The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

January 2002
 

31 January:  Zainab Bangura, a co-founder in 1996 of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, resigned her position as the group's National Coordinator on Thursday to enter the political fray. Bangura told the Sierra Leone Web she would register a new political party on Friday, the Movement for Progress Party, which will contest in May's presidential and parliamentary elections. The party's platform, she said, will stress the promotion of patriotism and meritocracy, the empowerment of people, especially of marginalised groups such as women and children, the decentralisation of government functions and ensuring community participation in resources management, and the expansion of the role of the private sector in the economy. Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Abdul Tejan-Cole has been appointed to head the Campaign for Good Governance on an interim basis. In a subsequent press conference excerpted over the Voice of America, Bangura explained why she was leaving civil society for politics. "In civil society you have your limitations," she said. "You can only actually advocate or advise. You cannot actually force the politicians to do whatever you want to do. And I think the issues that we’re dealing with, the issue of the empowerment of women, the issue of decentralisation, the issues of corruption — a whole lot of other issues are issues that actually need to be addressed at the political level." Bangura stressed her leadership skills and her background in human rights which she said she now wanted to take into politics. "Within the last five years I think that Sierra Leoneans have failed to receive an effective opposition credible enough to be able to challenge the government, and we all see what is happening now in the country," she said. "Most of the potential politicians are moving on to the one-party state, the SLPP. We saw it happen in 1973 in this country which led to the demonstrations of 1977...And it is the same thing repeating itself, and I think the reason being that we still have the same political class and people who have been involved in the politics of Sierra Leone for the past 30 to 40 years. And so I feel it is our obligation as a new generation of Sierra Leoneans who are very much interested in Sierra Leone, and want the best for Sierra Leone, to be able to get involved."

Members of Sierra Leone's opposition political parties will take their complaints over the ongoing voter registration process to the streets Thursday morning by demonstrating in front of the National Electoral Commission headquarters, UNPP party leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart told the Sierra Leone Web. "All the opposition parties have decided...to go peacefully without any procession," he said. "Since there is a state of emergency, we will not be able to obtain permits for a procession. We’ve just asked all our members to one by one assemble at the Electoral Commission to protest." Karefa-Smart accused the commission of "inability, unpreparedness, and signs of already being biased...and also doing things which are unconstitutional," and he said opposition members wanted the government to halt the registration process temporarily while the proper modalities were put in place. "There is still enough time, if adequate preparation is made, for us to go through with the elections as is announced," he said. "But people are not going to be prepared to go through when all these deficiencies are already apparent." Karefa-Smart insisted the demonstration would be a peaceful one. "We are going to go there without marching, we are going to go individually and just camp there until he listens to our complaints," he said.

With the completion this month of the disarmament programme, the United Nations peacekeeping force has fulfilled half of its mandate in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said on Tuesday. Adeniji, who addressed the future of the U.N. mission during a town hall meeting with UNAMSIL staff members, said the mission would work to ensure that the forthcoming elections come off peacefully. He also pointed to the U.N. role in reintegrating ex-combatants and youths into society by providing them with skills training. Adeniji, according to a UNAMSIL statement, said he was concerned about the sustainability of peace in Sierra Leone, considering how much the United Nations had already invested in the country. He added that the United Nations was committed to providing support to ensure that the country holds free and fair elections, reintegrates disarmed ex-combatants, rehabilitates its damaged infrastructure, and maintains good governance. 

30 January: Liberian security forces have blocked tens of thousands of persons uprooted by new fighting in the north of the country from entering Monrovia, fearing that they could cause panic in the city. According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, between 50,000 and 65,000 persons have been halted at Klay Junction, a crossroads about 22 miles from the Liberian capital, the Reuters news agency reported. The Associated Press, quoting UNHCR workers who visited the area on Monday, put the number of displaced at 20,000, including 6,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who fled their country for the relative safety of Liberia during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. In an interview with Radio France International, UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said the agency had initially feared that the fighting might cause panic in the six UNHCR camps which currently shelter some 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. "UNHCR was very concerned about the situation in our camps where we have Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, because we were afraid they would also panic and they would go back en masse to Sierra Leone or start packing things and start a massive exodus on the roads," she said. "But this did not happen, thank God. We also managed to go to the camp to explain that the security was not so bad on the road and had been restored in the area and especially that the camps were not at risk." Marie said the refugee agency had no reliable information on the fighting. "Up to yesterday the exact causes of this fighting were not very clear; whether it was really a rebel movement — the rebels had claimed to have gained some ground in that area — or whether it was merely skirmishes within the army or with some smaller rebel factions," she said. "It wasn’t very clear. What we know is refugees were fleeing, people were fleeing because of fighting."

Sierra Leone's RUF rebels said Wednesday that an internal inquiry has found no evidence of alleged dealings between its members and Osama bin Laden's terrorist al-Qaeda network. The charges came to light last November in a Washington Post article, which alleged that RUF leaders had sold diamonds to al-Qaeda representatives since 1998, using a safe house in Liberia to conduct the transactions. Beginning last July, the Post said, al-Qaeda began paying above-market rates for the diamonds —  this in an apparent effort to convert its cash assets into the easily concealable gemstones ahead of September's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, for which al-Qaeda has been widely blamed. The U.S. government subsequently put the RUF on its list of terrorist organisations whose members are barred from entering the United States. In a statement issued on Wednesday by Omrie Golley (pictured left), the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council which conducted the probe, the rebel group said it was not to blame. "These investigations have now been completed, and in the course of these investigations, the investigative panel found no evidence, either directly or indirectly, linking the RUF/SL to any association to this organisation," the statement said. "The panel considers that whilst it is remotely possible that individuals associated with al-Qaeda may have met with individuals associated with the RUF inside Sierra Leone, or indeed outside the country, with a view to purchasing mined diamonds, these meetings, if indeed they took place at all, took place unwittingly, without the knowledge on the part of the RUF that the individuals that they may have met were connected with al-Qaeda in any way." In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web, Golley said the Political and Peace Council had interviewed more than 140 RUF members over the allegations, and had come up with nothing. He insisted, however, that not all of those called to testify were suspected of taking part in the illicit diamond trade. "As a result of initial investigation, it was thought necessary by the investigative panel to call a number of members of the RUF to come forward to answer questions, but that did not in any way mean that they were involved in any mining activity," he said, adding: "Obviously a number of those that were called were those that were known to be involved in selling diamonds." Golley acknowledged that the RUF panel had made no written record of its findings or its deliberations, and that its investigation consisted only of listening to oral testimonies by RUF members. He confirmed that the panel had interviewed Issa Sesay, the RUF's interim leader, but he declined to disclose what Sesay had told them. "One of the things I would not want to do is to highlight the names of any of those people that were questioned," he said. Golley said that if hard evidence came to light of an RUF - al-Qaeda connection, the group might take a second look at the matter, "but for now we’re satisfied with the investigations that we’ve conducted."

Liberian President Charles Taylor, in his annual State of the Nation speech to parliament, has called on the United Nations to lift an arms embargo against his country, Radio France International reported. Taylor warned that if the U.N. failed to act, Liberia would have no choice but to defend itself. The expanded arms embargo was part of a package of sanctions imposed by the Security Council last year because of Liberia's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region.

29 January: Former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who this week announced he would seek Sierra Leone's presidency through the ballot box under the banner of his Peace and Liberation Party, told the BBC on Tuesday that he thought he had a good chance of winning. "Even through I’ve entered very, very late, but I am very, very optimistic that I will make a breakthrough," Koroma told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. "It’s because I do have a following. I know I have the support. I know the people are looking for good leadership. They are looking for somebody with moral leadership that has a political direction. I have that moral leadership and I think I can lead the people very, very well." Koroma insisted that his involvement with the AFRC, which he led for nine turbulent months in 1997 and 1998, would not be an issue in the campaign. "I’ve dismissed that long ago, and that is history," he said. Koroma also insisted that his beliefs as a born-again Christian should not be a hindrance to his seeking political office. "This is a mistake that we’ve been making all along: They think if you are a born-again Christian you’re not supposed to come into politics," he said. "People should be God-fearing to come into politics. Government should not be left in the hands of evil people."

Anniemaude Cole, the beautiful young woman who just last November was crowned Miss Sierra Leone 2001, died overnight Monday of burns she suffered a week ago after her nightgown was ignited by kerosene. It is still not clear if the injuries were the result of an accident, self-inflected, or whether she was the victim of domestic abuse. Sierra Leone Live quoted Cole as denying that the burns, which reportedly covered some 62 percent of her body, were the result of a suicide attempt. A family member who spoke to Cole at Choithram Memorial Hospital by telephone Monday morning told the Sierra Leone Web that plans were underway to fly Cole to South Africa for treatment, but that her condition deteriorated later in the day. Her only coherent words were "de pain mona, de pain mona" (I'm in pain, the pain is unbearable), the relative said, adding: "Anyway, she's now free from the pain." Things began to go wrong for the 22-year old soon after she received the crown early last December. Her family complained that the pageant had failed to deliver on most of the promised prizes, which were to have included a new car, bedroom furniture, a one-year wardrobe, a return ticket to London, and a Le 500,000 bank account. Then, in December, Cole lost her only surviving sister. In January, pageant organisers pulled her from the Miss ECOWAS competition, claiming that she did not meet the regional pageant's requirements of five O'Levels. 

