The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

December 2000
 

31 December: A Sierra Leonean university lecturer has won the BBC World Service's year-end news quiz on the weekly call-in programme Talking Point. Dudley K. Nylander defeated contestants from around the world to take the title of News Junkie of the Year, correctly answering questions about African, European, Middle Eastern and American affairs. According to Talking Point Editor Daniel Mermelstein, when asked about his prodigious memory, Nylander answered simply, "It helps if you want to be a lecturer." Along with the title, Nylander won the quiz prize: a wind-up radio.

30 December: Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assifat Diasseny said Saturday his country welcomed the deployment of ECOWAS troops along its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, but told Radio France International the force should have "a special mandate to react energetically against any urge to infiltrate by rebels on either side of the border."  "In other words, we don't want a force that is going to come simply to sit around," Diasseny said. "Guinea is all in favour of the force coming, but a force that is there to give the population security. To do that, it must react to rebel attacks if necessary." BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla quoted Diasseny as saying he hoped the ECOWAS troops would not be tourists. "He gave as an example the UNAMSIL soldiers in Sierra Leone whom he said looked on as they were taken hostage in large numbers by rebels," Sylla said. "Mr. Diasseni said he expects the troops to be capable of providing protection to the citizens, and that they would fire back in self-defence if fired upon." Guinean Foreign Minister Mahawa Bangoura told diplomats and journalists on Friday that the attacks had spread all along Guinea's border's with Sierra Leone and Liberia, Reuters reported. She said hundreds of civilians had been killed and many more were missing. "These actions have left in their wake new problems, including the displacement of over 200,000 Guineans from their homes and the fresh problems of the refugees, numbering over 400,000, who were uprooted from their camps," she said.

Three Sierra Leoneans attempted to stow away Thursday aboard a vessel carrying some 400 departing Jordanian peacekeepers, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. The three men, who were discovered after the boat left port, were returned to Sierra Leone, the spokesperson said. Meanwhile, the third and final contingent of Ukrainian peacekeepers was due to leave for Sierra Leone on Saturday, Itar-Tass reported. A Ukrainian defence ministry official was quoted as saying the TU-154 place, which airlifted 142 soldiers to Freetown on December 26, returned to Nikolayev on Thursday. 60 more Ukrainians had arrived in the Sierra Leonean capital aboard two planes several days before. The vessel Shipka Heroes is expected to reach port in Freetown on Sunday, carrying military hardware and 27 peacekeepers. The Ukrainian contingent of about 800 troops includes a repair and maintenance battalion, a helicopter squadron, and a motor company. It is expected to train local specialists, repair automobiles and armoured vehicles, perform reconnaissance, and transport freight, people and equipment.

President Kabbah opened an agricultural and trade show in Bo on Friday, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. Kabbah was accompanied to Bo by ten cabinet ministers and diplomats, including the Chinese ambassador. According to Margao, Kabbah urged a huge crowd at the Coronation Field to wage a new war against poverty and hunger by making agriculture a priority. Kabbah predicted Sierra Leone would begin exporting rice within five years, and he praised the Chinese government for donating $10 million for the purchase of tractors and building materials for displaced persons. 

29 December: The RUF has reopened the road between Kenema and the Liberian border town of Koindu, state radio reported on Friday. Reuters quoted military sources as saying the road had been open since Thursday.

The United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on Liberia has reiterated its call for U.N. member states to comply with an arms embargo on Liberia, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday. In its year-end report to the Security Council, the committee said it had been informed by Uganda's Deputy Permanent Representative that a consignment of arms believed to be bound for Liberia was seized by Ugandan customs officials. Although the flight had been cleared to fly from Entebbe to Conakry carrying a shipment of arms supposedly destined for the Guinean Ministry of Defence, the flight plan filed with the Ugandan Air Traffic Control showed the end destination to be Monrovia, the Ugandan representative said. Liberia has been accused, most recently by a U.N. panel of experts, of supplying weapons to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The Liberian government has denied the charge.

Guinea has welcomed plans by ECOWAS to deploy more than 1,600 troops along the country's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assisat Diasseni told the BBC Friday that the force would bring a sense of security to the people of Guinea, but he warned that it would be unable to fulfill its mission if it was prevented from returning fire when confronting warring factions. Diassenis's statement followed a suggestion made earlier by the BBC Conakry correspondent, who speculated on Friday that the Guinean government might not have agreed to receive the West African troops. "Up till a couple of days ago we had nothing officially from the Guineans," Alhassan Sylla told the Network Africa programme. "As a matter of fact, even the agreement on ECOWAS was merely quoted verbatim by national radio here. They didn’t add any commentary of any sort — the government welcomes or does not welcome. Basically we’re in the dark as to what the Guinean thinking is, whether there’s a planned deployment for ECOWAS."

28 December: The ECOWAS Security and Defence Commission said Thursday it will send 1,676 troops to patrol Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, where recent rebel incursions have destabilised the area and endangered residents and hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees. The troops, to be contributed by Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, will have an initial mandate of six months. "They will protect the borders, facilitate the free movement of persons as well as ensure security for humanitarian agencies and refugees," ECOWAS said in a statement issued following the meeting of defence ministers and army chiefs, which began on Wednesday and lasted into the early hours of Thursday. The four contributing countries will meet on January 12 to finalise arrangements. According to the ECOWAS statement, the nine-member Security and Defence Commission also approved a list of equipment to be provided to the force, including helicopters, cross-country vehicles, communications gear, and computers. "Countries contributing troops are to provide the initial equipment for the deployment...while the international community will be approached to support the force," the statement said. The new ECOWAS force is expected to be deployed within a month.

Tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in southeastern Guinea are still unaccounted for following recent fighting between government forces and insurgents, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said on Thursday. Redmond told Radio France International that some 70,000 or more of the refugees had managed to make it north of Gueckedou. "We’re aware of where they’re at," he said. "But those people down in the so-called 'parrot’s beak' jutting into Sierra Leone southwest of Gueckedou, we still don’t know." A UNHCR assessment mission which reached the town of Gueckedou over the weekend spoke to refugees who said that many of those who had left the camps were blocked from travelling north by, in many cases, government roadblocks. "The refugees said that the government apparently fears that RUF rebels from Sierra Leone may have infiltrated some of those camps, and they don’t want those people moving inland," he said. Redmond told RFI that a UNHCR technical team departed for Kissidougou on Thursday, where the agency is setting up a site for 60,000 refugees who have fled from further south. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Thursday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1700 / 2100 [£] 2400 / 2800. Commercial Bank: [$] 1800 / n.a. [£] 2400 / 2800. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2250 [£] 2400 / 3050. Continental: [$] 1900 / 2150 [£] 2500 / 3250.

27 December: ECOWAS nation defence ministers and army chiefs from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and Gambia began talks in Abuja on Wednesday to discuss plans to post troops along Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, where recent rebel incursions have disrupted life for hundreds of thousands of refugees and Guinean residents. The meeting of the ECOWAS Security and Defence Commission was opened by Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman. "This meeting is...to find ways on how best to deploy troops in border areas in Guinea," ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate said at the opening session. According to the agenda, delegates will decide on the mission's mandate, the total troop strength, and the number of troops to be contributed by each country, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the Guinean authorities have recruited 1,300 traditional hunters —  1,000 from the southern Forest Region and 300 from Forecariah Prefecture —  to back the army in its fight against the rebel insurgents, the BBC reported. The Forecariah hunters, like members of Sierra Leone's Kamajor militia, claim to have supernatural powers, including the ability to make themselves impervious to bullets, BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla reported.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Sierra Leone has welcomed a recommendation by the U.N. Security Council which would make it unlikely that child combatants would be prosecuted by the proposed Special Court. "The children who have been involved in crimes, almost all of them have been abducted, are victims themselves who’ve been subject to physical and mental violence and manipulation, and in many cases forced to do some of these crimes in order to survive," UNICEF country representative Joanna van Gerpen told the BBC. She said that while many Sierra Leoneans wanted those who had committed crimes during the country's ten-year civil conflict to be held accountable, UNICEF believed that particularly in the case of child combatants, this could be best accomplished by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Van Gerpen also noted that there was widespread misunderstanding about the scope of the proposed court. "The Special Court will only try a very limited number of people — those who are most responsible, probably those who are in leadership positions. Right now the estimated number is maybe 25 persons," she said.

A UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) technical team is due to depart for Kissidougou on Thursday to being preparations for a new transit camp at nearby Sangardo. The new site will eventually house some 60,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who have fled camps in the the strife-torn Gueckedou region, the agency said on Wednesday. Initially, it will house 10,000 refugees who have been spotted on the road between Kissidougou and Faranah. Meanwhile, the fate of tens of thousands of refugees who have fled from a string of border camps in Gueckedou Prefecture after rebel attacks began in December is currently unknown. The UNHCR quoted refugees as saying several of the camps had emptied completely, while large numbers of refugees were concentrating in others. The refugees also reported that Guinean authorities had set up roadblocks in some areas to prevent them from moving into safer areas of the country. The Guinean government reportedly fears that the camps have been infiltrated by the RUF, and does not want the rebel moving into the interior of Guinea, the UNHCR said. In Conakry, there are currently 1,900 Sierra Leonean refugees awaiting repatriation to Freetown by boat — 1,500 at a transit centre and 400 at the Sierra Leone Embassy. The priority is to empty the embassy compound first so that the mission can resume its normal functions, the UNHCR said, adding that the ambassador had closed the embassy grounds to new arrivals. Both the Sierra Leone government and the UNHCR have provided vessels to accommodate the returnees. A UNHCR-chartered vessel, the MV Overbeck, made its third trip to Freetown on Tuesday, carrying 257 Sierra Leoneans. On its return trip, the boat will bring medicine from UNHCR stocks in Freetown, and Medècins sans Frontiéres (MSF) will begin administering pre-departure measles vaccinations. Upon arrival in Sierra Leone, the returnees will be allowed to stay for five days in transit centres in Freetown. After that, those from unsafe areas of Kambia, Bombali and Port Loko Districts will have the option of going to villages in the Lungi Peninsula, while those from Kailahun and Kono Districts will go to temporary sites in Bo and Kenema. Those from safe areas will receive UNHCR assistance to return to their homes.

26 December: ECOWAS nation military chiefs will meet Wednesday "to study concretely how to deploy observers and armed forces along the border between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare (pictured left) said on Monday. ECOWAS heads of state decided earlier this month to deploy troops in the border area after a series of cross border attacks on Guinean territory. The attacks have endangered hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and local Guinean residents, and threatened to plunge the region into further instability. Konare, who is the current ECOWAS chairman, made the announcement after consulting with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema. "We would like to see this measure implemented very quickly," he was quoted as saying.

