise the West African sub-region," and called for them to either be withdrawn or to be put under the command of UNAMSIL. The crowd which gathered Thursday at the National Stadium included trade unionists, members of parliament, students, "and even displaced persons who trekked several miles to witness the event," the BBC reported. Attendance at the rally was described by the BBC and VOA as "thousands," by Radio France International as "tens of thousands," and by the London-based Expo Times as "hundreds."

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi denied Thursday having told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that there was a split within the RUF. On Tuesday, the AFP quoted Massaquoi as saying 90 percent of the RUF rebels were refusing to recognise the interim RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, and were instead taking their orders from Brigadier-General Maurice Kallon, the RUF battle group commander in northern Sierra Leone. "It is absolutely wrong; I have not made any such statement," Massaquoi told Radio France International. "There’s no split within the RUF. We are all united. It is unfortunate that I was quoted, and that I gave that information, which is very, very wrong." Massaquoi insisted that the RUF was still taking instructions from Sesay, and was "moving further" in implementing the ceasefire signed this month between the rebel group and the Sierra Leone government. "General Issa Sesay...will be meeting with (UNAMSIL force commander) General Opande and (Deputy Commander) Brigadier-General Mohammed Garba very shortly, and we had a meeting today and we are going to open all the roads to all civilians within the next 48 hours, and that is our next step," Massaquoi said. "From there UNAMSIL observers will deploy. And thereafter, when they observe that the ceasefire’s holding, from all flanks, then the peacekeepers, mainly ECOWAS troops in UNAMSIL, will deploy in our zones." He added that the RUF was in the process of gathering together equipment seized in May from United Nations peacekeepers tin order to return it to UNAMSIL.

Deployment of UNAMSIL troops in rebel-held areas cannot take place until after the end of the initial 30-day ceasefire agreed to on November 10 between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, a UNAMSIL spokesman said on Friday. "There is a period within 30 days where both parties to the conflict will review and make certain that with the monitoring apparatus of UNAMSIL that no one is violating the ceasefire," the spokesman said. "After 30 days, UNAMSIL will certify to the fact that the ceasefire agreement has or has not been adhered to, and then we move in a very cautious, but an expedient manner to deploy peacekeepers to other areas beyond where UNAMSIL is presently deployed."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2800 / 3300 Commercial Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2800 / 3300. Frandia: [$] 2000 / 2250 [£] 2800 / 3250. Continental: [$] 2050 / 2250 [£] 2750 / 3300.

23 November: Britain's Ministry of Defence announced Thursday that it would deploy the headquarters of the 1st Mechanised Brigade to Sierra Leone later this week to command British forces in the country. According to an MoD statement, the 100-member headquarters and support staff will command the 550 British service personnel in Sierra Leone and "continue the ongoing process of advising the government of Sierra Leone on the restructuring of their Ministry of Defence, advising on strategic and operational defence, and providing training to support a whole armed forces concept." The 1st Mechanised Brigade Headquarters, commanded by Brigadier Jonathan Riley, will deploy for a six-month period.

Sierra Leone's High Court handed down a judgment Tuesday of $377,490 in favour of Chatelet Investment Company Limited, which had sued the Sierra Leone government for breach of contract. The court also awarded the company nominal damages of Le 50,000 plus court costs in a case which reportedly concerned arms sales to the Sierra Leone government. Chatelet Investment is affiliated with Rex Diamond Mining Company through common management, but Rex chairman and CEO Serge Muller stressed that there was no corporate link between the two companies. Named as defendants in the proceedings were the Ministries of Justice, Defence and Finance. "Our decision to pursue Chatelet Investment's claim against the Sierra Leone government for breach of contract in the courts of Sierra Leone was made on the basis that we trusted in the judicial process of Sierra Leone," Muller told the Sierra Leone Web. "(The judgment) serves to confirm, finally and conclusively, that Chatelet Investments carried out its contractual obligations professionally and completely and consequently has been awarded its rightful payment." The Sierra Leone government has not announced publicly whether it would appeal the court's decision.

22 November: Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai rejected on Wednesday a call by Liberian President Charles Taylor for all British forces not under UNAMSIL command to be withdrawn from Sierra Leone. "The government of Sierra Leone has a sovereign right to secure the assistance of any state, or groups of states, in fulfilling the security needs of the country," Kaikai told the BBC Network Africa programme. "The U.N. Security Council recognizes the need for the government of Sierra Leone to establish its authority throughout the country, which means that we have the responsibility to enter into any bilateral or multilateral agreement for that purpose. And it is our view that no one can deny the government the right to be able to take such an action." Kaikai also rebuffed a Taylor suggestion that Liberian troops might be deployed in Sierra Leone as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force. "I have not seen anyone in Freetown yet that has said that they will welcome troops from Liberia to come here at all," he said. "As a matter of fact I will say to you that they would not welcome them here in this country — not to join the peacekeeping force in this country at all...If it is determined that receiving troops from Liberia to become part of UNAMSIL will not make it possible for us to be able to provide protection for our citizens, then I believe that the troops from Liberia should wait, and they should be used in some other country, but not in Sierra Leone at this moment."

Sierra Leone is one of nine countries facing serious food shortages as a result of civil conflict, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report released on Wednesday. The report, "Food Outlook," names 32 countries — 20 of them in Africa — which faced food shortages during the period from October 1999 to October 2000, with the number of people affected growing from 52 million to 62 million during that period. "More than 20 million people already face severe food shortages (as a result of civil war), which are likely to persist well into 2001," the report said.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi was quoting as saying Tuesday that a split had developed within the RUF over the signing in Abuja earlier this month of a 30-day cease-fire agreement between the rebels and the Sierra Leone government. "There is division in our camp. About 90 percent of the people do not take instructions from the interim leader (General Issa Sesay), but rather from battleground commander Brigadier-General Kallon," Massaquoi told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding: "Kallon is in support of me and we are all interested in the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone." Massaquoi, the former personal assistant to RUF leader Foday Sankoh, said Sesay had "excommunicated" him and other RUF delegates to the cease-fire talks in Abuja. "(We) cannot now return to RUF-controlled areas for fear of being killed and are stranded in Monrovia," he said. The spokesman claimed Sesay had ordered a group of RUF rebels "to seize all communication sets including a satellite phone from me, saying I should not have signed the agreement in Abuja without first conferring with him." He added that Sesay was also angered by Massaquoi's description of him as the "interim leader" of the RUF in a BBC interview in which he also hinted that the RUF might choose a new political leader before the expiration of the 30-day cease-fire agreement. Massaquoi told the AFP that relatives of the "excommunicated" RUF delegates were being mistreated, and he called for the intervention of ECOWAS, the regional body which sponsored the talks. "We think it is time now for the people of Sierra Leone to have peace," he said. While Massaquoi insisted that Kallon supported the peace process, Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis noted that Kallon controls the area of northern Sierra Leone from which the RUF has launched cross-border attacks on Guinean towns and villages, allegedly at the behest of Guinean dissidents. "In all the other areas, the place is quiet," he said.

Gambian security forces have detained former NPRC chairman Valentine Strasser and may now deport him to Sierra Leone, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The news agency quoted Gambian officials who said Strasser was regarded as a threat to their country's security. A military source told reporters Strasser was found in possession of an "operational card" — a plan designating areas targeted for an attack. The source did not elaborate. The former NPRC leader was reportedly arrested last week by an army patrol at Talinding, nine miles west of Banjul, and held at Yundum Army Barracks before being turned over to the National Intelligence Bureau headquarters for questioning. Strasser first arrived in Banjul from London on October 27 and was deported to Britain six days later. Britain, however, refused to allow him entry, and he was sent back to Gambia, from where the authorities reportedly planned to put him on a November 15 flight to Freetown. According to local press reports, the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner and a Gambian businessman intervened with Gambian immigration officials at the airport to secure his release from custody. 

21 November: The British naval task force which arrived in Freetown just over a week ago has now left Sierra Leone, British military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Richard Eaton told Radio France International on Monday. "The Amphibious Ready Group that was here last week has now left the waters of Sierra Leone and is over the horizon," Eaton said. "But it’s important to remember that the capability that we demonstrated could return to Sierra Leone very rapidly if it was required to do so." Eaton said that any future role for British forces was up to the Sierra Leone government. "At the moment we are here...to train and advise members of the Sierra Leone Army," he said. "And for as long as the government of Sierra Leone wishes to do that, we will continue." Last week the Acting UNAMSIL force commander, Nigerian Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, was highly critical of a show of force mounted by the British troops, complaining that it could undermine the ceasefire signed earlier this month between the government and the RUF. Eaton, however, downplayed reports of tension between UNAMSIL and the British forces. "Our relations with UNAMSIL have always been both professional and cordial, as you would expect," he said. "And it’s important to remember that throughout last week, when the amphibious ready group was in the waters of Sierra Leone, we kept both UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone and the U.N. Headquarters in New York very closely advised of what we were doing."

The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, has described as "stupendous" the progress made in training a new Sierra Leone Army. "What they did need, and I will be the first to concede this, was more logistic support," he told the BBC. "That support was guaranteed in a decision taken in London about seven weeks ago now — the £27 million of extra logistic support on top of what was already coming. Richards described the logistics as everything from uniforms and basic equipment to ammunition and even new helicopters, adding that Britain's aim was to turn the Sierra Leone Army into "the finest army in West Africa" within five years. Richards expressed "dismay" at reported RUF threats to attack British forces in Sierra Leone. "I thought the RUF were taking their pledge towards the cease-fire seriously," he said. "That’s hardly the talk of those that are intent on peace. I’m not actually too worried from a parochial perspective that the RUF should be saying that. We are more than capable of looking after ourselves and will continue to be vigilant, and we’ve proved that throughout our operations in Sierra Leone during this year."

Liberian President Charles Taylor has again called called for British forces to withdraw from Sierra Leone, except as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force. "We have criticised and we say it again today that there is no need for the British forces to be in Sierra Leone outside of UNAMSIL," Taylor said Monday during a ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia. "We call upon the British to withdraw their forces from Sierra Leone...If Britain decides to work outside of UNAMSIL, they are there for mischief and to destabilise the West African sub-region...This is the official position of this government. Britain should join UNAMSIL." In Freetown, a spokesman for the British High Commission as quoted as describing Taylor's remarks "unfortunate and unfounded." "Our troops are in no way in Sierra Leone to take part in combat," the spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday. "What we have done is to give military support to UNAMSIL peacekeepers in Sierra Leone if eventually they are attacked by the RUF." 

Officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Guinea and U.S. State Department officials visited refugees camps in Guinea's Forecariah Prefecture near the border with Sierra Leone, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The team found that health and community services in the area had deteriorated as the result of a lack maintenance and one school had been closed, the spokesman said. An earlier UNHCR visit to the area found that while roadblocks in the area had been dismantled, security had not improved significantly for the Sierra Leonean refugees. Refugees venturing outside the camps continued to be harassed. The officials found that at one camp, refugees were now allowed to cultivate their fields outside the camps with the help of a local agriculture NGO, which should improve the nutritional status of the refugees in the camp, the spokesman said. He added that the UNHCR intends to increase the frequency of field missions, which will include security assessments of the three camps located along the Sierra Leone border. 