Sierra Leonean refugees are among tens of thousands of persons who have been forced to flee new fighting in Liberia's Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. Since the fighting intensified in December, more than 6,000 new arrivals have been recorded at refugee camps around Monrovia. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said agency officials were working to calm the situation. "Although there were initial reports of refugees packing their bags in Sinje camp and getting ready to go back to Sierra Leone, a visit yesterday to Sinje by UNHCR officials helped to calm the situation in the camp," he said. "Refugee leaders were taken to Monrovia to attend a meeting on the planned repatriation to Sierra Leone." A pre-registration campaign in Liberia's six camps for Sierra Leonean refugees found 6,000 persons — about one fifth of the total — ready to return home. A proper registration campaign is scheduled to begin shortly before a larger scale return can begin, Janowski said.

28 January: Former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma confirmed on Monday that he would contest for the presidency in next May's elections, Reuters reported. In a press conference in Freetown Koroma, a former army officer, warned of a split within Sierra Leone's military which he said was due to preferential recruitment of former RUF and CDF combatants over members of the junta. "There are cracks in the new army which should be dealt with immediately," Koroma said, adding that he had brought the problem to the attention of British military officers who have been working with the Sierra Leone government to retrain and restructure Sierra Leone's military, but that no action had been taken. "The British do not know, but we as former members of the Sierra Leone Army know the problems," he said.

27 January: Sierra Leone's army, renamed last week the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, has deployed along the Liberian border in the country's eastern Kailahun District, where nearly eleven years ago the RUF launched its first attack into Sierra Leone, Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson reported. "Your deployment...is a clear manifestation that you have the capacity as the new Sierra Leone armed forces to protect and defend the territorial integrity of Sierra Leone," Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Tom Carew told his troops at the military barracks in Daru. Last year, ministers from the three Mano River Union nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia resolved to deploy troops along their common borders in an effort to prevent dissident groups from launching attacks in the volatile area. "Always be ready to go into battle on our border if there is any attempt by any dissident that wishes to attack your position," Carew said. "Remember the war is over but as soldiers always be alert."

Military ordinance brought back from peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia exploded at a military barracks in Lagos, Nigeria late Sunday afternoon, news services reported. The armory, in the Ikeja military cantonment, is located in a residential section of Nigeria's most populous city, raising fears there might be significant numbers of casualties. An army spokesman was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the weapons stockpile included a large amount of heavy artillery ammunition returned to Nigeria following ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Reuters noted that the Ikeja Brigade included tank units, and was the main armory for T-55 and Leopard tanks used for peacekeeping operations in the two countries.

Zainab Bangura, the National Coordinator of the Sierra Leonean civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, has been named the recipient of this year's Bayard Rustin Humanitarian Award, normally given to leaders who have made significant contributions to improving the human condition and to advancing the cause of human rights and democracy. The award is named for Bayard Rustin, an American civil rights leader and the co-founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. The award will be presented at a ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada next July 2.

25 January: Voter registration continued behind expectations for a second day Friday, with fewer people than expected showing up at registration centers in Freetown, the BBC reported. "I drove around town and saw that some of the registration centers were empty," said BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana late in the day. In Kenema and Kono, Fofana said, registration officials downed tools on Thursday because their allowances of just over $30 had not been paid. He added that registration finally commenced in Kenema on Friday, but said the turnout of people at registration centers was "less than encouraging." In Kono, members of the militant Movement of Concerned Kono Youth (MOCKY) disrupted the first day of registration, the official Sierra Leone News Agency reported, quoting Radio UNAMSIL in Freetown. The youths reportedly demanded that displaced Kono District residents, tens of thousands of whom still live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries or in displaced camps within Sierra Leone, be repatriated before they would allow the registration exercise to go ahead.

The chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Walter Nicol (pictured left), has dismissed as "grossly misleading" an opposition  statement denouncing the voter registration exercise as illegal and giving the commission 24 hours to call it off. The statement, which was signed by representatives of eleven opposition parties, alleged that the NEC, by failing to submit its regulations to parliament, was in breach of constitutional provisions. In a statement issued late Friday, Nicol insisted that the registration was in fact being conducted in accordance with the country's 1991 constitution and with the Electoral Registration Act of 1995. Earlier Friday, in an interview with Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis, Nicol insisted that the registration period of just two weeks would be adequate to register the country's eligible voters — by U.N. estimates about one third of the population. "In the first place, we have no alternative," he said. "That’s what the law requires. That’s what the law states, that this should be done within 15 days. And the law has not been amended, so we cannot act outside the law. But what we have devised is a system in which if we have only 500 people to one registration centre for a period of two weeks, I believe we have more than enough time to have those who want to be registered to be registered." Nicol was quoted as saying that Sierra Leonean refugees living in Guinea and Liberia would have until April to register to vote.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to visit Sierra Leone on February 8, the official Sierra Leone News Agency reported on Friday. No details were available. 

Liberia is urging that United Nations sanctions, imposed nearly a year ago for the Liberian government's alleged backing of RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, be lifted now that the war in that country has officially been declared over, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported. Information Minister Reginald Goodridge insisted that Liberia had played a role in bringing the Sierra Leone conflict to an end. "We did our part in trying to help to bring about peace in Sierra Leone," he said. "We are happy for the Sierra Leoneans now, and I think that the United Nations and the world can look upon Liberia with some sympathy and say hey, it's all over, let's go back to square one and begin the process of rebuilding." Last March the United Nations Security Council, convinced that Liberia had violated U.N. resolutions by its involvement with the RUF in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade,  imposed a range of sanctions including a strengthened arms embargo, a ban on the sale of Liberian diamonds, and an international travel ban on senior Liberian officials and their families.

Russia has welcomed the end of disarmament in Sierra Leone as a "positive dynamic" in the peace process, Itar-Tass reported. In a statement released on Friday, the Russian foreign ministry said last week's arms-burning ceremony in Freetown "is meant to symbolize the end of the disarmament of rebels, which has been on since May 2001, and the practical end of the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone." This development, the ministry said, "will promote the national elections scheduled for May, a solution for the refugee problem, and reconstruction of the national economy."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2180 / 2300. [£] 2851 / 3170. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2950 / 3275. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2450 [£] 2700 / 2900. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2450 [£] 2800 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2200 / 2230 [£] 2800 / 3000.

24 January: Voter registration got underway in Sierra Leone on Thursday, ahead of national presidential and parliamentary elections now scheduled for May 14. During the two-week registration exercise which end will end on February 7, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) hopes to register one third of Sierra Leone's population — roughly 1.5 million people. Over the next two weeks, teams of NEC officials will travel throughout Sierra Leone using bicycles, motorcycles and possibly even helicopters to reach remote areas and to register as many voters as possible. The NEC's efforts will be supported by the United Nations, with UNAMSIL providing logistics. During the next two weeks, more than 5,000 registrations centers will be set up around the country. Each of those centers will later be transformed into a polling station. Those who register will be given photo ID cards to use at the elections, and their hands are marked with indelible ink to prevent them from registering more than once. In the northern towns of Makeni and Magburaka, scores of residents queued up at registration and photo centers on the first day of registration, UNAMSIL reported. According to the UNAMSIL statement, the process is said to be on course in many regions of the country, with minor delays in some areas. In Freetown, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported that turnout was "less than enthusiastic as people simply trickled in." But he said local radio stations were urging potential voters to register, while some non-governmental organisations had joined in a nationwide campaign to educate voters about the process. Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis quoted election officers as saying that while the turnout did fall short of expectations, the pace was expected to pick up in the coming days. Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake (pictured left) suggested that a change in the voter registration process might be behind the apparent slow start in the capital. "The mode of registration has changed," he said. "It’s no longer a house-to-house mode. People are now expected to go to registration centers and register to vote. So since it’s a new system, naturally it will take some time to for us get used to it. But it’s a system that should facilitate voting as well, because the expectation is people will vote at centers where they registered." Blake stressed that the government expected people would in fact register to vote. "People have been encouraged from all areas, from all sectors, from all regions in the country to make use of this particular opportunity," he said. "It’s their only opportunity to exercise their right — their constitutional right — to participate in governance." In a BBC interview, NEC chairman Walter Nicol (pictured right) acknowledged  that the registration of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees in neighbouring countries still posed a problem. He said the NEC had asked permission to register refugees in the camps, but that the host governments had not responded to the agency's request. "We are thinking of making provision for the late registration of refugees," he said. Under Sierra Leonean law, voting can only take place within the country's borders. Meanwhile, two Commonwealth observers and a Commonwealth Secretariat staff member arrived in Freetown on Wednesday to "observe relevant aspects of the organisation and conduct of the voter registration process" and to "consider the various factors impinging on the credibility of this part of the electoral process" at Nicol's invitation, the Commonwealth News and Information Service reported. Justice Brigadier-General (Rtd) Augustino Ramadhani, Vice-Chairman of Tanzania's National Electoral Commission and Judge of the Court of Appeal, and Nigel Buttler, Deputy Returning Officer, Vale of White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire, U.K., along with Dr. Jackie Dugard of the Secretariat's Political Affairs Division, will be present in the country until January 30.