The United Nations Security Council has recommended limiting the scope of a proposed Special Court for Sierra Leone, rejecting a recommendation by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the tribunal try those deemed "most responsible" for war crimes and other serious offenses under international and Sierra Leonean law. Instead, the Council suggested Monday a narrower judicial standard, saying the court should have jurisdiction over those "who bear the greatest responsibility" for the crimes. The Council agreed that child combatants under the age of 18 could be prosecuted, but set legal standards that would make such trials unlikely. Instead, in a letter to Annan, the Council pointed to the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which would "have a major role to play in the case of juvenile offenders" and to find institutions to rehabilitate them. The Council also rejected Annan's recommendation that the Court be funded by assessments levied on U.N. member states, opting instead to fund its operations through voluntary contributions. In October, Annan argued that "a Special Court based on voluntary contributions would neither be viable nor sustainable." But a U.S. official quoted by Reuters said mandatory assessments might make the court a total instrument of the United Nations. The court, as envisaged, would incorporate international and Sierra Leonean judges as well as elements of both Sierra Leonean and international law. But the official was quoted as saying the Council might have to reconsider if not enough governments contributed funds. A spokesman for Annan said he was studying the Council's recommendations and would respond with a formal reaction.

A UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) assessment team visited the Guinean town of Gueckedou over the weekend for the first time since rebel attacks forced aid workers to withdraw in early December. The team was unable to reach outlying areas where some 280,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees were sheltered in a string of border camps, but was able to examine conditions at some camps between Gueckedou and Kissidougou. Two of the camps had been burned, the agency said on Tuesday. Baladou, 40 km. north of Gueckedou which previously housed 5,000 - 6,000 refugees, is now destroyed and empty. At the nearby Katkama camp, where there had been 15,000 refugees, the team found only a few hundred. They were told the vast majority had fled into the bush. At Nyadeou camp, 15 km. north of Gueckedou, the team found between 21,000 and 23,000 refugees at a site which previously had sheltered 15,000. The refugees were in fairly good physical condition but in urgent need of food, the agency said. Relief supplies sent to Kissidougou late last week will be transferred to Nyadeou as soon as possible so that the refugees will not be compelled to continue on to Massakoundou and other camps closer to Kissidougou. Massakoundou camp, which was built to house 20,000 persons, now has twice that number, resulting in a severe strain on the camp's infrastructure. The Guinean government gave approval Saturday for the UNHCR to develop a new site at Sangardo, 30 km. northwest of Kissidougou, which will be designed for 20,000 people. Meanwhile, three UNHCR emergency teams consisting of 46 people began arriving over the weekend. They will provide immediate emergency assistance, assist with relocating refugees to safer areas inside Guinea, and assist those refugees who wish to return to Sierra Leone. One team will work in Guinea, one will conduct cross-border operations, and one will work in Sierra Leone. In Conakry, more refugees arrived over the weekend at a UNHCR/MSF transit camp and at the Sierra Leone Embassy. There are currently 1,600 refugees waiting to be repatriated to Sierra Leone by boat. Over the past week a boat chartered by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration made two trips, carrying 604 refugees to Freetown. A third voyage was due to depart from Conakry Tuesday evening. Food assistance has been increased at the Sierra Leonean and Liberian embassies in Conakry for refugees waiting to go home. Since September, about 25,000 refugees have returned to Sierra Leone, about 80 percent of them former refugees from Gueckedou and Forecariah, the UNHCR said. The number of refugees remaining in Guinea, by UNHCR estimates, is 328,000 Sierra Leoneans and 122,000 Liberians. 

24 December: In his address Sunday to mark the Christmas and Eid-ul-Fitre holidays and the New Year, President Kabbah told Sierra Leoneans that the country's most significant achievement of the past year has been the emergence of a restructured, more professional, and loyal Sierra Leone Army. The president paid tribute to members of the police and other security forces charged with defending the country, but he also took note of Sierra Leone's tradition of religious tolerance which, he said, should be a resource for peace-building and reconciliation. "We take pride in the fact that we respect each other’s religious beliefs," he said. "Equally, we are proud to tell the world that the conflict in Sierra Leone is not based on tribal or religious differences." Kabbah said the "tragic events of early May," when the peace process collapsed and rebel forces abducted hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers, "became accurate barometers for determining the commitment of the RUF to implement the Lomé Peace Agreement." Those incidents, he warned, "are bound to have an impact on the course of events" during the coming year. Kabbah suggested that the holding of elections scheduled for 2001 would be dependent on an improved security situation. "I refer to the safety and security of the country and its people," he said. "These are paramount considerations that are inextricably linked to the electoral processes." 

23 December: United Nations military observers will not deploy in RUF-held territories until the rebel group turns over weapons it seized from U.N. peacekeepers in May, Reuters reported on Saturday, quoting an unnamed UNAMSIL official in Freetown.