Sierra Leone's new government-owned airline, Sierra National Airlines, began weekly direct flights from Freetown to London on November 13, and is planning to operate regional flights into Banjul, Abidjan and Lagos, a spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. Corporate Affairs Manager Al-Hassan Kamara described the company's plane as a Boeing 727-200 Hushkitted Stage III aircraft. At present the airline flies into London on Mondays and returns to Freetown on Tuesdays, providing the only direct air link between Sierra Leone and Europe. 

20 November: A British military spokesman in Sierra Leone has rejected RUF allegations that British troops have deployed in an RUF-held area. On Sunday, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi called the BBC to complain about what he said was the forcible deployment of British soldiers at the town of Kamasudu. "At best the only thing I can say is that Mr. Massaquoi is mistaken," said Lieutenant-Commander Richard Eaton. "The only place where British soldiers are is certainly nowhere near the RUF areas." Eaton told the BBC that if any British soldiers had been in the area described, they would have been working for  UNAMSIL. "The British forces have no activities around the RUF areas," Eaton said. "As I think a lot of people are aware, at the request of government of Sierra Leone British forces are conducting training and giving advice to the Sierra Leone Army, and our activities [are] taking place at a place called Benguema, which is on the Freetown Peninsula."

The Kamajor militia's Chief of Initiations and High Priest in southern Sierra Leone, Allieu Kondua, has been dismissed, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman announced during a radio interview in Bo over the weekend. According to BBC correspondent Richard Margao, Kondua had in recent months refused to take orders from government authorities, and was accused of abuses against civilians, including chiefs. He was also accused of commandeering project vehicles for his own use. "Not long ago the paramount chief and local authorities in Mattru Jong deserted their towns and villages in protest over the conduct of the deposed Kamajor High Priest," Margao reported. "They registered their protest to the Resident Minister in the South, Foday Sesay, and maintained that they would not return to their various towns and villages until the High Priest closed down a Kamajor initiating base which he had established at a village called Gambia." A new High Priest, Karma Lahai Bangura, was named as Kondua's successor, Margao said.

The newly-arrived UNAMSIL force commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, conducted a familiarization tour Sunday of U.N. troop positions at Kenema, Daru and Bo, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Monday. Opande will continue his visit to other areas of U.N. deployment throughout the week. Meanwhile, about 236 Indian personnel and 150 tons of military equipment have been airlifted from Daru to Kenema and Hastings as India's U.N. contingent continues with its plans to pull out of Sierra Leone. As of Monday, the Zambian contingent will deploy at Kenema, the spokesperson said. 

The United Nations has reacted "with dismay" to the observation that children and youths have begun setting up manned checkpoints around the Freetown Peninsula under the guise of repairing the roads, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Monday. The checkpoints — often no more than a crossbar resting on two forked sticks — are typically set up for the purpose of collecting donations from passing drivers for road repair. The spokesperson warned that the checkpoints were illegal and called on the communities and local authorities to "advise these children to desist from such acts. 

19 November: The head of an ECOWAS fact-finding mission said Saturday he believes West African nations should send observers to Guinea's border with Liberia, where recent cross-border attacks have heightened tensions between the two countries. "We now want to have independent observers...people from the ECOWAS region, people with a stake in peace in this sub-region, to watch out for the cause of the trouble and to report to ECOWAS to help ensure that it does not escalate," Ambassador Raph Uwechue told Reuters in Monrovia. The six-member mission is also scheduled to visit Sierra Leone, where RUF rebels and, allegedly, Guinean dissidents have launched attacks on Guinean villages since early September.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi complained Sunday that British troops in Sierra Leone had deployed at a village within rebel-held territory. "There is a village which is our controlled territory by the name of Kamasudu. In the early hours of today the British troops came in there and deployed forcibly," Massaquoi told the BBC. "Our men...were forced to move without firing and reported back to the brigade headquarters. So that’s why we decided to call to make a complaint, because we don’t any war again. We are doing our level to see how the people of Sierra Leone get peace." Massaquoi said the RUF planned to take up the matter with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other West African leaders, as well as with the UNAMSIL commander in Freetown. He added that the RUF viewed the British deployment as a violation of last week's cease-fire agreement between the rebels and the Sierra Leone government, but stressed the RUF had no plans to confront the British forces on the ground. Instead, he insisted, the rebel group would "use all the necessary channels" to put its case across. "But if this continues to occur, we are not going to leave any stone unturned," he said. "We will defend ourselves to the last." Massaquoi dismissed a suggestion that the RUF was afraid of the British troops. "We are not frightened of the British," he said. "We are not West Side Boys. Why should we be frightened of them? The British know that RUF is a force to reckon with in Sierra Leone. We are not afraid of them. All what we are saying is this is the time for the people of Sierra Leone to get peace." He also disputed a suggestion that the majority of Sierra Leoneans supported the British military presence. "I don’t want you to use the word ‘majority of Sierra Leoneans'," he said. "These are those that are supporting President Kabbah presently. He and his supporters want the British to be there so that inasmuch as the war rages on he will continue to be in power. And we doesn’t want that."

18 November: The new UNAMSIL force commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande of Kenya, was welcomed by an honour guard led by Jordanian troops Saturday when he arrived in Sierra Leone to take command of the United Nations peacekeeping force. "My country does not need to have a majority of troops," Opande told reporters after arriving at UNAMSIL headquarters by helicopter. "However, I can assure you that my government hopes to send more Kenyan troops to Sierra Leone." Opande, who has previously served with U.N. peacekeeping missions in Namibia and Liberia, was part of a high-level Kenya delegation to visit Sierra Leone in May after more than 500 U.N. personnel, including some 25 Kenyans, were taken hostage by RUF rebels. But Opande stressed he was willing to "work with everybody here" to end the war in Sierra Leone. "I have trust in all parties in the conflict," he said. Accompanying Opande Saturday was UNAMSIL's new chief of staff, Brigadier-General Alastair Duncan of Britain. Duncan stressed that he would be working within the U.N. force, and not as part of the separate contingent of British troops in Sierra Leone. "As you can see, I have the U.N. blue cap on my head," he said. "In UNAMSIL I have with me 15 British military observers and eight staff officers, including some support staff, so Britain has contributed in its little way to UNAMSIL."

Ten thousand of the 45,000 workers on the government payroll do not exist, Sierra Leone's British Accountant-General, Joe Keeley said Friday night during a visit to Bo and Kenema. Keeley said 4,000 pensioners had also been found to be non-existent. According to the BBC, Keeley said the blame for the ghost workers lay entirely with the accountant-general's office where, he said, corruption had been rife for decades. He pointed to a recent eight million leone scam in that department for which 17 of the 22 accountants had been found guilty and were now awaiting sentencing. But Keeley said that now that the theft of government money had been minimised, all workers would be paid on the 25th of each month. In December, he said, government workers will receive their pay ten days before Christmas.

17 November: Sierra Leone's Parliament adopted a resolution Thursday welcoming the British military presence in Sierra Leone. The motion followed comments by the outgoing acting commander of UNAMSIL, Nigerian Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, who in a BBC interview said Britain's show of force in Freetown was "creating a kind of feeling to the RUF in particular to think that they’re being tricked into signing the ceasefire while there is another plan." British High Commissioner Alan Jones and senior British military officials were present in Parliament as the resolution was approved. "I want to assure you that the people of this country welcome British troops to Sierra Leone," said parliamentarian Raymond Kamara, the maker of the motion. Meanwhile, a UNAMSIL spokesperson attacked the BBC story as "a deception" and not a true reflection of Garba's views. "General Garba’s comment made to the BBC welcomed the British presence in the context of providing training to the Sierra Leone Army, but that he expressed concern on timing of the exercise and its impact on the just concluded ceasefire accord," the spokesperson said. Garba was also quoted as suggesting Britain had more aggressive plans in Sierra Leone than did the U.N., telling the BBC that if the U.K. wanted to end the conflict in Sierra Leone it should contribute at least a battalion of troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force.

Parliament has passed a motion extending the State of Emergency for an additional six months, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Friday.

The newly-appointed UNAMSIL force commander, Kenyan Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, is due to arrive in Freetown on Saturday, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. 

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Sierra Leone December 2-3, where he will meet with UNAMSIL officials and government leaders, a U.N. spokesman said in New York.

Some 22,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned from Guinea since September, with 3,373 having arrived in the Lungi area in the past couple weeks, the United Nations World Food Progrmame (WFP) said Friday. In its latest emergency report, the WFP said it had distributed 24 tons of food to 1,096 malnourished children and their families being cared for at Bumbuna by Medècins sans Frontiéres. Transport continues to be constrained, the agency said, because road access to the town is cut and the WFP helicopter has only a 1.6 ton capacity. In Bo, the WFP distributed 68 tons of food to 50,000 beneficiaries. 11 tons of that amount were distributed to 1,200 persons through supplementary and therapeutic feeding centres operated by Action Contre la Faim. The number of patients in these centres was reported to be growing, with the majority being new internally displaced persons from RUF-held areas. In Kenema, the WFP distributed 112 tons of food to 16,492 school children enrolled in 17 schools which benefit from the emergency school feeding programme. During the past week, the WFP distributed food to a total of 80,513 people in Freetown, Bo and Kenema, the report said.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2,700 / 3200 Commercial Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2800 / 3300. Frandia: [$] 2000 / 2250 [£] 2800 / 3250. Continental: [$] 2050 / 2250 [£] 2750 / 3300.

16 November: The outgoing acting commander of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone, Nigerian Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, has criticised a British show of force this week which featured a beach assault on the Aberdeen Peninsula, jungle training, and two days of live ammunition firing exercises at Hastings. The military display followed the arrival of a British naval task force on Saturday led by the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, one day after the government and the RUF signed a cease-fire agreement in Abuja. "Coming at the time of this cease-fire, it’s creating a kind of feeling to the RUF in particular to think that they’re being tricked into signing the ceasefire while there is another plan," Garba told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. In London, a Ministry of Defence spokesman dismissed Garba's claim, saying the purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate Britain's ability to react quickly in Sierra Leone if the need arose. Garba suggested that Britain had more aggressive plans in Sierra Leone than did the United Nations, and said if the U.K. really wanted to help end the Sierra Leone conflict it should contribute at least a battalion of troops to UNAMSIL.

A two-day national workshop on the Truth and Reconciliation Process was due to open in Freetown on Thursday. The workshop, which was expected to be opened by Vice President Albert Joe Demby, marks the re-launching of start-up process to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, interrupted by the breakdown of the peace process last May. Participating in the workshop will be Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone; a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, the National Forum for Human Rights, non-governmental organisations and United Nations agencies. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the workshop is expected to bring together 150 participants from all parts of Sierra Leone, representing local government, traditional leaders, religious groups, and civil society. 