Former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma resigned Wednesday from his position as chairman of the government's Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, PANA correspondent Pasco Temple reported. In a one-page letter of resignation backed by a four-page explanation, Koroma said he was stepping down because of frustrations with the government, and because he had been accused of using his position to further his political ambitions, Temple said. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web last June, Koroma acknowledged that he was "seriously thinking" about standing for president in the upcoming elections. Earlier Wednesday, Koroma participated in a peace and reconciliation conference in Koidu, where he called on the people of Kono District to accept each other in the spirit of reconciliation. "People fight because they are not able to talk," he said.

Behrooz Sadry, the U.N. Deputy Special Representative for Operations and Management, and Johnny Paul Koroma, the chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), called on Kono District residents Wednesday to learn to forgive one another so that the wounds of Sierra Leone's ten-year long civil war could be healed. The two spoke at a peace and reconciliation conference in Koidu organised by the CCP in collaboration with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). Koidu, the district's largest city, was the site last month of fighting between rival factions which left more than a dozen persons dead and many more injured. "Peace can only come if we learn to forgive and forget the bad things our neighbors have done to us. Peace and reconciliation begins with us, the people of this land," Sadry said, adding that sustainable peace could only be achieved through reconciliation, forgiveness, repentance and justice. "UNAMSIL is here to support you in your reconciliation efforts so that the wounds of the war can be healed, and to remind you that reprisals and vengeance will not solve the problems, but forgiveness will," he said. The conference was attended by UNAMSIL officials, paramount chiefs, representatives of the RUF, the CDF, the Sierra Leone Police, the National Union of Students, the Movement of Concerned Kono Youths, and local residents.

23 January: More than half of displaced Sierra Leonean women and girls who came into direct contact with RUF rebels during the country's decade-long civil war report they were sexually assaulted, with a third of those saying they were gang-raped, the U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said in a new report issued on Wednesday. The vast majority of the reported abuses occurred between 1997 and 1999 — the two-year period which encompassed AFRC junta rule and the rebel offensive which ended in the bloody January 1999 attack on Freetown. In a survey of 991 households, 53 percent of the women who had face to face contact with RUF fighters said they experienced some form of sexual violence, as compared to six percent from the country's other warring factions. These figures, when extrapolated to the entire internally-displaced population, suggest that between 50,000 and 64,000 displaced Sierra Leonean women may have experienced some form of war-related sexual violence over the past ten years. Rape, when committed during war, is considered to be a war crime. When it is directed against a civilian population as a policy of war, rape is considered to be a crime against humanity. Both fall under the jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the war-crimes tribunal established in Freetown last week. In the survey, the first to use population-based random sample methods to evaluate the prevalence of wartime sexual violence, one of eight households reported that a family member had been the victim of war-related sexual abuse, while nine percent of individual women who responded said they had been raped. The prevalence of sexual abuse during the ten years of war, the rights group said, was the equivalent of a lifetime of non war-related sexual abuse for those women who participated in the study. PHR Senior Research Associate Chen Reis, who coordinated the study in Sierra Leone, told the Sierra Leone Web that as alarming as the findings were, the actual numbers might even be higher. "There is a disincentive in a way for women to report that they’ve been raped," she said. "This is not something that people would say lightly. If anything, we believe that there was an under-reporting of this." Reis urged that the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations move to provide counselling and protection to women who might soon be called upon to testify before the Special Court or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "One of the things that the women we interviewed told us is that they were afraid of retribution," she said. "That’s a very real fear for people who’ve lived through nearly eleven years of conflict and who’ve experienced violence, including sexual violence, at the hands of people who may be living in their community." Because so many of the women emphasised a desire for skills training, Reis said, PHR advocated increasing funding for a wide range of programmes to benefit the victims — "not just physical and mental health services, but also provision of assistance, skills training and income-generating projects." In its report, PHR also called on the government to help address the needs of survivors of sexual violence, including the provision of health services, referral, transport assistance, counseling and education. It also suggested the government work with women's groups and other agencies to educate women, men and youth on issues relating to sexual violence and women's rights. In addition, Reis said, the rights group recommended that government strengthen the capacity of its police force and judiciary "to provide training across the board for police, for law enforcement officials, for medical officials to address appropriately cases of sexual violence that come before them, to set up procedures that are sensitive and in keeping with international standards." Reis had words of praise for both the PHR researchers and the women who told them their stories — in some cases for the first time. "Inasmuch as it was difficult for us, we can’t even imagine how difficult if must have been for the women who participated in the study to share their stories," she said. "Many of them had never before shared their stories with anyone. We’re really optimistic that this study will go some way toward making a difference in these women’s lives."

22 January: The European Union has committed €17 million ($15 million) to aid displaced persons and refugees in the Mano River Union nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The money, which will be channeled through the EU's humanitarian aid office ECHO, will be used to fight malnutrition, boost primary health care, and provide blankets, shelter and drinking water. "Civil conflict over many years has exacted a terrible cost in human misery with homes destroyed, health and education systems left in ruins and huge numbers of people displaced from their home areas," EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson was quoted as saying. "We will continue offering humanitarian support for as long as it is needed." Meanwhile, the Japanese government has approved a $3 million grant for the reintegration of ex-combatants and reconstruction in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL said on Monday. The funds, which come from the Japanese Human Security Fund, will benefit some 5,000 ex-combatants in Koinadugu, Kono and Kailahun Districts over the next three years. The United Nations Development Programme's implementing partners will be responsible for implementing the programmes, which include a number of self-employment, vocational training and formal education schemes.

21 January: President Kabbah announced on Monday the restructuring of Sierra Leone's military in a way which will do away with separate army, navy and air force command structures by April 1. Kabbah made the announcement in a speech at a Tower Hill ceremony to open the new Ministry of Defence building on the site of the former Paramount Hotel. The restructured force, to be known as  the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF), will be divided into two commands, both located at Cockerill Barracks. The Joint Force Command will be responsible for military operations and training, while the Joint Support Command will deal with personnel, logistic support and individual training. Over the next two to three years, Kabbah said, the military is expected to reach a troop strength of some 11,000 soldiers.

Ceremonies to mark the official end of disarmament took place at the weekend in Sierra Leone's provincial capitals of Makeni, Bo and Kenema. At Makeni's Wusum Stadium, interim RUF leader Issa Sesay (pictured right) and eight of his commanders and personal bodyguards handed over their weapons to senior UNAMSIL officials at a ceremony Saturday attended by President Kabbah and members of his government. Sesay then joined Kabbah and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, in lighting a bonfire of about twenty weapons turned in during the disarmament process. In an address to the thousands of people gathered at the stadium, Kabbah said that "the war has ended, but a new war has started," which he described as the war on poverty. He urged Sierra Leoneans to work hard to rebuild their country, and to strive to reintegrate former combatants into society. Sesay, in his remarks, noted that the presence of the president in the former RUF headquarters town was "a positive manifestation that sustainable peace has come to Sierra Leone." At similar ceremonies in Bo and Kenema on Sunday, Kabbah again stressed the need for reconciliation among Sierra Leoneans. He was joined in Bo by Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, who told residents he had come to the former government stronghold "to confirm that the war is now over." Golley said the end of disarmament should not be the end of the peace process. The priority now, he said, should be on reintegrating the ex-combatants into society and showing them that with hard work and determination they could prosper in Sierra Leone.

Reaction to Friday's announcement that disarmament is complete and that the war is over: Zainab Bangura, National Coordinator of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance: "We know that peace doesn’t mean when the guns are silent. It goes beyond. So I think as much as I can say is we are on the process for peace. The first thing is that there has been a ceasefire for a long time. Secondly, government has been able to deploy the SLA into vast areas of Sierra Leone. The remaining areas have also the UNAMSIL presence. I think to a larger extent that gives confidence to Sierra Leoneans and to the people in general. And so most people believe that we are on the process of peace and I think that’s what the government also means. They are yet to take complete hundred percent control, so when you take those two things all in total, I think we can say we’ve come a long way — we’ve travelled a long way. We are almost at the end of the road."

The United Nations Development Fund for Women announced Monday that two independent experts, Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, will travel to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to assess the impact of conflict on women and women's role in peace building. Rehn is the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sirleaf is a member of the Organization of African Unity’s Panel of Eminent Persons to investigate the genocide in Rwanda.