A member of the United Nations panel of experts which issued its report this week on diamond smuggling and illegal arms sales in Sierra Leone has dismissed Liberian claims that the panel failed to prove Liberian government involvement in the illicit trade, or of its backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The panel accused Liberia of "actively breaking Security Council embargoes regarding weapons imports into its own territory and into Sierra Leone," and said it had found "unequivocal and overwhelming evidence that Liberia has been actively supporting the RUF at all levels, in providing training, weapons and related matériel, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and a safe haven for retreat and recuperation." A Liberian government spokesman told the BBC the panel had shown no proof, and suggested that the report was politically motivated. Ian Smillie, the panel's diamond expert, rejected the assertion. "President Taylor and other Liberian officials have said repeatedly that there is ‘no evidence’ of their involvement in diamond smuggling and weapons movements into Sierra Leone," Smillie (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web. "They seem to think that nobody has been watching or listening for the past three years. We spoke to more than a dozen law enforcement agencies around the world, and we had an Interpol official on our team." Smillie said the panel had studied import licenses for "Liberian" companies in Antwerp and found that the were backed by invoices from unlicensed Liberian export companies. The panel then checked their street addresses in Monrovia, he said, and found that in most cases there was nothing there. Mail sent to these companies was forwarded to the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR), an operation run by members of Taylor's inner circle. "That is how the diamonds taken from Sierra Leone are laundered — along with millions of dollars of other illicit diamonds being sheltered by the LISCR," Smillie said. "Where smuggling from Sierra Leone to Liberia is concerned, we saw police and other intelligence files, we saw lengthy reports that Sam Bockarie, Issa Sesay and other RUF leaders made to Foday Sankoh about diamonds and weapons; we spoke to former RUF combatants; we saw radio intercepts." Smillie said the documentation of Liberian involvement in arms trafficking was even more compelling. "We saw the flight log of specific aircraft that had carried weapons from Burkina Faso to Liberia, we spoke to people who helped load the weapons, and we have photographs of boxes of weapons strapped down in the leather seats of the BAC-111 that President Taylor used as a presidential jet for several months," he said. "We published the names of various people who have helped in the trafficking of diamonds and weapons, several of whom have been given Liberian diplomatic passports under false names. There is evidence, plenty of it." Smillie agreed that Liberia had received "a lot of attention" in the panel's report, but added: "That is because it is central to the problem." On the question of curbing the illicit trade in gems, Smillie said that ideally, a global certification system would be established which would cover all diamonds exported by producing countries, and would be backed by a solid data base and a variety of physical and electronic checks. "Sierra Leone’s certification system almost presupposes that there will be an RUF military operation for the foreseeable future," he said. "But as long as there is an RUF fighting a war and financing itself through diamond sales, Sierra Leone’s official licensing system is largely irrelevant. What is required is a halt to the sale of diamonds by RUF supporters such as Liberia, and some plugs in the most obvious other holes in the region, such as the Gambia." Smille acknowledged it would be difficult to eliminate the illicit diamond entirely. "We haven’t found a way to stop car theft, so it is unlikely that we will completely stop diamond theft," he said. "We can do a great deal to make it more difficult for thieves to operate, and for rebel groups to use this particular commodity to buy the weapons they use to murder civilians and children."

22 December: The United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UNAMSIL force until March 2001, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. The current mandate had been due to expire in December 31. The Council also expressed concern over the failure of the RUF to meet its obligations under the ceasefire agreement signed in Abuja last month, and called on the rebel group to give a "more convincing demonstration of commitment" to the ceasefire and to the peace process. The Security Council also strongly urged U.N. member states to contribute troop contingents to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone.

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and RUF interim leader Issa Sesay are expected to hold a second meeting within a week, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. The two previously met at Magburaka on December 13. Meanwhile, the RUF reopened the Daru-Segbwema road on Friday, the spokesperson said.

The United Nations Security Council has condemned "in the strongest terms" recent incursions into Guinea by rebel groups from Liberia and Sierra Leone, and deplored the fact that "these attacks claimed many lives, in particular the lives of civilians, and caused an exodus of local inhabitants and refugees, further exacerbating an already grave humanitarian situation." In a statement read out by Council President Sergei Lavrov of Russia following Thursday's meeting, the Council demanded an immediate halt to all acts of violence, especially those directed against civilians, and called for those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law to be brought to justice. The deterioration of the security situation in southeastern Guinea has put at risk hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in the region, as well as Guineans who have been forced to flee their homes. In a reference to Liberia, the Council expressed "serious concern" over reports that external military support was being provided to the rebel groups. "(The Council) calls on all states, particularly Liberia, to refrain from providing any such military support and from any act that might contribute to further destabilisation of the situation on the borders between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," the statement said.

Liberia has again rejected charges by a United Nations panel of experts, which accused the Liberian government this week of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and of involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade. "The government of Liberia reiterated its denial of its alleged involvement in illicit trade of diamonds and views this move as a deliberate attempt by the outgoing Clinton administration and the British government to destabilise the Liberian government and cause the imminent overthrow of President Charles Taylor," an official statement claimed. Friday's statement accused the United Nations of "selectively targeting Liberia for punitive sanctions." 

The British auxiliary ship RFA Geraint arrived in Freetown Thursday with vehicles, ammunition and engineering equipment for British forces in Sierra Leone, according to a statement by the Joint Task Force. The ship was also carrying communications equipment for use at the Benguema Military Training Centre, where British troops are training soldiers for the restructured Sierra Leone Army.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) distributed 561 tons of food to 43,900 beneficiaries in Freetown, Bo and Mandu during the past week, the agency said on Friday. Sierra Leonean refugees have continued to return from Guinea by foot or on a Sierra Leone government ferry. The WFP and the UNHCR last week registered 4,500 new returnees in Lungi and confirmed their eligibility for food aid. The WFP is currently assisting over 19,000 returnees. At Bumbuna, the WFP delivered 30 tons of food via helicopter. The food will be stored in the town and distributed by MSF-Holland, which is operating a supplementary feeding programme for malnourished children. A WFP team noted that the food security situation in the area had improved and that a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) had returned home to attend to their farms. At Bo, the WFP distributed 245 tons of food to 20,756 beneficiaries. About 198 tons were used to assist 14,586 IDPs at the Mandu Camp, while 29 tons were distributed to 4,500 hundred patients in supplementary feeding programmes at Mile 91 and Yonibana. At Kenema, a WFP team completed a monitoring assessment of food aid projects implemented in support of the Women Farmer's Project. The WFP is currently supporting over 400 women farmers in the district, the agency said.