Sierra Leone will be among 19 countries in West and Central Africa taking part in a second round of synchronized National Immunization Days against Polio, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement. Between November 20 and 24, cross-border inoculations will cover conflict areas of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Health workers will conduct a house-to-house strategy, including in refugee camps, to assure vaccine coverage of approximately ten percent more children than in previous years. The immunization campaign is part of an effort by the WHO, Rotary International, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children's Fund to eradicate polio worldwide by the year 2005.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced Thursday that it had successfully brought back three unaccompanied children from Guinea to be reunited with their parents in Sierra Leone. Two of the children, a brother and a sister aged 15 and 17, were met by their families in Freetown after being flown from Conakry along with an ICRC delegate. The third, an eight year old boy, will be reunited with his parents in Kenema on Monday. All three had spent years in refugees camps in the Gueckedou area. The return of the children marks the first successful cross-border reunification since the ICRC resumed its work in May 1999, the agency said in a statement. The ICRC is currently seeking the parents of 182 more unaccompanied children in Guinea, and will soon be seeking to reunite unaccompanied refugee children in Liberia with their families in Sierra Leone. Two non-governmental organisations, the Adventist Development Refugee Agency in Freetown and Caritas Kenema, will help the children reintegrate into their communities, the statement said. 

UNAMSIL Military Observers from Port Loko met at Batkanu this week with members of the RUF and CDF as part of attempts by United Nations peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire agreed to Friday between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Wednesday. She said plans for similar meetings were underway at Mile 91, Kenema and Daru. Befecadu said that, to date, the U.N. had received no reports of cease-fire violations from any of the parties to the conflict.

A member of the United Nations-appointed panel of experts examining the link between diamond smuggling and arms trafficking in Sierra Leone has called on India to ensure it is not importing "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone. "It should check the credentials of importers of expensive diamonds," said Harjit Sandhu, the panel's Interpol expert, and one of two members of the team currently visiting India. India is home to the world's largest diamond cutting centre, but Indian officials have insisted no diamonds were being imported from conflict areas in Africa. Instead, they stressed that about 99 percent of India's diamonds were imported through diamond trading centres in Antwerp, Israel and London. According to Reuters, the two panel members asked that the Indian government bring records of diamond imports into compliance with standards set up by the United Nations. "We have already made it mandatory for all importers of diamonds to get their suppliers abroad to certify they are not supplying blood diamonds," said Sanjay Kothari, the chairman of India's Gems and Jewelry Export Promotion Council. "The diamonds that come from Sierra Leone are more expensive while Indian industry focuses on lower-end and smaller diamonds."

15 November: RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi lashed out Wednesday at the arrival in Freetown over the weekend of some 500 Royal Marines, calling them mercenaries "under any guise" whose presence in Sierra Leone was "very, very provocative and not in the interests of peace." Massaquoi questioned why the British had chosen to deploy only after the rebel group had agreed to a ceasefire. "We fought for nine years, they never came in to assist the people of Sierra Leone. Why now, when we are talking of peace?," he told the BBC. "We should be talking of giving food, drugs and other essential materials to the people of Sierra Leone now, not to bring in deadly weapons. Above all, nobody have ever won RUF militarily and no one is going to win RUF militarily. We are talking of peace; we have to stick to that." Massaquoi claimed Britain was merely interested in Sierra Leone's diamonds. "(The RUF believes) that they have signed contracts with the government to take us out of the mining area so that they could exploit our minerals again," he said. "That is why they are there; nothing else. Nobody will tell you that the British are in there to assist the people of Sierra Leone. They are there for their own interests." Meanwhile, the British task force is continuing its show of strength this week with live firing exercises Wednesday and Thursday near the Infantry Training Camp at Hastings.

The cease-fire agreed to last week between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF is "relatively" holding, acting UNAMSIL force commander Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba said on Wednesday. "Why I said relatively, since you are still having problem in the Guinean border you will not say everything is totally out, but we have never considered the Guinean problem as UNAMSIL problem," Garba told the BBC. The Nigerian general suggested that rebel fighters idled by the RUF High Command's commitment not to go on the offensive had led to their being recruited by Guinean dissidents in the border area. "I have spoken to the (RUF) leadership," Garba said. "I have spoken to Issa Sesay, I’ve spoken to 'Superman' (Dennis Mingo), of which I said, 'I learnt you’re leading the dissidents in the western border to Guinea,' and he said ‘Look, at the time they made this report I was even a hospital admission because I had an accident. So I couldn’t have been part of it and I want to tell you that RUF is not involved, because our interest is the problem in Sierra Leone. How can we divide our efforts'?"

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) appealed Wednesday for $65 million to help feed hundreds of thousands of refugees and vulnerable persons in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The WFP has been forced to scale back operations for lack of funds even as increased tension in the sub-region has forced tens of thousands more people from their homes. "This year we have had to partially scale back our operations — from school feeding, to food-for-work, to assisting vulnerable groups — because we lacked sufficient funds," said Arnold Vercken, the WFP's Regional Manager for West Africa. Because the agency has received only two-thirds of the funding it requires for the current year, it has been forced to cut rations in half at some of the refugees camps. "This has led to an increase of severe malnutrition among the population," Vercken said. "As it is, in many parts of the region, we can't provide enough food for the hungry. In Sierra Leone, we are working to avert a break in the food supply pipeline, while in Guinea, food may run out." Vercken said the end of the rainy season could mean in increase in fighting. "This will cause even more people to flee their homes and put additional pressure on already scarce resources," he said. Under its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation, the WFP has targeted some 965,000 people in the region for assistance next year, including 573,000 refugees, internally displaced people, malnourished children and other vulnerable groups.

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim has expressed concern about fighting in the border region between Guinea and Liberia which, he warned, could lead to further instability in the Mano River Union countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Salim (pictured right) announced a $300,000 contribution from the OAU Peace Fund to help ECOWAS deploy an observer mission in the border areas. Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki said Tuesday his country was seriously considering a request from countries like Nigeria and Britain to provide support for peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone. "We want to respond positively to that...It is important that peace should come to Sierra Leone," Mbeki said while receiving the credentials of Fode Dabor as Sierra Leone's first High Commissioner to South Africa. Mbeki said he had met President Kabbah at the recent Islamic Conference in Quatar and had discussed the current state of negotiations between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. "There has been too much suffering. The activities of the RUF constitute a great shame for everyone in Africa. The brutalities they carried out are unacceptable," he said.

14 November: Sierra Leonean lawyer Abdul Tejan-Cole is one of five activists who will receive Human Rights Watch's highest recognition Tuesday for his work to promote human rights in Sierra Leone. "Mr. Tejan-Cole condemned abuses by all armed forces — pro-government, as well as rebel factions. He has worked tirelessly in a deadly environment to denounce human rights violations and to turn the international spotlight to Sierra Leone," Human Rights Watch said in announcing the award. A graduate of Fourah Bay College and University College in London, Tejan-Cole practices law as a barrister and solicitor before the High Court of Sierra Leone. He is the immediate past secretary-general of the Sierra Leone Bar Association and the coordinator for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in Sierra Leone. He recently joined the Freetown civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, where he will train human rights monitors to document violations during the period covered by the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Human Rights Watch described him as a "leading human rights lawyer" who was working to bring to justice the perpetrators of abuses committed during Sierra Leone's nine-year civil conflict.

At Bumbuna, one of two government-held towns in northern Sierra Leone, the ceasefire signed last week between the government and RUF rebels appears to be holding, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said on Tuesday. Bumbuna, the site of the still-uncompleted hydro-electric dam, is held by soldiers of the Sierra Leone Army. Doyle said local residents were now able to move freely back and forth from the town to the outlying areas held by the RUF. "It’s very dramatic conditions in Bumbuna," Doyle said by satellite telephone. "There are a lot of people who are malnourished. There are in fact more displaced people living in Bumbuna than there are members of the local population. The population was perhaps had been 8,000 or so, but it’s more than doubled as a result of internally displaced people running away from the activities of the rebels in the outlying areas. There are one or two aid agencies which are helping them; the World Food Programme is distributing some food and Medècins sans Frontiéres are doing clinics and things like that. But they don’t have enough aid and the ceasefire of course will be crucial for them if it can hold so they can go back to farming their land, which they haven’t been able to do because of the activities of the rebels around the perimeter of Bumbuna."

Insurgents have launched a new attack on a Guinean village not far from the border with Sierra Leone, Guinean security forces were quoted as saying. According to sources quoted by Reuters, four persons were killed and three wounded in 14 hours of fighting between security forces and armed men who attacked the village of Sabouia in the Mamou region. The insurgents, believed to be Guinean dissidents, were pushed back early Tuesday, the sources said. 

British Royal Marines who staged a beach landing on the Aberdeen Peninsula on Monday have begun two days of "jungle training" in weapons handling and survival techniques, according to a statement issued by the Joint Task Force. The final phase of the training on Wednesday will involve live firing, river patrols and further reconnaissance, the statement said. The Marines, 42 Commando Group, are part of a naval task force dispatched late last month by Britain as a show of support for UNAMSIL in the wake of the Indian and Jordanian withdrawal from the U.N. peacekeeping force.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has accused Britain of inflaming the war in Sierra Leone, and called on France and the European Union to help solve the conflict. "I think the war in Sierra Leone is a war of diamonds, not because Liberia wants these diamonds — we already have them — but because the British want them," Taylor told the French newspaper Le Monde. He said some British diamond companies based in Vancouver, Canada controlled the diamond mines in Sierra Leone, and that British soldiers were being sent to Sierra Leone to protect the companies' interests. The Liberian government has been accused, most recently by Britain and the United States, of trading arms for diamonds with the RUF, a charge Taylor has denied. The Liberian president is currently on a private visit to France. 

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed last week's ceasefire agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. Council President Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands said members of the Security Council saw the move as "the first step" towards the resumption of the peace process in Sierra Leone. "(ECOWAS and the U.N.) called on the parties — especially the RUF — to honour the commitments made, so that Sierra Leone will get a real chance to find a lasting and durable solution to the conflict," van Walsum said in a statement issued after Tuesday's Council session. "The Security Council will continue to do what it can to help achieve this goal." The ambassador said that given the history of the conflict in Sierra Leone, there was "guarded optimism" on the part of Council members that the ceasefire would hold.

Direct air service between Freetown and the U.K. was re-established this week when, for the first time in a decade, a commercial flight took off from Lungi International Airport for London on Monday. The plane, a Boeing 707 operated by the new state-owned Sierra National Airlines, arrived at Gatwick Airport Monday evening and returned to Freetown Tuesday morning. "News of the service has already brought much joy to the Sierra Leonean community here in Britain and Sierra Leone," Kevin McPhillips, the company's U.K. agent, told the Pan African News Agency. "After much uncertainty, the long-awaited airline operation has finally become a fact. Such a turn of events will help the free movement of people in and out of Sierra Leone."