20 January:  The end of disarmament marks the beginning of a new stage in the peace process, the Executive Secretary of the National Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration said on Sunday. "The guns are silent indeed, but then we’ve got the long road to walk, the road to reconciliation," Dr. Francis Kai-Kai told Voice of America correspondent Josephine Kamara. "You know, it’s a long war, over a decade, and there is bitterness around. People are forgetting slowly in some areas. Others are only beginning to think about forgiving. It’s going to be one of the major tasks for us now as Sierra Leoneans...If as well adversaries become very regretful for what they’ve done and very remorseful, we have a responsibility to make sure that we accept that in good faith and move forward." Kai-Kai stressed that the most pressing matter now was the reintegration into society of the more than 46,000 combatants who had given up their arms over the past year. "Reintegration is the major theme now," he said. "How do we get these people to position themselves again in society, especially the ex-RUF fellows? How do we make sure that they get back to their home areas? So for a lot of us, it’s a moment to start another stage in the process towards durable peace."

19 January: Reaction to Friday's announcement that disarmament is complete and that the war is over: Omrie Golley (pictured left), chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council: "I consider the end of disarmament and the end of the war to be the first stage of the consolidation of the peace process, but there’s such a lot more work that needs to be done, particularly in terms of tackling the problems in our society — that of poverty, corruption, nepotism and economic and social mismanagement. Reconciliation is extremely important in the weeks and months that lie ahead, and I hope as a people we would recognize that disarmament is just the first stage of a wider process of reconciliation and change." U.S. acting State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel: "We call upon all parties to build on the significant progress made so far as Sierra Leone moves toward a brighter future. The United States looks forward to our continued close cooperation with Sierra Leone as it moves toward elections in May and confronts the challenges of the years ahead."  

18 January: At a symbolic ceremony in Lungi on Friday to burn nearly 3,000 weapons collected from Sierra Leone's warring factions, President Kabbah declared that disarmament in the country was at an end — and that the war was over. Kabbah also announced the lifting of the curfew, which has been in effect since the restoration of civilian rule four years ago. The president spoke before a crowd which included visiting dignitaries, government leaders, representatives of the RUF and CDF, United Nations officials, diplomats, and 1,000 local residents and school children. Since January of last year, over 46,000 combatants have turned in some 14,500 weapons and 1.3 million rounds of ammunition. But despite the success of Sierra Leone's disarmament programme, Kabbah warned that there still were threats to peace in the sub-region, including the illicit arms trade and the illegal trafficking in natural resources —  especially diamonds, which have been widely blamed for fuelling Sierra Leone's ten years of civil conflict. And although the process of disarmament was now formally over, he said, the formidable tasks of reintegration and rehabilitation have only just begun. Noting the paucity of funds pledged so far to help train and reintegrate former combatants into society, Kabbah appealed to the international community to remain engaged in Sierra Leone, and to help the country to consolidate the peace. This week the Sierra Leone government signed an agreement with the United Nations to set up a Special Court which will prosecute those accused of war crimes during the conflict. Questions have been raised in recent days as to whether the timing of the agreement might disrupt the fragile reconciliation process, but Kabbah insisted that both justice and reconciliation were "major components" of peace. "One cannot speak about the need for national reconciliation, and at the same time ignore or dismiss the moral and constitutional imperative of upholding the rule of law," he said. "The Special Court is about accountability. It is about justice...In our situation it is a means of dealing with impunity. It is also a means of ensuring that at all times, the human rights of every individual, including those who are caught up in armed conflict, are respected and protected." Of the heads of state who were invited to Friday's ceremony, only President John Kuffuor of Ghana showed up. Liberia was represented by Vice President Moses Blah, while Senegal, Mali and Libya sent their foreign ministers. Nigeria was represented by Minister of Defence Theophilus Danjuma.

Statements made at the ceremony for the symbolic burning of weapons: RUF interim leader Gen. Issa Sesay (pictured right) thanked UNAMSIL for having given "us the courage to lay down our arms." He added: "We are not only burning [tools] that were taking lives, we are producing ashes out of (them) which will [forge] a new consciousness and determination to foster greater unity and hope of a better and brighter future of all Sierra Leoneans. As we destroy the weapons that have been collected and [smoke rises from the fire to the skies], let this be indication of the declaring intention of all former fighters that violence and discord are indeed ended in Sierra Leone." Ghanaian President John Kuffuor said the successful disarmament of combatants was "a significant milestone and moral victory for the people of Sierra Leone and the international community." He noted, however, that "ten years of fighting have robbed this country of human and material resources which could have been used to alleviate poverty." Said Kuffuor: "Let us resolve to give the children of Sierra Leone a chance to grow up in a peaceful country." Nigerian Defence Minister Theophilus Danjuma said that the proliferation of small arms, most of which are manufactured outside the African continent, constitute "weapons of mass destruction" in Africa and must be tackled "at the source...so we urge the producing countries that flood the market to search their hearts and have pity on us." The U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured left), commended the leadership of the RUF and CDF "who committed themselves to see the disarmament process through to the end. Adeniji noted that "while this day symbolises an end, it also symbolises a beginning — a new beginning for more than 46,000 men and women of this nation." He appealed to the international community to support the reintegration programme because "financial resources required face a serious shortfall."

As Sierra Leoneans prepared Friday to celebrate the end of disarmament with the symbolic burning of weapons, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hailed the role of Britain, working together with ECOWAS and UNAMSIL, in bringing the conflict to an end. "Sierra Leone is emerging from the nightmare of a decade old civil war, which has left the country and its people severely scarred," he said. "The process of healing and rebuilding must now begin." Straw welcomed the signing of an agreement this week to set up a Special Court to prosecute those accused of war crimes committed during the country's decade-long civil war. "Bringing to justice those most responsible for gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity will send a powerful message to Sierra Leoneans and around the world about the international community’s resolve not to allow such activities to go unpunished," he said. The minister said he was "greatly encouraged" about the number of ex-combatants who had disarmed. "It is clear to me that the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans are fed up with war and yearn for peace," he said. "I applaud the Revolutionary United Front’s decision to give up the gun in favour of a political process, leading to elections in May. I urge all Sierra Leoneans to grasp this opportunity to work together, and help to rebuild their country and realise its great potential."

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, will begin repatriating Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia next month for the first time since war erupted in their country a decade ago, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. Because of limited assistance available in eastern Sierra Leone, the agency is not promoting a massive repatriation of the 38,000 refugees in Liberia, but will facilitate the return of those requesting it. So far, 2,069 Sierra Leoneans have indicated they are ready to go back. Many of the refugees are eager to return home to vote in the upcoming election, the spokesman said. UNHCR staff and Sierra Leone government officials are visiting the six refugee camps in Liberia this week to meet with refugee leaders and discuss the conditions in the areas of return. The majority of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia come from the eastern Kono and Kailahun Districts.

U.S. President George W. Bush has renewed a ban on the import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone and Liberia, except those certified by the Sierra Leone government, the Voice of America reported on Friday. Bush originally imposed the ban last year, in line with an embargo by the United Nations Security Council. In a statement, Bush said that the continuation of the embargo was necessary because the actions of the RUF posed a threat to U.S. foreign policy. In November, the Washington Post newspaper alleged the RUF had sold diamonds to representatives of the al-Qaeda network, blamed for terrorist attacks in the United States last September. Imports of Liberian stones are also banned, Bush said, because of Liberia's support for the RUF.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2180 / 2320. [£] 2651 / 3174. Commercial Bank: [$] 1800 / 2130. [£] 2601 / 3075. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 2900. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2450 [£] 2800 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2300 / 2350 [£] 3000 / 3050.

17 January: Representative of the Sierra Leone government (delegation pictured left) and the RUF (below right) met for a final time for U.N.-brokered Tripartite talks in Freetown Thursday and formally declared that, with 46,453 combatants having turned in their guns, the disarmament process in Sierra Leone was at an end. In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting the two sides called for the acceleration of the extension of government authority throughout the country. The meeting also agreed on the need to reintegrate fighters from the former warring factions back into society, and appealed to the international community to back the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) programme with financial assistance. The two sides expressed support for the on-going Community Arms Collection and Destruction Programme, aimed at removing from circulation the remaining weapons, many of them shotguns and hunting guns which are not generally considered to be weapons of war. Both the government and the RUF stressed the importance of repatriating tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees so that, if they wished, they could participate in next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. RUF representatives raised the issue of the transformation of their movement into a political party, which has stalled recently over the rebel group's inability to secure a party headquarters in the CDF stronghold of Kenema. They also urged that the United Nations move to lift its international travel ban on RUF members. 

