The Sierra Leone Web


January 1995

31 January: An estimated 24,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have fled to Guinea since the RUF attack on Kambia a week ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Tuesday. Residents of Guinea's Forecariah Province have taken in many of the refugees, mostly women and children, who face acute shortages of food, water, and shelter. "We expect 30,000 will go to Guinea," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said. Most of the refugees are reported in good health, but carried few provisions. The UNHCR is dispatching food, blankets, shelter materials, and a water engineer to the region. Kambia has fallen under RUF control, and up to 30,000 of the city's 50,000 population were reported to have fled their homes. Refugees reported that the RUF killed at least 9 civilians and burned a number of homes during the attack which began on January 24. "The influx into Guinea has now slowed and only sporadic gunfire from across the border could be heard by a UNHCR team that visited the area on Monday," the agency said in a statement. The District Commissioner of Kambia, who was among those who escaped to Guinea, said he did not expect the refugees to return home soon. The refugees were afraid the rebels would make Kambia their last stronghold in the face of a government offensive, he said.

Rebels attacked the village of Gbomsamba on Tuesday, killing 8 people, military sources said.

30 January: RUF rebels opened fire on a bus between about 80 miles from Freetown Monday, killing one person and seriously injuring 14. The bullet-riddled bus, which was on its way from Kabala, continued on to Freetown and took the wounded to Connaught Hospital. The bus was ambushed between the towns of Gbomsamba and Foredugu in Port Loko District, southeast of Kambia. Passengers said bullets smashed the bus's windows and the rebels tried to shoot out the tyres. The driver, although wounded, managed to drive on to Freetown. Hundreds of Freetown residents crowded around the bloodstained bus for what for many was their first close-up view of the ravages of the conflict.

Roman Catholic bishops in Sierra Leone together with papal representative to Sierra Leone Luigi Travaglino called on Monday for an immediate truce and peace talks between the rebels and the government. "We hopefully ask for a week of ceasefire during which sincere discussions can really be initiated between the government and the rebels," the bishops said in a statement issued by the Vatican and in Sierra Leone. "We strongly appeal for the immediate end to the destruction of life and property, together with the kidnapping or abduction of innocent citizens, both local and foreign," the statement said.

Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium have advised their nationals to leave Sierra Leone if they have no good reason to stay. Sierra Leone's army told foreigners over the weekend that it was in control of the situation and that there was no reason to panic, but airlines remained fully booked. Lebanon's Middle East Airlines, which normally flies in every two weeks, has two flights this week and one next week. The Belgian airline Sabena is trying to organise an extra flight. "It's clear that a lot of people are trying to leave," one senior official said.

The charity Actionaid say Monday that it had suspended operations in Sierra Leone, due to worsening rebel attacks. Actionaid said 12 civilians had been killed in an attack on one of its development projects. Rebels took several radios, and government troops commandeered three vehicles. "In line with contingency plans, 90 staff have taken the rest of Actionaid's equipment and gone over the border into Guinea," Actionaid spokesman Hugh Goyder said in London. "We have suspended all operations in Sierra Leone and are discussing the situation with our office in Freetown."

28 January: Local Guinean officials have said that more than 30,000 refugees had arrived in Guinea after Wednesday's attack on Kambia, overwhelming towns in the border area. The Prefect of Pamelap, Mohamed Mounir Camara, said that food and drugs were urgently needed. Doctor Ahmed Tidiane Barry said that there was a risk of cholera. The dry season meant that streams were low and polluted, and that clean drinking water was in short supply. Paramount Chief Kandeh Sadou said his hometown of Kukuna, 42 miles northeast of Kambia, was virtually deserted and that most of the residents had fled. "The Guineans have been very helpful," he said. "They readily gave us the little food and shelter they had." Many refugees said the army did nothing to protect them when the rebels attacked the town. "They held the town for completely six hours without meeting any resistance. Nearly 100 troops deployed in the town disappeared mysteriously," said one refugee. "The soldiers are looting," one young man said. "They are dismantling beds and other furniture and taking them away in stolen vehicles...Kambia is a ghost town with no food and security."

Army spokesman Major Dominic Sowa has downplayed reports of rebel activity. "We are in control of the security situation in the country," Sowa said in a televised debate on Saturday night. He urged Sierra Leone nationals and foreigners, especially those in the capital, not to panic as "all the necessary security measures" had been taken. Soldiers have been deployed at Fourah Bay College, overlooking the capital, and have manned roadblocks on the outskirts of Freetown. Military sources said up to 100 suspected rebels had been detained in and around Freetown over the past two weeks. They said fighting had subsided around Kambia, but reported continuing clashes in the south, where rebels attacked two mines last week.

27 January: The Catholic Mission said Friday that the 7 nuns abducted by RUF rebels in Kambia on Wednesday were still missing. A Catholic Mission spokesman said there was no news of the nuns, but that the search was continuing. On Wednesday, a Defence Department spokesman had said the nuns had been released.

Sierra Leone's military government has appealed for a period of prayer and fasting to bolster its war effort. "We must all desist from our normal activities and enter a moment of introspection and pray and fast that the senseless rebel war will come to an end," SLBS (state radio) said in a series of broadcasts.