A Banjul newspaper, the Independent, reported Monday that former NPRC leader Valentine Strasser, refused re-entry into Britain last week after being expelled from Gambia and expected to be deported to Freetown, was still in Banjul. According to the Independent, Strasser was detained at Banjul International Airport on Tuesday and was to be put on a flight to Freetown the following day. But according to the newspaper, Sierra Leone's High Commissioner, Ibrahim Fofana, and Gambian businessman Basirou Jawara intervened with Gambian immigration officials at the airport. Fofana was quoted as saying he had intervened on humanitarian grounds and that, since Strasser was a former head of state and neither a criminal nor wanted in Sierra Leone, that he hoped the Gambian authorities would not deport him. The Deputy British High Commissioner in Banjul, Bharat Joshi, said Strasser had been living illegally in the U.K. since his student visa expired, and that the British government had been preparing to deport him. Chris Poole, the Second Secretary for Chancery/Press and Public Affairs at the British High Commission in Freetown, confirmed to the Sierra Leone Web that Strasser had been denied entry into Britain after being expelled from Banjul. In Gambia, Joshi said Strasser had been issued a ticket from Banjul to Freetown, and that he had been expected to leave Banjul Wednesday on Belview Airlines.

13 November: Insurgents have attacked two villages in Guinea's Kindia region from across the Sierra Leone border, military sources said Monday in Conakry. On person was reportedly killed and others abducted in the town of Yagouya, while at Soumbazaya government forces drove back the attackers. The accounts have not been independently verified. According to BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla, the first attack took place at 3:00 a.m. and fighting continued late into Monday morning. The latest incursion coincides with the arrival in Guinea of an ECOWAS team charged with laying the groundwork for a possible ECOWAS observer force along Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. "The eight-man team of senior Nigerian and Malian officials is presently in the Macenta region near Guinea’s border with Liberia," Sylla said. "Later, the officers are due to go onto the Sierra Leonean side of the border from where Guinean security sources say these attacks were launched." The attacks also follow a decision Saturday by Guinean President Lansana Conte to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for November 26, citing security reasons.

British troops put on a show of force in Freetown Monday aimed at sending a message to the RUF and at the same time displaying support for United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. According to a Joint Task Force statement, an amphibious force from the 42 Commando Group Royal Marines from the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean staged a beach landing exercise on the Aberdeen Peninsula. The landing itself was supported by Seaking helicopters, while Chinook battlefield support helicopters delivered 105-mm light artillery guns and all-terrain vehicles. Lynx attack helicopters provided air cover. In the capital, convoys of British military vehicles rumbled through the streets. British spokesman Colonel Richard Eaton explained that the exercise was designed to show Britain's ability to support United Nations missions throughout the world, including Sierra Leone. "What we have said is that if any of the U.N. missions were to be in trouble anywhere in the world, then the capability of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force is such that they can deploy in a hurry to be of assistance, and that’s what’s happening now," he told the BBC.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone will hold discussions with Sierra Leone government and RUF officials on implementing the ceasefire agreement signed between the two sides in Abuja on Friday. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, speaking to reporters in Freetown after his return from the Abuja talks, said the agreement's ban on "illegal importation of arms, ammunitions and other weapons of war" did not apply to arms legally imported by the Sierra Leone government. "The ECOWAS Executive Secretary carefully explained to the RUF that the international community recognised the existing government of Sierra Leone and its responsibilities, which might include the discharge of importation of arms, and such arms and can only be bound by the ECOWAS agreement on the importation of small arms within the sub-region," he said. "So as far as illegal importation is concerned, that cannot be presumed to be a reference to the Government of Sierra Leone." Adeniji also rejected the RUF's contention that British troops in Sierra Leone were mercenaries who must be required to leave under the terms of last year's Lomé Peace Accord. "The government of Sierra Leone also being recognised by the international community has the authority to conclude any bilateral arrangement with any other country, and it is within that context that both ECOWAS and the United Nations views the presence of the British troops in Sierra Leone," he said. "They do not fall under the internationally-accepted definition of ‘mercenaries’."

More than 22,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned home from Guinea since cross-border attacks by insurgents in Sierra Leone and Guinea intensified in September, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). About 1,100 returnees are being cared for at the Waterloo Transit Centre outside of Freetown, while the UNHCR has integrated some 9,000 more into 40 villages on the Lungi Peninsula and repatriated about 400 more to safe areas of origin. According to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), the UNHCR said it had provided $442,000 to the Sierra Leone government through the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation for the reintegration of returning refugees from Guinea. The money is meant to increase self-sufficiency through farming, fishing, micro-credit schemes, and short courses for women in gara dying and soap making. The UNHCR has brought a consignment of relief supplies into the country in case there is a sudden influx of refugees from Guinea. A second transit centre is under construction at Jui to respond to any emergency situation caused by a large number of returning refugees.

Bangladesh accused the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council Monday of not pulling their weight when it came to contributing to U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world. During debate on a resolution to reform peacekeeping operations, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury argued that the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia should each be required to contribute five percent of peacekeeping personnel to missions they authorise in the Council. "This symbolic contribution would, besides enhancing operational capacity, demonstrate the united strength of the whole of the international community behind each of the U.N. peacekeeping operations," Chowdhury said. "We have been putting emphasis on the need to have well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated troops for the success of peacekeeping operations. Our question is where these troops come from unless all of us chip in?'' Bangladesh is a major contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions. It currently has one battalion in Sierra Leone and has offered to provide two more to replace the departing Indian contingent. Outside the Council chambers, representatives of the permanent member nations rejected the Pakistani proposal. "All member states should consider what they can contribute, not just some, not just those with a large capacity," said British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock. U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham (pictured right), who visited Sierra Leone last month as part of the Security Council mission to West Africa, repeated his country's position that the current system of financing peacekeeping efforts put a disproportionate burden on the United States. "We are making progress but slowly,'' he said. "But I am confident we will find a fair solution this year."

12 November: A British naval task force has arrived off the coast of Freetown, the BBC reported on Sunday. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon ordered the warships to Sierra Leone in late October as a visible sign of support of the Sierra Leone government after India and Jordan announced they were withdrawing their troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force. The task force, led by the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, also carries a rapid-reaction force of 500 Royal Marines. A British military spokesman was quoted as saying the Marines would back up U.N. peacekeepers, allowing them to deploy quickly to monitor the ceasefire signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on Friday.

The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, told the BBC Sunday that Britain's intent in deploying a naval task force off the coast of Freetown was to "remind the rebels that Britain meant business here."  "I think the imminent arrival of (the task force) — and that was known to them — probably was a factor in coming to the peace table a little earlier than we’d anticipated," Richards said, adding: "The record of the RUF in these ceasefire negotiations in the past has not been that good, and I think it won’t do them any harm or indeed other parties to the conflict to realise that should it go wrong Britain isn’t going away." Richards dismissed accusations by RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi that the British soldiers were mercenaries who should leave Sierra Leone. "I’d anticipate exactly that sort of response," he said. "We think they are — and I suspect rightly — worried about our intentions, and as I said, it’s a timely reminder to them that they must take these things seriously." Richards said Britain would continue to focus on training Sierra Leonean troops for the restructured army, and would also help to facilitate the deployment of U.N. troops in the east of the country to implement the ceasefire. Richards expressed confidence in U.N. peacekeepers and downplayed the effect of previous problems experienced by the U.N. force earlier this year. "They’ve learned a lot from there, and don’t forget there is a new commander, a new British chief of staff coming here, with clearer direction from New York," he said. "We think that we can help them, by perhaps substituting SLA troops for U.N. troops in certain areas, other things like that, to at least allow them to start implementing it, to test the RUF’s sincerity. And I think that once that process has started it should accelerate, and it might well encourage other nations to come back into the UNAMSIL structure and then begin to take the process right across to the diamond areas."

A Sierra Leonean living in the United States was among those honoured for their humanitarian work Saturday at a ceremony in Washington's National Cathedral. Dr. Ibrahim M. Fofanah, a native of Madina in northern Sierra Leone, was one of 37 persons inducted into the Order of St. Stanislas, an international charitable order. He was recognised for his humanitarian work in Sierra Leone and for his financial support for humanitarian efforts in Africa, as well as for his work with Saudi Arabia on behalf of the suffering Muslims of Eastern Europe. In a written statement, President Clinton hailed the inductees for the "energy and dedication" they had shown in working to provide solutions to the many challenges facing families and communities. "With your active involvement, you have brought hope and help to countless people in need," he said. "Your work is going a long way toward healing and renewing your communities, inspiring all who seek to improve our world." Fofanah is currently Senior Executive Assistant for Public Affairs to Prince Mohamed bin Faisal at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

11 November: A 30-day ceasefire agreed Friday between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF appears to be holding, Reuters reported on Saturday quoting military sources. The ceasefire went into effect one minute before midnight on Friday. Meanwhile, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured left), who led the government delegation at the talks, told the BBC that the question of whether the RUF could be trusted didn't enter into the government's decision to sign the ceasefire agreement. "One can only hope," he told the BBC. "The signs are there now which will form the basis for such a hope. There has been a lot of statements of commitments by the new leadership of the RUF that’s emerging. So on the basis of that we can hope that we’ve done today will bear fruit." RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi (right), speaking to the BBC in Abuja, said Friday's meeting dealt "basically with the cessation of hostilities," but he said the RUF would raise political issues such as the freeing of RUF detainees and the role of British forces in Sierra Leone when the two sides meet again in 30 days. Massaquoi said the RUF had agreed to allow peacekeepers into rebel-held areas, but that peace monitors would be sent in first to ensure it was safe for them to deploy. "Basically in our own zone we made recommendations that ECOWAS peacekeepers under the United Nations have to deploy in our own zones," he said. "We are not dictating, but to avert any other tension that may create between troops already that have had conflict with the RUF. So we are very sure that within the 30 days period ECOWAS leaders may have raised these troops and will be on the ground by that time, then full deployment will be on the ground." Massaquoi said that when the two sides meet again next month, the RUF will insist that British forces leave Sierra Leone. "I categorically made it clear that they are mercenaries, and under the terms of the Lomé Agreement all mercenaries should leave Sierra Leone," he said. "It is clearly stated in the Lomé Agreement that all mercenaries of any guise, if you are not a fighting force, in the Sierra Leone Army which is on the side of the government and the RUF rebels on the side of the RUF, then you must be a United Nations peacekeeper. So if you doesn’t fall in any of these three categories you are classed as a mercenary." He said the RUF also objected to Britain's role in training the restructured Sierra Leone Army, calling it a violation of that provision of the peace accord which envisaged a role for the RUF in the new military force. "We categorically made it clear to the body that the training was to be done after the disarmament," he said. "We in the RUF could play a significant role in the new national army. But if they are training now, then the British also have been helping the government violate the Lomé Agreement." The RUF spokesman insisted that the rebel movement was united "under the military leadership" of General Issa Sesay, but he hinted that a new political leader for the rebel movement could be chosen as early as next month. "Perhaps when we meet on the political matters you will understand who will be the political leader of our political party," he said. "I cannot tell you (who that will be) now because that has to be a consensus of all the political members and all the RUF military high commands."