Britain will maintain its current troop strength in Sierra Leone at 360 soldiers through the elections, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said in response to a parliamentary inquiry. "Our military training and assistance programme continues to make good progress towards its goal of developing a professional, accountable and effective Sierra Leone Army, able to protect the security and integrity of Sierra Leone on its own," Hoon said. In September, Hoon announced that the British onshore presence would be reduced to 360 troops, most of them military trainers and support personnel, by January, to remain at that level until April 2002. "Since then, it has been announced that presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone are to be held on 14 May 2002. I have therefore decided to maintain our presence at the force levels announced in September over the period of the elections," he said. The International Military Advisory and Training Team will continue the military training and assistance task with the Sierra Leone Army."

The United Nations Security Council moved Wednesday to clarify the role of U.N. peacekeepers during Sierra Leone's elections in May. In a unanimous resolution, the Council mandated UNAMSIL to help the government with logistical support, transport and security. The Council also authorised an increase in the number of U.N. civilian police in order to advise and support the Sierra Leone Police in carrying out responsibilities related to the election, and to help the police force train their personnel. The Council welcomed the interim establishment of an electoral component in UNAMSIL designed to strengthen the U.N.'s ability to help coordinate electoral activities between the government, the National Electoral Commission, and others involved in the process. It also welcomed UNAMSIL's decision to set up offices in each electoral region to monitor the process and to provide assistance to international election observers. 

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was established at a signing ceremony in Freetown on Wednesday, will seek to prosecute political and military leaders who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes committed from November 1996 onward, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin told the BBC. "The statute does not specify any distinction between government side or RUF," he said. "The prosecutors and the investigators will look at the evidence and they will follow that evidence in their indictments." Zacklin acknowledged that operating the court in Sierra Leone was going to be "a challenge," but he told reporter Lansana Fofana that it was necessary the tribunal be set up in the country where the crimes were committed. "I think that there are a lot of infrastructure problems, communication problems (in Sierra Leone), but we believe that it’s very important for a court of  this kind to take place in the country where the crimes took place," he said. "If we established it in a third country, it would not have the outreach to the population that we need."

16 January: The Sierra Leone government and the United Nations signed an agreement in Freetown Wednesday establishing a tribunal to prosecute those who committed war crimes during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. Sierra Leone "must have a full accounting for the atrocities in the past," said Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured right), who signed for the Sierra Leone government. "Without ending impunity by bringing to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed in this country, we are dooming ourselves to repeat them." Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell, who signed for the United Nations, noted that the document was the first ever such agreement between the U.N. and a member state. "The Special Court for Sierra Leone is different from earlier ad hoc courts in the sense that it is not being imposed upon a state," he said. "It is being established on the basis of an agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone —  at the request of the Government of Sierra Leone." The court, which will include both international and Sierra Leonean judges, will try those deemed "to bear the greatest responsibility" for war crimes committed since 30 November 1996 —  the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord. Corell said the court would focus on crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. It will also have the power to try persons who committed certain serious crimes under Sierra Leonean law, such as arson and crimes against women. "The court will also have jurisdiction over crimes committed against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict," he said.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister said Wednesday that the establishment of the Special Court did not mean that the country had abandoned the reconciliation process. "As a matter of fact there is a United Nations team presently in Sierra Leone to look into the setting up of (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and the commencement of its deliberations," Dr. Cecil Blake told Radio France International. "So we do have the reconciliation factor. The Special Court should not be seen as something that negates the reconciliation process or commitment." Blake said it would be unfair to suggest that because the court had been set up, the country had abandoned the issue of reconciliation. "Reconciliation is a very fundamental aspect of the policy here," he said. "And reconciliation could not be achieved without also applying certain demands of justice and trying to redress issues surrounding impunity. So they really go hand in hand."

Five senior members of the RUF paid a courtesy call on President Kabbah on Wednesday, a day ahead of the eighth and possibly final meeting of U.N.-brokered Tripartite talks between the rebel group and the government following the conclusion this month of the disarmament process. The RUF delegation included Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley (pictured right), interim leader General Issa Sesay, former ministers Mike Lamin and Pallo Bangura, and Brigadier Morris Kallon. Golley called the meeting "very constructive."  "We reiterated our commitment to the peace process and asked the president for support and encouragement in this," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "We also agreed that we would all work together to ensure that the peace process leads to lasting and sustainable peace in our country." RUF leaders met Wednesday to discuss issues which they will bring up at Friday's Tripartite talks, such as the rebel group's difficulty in obtaining offices in Kenema —  a necessary step before it can register as a political party. Golley said that, at Sesay's request, he would lead the 16-member delegation to the talks. Other members of the RUF delegation include Mike Lamin, Security Chief Colonel Augustine Gbao, Morris Kallon, Benson Conteh, Political and Peace Council members Jonathan Kposowa, Agnes Manning and Andrew Kanu; Peter Jusu, Isatu Kallon, Santigie Kamara, Colonel "Bai Bureh" (Abubakar Jalloh), Colonel Harris Momoh, Hector Bob Lahai, Abdul Razak Kamara and Mustapha R. Conteh.

15 January: The Sierra Leone government and the United Nations will sign an agreement Wednesday afternoon formally establishing a Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court, which will have a non-Sierra Leonean prosecutor and a majority of its judges drawn from the international community, will be mandated to try those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during the latter half of the country's decade-long civil war. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa will sign the document for Sierra Leone, and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell will sign on behalf of the United Nations. On Thursday, the eighth and, likely, final meeting of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration will meet at U.N. headquarters in Freetown for Tripartite talks to wrap up the disarmament process. This will be followed on Friday by a symbolic burning of weapons. The Sierra Leone government has invited the presidents of the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal to be present for the ceremony. A source told the Sierra Leone Web late Tuesday that at least four of the presidents had indicated they would come. 

The bodies of six Zambian soldiers who died in eastern Sierra Leone earlier this month while performing peacekeeping duties are due to be returned home on Tuesday, the Times of Zambia reported. The soldiers were transporting munitions collected from former combatants at Tongo Field when a mortar bomb accidentally went off, triggering a larger explosion. A dozen other Zambian peacekeepers were wounded.

A delegation of a least 16 RUF officials will attend Thursday's U.N.-brokered Tripartite talks in Freetown, RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. He said the RUF would use the meeting to raise still unresolved issues, such as the transformation of the rebel movement into a political party. The RUF's interim leader, General Issa Sesay, is expected to arrive in Freetown by road in time for the meeting, Golley said.

The Sierra Leone Army, with British forces providing logistics and transportation, has begun deploying along Sierra Leone's eastern border with Guinea in Kono District, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported from Kenema. Doyle quoted Sierra Leone Army officers as saying they were aware "certain arms caches in certain places" as well as "of certain RUF concentrations in certain areas." He stressed, however, that the RUF leadership had "undoubtedly shown a lot of good faith in giving up their guns" and that the rebels had been disarmed in large numbers. "It has to be said that when you fly and drive a little bit around this eastern area, it really is the most inhospitable terrain for any army really, and a stretched army like the Sierra Leonean army has particular difficulties," he said. "But it really is the most inhospitable terrain you can imagine. There’s mountains and forests and rivers and no army in the world could really totally control it."

14 January: Members of a U.N. planning mission who are in Sierra Leone this month to prepare for the establishment of a Special Court met in Koidu Sunday with members of the RUF, the CDF (Donso militia), and the militant Movement of Concerned Kono Youths (MOCKY). According to UNAMSIL, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin (pictured left), who is leading the mission, said the court —  mandated by the United Nations to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes in Sierra Leone —  would prosecute only individuals, not groups or organisations. "There will be no witch hunt, no finger pointing," he said. He stressed that the court's independence "would be assured by its structure, with an international, non-Sierra Leonean, prosecutor appointed by the U.N. secretary-general." The U.N. team's decision to meet with members of Sierra Leone's warring factions came as somewhat of a surprise: Last week, Zacklin told reporters he had no plans to meet with RUF leaders. Meanwhile, several members of the team, led by Kenneth Flemming, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda and reportedly one of two candidates for prosecutor of Sierra Leone's Special Court, visited two sites in Koidu where they found "material evidence of a massacre that could lead to a formal investigation," UNAMSIL said.

13 January: A total of 4,488 combatants disarmed in Kailahun District, including eight Kamajors and 402 child combatants, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Sunday. "This is very remarkable because the rebels initially gave 1,500 as their total strength in Kailahun," he said. Fofana said that when journalists visited Kailahun town on Saturday they were shown a "vast range" of arms and ammunition, including mortars, rockets, mines, hand grenades, and surprisingly, stinger missiles. "People didn’t even know that they had stinger missiles, and you could imagine what that meant if they actually used them during the course of the war," Fofana said. 