21 December: The Sierra Leone government has reacted cautiously to the release of a United Nations report on diamond smuggling and illicit arms sales to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, saying it would make "a detailed study" of the findings of a U.N. panel of experts. A statement issued by the Office of the President called the panel's report "a landmark discovery of some of the major impediments to peace and stability in Sierra Leone," and called on the United Nations Security Council "to give serious consideration to the panel's report as soon as possible." In an interview Thursday with Radio France International, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said the government was disappointed by the Security Council's decision to postpone discussion of the report. "I would say we’re a bit disappointed," he said. "We had hoped that it would move along very quickly. But I guess one would have to wait for the Security Council to deal with the matter." Meanwhile in Monrovia, a spokesman for Liberian President Charles Taylor has rejected the reports findings that the Liberian government has been actively involved in flouting U.N. sanctions and has been trafficking in illicit diamonds and arms in support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "We take exception to being singled out among the many countries that were named in this report. There’s no proof and yet we are being accused, and we wonder why at this time people are in a rush to select Liberia for these punitive sanctions, which we believe are purely punitive," Reginald Goodridge told the BBC. "No one has shown proof. They are saying that we’re guilty and yet they’ve named almost ten other countries in this thing and no one is going after those countries." He denied Liberian involvement in diamond smuggling and gun-running, and called on the international community to post monitors at Liberia's airports, seaports and borders. Goodridge alleged that the U.N. panel's intent was to bring down the Liberian government, but he said they would not succeed. "The Liberian people know that this is all a smoke screen, that people are trying to use all of these different standards to lie on the president, to lie on the Liberian government, because there’s ulterior motives, but sanctions will not bring down the Liberian government," he said. "I’d like to add here that there have been and there continues to be soft sanctions and selective sanctions from powerful countries out there, but it will not bring down the Liberian people. We will survive and Liberia will progress."

Switzerland said it would tighten controls on duty-free warehouses to check how many "conflict diamonds" are passing through the country, an official said on Thursday. Switzerland was criticised by the U.N. panel of experts investigating the illicit flow of diamonds and arms in Sierra Leone for its lax regulation of free-trade areas at the Geneva and Zurich airports, which allows diamond smugglers to conceal the origin of the stones. Measures are now being drawn up which will require Swiss warehouse operators to document the origin and destination of customs-free gemstones. "From February 1 there will be a reporting obligation for the operators of warehouses," said Othmar Wyss, an official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the government agency charged with enforcing sanctions. Currently, Switzerland requires certificates of origin for diamonds from eight African countries, including Sierra Leone and Liberia. "But we do not know what is in the warehouses or what the real origin is of diamonds arriving via London or Belgium," Wyss said.

A spokesman for the diamond mining giant De Beers said Thursday the company was willing to allow its experts to work with the United Nations to stem the flow of "conflict diamonds." "We are prepared to make De Beers experts at the disposal of the U.N. particularly to help in the strengthening of a global certification scheme," De Beers spokesman Andy Lamont told Reuters. Lamont said the U.N. had not yet responded to the company's offer.

Progress in demobilising combatants in Sierra Leone's civil conflict dropped to a trickle after the peace process stalled in May, according to figures published Thursday by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). From May 15 to November 30, a total of only 745 adults and 136 children were demobilised at camps in Lungi, Port Loko and Daru, as compared to the 18,230 who had been demobilised before that date. 330 of those disarmed since May were said to be former RUF combatants, 539 AFRC/ex-SLA, 41 members of the CDF, and 150 who were classified as other, including paramilitary. No estimate was given as to how many of those previously disarmed rejoined their warring factions after the peace process collapsed. 315 ex-combatants were discharged from the DDR camp at Lungi since May and that camp was closed. 312 were discharged from the camp at Port Loko. The discharge of combatants from the Daru DDR centre was stalled due to the camp's isolation. The NCDDR pointed to some modest achievements, however, in the area of reintegration support.  2,196 ex-combatants and 1,800 dependents have been targeted for participation in 23 vocational training and small enterprise development projects, with 1,056 already taking part. Seven public works projects will benefit 1,074 ex-combatants. Five of these, with 362 persons taking part, are operational and the other two are expected to begin operating by the end of the month. In agriculture, the NCDDR has approved 15 projects targeting 2,330 ex-combatants. 11 of these, servicing 1,536 ex-combatants, are operational, and the remaining four will be start by the end of December  In addition, 1,212 ex-combatants are enrolled in educational institutions, computer literacy classes and apprenticeship programmes. That number will increase to 1,500 by the end of the month, the NCDDR said.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer, said Thursday that very little had been achieved during the 30-day ceasefire with the RUF, which formally expired on December 10. "Nothing much has happened," he told Radio France International. Spencer said that although the RUF claimed it was willing to allow UNAMSIL to post military observers in rebel-held areas of the country, the U.N. peacekeeping force still lacked the confidence to deploy its troops. "We feel that some specific time frame should be put on action that needs to be taken," Spencer said. "Even in the area of return of UNAMSIL weapons and equipment, all that have been returned are some carcasses of armoured vehicles, without the weapons on the vehicles." He said the government was urging the U.N. to at least test the RUF's sincerity. "UNAMSIL should make some effort to deploy in some areas that are currently not under government control," he said. Regarding next year's elections, Spencer said the situation on the ground would determine whether they would be held on time. "I don’t think it is possible in the light of present circumstances for elections to be held on schedule," he said. The minister ruled out a suggestion that elections might be held only in government-controlled territories. "I don’t think that would be feasible," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society have distributed non-food relief supplies to some 12,000 persons in Lungi fleeing the fighting in Kambia District. The ICRC said it had handed out shelter material, kitchen sets, buckets, blankets, mats and soap to about 1,600 displaced families staying in staying in Conakry Dee, Babara, Bailor Wharf, Petifu Junction and Kalangba. The majority of the families had arrived within the last month, the ICRC statement said. The distribution was carried out after ICRC teams determined that most of the families were living in insufficient accommodations, and had managed to carry only a few personal belongings with them when they fled. The ICRC this year has distributed similar emergency assistance to more than 110,000 persons fleeing the fighting, and has supported 35,000 vulnerable farm families with seeds, agricultural tools, and non-food items, the statement said.