REACTION to the ceasefire agreement: SIERRA LEONE GOVERNMENT STATEMENT: "Government wishes to assure the public that it is determined to ensure that the agreement is scrupulously implemented and will insist on full compliance with all its provisions. Government also wishes to assure the public that as a result of past experience, it has no intention of relaxing its guard at this time." UNAMSIL SPOKESWOMAN HIRUT BEFECADU: "We feel that this is a good stepping stone towards (the) peace process. The role that has been attributed to UNAMSIL is a very responsible one because first and foremost we are supposed to be monitoring the ceasefire for this limited 30 days. Now we feel that the United Nations and the international community at large will wait for concrete measures by the RUF to show their good faith in implementing the peace agreement that has been signed in Abuja." BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY ROBIN COOK: "I welcome the ceasefire agreement brokered by the U.N. and ECOWAS and signed earlier today in Abuja. In May the RUF was about to launch another brutal attack on Freetown. Six months later, as a direct result of robust political and military pressure led by the U.K., the RUF has signed an unconditional 30-day ceasefire...While this is a very positive development we are not complacent. This is not the time to drop our guard. The RUF has a history of failing to live up to its commitments. We will be watching its actions very closely. The real proof of the rebels' commitment to peace will be whether they give up control of the diamond fields." COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY DON MCKINNON: "(The ceasefire offers) "a real chance for Sierra Leone to find a lasting and durable solution to this longstanding and tragic conflict...At this critical stage, Sierra Leone urgently needs the full support of the international community. The ordinary people of Sierra Leone deserve an opportunity to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and to be able to look forward to a future without fear." BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER OF STATE FOR AFRICA PETER HAIN: "(The ceasefire) could be a very significant breakthrough. Any ceasefire agreed with the RUF has to be treated with considerable caution, but does reflect the success of the strategy that Britain has helped to drive forward since May."

10 November: Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators meeting in Abuja have signed a 30-day unconditional ceasefire agreement, to take effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday. The agreement followed a day of talks between the two sides Friday, brokered by ECOWAS. "We have agreed on all aspects of the ceasefire and the immediate return of all weapons seized by RUF from peacekeepers," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told reporters following the talks. According to a government statement, the rebels must also release all government troops they are holding, and open up areas under their control to U.N. peacekeepers who will monitor compliance with the ceasefire. In Freetown, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer welcomed the agreement as "a major breakthrough," and said he believed the RUF was finally serious about peace. Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, who headed the RUF delegation to the talks, accused the government of reneging on last year's Lomé Peace Accord. "(They) didn't take it seriously...and they didn't implement what they said," he claimed. "Therefore what I'm saying is that we are going to use (the ceasefire) as a stepping stone." He added that he could  "give no guarantees it meant the end of the war." Kposowa told reporters the RUF did not demand the release of their leader, Foday Sankoh, as part of the agreement. "The release of Foday Sankoh is a very, very important of the RUF, but for now let us forget about that," he said. "What our country needs most is a ceasefire. Once there is peace we can then discuss other issues...Let's see whether there will be (success). So long as there is confidence, then we have to do something after the 30 days." Kposowa refused to say, however, whether the RUF was prepared to relinquish its control of the diamond mining areas in the east of the country. "Why are they (the government) curious now? Instead of finding solutions to the problem, they are telling us about diamond, diamond, diamond. I don't think that's the problem,'' he said. Under the terms of the agreement, U.N. peacekeepers will deploy only after "UNAMSIL is satisfied that the ceasefire is observed by all parties."

Earlier Friday, face-to-face talks got underway in Abuja between representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. According to the BBC Abuja correspondent [Harouna Behargo], the two sides were discussing an agenda which included the restructuring of the Sierra Leone Army, the free movement of all people in Sierra Leone, the return of all weapons seized from U.N. peacekeepers, the ceasefire, the RUF political agenda, "and then disarmament, then the full-blown negotiations." The meeting, being held under the auspices by ECOWAS, was expected to end by 2:00 p.m. local time but has been extended at least until evening. The Sierra Leone government delegation is being led by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa while, according to the United Nations, RUF Chief of Administration Colonel Jonathan Kposowa heads a seven-member RUF delegation which reportedly includes RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi. 

The United States Justice Department has announced a one-year extension in Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sierra Leonean nationals residing in the United States who are currently covered under the programme. The 30-day re-registration period will remain in effect until December 11. Late registration will be allowed only for good cause. Only those already granted TPS status and who have continually resided in the United States since November 9 of last year are eligible for the extension. The Justice Department estimates that some 5,000 Sierra Leonean nationals will be eligible for re-registration.

The phased withdrawal of Jordanian and Indian peacekeeping peacekeeping troops began during the past week, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. While details were not available, the spokesperson said JORBATT I at Waterloo-Songo would be the first to pull out and its area of responsibility taken over by NIBATT 5 and 6 (Nigerian troops). JORBATT 2, located at Masiaka, will be replaced by troops from the Kenyan battalion. At Daru, the Ghanaian battalion that was at Kenema will replace Indian Battalion 1, and the Zambian battalion currently at Lungi will be moved to Kenema. "The advance redeployments and phased withdrawal has commenced however none of the peacekeepers have left the shores of Sierra Leone yet," the spokesperson said. "These general movements will ensure that no vacuum is created to jeopardize the current security situation in UNAMSIL positions."

Outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata criticised the U.N. Security Council Friday for often dispatching peacekeeping troops only when it is too late to protect refugees or even U.N. staff. She also said the U.N. moved too slowly and was too inflexible in expanding operations across borders to aid trapped refugees. "As we have said many times, the nature of war has changed, and in spite of discussions on wider approaches, peace operations continue to be country-based, and reflect neither the internal nor the regional nature of many of today's wars,'' Ogata said. Currently, Guinea has requested security aid to help deal with hundreds of thousands of refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the U.N. has peacekeeping troops. "Beyond Sierra Leone’s borders, however, the only presence of the international community, amidst half a million refugees, is humanitarian,'' Ogata said. "The conflict, in simple words, may become regional, but the response, as I have said, continues to be country-based.''

A Banjul newspaper, the Independent, reported Friday that former NPRC leader Valentine Strasser was refused permission to re-enter Britain after being expelled from Gambia earlier this month. Strasser had allegedly entered the country in late October without the knowledge of the Gambian authorities. According to the Independent, Strasser was returned to the Gambia by Britain because he did not possess the proper documents for entry into that country. The newspaper quoted a senior official at the British High Commission in Banjul as saying that Strasser would be returned to Freetown. A second Banjul newspaper, however, suggested that Strasser had never been deported from Gambia at all. The Point quoted Sierra Leonean High Commissioner Ibrahim Morikeh Fofanah as saying he had intervened with the Gambian Immigration Authority to prevent Strasser's expulsion. "Strasser is here, the Gambia is a friendly country. Strasser was a former head of State of Sierra Leone, and he is not a criminal," Fofanah was quoted as saying. "Strasser is not on a wanted list by the Sierra Leone government as he has committed no crime. He is here because he has some friends whom he wants to stay with for a while. The Gambia and Sierra Leone have very excellent relationship and people should not try to smear the good name of the Government of the Gambia by this wild talk of deporting Valentine Strasser."

The DDR camp at Lungi was officially closed on November 8 and the last ex-combatant there discharged, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. The camp will be handed over to the Sierra Leone Army on Saturday. Meanwhile, the spokesperson said two RUF child combatants were disarmed at the Wilberforce Reception Centre on Wednesday and, along with one unarmed AFRC child combatant, were transported to the Lakka Child Camp.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2050 / 3200 Commercial Bank: [$] 1900 / 2250. [£] 2800 / 3300. Frandia: [$] 2000 / 2250 [£] 2500 / 3250. Continental: [$] 1900 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 3300.

9 November: A scheduled one-day meeting in Abuja between representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the RUF has been pushed back to Friday due to the late arrival of the RUF delegation, according to ECOWAS Director of Information Dr. Adrienne Diop. Diop said the RUF delegation had contacted the ECOWAS Secretariat to explain they were having difficulties in finding transportation to Abuja. "The meeting was scheduled to take place today between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government, but due to logistical problems it has been postponed until tomorrow morning. So they were expecting the RUF to arrive here in Abuja this evening," she said, adding that the Nigerian government had dispatched an aircraft to Monrovia to pick up the RUF delegation. Meanwhile, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi (pictured right) told Reuters during a stopover in Monrovia that the RUF was prepared to work with the government to revive last year's Lomé Peace Accord. "We are ready to give peace a chance for the people of Sierra Leone, but we cannot allow ourselves to remain destitute on the streets of Sierra Leone," Massaquoi said. He added that the RUF was going to the talks with an open mind. "We want that accord to be implemented," he said. "We want the ECOWAS committee on Sierra Leone to go into the accord with the representatives of the parties to adjudicate where the faults lie in its implementation." Massaquoi said the RUF was ready to disarm "with conditions," but he did not elaborate. "We are ready for the peacekeepers to deploy," he said. "If anyone thinks that he can defeat the RUF militarily, he will be making a sad mistake...All sides fought and there was no winner — the solution...should be a political settlement. If the government in Freetown wants to neglect the political aspect of it, then it will be difficult." Massaquoi called for the release of imprisoned RUF officials, including RUF leader Foday Sankoh who has been imprisoned since May. "We intend to bring Sankoh's case to the meeting in Nigeria. He has been in detention for six months," he said. But Massaquoi added that no one was irreplaceable. "He is the founding member (but) the RUF has a collective leadership," he said. "We can still run it. But we want Sankoh to be released." Massaquoi said that the acting RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, would eventually be replaced. "General Issa Sesay is our interim leader and when we are ready we will elect our permanent leader — but I am not prepared to give names," he said. The RUF spokesman insisted that the rebel movement was ready for peace. "The best thing we can work for now is to work for peace and put all our political differences aside and give the people of Sierra Leone a chance," he said. "We are fighting against corruption, nepotism, so that the future generations will have a good role to play in Sierra Leone, good infrastructure, good education...We believe our cause is genuine." In a separate interview with BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, Massaquoi expressed concern over the government's position that it was not prepared to discuss political issues with the RUF, but he said he believed ECOWAS would pressure the Sierra Leone government to make concessions. "We are only disturbed a bit because of the pronouncement made by the government that we are not to discuss anything like having our people released from prison. We should not bring any talk like them to stand down," he said. "It’s rather unfortunate, but we are going on the meeting with an open mind. But we believe that with the two meetings we had with ECOWAS leaders in Liberia, here, they are going to put pressure on all sides so that the people of Sierra Leone will get peace." When Paye-Layleh asked whether the RUF was planning to demand the release of Foday Sankoh, Massaquoi replied: "It may not likely be so. We will also like to know why Foday Sankoh is up to now detained not been tried because the government have claimed that they are detaining him and under the constitution of Sierra Leone you cannot detain a man for the past eight months, seven months or so, without being tried. So that is a human rights violation and at the same time violating the very constitution the government pretends to be operating under."