12 January: Disarmament came to an end in Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District on Friday when eleven senior RUF commanders handed over their weapons to the UNAMSIL force commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande. Among those who disarmed were the RUF's brigade commander in Pendembu, Colonel "Peace Eagle;" Colonel Tom Sandy, who commanded the RUF's military police in Kailahun; Colonel Ben Kenny, Colonel Moriba, Colonel "Satellite," the commander of the RUF's border brigade in Koindu; rebel-appointed Paramount Chief Sellu, and the RUF chairman and chairwoman, Eric Robinson and Susan Kulagbanda. It was Kailahun District which, beginning in March 1991, served as a base from which the RUF launched its decade-long civil war against successive Sierra Leonean governments. With the closure of the last disarmament camp in Kailahun, Opande said that disarmament in the country was complete. "All camps in the country under the control of UNAMSIL have been closed and we should all congratulate ourselves as peacekeepers for a job well done," he said.

11 January: Sierra Leone's police force has announced plans to deploy in the former rebel stronghold of Kailahun District within a month, Radio France International reported on Friday. Police will be sent to the towns of Kailahun, Segbwema, Pendembu and Bunumbu following the completion in February of the Community Arms Collection and Destruction Programme, a police official was quoted as saying.

The interim leader of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front has expressed concern about potential bias by a Special Court, being set up to prosecute those who committed war crimes during the latter half of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. "We still have reservations about the independence of the court as (U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin) has been holding talks with those in the government who also bear the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity," Issa Sesay (pictured left) told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson in Makeni. Zacklin is currently heading a 15-member U.N. planning mission to Sierra Leone to work out modalities for the court and a legal framework for its operation with the Sierra Leone government. In a press conference on Tuesday, Zacklin stressed that the court's independence would be guaranteed by the fact that both the prosecutor and a majority of the judges would be drawn from the international community. He also made it clear that the U.N. team had no plans to meet with RUF leaders. "Our interlocutor is the Government of Sierra Leone, which together with the United Nations is one of the parties to the agreement," he said. Sesay said the RUF feared its opponents, such as the pro-government Kamajor militia, would have too much influence over the court. "When the war started eleven years ago, the world said it was a brother-to-brother matter and indeed we have solved it in a brotherly manner, so we would not want the world to create more problems," he said.

10 January: President Kabbah has nominated Dr. Prince A. Harding to succeed Charles Margai as Minister of Safety and Security. Margai resigned from the post on Tuesday. Harding is currently secretary-general of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. He previously served as Minister of Mineral Resources from 1996 to 1997, and also as chairman of the National Power Authority. The nomination cleared Parliament's Committee on Appointments, over the objection of UNPP opposition members who wanted to scrutinise Harding's record. UNPP parliamentary leader Dr. Raymond Kamara and one of his party colleagues reportedly walked out of the committee in protest prior to the vote.

A total of 45,844 ex-combatants —  27,490 from the CDF and 18,354 from the RUF —  had disarmed by the official close of disarmament on January 5th, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Wednesday. The actual processing of the former fighters was not expected to be complete for a week due to the large turnout of combatants just before the deadline. The demobilisation of ex-combatants at centres in Kenema, Tongo Field, Daru and Kailahun will continue until all have been processed. The NCDDR began paying reinsertion benefits to disarmed and demobilised former combatants last October. Through January 5th, 39,220 had registered to receive payments in the Western Area and in all except Kenema and Kailahun Districts, which were the last to disarm. 38,093 of the former combatants have already been paid. Through January 3rd, 4,537 ex-combatants had completed reintegration projects in agriculture, public works and job placement, vocational training and small enterprise development, and apprenticeship schemes throughout the country. 11,196 are currently involved in reintegration projects. Meanwhile, 290 former child combatants have been placed in skills training programmes while 834 are taking enrolled in school.

9 January: Sierra Leone is facing a shortfall of at least $12 million for the reintegration of ex-combatants because of a larger than expected turnout from the country's warring factions, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone said on Wednesday. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, who spoke to reporters in New York following a closed-door session of the United Nations Security Council, said the U.N. had budgeted based on estimates that there were about 25,000 combatant in Sierra Leone. Instead, 46,346 had disarmed through Wednesday, he said. "We have now disarmed about 46,000 people, which is almost double (the estimated) figure, and you cannot leave this huge number of able-bodied young men disarmed and having nothing to do," he said. "So there will be the need to garner the resources to be able to reintegrate them." Adeniji briefed the Council on the secretary-general's latest report on UNAMSIL and updated Council members on the latest developments in Sierra Leone, including the end of the disarmament process, plans for presidential and parliamentary elections in May, and the current U.N. planning mission to set up a Special Court for Sierra Leone. In a statement released following the meeting, Security Council President Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul of Mauritius said members had agreed that the upcoming elections would be an important milestone for the war-torn country, and they signalled their intent to adopt a resolution clarifying UNAMSIL's role during the balloting. "They welcomed the secretary-general's recommendations for UNAMSIL's role in the elections; to provide support with security, logistics, monitoring, public information and the co-ordination of election observers," Koonjul said. Council members also stressed the importance of providing adequate resources for the reintegration of ex-combatants, the ambassador said, and they underscored the importance of regional stability by encouraging high-level contacts within the Mano River Union as a way of improving relations between countries in the volatile sub-region.

Former Safety and Security Minister Charles Margai, who resigned from the cabinet Tuesday amid controversy over whether he intended to challenge President Kabbah for the leadership of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party, confirmed Wednesday that he would indeed seek the party's presidential nomination for the upcoming elections "I will be running for the leadership because I believe that the party is disunited, and it is necessary for us to have our act together if the party is to survive the next election," Margai told BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana. "I have no doubt in my mind that from my record, especially in trying to organize the party, there is no better person now to lead the party than myself." Margai denied that he had been pressured to resign his post, but said his decision to leave the cabinet resulted from differences with President Kabbah over leadership of the party. He also complained that he had not received the backing he needed "to do what was to be done" within his own ministry. "I came into government hoping that we would all work as a team in a rather cohesive manner," he said. "But then it got to a stage when I could not do as much as I had wanted to, even in the ministry. And I felt frustrated, but nonetheless I decided to plod along. But then it has now come to a stage where I believe that I have to resign so that His Excellency could feel free to proceed with governance minus me." In a separate interview with Radio France International, Margai spoke of a deteriorating personal relationship between himself and the president over the leadership issue. "I decided to run for the leadership of the SLPP to give a new direction to the party – a direction which would unite the party, give it a cohesive outlook," he said. "I decided to leave because I have found out that the chemistry between the president and I is not working as it should. There seems to be mistrust between the two of us, and therefore in the interest of good governance and for the people of this nation I advised myself that the best way forward was for me to tender my resignation."

8 January: Safety and Security Minister Charles Margai resigned Tuesday following a request by President Kabbah that the minister clarify reports he had stated his intent to quit the cabinet and contest the leadership of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. According to a press release issued from State House, the matter came to a head on Sunday when Kabbah wrote to Margai requesting clarification on the issue within 24 hours, before the convening of Tuesday's National Security Council meeting. Following the minister's reply, which was not made public, Kabbah met with Margai and, according to the statement, told him that the reports would "have a negative impact on the aid Sierra Leone was receiving from abroad," since donors might conclude that the country was still unstable. Margai then tendered his resignation. Margai, the son of the late Prime Minister Albert Margai, contested the 1996 parliamentary elections under National Unity Party banner. He later switched his allegiance to the SLPP and subsequently joined President Kabbah's cabinet in April 1998, following the ousting of the AFRC military junta and the restoration of civilian rule. 

Sierra Leone's primary and secondary school teachers began a nationwide strike on Tuesday to press for payment of back salaries and allowances, PANA correspondent Pasco Temple reported, quoting officials of the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU). "We have resolved to stay away from the classrooms because of the contempt with which the government treats teachers in the country,"  SLTU Secretary-General Davidson Kuyateh said. He warned that teachers were prepared to stay away until the government paid all salary arrears, but he added that the union was prepared to enter into a dialogue with the authorities. 

Two leading candidates have emerged for the position of prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a U.S. State Department source told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. David M. Crane, who since 1997 has served as Senior Inspector General for National Security Systems in the U.S. Department of Defense was nominated by the American government, while Kenneth Flemming, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda, was nominated by the Australians. The United Nations reportedly would like to have the prosecutor in place in Freetown by the end of January, the source said. Meanwhile, a visiting U.N. legal team looked at a proposed venue for the Special Court on Tuesday, and toured Freetown's Pademba Road Prison and Sierra Leone's High Court. The team, led by U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, is in the country this month to establish a legal framework and modalities for the operation of the court, which will be charged with prosecuting those deemed most responsible for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. An agreement between the U.N. and the Sierra Leone government on the establishment of the court will likely be signed on January 16, the State Department source said.