20 December: The Sierra Leone government said Tuesday it welcomes the fact that the RUF has not broken the now-expired 30-day ceasefire agreement signed in Abuja last month, but expressed concern that the rebel group had not yet delivered on most of its commitments made under the agreement. In a statement issued in Freetown, the government warned that it would not accept an open-ended time frame for implementation of the so-called Abuja Agreement. "Government can not allow a situation to continue indefinitely where the country is effectively divided, with large parts being without government authority," the statement said. It called on UNAMSIL to establish "tight deadlines" for the RUF to meet its commitments under the agreement, adding: "Without such deadlines, it will be difficult to properly assess the RUF’s commitment to peace."

A scheduled presentation to the United Nations Security Council of the report by a panel of experts on Sierra Leone Diamonds and Arms has been postponed. No official reason was given for the delay, but a source close to the panel told the Sierra Leone Web that the Russian and Ukrainian delegates on the Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee prevented a consensus from being reached. The Associated Press, however, said the Ukrainians asked for more time to study the report, which blasted Ukraine and Burkina Faso for having "shown neither restraint nor due care and diligence" in their arms sales after a shipment of Ukrainian weapons reached the RUF rebels by way of Ouagadougou. Ambassador Sergei Lavrov of Russia, the current Security Council president, backed Ukraine's request. "The committee on sanctions has to discuss it first and then the council would be ready to receive the report as soon as the committee is ready," he said. The committee will now present the report "at a later date to be decided by the Security Council," according to a U.N. spokesman. The Council was also scheduled to be briefed Wednesday by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno on the secretary-general's latest report on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) search missions have located some 84,000 mainly Sierra Leonean refugees displaced by recent attacks by insurgents in southeastern Guinea, UNHCR country representative Chris Ache said on Wednesday. He said the missions, made up of aid workers and military personnel, were already providing food and medicine to the refugees. According to BBC Conakry correspondent Alhassan Sylla, Ache said he had information that another 280,000 missing refugees were located in an area of Gueckedou Prefecture where they had previously been camped, adding that their condition must have deteriorated significantly, as they had received no food or medicine for the past two weeks. Ache said other humanitarian organisations, such as the Red Cross Federation and Medècins sans Frontiéres had joined efforts to retrieve the refugees and were providing them with clean drinking water. The Red Cross will send a planeload of supplies on Thursday. Ache said a sensitization campaign was in progress to convince Guineans that the refugees were not supporting the insurgents. "Ache spoke of how his staff are being affected by the Guineans’ belief that the refugees are harbouring the rebels," Sylla said. "He explained how UNHCR vehicles are again being intercepted by vigilante youths, who accuse the United Nations body of aiding the insurgents."

Four West African countries have made commitments to provide troops for an ECOMOG force to patrol Guinea's borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone, where recent insurgent attacks are threatening to widen the instability in the sub-region, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate said on Wednesday. Of these, three of the countries — Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal —  confirmed the offers at least week's ECOWAS summit in Bamako, he told the BBC. Kouyate acknowledged that the deployment would be difficult, and even risky. "But it is because it is difficult that ECOWAS has to take care of it," he said. "Otherwise, if we leave things like it is today, I’m afraid the contagion of stable countries will be there. We want to avoid that at any price. There is a kind of domino effect which started with Liberia, Sierra Leone, and today Guinea. Nobody knows where it will stop." Kouyate said ECOWAS had the "total cooperation" of the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, but that this was not enough to bring about a ceasefire. "You have to have a kind of ceasefire from those who are fighting, rebels involving in the zone, which we don’t have," he said. "But despite all this, the heads of state have decided to send troops." Kouyate stressed that the force's mandate was clear, and he insisted rebels did not control the area where the ECOWAS troops would deploy. "We want to stop the incursions in both countries, Guinea and Liberia," he said. "As you know, Guinea has been under heavy attack from rebels. This has to be stopped. Similarly with Liberia, where Voinjama has been almost destroyed. We want to stop all these incursions from both sides. That is the mandate of these deployment forces as ECOMOG."

Supporters of Liberian President Charles Taylor demonstrated in Monrovia Wednesday against sanctions proposed by U.N. panel of experts investigating the illicit diamond trade and its link to arms smuggling in Sierra Leone. The report accuses Taylor and his government of direct involvement in the diamonds-for-guns trade with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Addressing a crowd of some 10,000 supporters at Monrovia's Barclay Training Centre, Taylor again rejected the charges. "Anyone who things that Liberia’s involvement in the crisis in Sierra Leone is for diamonds has to examine himself, because Liberia has more than enough diamonds of its own," BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh quoted him as saying. According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, Liberia has a current annual mining capacity of approximately 150,000 carats — far less than the country exports. Taylor also challenged the United Nations to seize his foreign bank accounts if they found any. "I own nothing outside this country...This revolution is my life," he said. "I will represent to the Security Council of the United Nations...that they should search worldwide for any money, bank account or properties found to be owned by this president,'' Taylor said. "The Security Council should seize, confiscate (them) and tell the Liberian people.''  Taylor's supporters then presented him with a letter of support, urging him to seek re-election in 2003. "The frequent attacks on Liberia are aimed at creating hardship for citizens, so that they don’t re-elect Taylor," the letter said. "But we are with you and for you, Mr. President, even during these hard days."