Friday's ECOWAS-sponsored meeting between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF is aimed at reviving peace talks between the two sides after the appointment of a new acting RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, ECOWAS Information Minister Dr. Adrienne Diop told Radio France International on Thursday. Diop downplayed statements by the Sierra Leone government that it was not prepared to discuss political concessions with the rebel group, as well as reported RUF demands as the price of disarmament. "We have set a framework which is going to be proposed tomorrow, and the government of Sierra Leone was part of that of putting together that framework of discussion, so we cannot preempt what is going to come out of tomorrow’s meeting," she said, adding: "So far the RUF has not made any request that we know of, and I cannot speak for the government of Sierra Leone." Despite reports of divisions within the RUF, Diop insisted that the delegation would speak for the entire rebel movement. "It will be representative of whole of RUF," she said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has expressed opposition presence of British troops in Sierra Leone who were not there as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force. "We are very concerned about the large presence of British Forces outside of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone," Taylor told reporters late Wednesday at Roberts International Airport upon his return from a trip to Libya and Burkina Faso. "We have raised these concerns in the sub-region. If they were part of UNAMSIL, good." There are currently some 400 British troops in Sierra Leone who to train the country's restructured army, and Britain has also dispatched a naval rapid reaction task force which will deploy off Sierra Leone's coast for a limited time in November. In July and August, Taylor accused Britain of arming dissidents who launched attacks into Liberia's northern Lofa County — a charge the British government rejected.

Guinean government forces have repeatedly bombarded villages on both sides of its border with Sierra Leone which it believes to be dissident bases, according to Guinean villagers who fled the border area. The villagers, talked to reporters in Conakry, told the BBC that over 15 villages had been destroyed in Guinea during the bombing campaign, and that towns in Sierra Leone had been attacked as well. "As a result, many residents from the various villages in the area have fled to the island of [Kabak]," said BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla. "Diplomatic sources here confirm that Guinean security forces have crossed into Sierra Leone’s Kambia District in pursuit of suspected rebels, and have launched many aerial attacks from the Forecariah region inside Guinean territory. According to these sources a number of rebel bases have been successfully targeted and a large but unspecified number of rebels have been killed." Sylla quoted Sierra Leonean refugees who left Forecariah Prefecture on Wednesday as saying that Sierra Leonean border villages near the Guinean town of Pamelap had been completely destroyed. "Thousands of people have reportedly fled further inland into the countryside or are making their way to the nearby Lungi area," he said.

Sierra Leone has welcomed the conclusions of the so-called Brahimi Report which are aimed at improving United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world, but expressed concern Thursday over a recommendation that the Security Council should leave in draft form resolutions authorising peacekeeping forces with sizeable troop levels until the secretary-general had firm commitments of troops and other critical mission support elements. "It is relevant to ask: In critical situations such as Sierra Leone, what happens in the interim while the secretary-general, for want of a better phrase, goes shopping for troops and logistical supplies from potential contributors?," Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs, Ambassador Sylvester Rowe (pictured left), asked the U.N. Special Political and Decolonization Committee. "What happens in the interim, for instance, when the security of the state and the protection of civilian population from rebel atrocities are of serious or immediate concern?" The Brahimi Report stressed that the targeting of civilians in armed conflict and the denial of humanitarian access to war-affected populations may constitute threats to international peace and security and thus trigger Security Council action, Rowe noted. "Under the Brahimi Report recommendation, civilian populations under threat may have to wait for months for protection while the secretary-general continues knocking on the doors of potential troop contributors before the Council takes action to deploy U.N.-led forces," he said. "As we have seen in many instances, including Sierra Leone, this waiting period only serves the interest of the perpetrators or aggressors, and often prolong the conflicts." Rowe urged that whenever possible, U.N. peacekeeping operations should be supported by rapid deployment and reaction capabilities. He also suggested that Sierra Leone might well serve as a testing ground for the Brahimi Report's recommendations. "All the elements of peace operations defined in the report are present: namely, conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building," he said. "Sierra Leone is a country in conflict. It is host to a peacekeeping operation. It is also in a post-conflict state, and ripe for sound peace-building and peacemaking strategies. Because of the current volatile situation in the West African sub-region, it could also benefit from conflict prevention measures under the auspices of the United Nations or through regional and sub-regional organizations such as the Mano River Union, ECOWAS, and the OAU, with the support of the international community."

8 November: Acting RUF leader General Issa Sesay will not attend ECOWAS-sponsored talks between the Sierra Leone government and RUF rebels scheduled to begin Thursday in Abuja, according to National Security Adviser Brigadier Kelly Conteh. Conteh described the upcoming talks as "technical," Reuters said. The five-member government delegation is being led by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, and includes Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Nigeria, Joe Blell.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Wednesday banning the import of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds into Russia, Itar-Tass reported. The decree, which was enacted to implement a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing a global embargo on uncut Sierra Leonean gemstones, will take effect on November 17 and run through 5 January 2002. The decree noted that after the U.N. Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone reports to the Security Council that a new system to authenticate the origin of diamonds from Sierra Leone is fully enforced, the ban will no longer apply to diamonds accompanied by a certificate issued by the Sierra Leone government.  

Two candidates with ties to Sierra Leone have lost their bids for election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrat Michael Kelleher (pictured left), a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Ngelehun, Badjia Chiefdom, received 47 percent of the vote in Illinois' 15th District. Oregon Republican Brian Boquist (right), the executive vice president of International Charter Incorporated (ICI) which provides logistics for peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, was also projected to have lost his race. Boquist received 43 percent of the vote with 87 percent of the precincts reporting. In the state of Missouri, the son of a former U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone narrowly won a Senate seat even though he died last month in a plane crash. Governor Mel Carnehan's death came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. The new governor announced that, if Carnehan won, he would appoint Carnehan's widow in his stead.

7 November: Attorney-General and Justice Minister Solomon Berewa (pictured left) will head the five-member Sierra Leone government delegation in talks with the RUF in Abuja this week, the BBC reported on Tuesday. Berewa also led the government delegation at the Lomé peace talks last year. Joe Blell, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Nigeria, will also be a member of the delegation. Meanwhile, a statement published Tuesday in the pro-government Vision newspaper said the government was not prepared to make concessions unless the RUF demonstrated a commitment to the disarmament process, according to BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana. "(The statement) said that any future participation of the RUF in governance would significantly depend on this factor," Fofana told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "According to the government’s position statement, the RUF must allow free movement of civilians, aid workers and peacekeepers and also the establishment of government agencies and authority throughout the country." Fofana said the rebel group was being offered another chance of joining the political process ahead of next year's elections. "Rebel soldiers and other combatants who wish to be reintegrated into the restructured national army will be encouraged to do so after they disarm," Fofana said. During a stopover in Conakry on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sama Banya told reporters the government was not attending the meeting to renew talks with the rebels, but to remind the RUF of its obligations under the Lomé Peace Accord. "They've reneged on several points of the Lomé Accord and that's what we are going to let them know in frank terms," Banya said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sama Banya has described as "near catastrophic" the plight of some 1,500 refugees crowded into the Sierra Leone Embassy compound in Conakry. The refugees first sought protection at the embassy in September, when President Lansana Conte unleashed a wave of harassment against foreigners in Guinea, accusing them of aiding insurgents who had launched cross-border attacks on Guinean territory. Banya, who was on his way to an Islamic conference in Qatar, is the first minister to have visited the refugees since the crisis began two months ago. "It’s a level of human suffering that I haven’t seen for a long time," he told BBC correspondent Alhassan Sylla. "I’ve been to refugee camps. I have never seen a situation as I have witnessed in this compound. Children of all ages — you can see for yourself there’s hardly room for anybody to walk through without treading or falling over people." Banya denied that his government's response to the humanitarian crisis had been "lukewarm," but he declined to criticise the Guinean authorities. "What all people want is a lot of blaring about ‘this is what the Guineans are doing to us, this is what this person is doing to us'," he said. "That is not going to solve the problems. The problem is the suffering of the people and that is what is taking government’s attention. We sent a boat here to collect these people. It made 22 trips so far and we are continuing this, so that I’m hoping that by tomorrow evening the present lot will have been taken away to Freetown." Banya insisted that despite the plight of the refugees, relations between Sierra Leone and Guinea remained good. "I don’t really think we must spend energy on what Guinea has done or what Sierra Leone has done," he said. "We can look after that and we are looking after that very well. But let us just try and get the situation here, the situation on the ground, improved considerably, and then we can talk about other matters."

The Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society, in conjunction with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), conducted a rabies vaccination programme in Freetown over the weekend. "Vaccines costing about $9,000 were provided by WSPA and volunteers drawn in to help carry out the exercise," said BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana, who told Network Africa that close to 700 pet dogs, cats and even monkeys had received vaccinations. WSPA spokesman Brian Faulkner, who participated in the exercise, stressed that the biggest vector for passing on rabies to people was from dogs. "The dogs contract the disease, and then they can bite someone and then humans can get it," he said. "The World Health Organisation thereby says that, as a form of rabies control, at least 70 percent of the dog population needs to be vaccinated annually in order to try to control the spread of rabies, and that is something that we’re trying to achieve over a period of time in Sierra Leone."

An Indian peacekeeper drowned Sunday at Lumley Beach in Freetown, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. Lance Corporal S.S. Babu of the Indian Aviation refueling unit arrived in Sierra Leone in September and had been in the country for just over a month.

Britain's goal in sending forces to Sierra Leone is to prevent further rebel atrocities in the war-torn country, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told lawmakers on Tuesday. "I went to Sierra Leone this summer and I visited a camp for the amputees where I saw two thousand people who had had arms or legs lopped off by the rebels, including babies who are unable to crawl before they had their arms lopped off by the crazed rebels," Cook said in response to a question put to him in Parliament. "My objective in Sierra Leone is in order to try and prevent anybody else having their arms lopped off by the rebels...We will pursue with determination our goal of a Sierra Leone free from fear and rid of the rebels. Britain is already making a bigger military commitment to Sierra Leone than any other Western nation."

41 ex-combatants have been released from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Lungi, bring the total number to 236, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Sierra Leone for two days around December 2, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Monday. Annan will be accompanied by his wife and senior U.N. officials.

Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa received the King of Spain International Journalism Prize Tuesday for his February 2000 report "Regreso al Infierno de Sierra Leona" (Return to Hell in Sierra Leone), which viewed the Sierra Leone conflict through the eyes of child soldiers. Espinosa, who writes for the Madrid newspaper El Mundo, was briefly held captive by rebels during the January 1999 attack on Freetown.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has closed the Monrovia office of his Atlanta-based Carter Center, citing a climate of fear and intimidation and the "destructive" role Liberia has played in conflicts in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea. "Liberia is a country where reports of serious human rights abuses are common, where journalists, human rights organizations and political activists work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and where there is little political space for meaningful democratic debate,'' Carter said in a letter Monday to President Charles Taylor. Carter said the Liberian government had "made it increasingly difficult" for the centre to work for democracy and the rule of law in the country.