The head of a visiting 15-member United Nations legal mission to Sierra Leone told reporters in Freetown Tuesday that his team was in the country to tackle the practical aspects of setting up the Special Court. The court, which will be established jointly by the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government, is charged with prosecuting those deemed most responsible for war crimes committed during the latter half of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. "This is a nuts and bolts visit," said Ralph Zacklin (pictured left), the U.N.'s Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs. "We are looking at absolutely everything that is concerned with the creation of this institution, beginning with where it will be located —  the premises; we will be having discussions with the authorities regarding prosecutions and investigations. We will be having discussions with officials of the government regarding the relationship between the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and various other matters. Zacklin said that the proposed Special Court for Sierra Leone, aside from the inclusion of some provisions of the Sierra Leonean criminal code, and differences in its funding process, would have "exactly the same" jurisdiction as earlier tribunals established for Rwanda and Yugoslavia. In a press conference at UNAMSIL headquarters, Zacklin insisted that events in Sierra Leone had played no part in the U.N.'s decision to go ahead and set up the court; rather, he said, the decision was "part of an evolutionary process" which started two years ago. He played down suggestions that the establishment of the court now could cause a backlash against the peace process. "Obviously, in a situation where we are still in the process of establishing peace, disarmament and reconciliation, there is probably never a perfect time to establish a Special Court," he said. "I regard the role of the Special Court as part of an overall process which the U.N. is engaged in Sierra Leone." Zacklin said he viewed the court as part of the reintegration process in Sierra Leone, and he noted that similar concerns had been raised when the U.N. set up the war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia. "I don’t believe that the establishment of the Special Court, its timing, poses any particular difficulties that we cannot overcome," he said. The assistant secretary-general stressed that the court would be independent of both the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, with the prosecutor, two of the three trial judges, and three of the five appeals judges being non-Sierra Leoneans. "We can safely say that the independence of this institution will be guaranteed by the international character of the majority of judges, not to mention that there will be many international staff appointed to the registry of the court and among the prosecutor’s staff and the investigators," he said. On the question of whether juveniles might fall under the tribunal's mandate, Zacklin acknowledged it was technically possible the prosecutor might indict children between the ages of 15 and 18 if he felt they fell into the category of those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. "There are various provisions in the agreement that make special provisions for such trials if they should take place and there is no provision in the statute for the sentencing to terms of imprisonment of anybody under age 18," he said.

The influx of hundreds of former combatants to disarm before the January 5 deadline was spurred by an ultimatum from the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) that those who failed to hand in their weapons would risk losing their reintegration benefits, NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. "It has worked," he said. "Hundreds turned in on the last day at the various centres in the Kenema and Kailahun Districts. Processing of these fighters is on-going and we'd wrap it all up during the course of the week." He said that the effective reinsertion and reintegration of the ex-combatants was now the next challenge for the NCDDR. Kai-Kai said it was difficult to confirm reports that some RUF combatants had crossed into Liberia rather than surrender their arms to U.N. peacekeepers. "I only know that we had a number of Liberian commanders in the Kailahun area," he said. "Most of them disappeared at the commencement of disarmament in the Kailahun District."

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has temporarily suspended the relocation of Sierra Leonean refugees from the Liberian border area to refugee camps following an improvement in the security situation at the Sinje II camp some 50 miles north of Monrovia, and a subsequent drop in the number of spontaneous repatriations, the agency said on Tuesday. About 1,700 Sierra Leonean returnees and Liberian refugees crossed the border into Sierra Leone during the second half of December, citing harassment by Liberian solders and fears that fighting to the north between government and rebel forces could spread southward. Meanwhile, the Sinje II camp has received 1,800 new Sierra Leonean refugees who fled fighting in Lofa County since early December. Liberia hosts a total of about 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in six camps.

Ambassador Jorge Eduardo Navarrete of Mexico has been elected chairman for 2002 of the United Nations Security Council's Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee. Cameroon and Singapore hold the posts of vice chairman. 

7 January: A sixth Zambian peacekeeper has died of wounds he received in Saturday's accidental explosion of a mortar bomb in the eastern town of Tongo Field, the Associated Press reported on Monday. Twelve others were being treated at the Choithram Hospital in Freetown after being evacuated by two UNAMSIL Mi-8 helicopters. "It was a tragic accident," said UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki. "UNAMSIL sends their condolences to the government of Zambia, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to restore peace in Sierra Leone." The peacekeepers, from Zambia's Third Battalion, were transporting weapons collected from former combatants to a storage centre when the mortar bomb exploded. Novicki said the bomb had set off further explosions on the truck. In New York, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed sadness over the deaths of the peacekeepers, and noted that the incident underscored the inherent dangers associated with peacekeeping. "The secretary-general deeply regrets the deaths of these Zambian peacekeepers and extends his sincere condolences to their families," the spokesman said.

A U.N. team of legal experts met in Freetown Monday with Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured right) and other government officials on the setting up of a Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court, which was approved by the U.N. Security Council in August 2000, would be charged with prosecuting those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during the last five years of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. The U.N. mission will be in Sierra Leone through January 18 to work out modalities for setting up the court, and to sign an agreement with the Sierra Leone government to establish a legal framework for the court to operate. The U.N. delegation, which is headed by Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, includes members of the U.N. Office of Legal Affairs, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia, and the management committee, which includes officials from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Lesotho and Nigeria.

The last few days leading up to the official end of disarmament in Sierra Leone produced a high turnout of former combatants in Kenema and Kailahun Districts, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said on Monday. "It’s not so much individuals coming in on their own, but it’s ground battalions and such coming in under their commanding officer," she told Radio France International. Novicki praised the acting RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, for "fulfilling the commitments he has made to get his men to come in."   "We have faced problems from time to time with individual ground commanders who may have delayed the process for whatever reason, but I would say at the very top of the leadership of the RUF, General Sesay has been true to his word overall," she said. "When we’ve come up against difficulties with some of the troops on the ground, he has gone himself the extra mile to go and talk to the troops and explain to them why they need to disarm now that the war is over —  that this the time when everybody has to turn in their weapons."

6 January: An announcement on lifting Sierra Leone's national curfew will come later this month, following the last Tripartite talks on January 17 between the government and the RUF and the symbolic burning of weapons the next day, President Kabbah said in an address on Sunday to mark the third anniversary of the bloody January 1999 rebel attack on Freetown. Speaking before an ecumenical service at Freetown's Sewa Grounds, Kabbah urged Sierra Leoneans to work for reconciliation in what he called the "spirit of the Lomé," — the July 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement. "Today we should remember that the agreement, perhaps more than anything else, opened the main door to national reconciliation," he said. " I would therefore like to take this opportunity to appeal to every Sierra Leonean, wherever you are, to rededicate yourself to the principle of national reconciliation." A year ago, Kabbah proposed that January 6th be observed each year as "Dedication Day," a day of remembrance and thanksgiving, to be commemorated by the wearing of a white rosette with a red spot in the centre — the white symbolising peace and reconciliation, and the red recalling the scars of war still borne by many Sierra Leoneans. On Sunday, the president urged his countrymen to keep open the door to reconciliation, and to resolve to settle their political differences peacefully. "We shall always have different perceptions of how this nation should or should not be governed," he said. "We shall continue to encounter difficulties in uprooting the evils that deter our progress towards social justice and economic self-sufficiency. But, these should never be used as a pretext for launching acts of aggression against the people of this country."

Five Zambian peacekeepers were killed Saturday and 13 others wounded —  three of them critically —  when a box of mortar shells they were transporting to a UNAMSIL arms storage centre in eastern Sierra Leone accidentally exploded, Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson reported. The incident reportedly took place near the diamond mining town of Tongo Field, where hundreds of RUF combatants showed up at the weekend to hand over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers. The wounded were flown by helicopter to Choithram Hospital in Freetown. "It appears it was just a tragic accident," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said, adding that weapons turned in by combatants were sometimes old and dangerous. "A lot of these things have deteriorated," she added. "Disarmament is a very dangerous process, especially for the people who are handling the weapons." BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported that four of the peacekeepers were killed instantly, while a fifth later died from his wounds on what was, officially, the last day of disarmament to end ten years of civil conflict in the war-torn country.

Several hundred former combatants are still waiting to turn in their weapons following the formal end of the disarmament process, the Associated Press reported, quoting acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Luther Agwai. "Although the period has officially ended, those who are still armed and have arrived at the reception centers will be disarmed," he said. He added that former combatants were lining up at disarmament centers in Kenema and Kailahun Districts, including 300 in Kailahun town alone. Despite disarmament having stalled twice in recent weeks — in November over RUF political demands and in December following clashes between RUF and CDF in Koidu — Agwai said the disarmament process had been "very impressive," considering that it was a voluntary exercise. "It has been a very welcome development for Sierra Leone and by the end of the exercise one can see it has been successful," he said. The general said that by the time disarmament was complete, some 45,000 combatants on both sides would have laid down their weapons.

46,511 combatants had laid down their arms nationwide by the official close of disarmament on Saturday, while many more were still waiting to hand over their guns to U.N. peacekeepers, Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. "The hundreds of combatants who turned up at the disarmament centers overwhelmed the staff, leaving a huge number unattended at the close of the day," Lewis said. "So though the deadline has expired, the combatants are still being processed."