British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa, Peter Hain, has called for an existing arms embargo on Liberia to be "maintained and tightened and strengthened," following the report of a United Nations panel of experts accusing Liberian President Charles Taylor and his government of providing arms to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels in exchange for diamonds. Hain also called for the imposition of further measures "to make sure that President Taylor is not able to continue supplying the rebels in effectively orchestrating this war, which is unfortunately what he’s been doing." Hain said ways had to be found to prevent the flow of weapons from Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova into Liberia, and from there across the border into Sierra Leone. "Unless we can stop this, and stop the flow of diamonds outward that finances it all, then we will have a war going on forever," he said. "We need to stop the arms coming in and we need to stop the diamonds going out. Now by a combination of measures, including implementing the United Nations General Assembly resolution of a few weeks ago which Britain together with the southern Africa producer countries of diamonds helped sponsor, which will establish procedures which stop these conflict diamonds leaking into the legitimate diamond trade and thereby financing these wars. If we can do that on the one hand, and if we can stop arms dealers such as those that have been named in the United Nations report, then I think we’re in the position to start really changing the whole trajectory of this brutalising conflict."

19 December: A United Nations panel set up to investigate illicit diamond smuggling and gun running in Sierra Leone has singled out Liberian President Charles Taylor as being the "primary supporter" of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The report, which was discussed Tuesday by the United Nations Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, accuses the Liberian government of supplying weapons to the RUF, training rebel fighters, and profiting from the illicit trade in Sierra Leoneans diamonds. The panel noted that, by various estimates, the RUF mines between $25 to $125 million worth of diamonds each year, using the proceeds to fund the country's near decade-long conflict. Most of these diamonds, it said, pass through Liberia with the approval of Liberian government officials. "Very little Liberian trade, in fact, whether formal or informal, takes place without the knowledge and involvement of key government officials. This is true of all imports, and where exports are concerned, it is especially true of diamonds," the report said. It added that Liberian-registered aircraft were being used by unscrupulous arms dealers from around the world to fuel conflicts in West Africa. The panel recommended the U.N. impose sanctions on Liberia, including an embargo of Liberian diamonds, a travel ban on senior Liberian officials and diplomats, and a temporary embargo on Liberian timber. "The principals in Liberia's timber industry are involved in a variety of illicit activities, and large amounts of the proceeds are used to pay for extra-budgetary activities, including the acquisition of weapons," the report said. The U.N. panel urged diamond importing and exporting nations to adopt a common system of documenting and tracking rough stones from the mines to the jewelry stores. It singled out Switzerland because of the large volume of uncut diamonds which lose their identity when passing through the free trade areas at the Zurich and Geneva airports, and Belgium for buying gems from countries which are known transit points for RUF diamonds, such as Gambia, Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast. In the absence of a global certification system, the panel recommended that if Guinea and Ivory Coast failed to adopt a certification system based on the Sierra Leone model within six months, "the Security Council should impose an international embargo on diamonds from these countries." The U.N. experts were also critical of the international diamond industry. They noted that Maurice Templeman, chairman of Lazare Kaplan International (LKI), had established contacts in March with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, with a view to re-entering Sierra Leone's diamond market. At the time, Sankoh was the titular head of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, although the commission was never formally established. The panel also questioned a claim by De Beers, which earlier this year claimed that its diamonds were "rebel-free." Because the company "in one way or another" controlled 65 percent of the world's rough diamond production during 1999, the report said, De Beers likely "must accept some responsibility for the trade in illicit diamonds." In its section on illicit arms sales, the panel named Victor Bout, a native of Tajikistan who is based in the United Arab Emirates, as being involved in smuggling weapons to Sierra Leone. Ukraine was named as a supplier of weapons which eventually find their way into RUF hands, while the panel accused Burkina Faso of both trafficking in illicit diamonds and providing false end-user certificates for weapons diverted to Liberia for use by the RUF. The report also said it had received information which it considered reliable that Nigerian ECOMOG troops had sold weapons to the RUF in exchange for "cash, diamonds, food or other goods." The report is expected to be presented to the Security Council on Wednesday.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has denounced the report by a United Nations panel charged with investigating diamond smuggling and gun-running in Sierra Leone, anticipating that it will be highly critical of his government. The report was originally expected to be released last Friday, but publication has been held up by France until Wednesday, until a full French translation is available, the Sierra Leone Web has learned. Liberia has been accused, most recently by Britain and the United States, of arming Sierra Leone's RUF rebels in exchange for diamonds — a charge Taylor has denied. In a letter to the president of the Security Council last week, excerpts of which were obtained by the Sierra Leone Web, Taylor said he welcomed "the concept and remains in full support of its mandate" but claimed his government was "aware that some prominent members of the U.N. Security Council have mounted intense pressure on members of the panel in order to undermine the objectivity of the report." Should this trend continue, Taylor continued, "you will undoubtedly understand our concern and the difficulty Liberia would have with a report that may seem to lack complete objectivity, neutrality and fairness." A source close to the U.N. panel noted that Taylor had not yet seen the report, and rejected the Liberian president's allegations. "The panel has been placed under absolutely no pressure by any government," the source told the Sierra Leone Web. "The panel actually spent more time in Liberia talking to the Liberian government than it did in London or Washington talking to the governments there. It met for 90 minutes with President Taylor and had a very frank discussion about the allegations against Liberia. It also met individually with most of the Liberian cabinet."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he did not foresee "a return to the blind implementation of the Lomé Accords," while renewing his call for the RUF to disarm and demobilise, and to allow the Sierra Leone government to reassert its authority throughout the country. Speaking at his year-end news conference, Annan acknowledged that his target of expanding the United Nations peacekeeping force to 20,500 troops would not be met within the next three or four months, and urged member states to contribute troops to UNAMSIL. He said the United Nations was continuing to monitor the ceasefire agreed to between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in Abuja last month, but would need more time to verify whether it was holding. Annan said he hadn't given up hope on Sierra Leone. "We've made progress, and we will continue to do our job," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has welcomed a  decision by ECOWAS to deploy troops along Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, where cross-border attacks by insurgents in recent months has threatened to destabilise a region which is home to hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees. In an interview with Radio France International Tuesday, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said the agency could only resume humanitarian work in the region if security were re-established in the border areas. "At the moment we hardly have anybody in the provinces in Guinea," he said. "We mostly have people in Conakry and people going on very, very short trips. We had someone murdered there by rebels at the beginning of September and we really do not think that the place is safe enough for the time being to go back to." Janowski said ECOWAS had been talking about sending "1,000 or more troops" to the area. "Whatever it is, that would certainly make a difference in that area," he said. "UNHCR has been urging for quite some time that that border be somehow patrolled and be somehow secured because there have been cross-border attacks and it has caused panic in the refugee population." The spokesman also spoke of the plight of Sierra Leonean refugees who had fled to Conakry in the hope of returning to Freetown by boat. "They’re quite frightened and they basically want to go back, so they’re trying to get on very few boats that actually go between Freetown and Conakry," he said. "To get registered on those boats they have to pay money. It’s five dollars per head but it’s quite a lot of money for them. Also they have to pay a lot of money to get a ride from the provinces where they are in the Kissidougou area and Gueckedou area to Conakry. Some people, according to the reports that we have, have had to sell pretty much everything they had in order to be able to get to Conakry, and in Conakry they have to wait again to be able to get a boat ride to Freetown."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Tuesday it had sent emergency food rations to some 20,000 refugees and displaced persons in southern Guinea. The agency was forced to suspend operations in the region, home to hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees, after attacks by insurgents intensified. "The situation remains tense in southern Guinea and U.N. agencies have no access to Gueckedou," Ardag Meghdessian, the WFP's representative in Conakry, said in a statement. "However, we have identified a group of 20,000 refugees and displaced people near Kissidougou and have dispatched some 200 tons of food aid rations to meet their immediate needs." 