6 November: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to appoint a Nigerian officer, Major-General Martin Luther Agwai, as Deputy Commander of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone, a spokesman said in New York. Agwai, 51, from Kachia in Kaduna State, holds a diploma in public administration and an MS in National Resource Strategy, but has spent his career in the military. He was promoted to brigadier-general in 1996 and to major-general in December 1999. Agwai lists his sports interests as "squash rackets, football and hockey" and his hobbies as hiking and photography. He replaces Brigadier-General Mohammed A. Garba, also a Nigerian.

RUF rebels from the diamond-mining town of Tongo Field attacked the nearby village of Giehun early Sunday morning, BBC correspondent Sulaiman Momodu reported from Kenema. Momodu said thousands of civilians from the Tongo Field area had sought refuge in Kenema.

A U.N. spokesman has denied that Nigerian peacekeeping troops fired their weapons Sunday to disperse rioting youths in the east end of Freetown. "The impression we have is that the U.N. troops were basically trying to restore order. They say they did not fire their weapons," said Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Eckhard also insisted that it was Sierra Leone Army soldiers and not police who had gone to the scene of protests at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning. He acknowledged, however, that UNAMSIL had not yet provided a complete report on the incident. The U.N. claim contradicts accounts by witnesses who spoke to the Associated Press, the BBC and Radio France International on Sunday. On Monday, Police Inspector-General Keith Biddle told the AP that both U.N. peacekeepers and police had fired their guns. Reporter Kelvin Lewis, in a report filed with RFI, quoted some of the demonstrating youths as saying Sierra Leone Army solders wearing red berets had opened fire along Goderich Street, but that U.N. troops had moved in swiftly to stop them. On Monday, Army Media Relations Director Major John Milton confirmed that some soldiers had accompanied Acting Chief of Defence Staff Colonel Tom Carew to the scene during his unsuccessful attempt to dissuade the youths from rioting, but said Carew had returned to headquarters and never issued orders for the military to deploy in the area.

Representatives of the ECOWAS Coordination Mechanism will meet in Abuja Tuesday with representatives of the Sierra Leone government and United Nations officials prior to Thursday's scheduled talks between the government and the RUF, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, will also attend the meeting.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed alarm at a $33 million shortfall in the $90 million in funds pledged by donor nations to assist war-affected persons in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea for the 18 month period which ends in December. If the balance of the money is not received, the consequences could be disastrous, as the already serious problems in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been made worse by fighting in Guinea, the WFP's West African Director said in a press conference. "This has thrown all the figures up in the air, and the situation was already tragic," Arnold Vercken told reporters in Abidjan. "Some 50,000 people have been displaced within Guinea, which is a new phenomenon." He said that the agency had been targeting about 965,000 people for assistance in the three countries: 520,000 in Sierra Leone, 300,000 in Guinea, and 145,000 in Liberia. The absence of the promised funds means that the WFP has already scaled back school feeding and food-for-work programmes. Distributions to vulnerable populations will also have to be cut if the money is not forthcoming, Vercken said. He disclosed that the WFP had drawn up a budget of $65 million to assist the same populations next year. So far, only $11 million has been pledged.

Two Italian missionary priests abducted by RUF rebels in September during a cross-border attack on the Guinean town of Pamelap have been freed from detention within their parish of Madina "but for reasons of security they cannot be allowed to leave," Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi (left) told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency. Biguzzi said the two Xaverian priests, Fr. Franco Manganello and Fr. Vittorio Mosele (pictured right with their RUF captors), were being treated with respect by the rebels and were able to perform their religious duties. "Just in these days a local merchant delivered to me an offer from the Madina parish, where the two missionaries last October 22 celebrated World Missionary Day," Biguzzi said. "They have collected Le 92,000, equal to the average monthly salary here in Sierra Leone."

Brigadier David Richards, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, learned Friday that he is to be awarded the CBE (Commander, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), the Joint Task Force announced on Monday. Richards was recommended for the award for his service in East Timor. According to the U.K. Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant-Colonel I.R. Howard-Williams will be awarded the OBE (Officer, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his service in Sierra Leone. The CBE and the OBE are, respectively, the third and fourth-highest among the five classes of awards bestowed by Britain for meritorious service in peace and gallantry in war.

5 November: Police and Nigerian peacekeeping troops opened fire in the east end of Freetown early Sunday to disperse demonstrating youths demanding more security and an end to the overnight curfew. According to Associated Press reporter Clarence Roy-Macaulay, the protest began at around 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning when thieves raided a home on Kissy Road. "Police showed up after the culprits had fled, prompting indignant youths to barricade roads with burning tires," Roy-Macaulay wrote. Kelvin Lewis, reporting for the Voice of America, said the robbers had targeted a house at No. 8 Patton Street. "Unfortunately for them, the residents were awake and alert," Lewis said. "These residents then started beating pans, blowing whistles and shouting ‘thief, thief’ while the armed robbers continued firing. The residents say this continued until almost daybreak when a single police vehicle arrived at the scene. Angry youths in the area then turned on the police, stoning them and accusing them of negligence because they arrived late." An estimated 800-1,000 youths threw stones and bottles, burned tires, barricaded the streets, and clashed with security forces. In the wake of numerous armed robberies in the area recently, the youths complain the 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew prevents them from mobilising to protect their neighbourhoods. Hundreds of the protesters set out for the city centre, vowing to demand that President Kabbah lift the curfew. "Nigerian peacekeepers were able to stop the crowd at Clock Tower, although the youths by then had barricaded most of the road and were now burning vehicle tires on the road," Lewis said. Security forces fired their automatic rifles, mostly into the air but also toward the demonstrators, to disperse the crowd and to prevent them from reaching the centre of the capital. At least 13 youths were injured, according to Dr. Alec Neelsen, who operated on several at Freetown's Connaught Hospital. A medical worker later put the number of injured at 16, including those who were trampled underfoot by the crowd. Reuters put the number of injured at 10, including six with gunshot wounds. Two were in critical condition, the news agency said. Freetown's east end was reported quiet by midday.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi denied Sunday that the RUF had agreed to next week's peace talks with the government because it was feeling pressure from a buildup of newly-trained Sierra Leone Army troops. "That is not the reason at all," he told the BBC by satellite telephone. "Inasmuch as we are getting information we are also preparing. I mean you know that in times of peace you prepare for war; in times of war you prepare for peace." He acknowledged the amassing of troops, and accused the government of preparing to attack RUF positions at Yele and in Kono District. Massaquoi repeated the RUF position, expressed a day earlier in a Radio France International Interview, that next week's talks would center on efforts to achieve a permanent cessation of hostilities, and that political questions would have to be addressed before disarmament could be considered. The RUF spokesman denied reports of a split within the rebel movement. "We are all united," he insisted. "Every commander there in our territory, all over the front lines still (takes) commands from General Issa Sesay. Everybody. There is no split. We are all united."

4 November: In less than a week government and RUF negotiators will meet for ECOWAS-sponsored talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. But on Saturday, the two sides expressed very different views about what would be discussed. RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told Radio France International that the rebel group was prepared disarm and to return to the Lomé Peace Accord. Massaquoi (pictured right) said, however, that he was not in a position to say that the RUF was prepared to disarm immediately. "What I am quite sure will be happening when we meet in Nigeria, I am very, very sure the first and foremost thing will be having permanent cessation of hostilities, and then we can go forward from there," he said. Massaquoi insisted that political questions had to be resolved before disarmament could take place. "The only thing we want to make clear to people, especially to government in Freetown, is that disarmament is not the only issue in that agreement, and there are other issues to be discussed prior to disarmament," he said. "there are two major portions in the agreement. One is the political and the other one is the military. What the government in Freetown is persisting on is basically on the military side, to disarm and just do away with the RUF, and forgetting that they have an obligation to fulfill under the political sector." But in a BBC Focus on Africa interview, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer (left) indicated that the government was not prepared to grant further concessions to the RUF. "It is a matter of the RUF understanding the present scenario and the situation and coming on board the peace process. There is really no question of any further concessions," he said. "We have learned lessons from the experiences of the past. We have no intention whatsoever of going through the same experience that we have had in the past. Everybody, including the members of the international community, have learned the lessons, and we don’t believe that anybody wants a repeat of what had happened in the past."

Liberian President Charles Taylor called Saturday for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict in Sierra Leone. "There is an urgent and immediate need for a formal ceasefire to be signed," Taylor told reporters at the airport late Friday after returning from visits to Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

3 November: Sierra Leone government and RUF representatives will meet next Thursday in the Nigerian capital Abuja on ways to end the fighting in Sierra Leone, President Kabbah said Friday during a passing-out ceremony for 1,000 newly-trained soldiers and 30 officers at the Benguema Military Training Centre. "This message was conveyed to me by an ECOWAS mission comprising the Malian foreign minister and the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS," Kabbah said in his speech. "It is my hope and expectation that these messages will be transformed into speedy action on the ground. A meeting has therefore been summoned in Abuja, Nigeria on the ninth of this month between representatives of the government of Sierra Leone, ECOWAS, UNAMSIL, and the RUF. We hope and pray that this scheduled meeting will finally resolve into achievement continual peace in our country so that government can devote its efforts to the eradication of poverty, and you military officers can concentrate your activities on maintaining the peace." The president urged the British-trained soldiers, members of the Army's 10th and 11th Battalions, to remain loyal to the government and to the people of Sierra Leone. "I appeal to you not to allow yourself to be used as agents of ill-disposed persons determined to disrupt the peace and tranquility of this nation," he said.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno briefed the Security Council Thursday on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on the situation in Sierra Leone, and delegates expressed support for his proposal for a continuous, U.N.-based mechanism to coordinate overall strategy for the country. In a presidential statement read out after the meeting, the Council said it was concerned about the "fragile situation" in Sierra Leone and stressed that only a "comprehensive regional approach" could restore security and stability to the sub-region. The Council also supported Annan's view that UNAMSIL's role in providing security in the country was critical, and agreed that the peacekeeping force required strengthening in order to fulfill its mandate. "The Security Council is convinced that the continuation of a credible military presence of the international community in Sierra Leone remains an indispensable element of the peace process," the statement said. But the Council also called for the strengthening of state institutions to maintain the principles of democratic accountability and the rule of law — especially with regard humanitarian aspects and human rights. "(The Council) welcomes the current efforts of ECOWAS to explore the possibilities of dialogue toward peace, but stresses that this should only be pursued under terms acceptable to the Government of Sierra Leone," the statement said. "In this context, the Council underlines the importance of the Revolutionary United Front relinquishing control of the diamond-producing areas, full freedom of movement for UNAMSIL leading to its deployment throughout the country, proper provisions for the disarmament and demobilisation of all non-governmental forces, full and secure humanitarian access and the extension of the authority of the Government throughout its territory."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Liberian President Charles Taylor met Friday in Abuja for talks on various crises in the sub-region, including the conflict in Sierra Leone and cross-border attacks in the Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In a press conference after the meeting, Obasanjo said he and Taylor had adopted a plan of action aimed at preventing the situations in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast from deteriorating further. He added that they had also adopted bilateral and multilateral action plans to resolve the cross-border problems among the Mano River Union states, who accuse one another of harbouring each other's dissidents. Taylor, for his part, said he was ready to support any plan which would improve the chances of lasting peace in the sub-region. Taylor, who has been accused of providing support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, claimed his country had no interest in Sierra Leone except that of bringing peace. Earlier, Radio France International quoted Nigerian officials as saying Taylor had arrived unexpectedly in Abuja on Thursday. Instead, Taylor arrived in Nigeria on Friday, a day later than had been scheduled.