5 January: The United Nations said it hoped to disarm most of the remaining combatants in Sierra Leone on Saturday, officially the last day of the eight-month disarmament effort which began last May. A community arms collection programme will continue to collect shotguns and other arms not generally considered to be weapons of war. In Kenema and Kailahun Districts, the last to disarm, the process has twice stalled — first over RUF political demands and then following clashes last month in Kono District. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General (pictured right), told the BBC that there were still a number of combatants on both sides who had failed to turn in their weapons, and that they would still have an opportunity to do so after Saturday. "In the last couple of days we’ve been told by both the RUF and the CDF, and especially by the CDF, that they have pockets of their combatants who did not disarm when disarmament was in their district," Adeniji said. "And so we have told them that we’ll be prepared for the next two days to look into those cases and see those that really qualify and disarm them. But these are just going to what you might call stragglers." Last May the RUF and CDF estimated that collectively they had some 25,000 men under arms. Adeniji said that more than 44,000 combatants had already disarmed through Saturday, and that the number would probably pass the 45,000 mark by the end of the day. The ambassador suggested that initially, both sides had deliberately understated the size of their forces. "At the beginning, neither group quite frankly was honest because they were not sure that their opponents would stick by their agreement," he said. "But I think as we went along, and they saw the number of people turning out from each group, and we also encouraged confidence-building measures being taken by both sides, I think they both became confident that yes, for once the war seems to be over and therefore there is no point retaining anybody under arms." Meanwhile Dr. Francis Kai-Kai (left), the Executive Secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, said disarmament could not be an open-ended process. "We should be very clear in our minds as to when we think disarmament should be over in Sierra Leone," he told Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis. "And our peace process here does not just end with disarmament. There are lots of other things to happen, and those things cannot happen if disarmament doesn’t officially end." Kai-Kai pointed to the need to reintegrate ex-combatants into society, and to the National Electoral Commissions commitment to a timetable for elections, now scheduled for mid-May. While it was still too soon for a final assessment, Kai-Kai said, the disarmament programme appears to have been a success. "If we talk about the amount of arms collected, there have been far more than what was expected," he said. "If we talk about the number of ex-combatants, it has far exceeded the target that we set ourselves. You know, we said 28,000 to the best of our knowledge, even to the best of the knowledge of the factions. But now we are talking about over 40,000. Then if we also look at the response of the ordinary citizenry to the process, it’s been very, very overwhelming...The process has brought real confidence again in the people."

A meningitis outbreak in Sierra Leone's northern  Koinadugu District has claimed the lives of 13 persons and infected many more, the government's medical officer in charge of disease prevention told Radio UNAMSIL on Friday. "The disease is of great concern to government because it has moved from Koinadugu District to Kono District, Reuters quoted Dr. Aruna Turay as saying. The U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) quoted acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker as saying the outbreak, first reported on December 31, had been confirmed by Medecins sans Frontieres and Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health. He added that a medical team had been sent to the area to try and control the spread of the disease. "The outbreak was first reported by UNAMSIL Radio from reports of troops on the ground," Coker said. "The team from the ministry has taken vaccines there."

Before the old year begins to fade from memory, many thanks go out to those who contributed financially in 2001, in particular the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Your contributions allowed the Sierra Leone Web to continue operating into its sixth year, and even to expand its mandate. Special thanks are also due two tireless volunteers who have done much to help improve the quality of the website's news page. Andrew Masuba (pictured right), except when he is on holiday in his native Bo, makes the rounds in Freetown each Friday to compile exchange rate information from banks and foreign exchange bureaus, and even from the black market "dollar boys." Last year, Masuba drew on his experience as a one-time Bo School footballer to write colourful accounts of league soccer matches in Freetown. Half a world away, in the U.S. state of California, Andy Kaplan —  who a year ago had no connection to Sierra Leone apart from his conviction that the international community in its rush to focus on conflict-torn Eastern Europe had overlooked the far greater suffering of Sierra Leoneans —  pledged to monitor internet audio for broadcasts about Sierra Leone. He has been even better than his word. Except for him, news and interviews which are beamed only to Africa might never have been seen or read outside the continent. Thanks also to Gary Schulze (left), who scanned his collection of hundreds of historic Sierra Leonean postcards for the website. These images, some nearly a century old, remind us that Sierra Leone's history is a rich one, and that despite the present conflict, its prospects for the future are bright. Finally, thanks to all who have written with words of encouragement. Your words have made this work lighter, and you have made it clear to all that Sierra Leone, even in its darkest hours, has not been forgotten.

4 January: A high-level U.N. mission to Sierra Leone next week will work out modalities for the setting up of a Special Court to try those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in the country during the past five years, a spokesman said on Friday. "What the planning mission wants to do is deal with certain practical matters, such as where will this court be located, what sort of personnel and services will it have, (and) how will the investigative and prosecutorial process be launched," Farhan Haq told Radio France International. "At the end of its stay in Sierra Leone, around the 18th of January, it’s expected that this mission will sign an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone that would establish the legal framework for the court to operate," he added. Meanwhile, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake (pictured left) said his government would not attempt to influence the workings of the court. "This is a court that’s going to be handled by a prosecutor, and the prosecutor will be the one to determine who the suspects would be based on what the investigations will reveal," Blake said. "The government wishes this to be a very independent process, particularly (the) prosecutorial dimension. And based on the evidence, those who have [committed] the greatest crime, those people who have thus created such crimes will be identified and prosecuted." The minister played down a suggestion that the Special Court could open old wounds and thus disrupt the reconciliation process in the war-torn country. "This is an issue of justice, so let us allow the process to take its course for now," he said. "We are busy right now also working hard on the reconciliation dimension. We are trying to get the resettlement programmes in place. Disarmament is just about ended. So things have been done contemporaneously, and the hope is that we wish as best as possible to maintain the independence of this process that’s going to start."

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations next Wednesday on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

The next Tripartite meeting between the government, the RUF and UNAMSIL will likely be held on January 17th, followed on the 18th by a symbolic destruction of weapons, a source told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2180 / 2320. [£] 2651 / 3174. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2950 / 3275. Frandia: [$] 2350 / 2450 [£] 3000 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2350 / 2600 [£] 3100 / 3600. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2400 / 2430 [£] 3200 / 3250.

3 January: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to move forward with a Special Court for Sierra Leone, despite a shortfall in funding needed to operate the tribunal, his spokesman said on Thursday. The Special Court, approved by the U.N. Security Council in August 2000 to prosecute those deemed most responsible for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has already been scaled back once after international donors balked at the proposed $22 million a year price tag. In a letter to the Security Council released on Thursday, Annan said the Council and the U.N. Secretariat had an understanding that the court would be set up only enough contributions were in hand to fund its first twelve months of operations, with pledges of funding for the following two years. As of November 30, the U.N. had received $14.8 million for the first year — $1.4 million less than had been requested — with pledges of $13 million and $7.4 million for the next two years, a shortfall of $19.6 million. "I am persuaded...of the political will of states and their commitment to the success and continued viability of the court," Annan wrote. "I have therefore taken the decision to authorize the commencement of the operation of the court, beginning with the dispatch of a planning mission to Freetown." He pointed to the difficulty in raising the needed funds through voluntary contributions alone, and said he reserved the right to ask the Council to raise any continued shortfall through assessed contributions or other means. Annan's spokesman said a mission from the U.N.'s Office of Legal Affairs, to be headed by Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, would leave for Freetown on January 7 and would remain in Sierra Leone through January 18. During that time, the spokesman said, the mission was expected to sign an agreement with the Sierra Leone government to establish a legal framework for the setting up and operation of the court.

2 January: Tensions between Pakistan and India are not serious enough to warrant the withdrawal of Pakistan's 4,266-member peacekeeping contingent from UNAMSIL, an unnamed senior Pakistani officer told Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis. He noted, however, that there was a clause in the peacekeeping agreement with the U.N. that the troops could be pulled out if they were needed at home. The Associated Press quoted unnamed Pakistani military and diplomatic sources as saying Pakistan had informed the United Nation of its intention to leave Sierra Leone. The acting UNAMSIL spokesman, Patrick Coker, insisted that the U.N. had received no official notification that Pakistan intended to pull out. UNAMSIL's Pakistani contingent, second in size only to that of Nigeria, consists of three battalions deployed in Koidu, Kailahun and Daru.

With three days to go until the official end of disarmament, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday that 42,132 combatants had given up their arms in Sierra Leone since the disarmament process resumed last May, exceeding original UNAMSIL estimates of 30,000 combatants nationwide. Of that number, 16,620 were from the RUF, 25,314 from the CDF, and the remaining 198 were members of the Sierra Leone Army and AFRC. Over the past two days, 259 ex-combatants handed in their weapons in Kailahun and Kenema Districts, and more are expected to follow suit before disarmament officially ends on Saturday.