Sierra Leone was again a dangerous country for journalists this year, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Federation of Journalists. Two Associated Press reporters, Kurt Schork and Miguel Gil Moreno, were killed in an RUF ambush last May. In 1999, Sierra Leone topped the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists after eleven reporters lost their lives.

18 December: The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, said Monday it was too early for new talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, and that more time was needed to gauge whether the parties were really committed to peace. The two sides had agreed to reconvene talks at the expiration of a 30-day ceasefire agreement they signed in Abuja, Nigeria on November 10. The ceasefire has since expired, but both the government and the rebels have continued to maintain the truce. "More time needs to be given to watch the implementation of the accord before the new meeting is held," Adeniji told reporters. "We continue to monitor the ceasefire to see how much all sides are committed to the peace process." Adeniji said the acting RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, had told UNAMSIL the rebel group would welcome the freeing of its imprisoned leader, Foday Sankoh, but that Sankoh's release was not a precondition for the deployment of U.N. military observers in RUF-held areas. "The RUF would consider the release of corporal Foday Sankoh as a confidence building measure but we are not posing a precondition," Adeniji quoted Sesay as saying in a letter. He said Sesay had categorically denied making a statement, circulated last week in a purported RUFP press release, which demanded Sankoh's release as a precondition to the U.N. deployment.

France's Ambassador to Guinea, who just returned from a visit to the besieged town of Kissidougou, has described the plight of refugees and displaced persons in southeastern Guinea as grave. "Almost all the population of Kissidougou left the city, but the most dramatic is the situation of the refugees," Ambassador Denis Gauer told BBC correspondent Alhassan Sylla. "I saw in Kissidougou about 20,000 refugees. They explained to me that they left their camps around Yende and went into the bush, and walked through the bush during six days, and then arrived to Kissidougou. And in Kissidougou the authorities have nothing to care for them, so they put them in the lycee (school) in the middle of the town." Gauer said the refugees were without food or medicine, and that some had died during the trek. "They all told me all the refugees in the camps around Gueckedou — that means about 400,000 people — went out of the camps, went into the bush, and were presently walking in the bush towards the north," he said. The ambassador noted that more humanitarian assistance would be necessary to meet the needs of the displaced population. "France already sent humanitarian aid in October, especially for Guinean displaced persons," he said. "Now we must do more and we must again send humanitarian aid for Guinean displaced persons and also for those refugees. I think France will do it, and others also. We must all together face this situation now." Gauer stressed that France had no plans to send troops to the area, or to supply the Guinean army with military equipment apart from some vehicles and communications equipment turned over to the army last week. "The Guinean army is quite well equipped now," he said.

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