During the past week the United Nations World Food Programme (WSP) has distributed 1,191 tons of food to 75,868 beneficiaries in Freetown, Kenema, Bo and Moyamba, the agency said in its latest emergency report. The WFP again warned that a shortage of cereals was affecting its humanitarian operations, and that further reductions in assistance to vulnerable groups and school feeding programmes were made for November to ensure minimum stocks for December. RUF attacks on at least three northern villages has caused some 9,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) to seek refuge in Kabala, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said. The WFP quoted UNAMSIL as saying RUF forces appeared to be mobilising toward the Guinea border. In the Western Area, the WFP and its partners conducted a verification exercise in seven IDP camps. Preliminary findings indicate the number of IDPs will be reduced by 10-15 percent. Currently, the WFP is assisting about 60,000 IDPs there. The WFP also participated in an inter-agency mission to Lokomansama Chiefdom to assess the needs of IDPs from Kambia District. Some 5,100 persons who had fled fighting along the Sierra Leone - Guinea border were identified in the Kakum Island and Yurika areas. The WFP is planning to open a field office in Masoila in early November due to the number of IDPs, returnees, malnourished and school children the agency is assisting in the Lungi Peninsula. A second temporary office is also planned for Daru, where the WFP has begun feeding programmes for schools and vulnerable groups.

Last week representatives of the diamond industry held a press conference in Antwerp, Belgium to announce the lifting of an embargo on the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds and to disclose — incorrectly, as it turned out — that the first export certificate had been awarded to the London-based Anaconda Worldwide. The conference organizer told reporters that Sierra Leonean Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kai-Kai had been expected, but that he had missed his connecting flight in Conakry. But now a U.N. source has told the Sierra Leone Web that the press conference was "completely bogus." He said Antwerp's High Diamond Council, which had given the real press conference, was "trying to get to the bottom of the other one, which conflicted with theirs, but which never happened, in part because the principals were not in Belgium and did not intend to be."

Former NPRC military ruler Valentine Strasser, whom Gambian authorities deported to Britain this week after he arrived unexpectedly in their country, reportedly claimed he didn't feel safe in Britain. In September, Strasser told London's Sunday Times newspaper he had been stabbed outside a London underground station. A group of Sierra Leoneans in Britain recently asked the government to deport him to Sierra Leone, while Amnesty International believes he should be prosecuted for alleged acts of torture he committed while leading the NPRC. "(Strasser) was first spotted at a popular meeting place for Sierra Leoneans in the Gambia where he was nearly lynched by a mob, but was rescued by some friends and hurriedly taken away in a waiting taxi," BBC correspondent [Ibrahima Sillah] told Network Africa. "News of his presence in the Gambia then quickly spread. A local newspaper, the Point, in fact carried a front-page story on Strasser when he was confronted by a group of Sierra Leonean youths at a children’s park. The Point newspaper quoted Strasser as having told the youths that he came to the Gambia to rest following what he called 'organized criminal attacks' on him in the U.K." [Sillah] quoted a "senior government spokesman" as saying: "We don’t want our country to be portrayed as a safe haven for people who are suspected to have committed serious crimes in their own countries. The Gambia is currently contributing troops to keep the peace in Sierra Leone and we don’t therefore want to jeopardise our commitment and standing in the sub-region."

2 November: The new commander of the UNAMSIL force, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, told the BBC Thursday he did not look at U.N. peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone as an isolated mission, nor did he feel he had all the solutions to problems plaguing the force. "I will work under the leadership of the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General (Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji), and I’m hoping that we can all join hands together and find a lasting solution to the current crisis," he said. "I don’t think we are the people who will do all the work. It’s the Sierra Leone people themselves who will really work towards peace." Since his appointment as was announced on Tuesday, Opande has been at U.N. headquarters in New York to be briefed on the mission. The general expressed confidence that diverse contingents of U.N. peacekeepers could be united under one leadership. "I don’t think that by various countries pulling out or being replaced is a big letdown to the eventual peace coming to Sierra Leone. So I’m a believer in the contingents, regardless of where they come from, working together for peace in Sierra Leone," he said. Asked whether he felt there was an "African solution" to the problems in Sierra Leone, Opande replied: "There is a solution for all of us to work for as Africans." "I do not want to predicate that there is a West African problem and East African problem solving African problem," he said. "There is a problem, definitely, in Sierra Leone, and all of us, regardless of where we come from, should work toward finding a solution to it. And definitely West Africans have a very major role to play in finding a solution to the problem there."

Guinean helicopter gunships have reportedly attacked civilian boats in Kambia District with "severe casualties," BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Thursday. The details have not been independently confirmed, but Fofana said at least two motorized boats were sunk between Rokupr and [Rosingor] in the past three days, while another boat disaster occurred between Mambolo and [Kasiere]. "Guinean helicopter gunships are said to be operating along the Great Scarcies riverside towns and villages thought to be occupied by armed dissidents," Fofana said.

The first shipment of £20 million worth of British logistical and military equipment for the restructured Sierra Leone Army arrived in Freetown on Wednesday evening, according to a statement by the Joint Task Force Headquarters in Freetown. The equipment, consisting of four-ton trucks, Land Rovers, motorcycles and other support equipment, was unloaded overnight from the MV African Arrow at Queen Elizabeth II Quay and has been turned over the Sierra Leone government forces.

The Royal Navy assault ship HMS Fearless has been withdrawn from the naval task force being deployed to Sierra Leone after a fire broke out in the vessel's engine room Thursday, injuring nine sailors. "By the tremendous work of the crew, the fire was put out rapidly," said British Armed Forces Minister John Spellar. The Fearless is being replaced for the Sierra Leone by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argos, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said. "The Argos has been tasked to join the other ships and is on its way now and will rendezvous with them and head to Sierra Leone," the spokesman said. "Argos's voyage will not affect the timescale of arrival at Sierra Leone. Argos is a good ship capable of carrying three helicopters, which actually increases our capacity."

Former NPRC leader Valentine Strasser has been deported from Gambia, Reuters reported on Thursday. Gambian officials said Strasser had arrived in that country on a flight from Britain on October 27. A senior government official was quoted as saying Strasser had been expelled because, as a former head of state, he had not informed the authorities of his arrival, and because Gambia did not wish to be seen as a safe haven for those suspected of human rights abuses. Strasser headed the NPRC military government from 1992 until being ousted by Julius Maada Bio in early 1996. He has resided in Britain since 1997.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has made what was described as an unexpected visit to Nigeria for talks with President Olusegun Obasanjo on relations between Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Radio France International reported on Thursday. Members of the United Nations Security Council met with Obasanjo in Abuja last month, and reported that while the Nigerian president told them he would ideally like to cooperate with Taylor, he "did not conceal his view that President Taylor...was the most difficult factor in the region and exercised control over the RUF."

1 November: United Nations Secretary-General submitted his latest report on the situation in Sierra Leone to the Security Council Wednesday with a plea to member states to contribute troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force. He warned that lack of support could negatively impact peace efforts in the country. Annan warned that recent offers of troops would "barely be enough" to compensate for the withdrawal of the Indian and Jordanian contingents. If UNAMSIL does not receive the troop commitments in needs now, it may not be possible to increase the size of the peacekeeping force from its current level of 13,000 troops to 20,500 has been proposed, he said. "The credibility of the international community's military presence in Sierra Leone, which is a key element of its peace efforts in that country, could be undermined," Annan wrote. "I therefore appeal to member states, in particular those with large and well-equipped armed forces, to urgently consider participating in UNAMSIL with troops and/or equipment." Meanwhile, he said, UNAMSIL's current mandate would have to be adjusted in light of the available resources. The report also highlighted the plight of some 300,000 Sierra Leoneans newly displaced since the peace process broke down in May, bringing the current total to around 500,000. Despite the expansion of camps, existing sites are "seriously overcrowded," Annan said. He also noted the predicament of some one million persons in rebel-held areas beyond the reach of aid agencies.

Liberia and Sierra Leone have confirmed their commitment to operate joint border patrols, according to statement issued by Liberia's Information Ministry late Tuesday after a two-hour meeting in Freetown. "Vice-President Moses Blah of Liberia and President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone reiterated their respective governments' commitment to ensuring peace within the Mano River sub-region," the statement said. Reuters quoted officials as saying security personnel from the two countries would decide how the patrols would be conducted.

30 law enforcement officers from Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria are taking part in a two-week training course in Accra aimed at improving their ability interdict the flow of illegal weapons and drugs in the sub-region. According to the official News Agency of Nigeria, trainers from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will train the officers in techniques to detect and trace the flow of firearms. The training programme is meant to help ECOWAS member countries to control their borders and to reduce smuggling of an estimated eight million illegal light weapons currently in circulation in West Africa.

A British army officer, Brigadier Alastair Duncan, has been named to serve as UNAMSIL chief of staff, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, said Wednesday that recent attacks by the RUF were unlikely "to amount anything that is particularly meaningful tactically" given the increasingly strong position of new Sierra Leone Army units on the ground. In addition, he told the BBC, UNAMSIL had strong defensive positions which they were prepared to defend robustly "and then there are a lot of British troops in and around this area, and I think the RUF needs to bear that in mind too." Richards noted that the RUF "or at least a part of them" were making peace overtures, but he warned that the rebel group should not attempt to exploit any vacuum caused by the pullout of Indian and Jordanian troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force. "The military buildup is gaining pace, and if I was in the RUF’s shoes at the moment I’d think the time is right now to enter seriously into these ceasefire negotiations, because otherwise I as a professional soldier have no doubt they will be defeated militarily," he said. "Even if they don’t take that advice they would be very unwise to attack the U.N. because of the political implications of doing so." Richards ruled out any role for imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh, dismissing him as "yesterday's man." "The RUF have got to start looking forward to a new era which, if they’re sensible, they can enter," he said. "If they really think that people are going to do business with the RUF under Foday Sankoh — the international community has made their position quite clear on this — they’re being very naive indeed. Foday Sankoh is off the agenda. Even in ECOWAS’ view, let alone in the view of people like the British, Americans, French, and indeed the rest of the international community."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided seeds and tools to over 30,000 Sierra Leonean farmers in the past six months to help them rebuild their lives, the ICRC said on Wednesday. "Vegetable seeds and tools have also been provided to women's associations grouping nearly 12,000 war widows and other vulnerable women in the Freetown area," the ICRC statement said. In Pujehun District, the ICRC donated fishing kits consisting of nets, hooks and additional equipment to nearly 100 fishing families.