26 January: 7 foreign nuns who were abducted in Kambia on Wednesday have been released, the Defence Ministry said Thursday. Many of the 100 Sierra Leoneans also kidnapped have also been released, but the situation remains unclear, a ministry spokesman said. The nuns, six Italians and a Brazilian, were back working at Kambia's polio hospital, which is in the hands of government troops, he added.

Sierra Leone's military government ordered on Thursday the mobilisation of all available police and troops for the fight against rebels operating ever closer to the capital. SLBS (state radio) carried an announcement calling on all security personnel to report for duty on Saturday at the main barracks in Freetown. "Any military and police personnel not posted to any Western Area unit and being present in the Western Area on January 28, 1995, must report at the hockey pitch, Wilberforce Barracks," the radio said. "All military and police personnel in the Western Area must report in person to their respective units or stations for proper identification and verification of their postings."

25 January: Hundreds of local staff and villagers evacuated from the Sierra Rutile and SIEROMCO mining sites have arrived by barge in Freetown, port officials said Wednesday. The evacuees had been given food and water, and were being screened to ensure that there were no rebels among them, they added.

Defence Ministry officials said Wednesday that fighting continues at the Sierra Rutile and Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Co (SIEROMCO) mining sites, but that troops had control of Sierra Rutile's Nitty Harbour.

24 January: The RUF released a Russian sailor and a Sierra Leonean to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at Gueckedou in Guinea, on the Sierra Leone border. Military sources said the Russian, who has not been named, was captured during a rebel attack on Panguma last March in which a Dutch doctor, his wife and three-year-old child, and an Irish priest were killed. An ICRC spokesman said he would be handed over to the Russian Embassy in Conakry. He said negotiations for the release of other people abducted in recent months were continuing. "Negotiations are still under way regarding other unreleased persons...We are working actively on it," he said.

SLBS (state radio) said Tuesday that fighting between Sierra Leonean troops and RUF fighters was continuing in the Mobimbi area, around the Sierra Rutile mine site.

Freetown's population has reportedly tripled as a result of the rebel war. According to David Francis, a city planner, "We have never before experienced such a population boom in the capital and this is becoming worrisome as crime rates increase and life becomes generally intolerable." Before the war escalated two years ago, the population of Freetown stood at about 700,000 people, according to statistics provided by the Population Unit of the Ministry of the Interior. "Today we are talking in the region of well over 1.4 million people and this is frightening when one considers the inadequate social services in this capital," an official in the unit explained. He said some 300 civilians arrive in the capital every day, fleeing RUF attacks in the north and southeast. Most of the displaced are sheltered in the eastern suburb of Kissy and at Susan's Bay and Mabela in central Freetown. "These places are already overcrowded and health and sanitary facilities are not available there," social worker Michael Sesay said. Refugees also face a new crackdown on suspected rebels by security forces. More than 30 alleged "rebel suspects" have been detained and are currently being investigated. The Sierra Leone Human Rights League says that most victims are innocent displaced persons. "This is unfortunate because these people are faced with a double dilemma. They are running from rebels and are in turn accused of being rebels by security forces," said League Public Relations Officer Brima Claudio Kamara. Kamara said that the security forces are over-reacting to the government's orders to weed out potential fifth columnists, and in the process are violating the liberties of citizens. "These displaced persons are not responsible for the city's problems because after all they too have the right to dwell in the capital," he said.

Food prices in Freetown have climbed as RUF attacks have neared the capital for the first time. A pint of palm oil now sells for $1.00, as opposed to fifty cents last year. Freetown is still considered relatively safe, but residents have begun staying off the streets at night.

23 January: Sierra Leonean troops and RUF forces are fighting for control of the Sierra Rutile mine, military sources said on Monday. "We are going all out to get control of the entire Sierra Rutile operation area despite the fact that the rebels continue to put up resistance," said one source. Foreign staff of Sierra Rutile, which was attacked on Friday, and of the nearby Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Co (SIEROMCO), which was attacked on Wednesday, flew out of Freetown on Sunday night. One Finnish worker said troops sent to the area after Wednesday's attack on SIEROMCO had failed to defend the Sierra Rutile site.

Two naval gunboats left Freetown on Monday to escort barges carrying up to 3,000 Sierra Leonean staff evacuated from Sierra Rutile and Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Co (SIEROMCO). "These people have been on the barges since last Thursday without any food or water, too terrified to move. The gunboats have gone there with plenty of provisions," said a senior security source at Freetown port. He said they were expected on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. The official said passengers would be screened on arrival to ensure that no rebels were among them. Ambulances and medical staff will be on hand. "The 1,000 evacuees who arrived in Freetown last Saturday were mostly in a very bad state— completely shocked," he said. "One more barge will be sent up whenever the people are ready to come but they're scared stiff. They don't have any food or water, though. I can't see them holding out much longer."

Travel agents in Freetown were quoted Monday as saying that most foreign residents are staying for the time being. "Generally there has not been a big upsurge in bookings," one said.

22 January: Foreign staff of Sierra Rutile Ltd., owned by Nord Resources Corp of Dayton, Ohio, are being evacuated from Sierra Leone. They were due to fly out of Freetown on Sunday night. Diplomats said Sierra Leonean troops were continuing their search for a total of seven Europeans and 10 Sierra Leoneans abducted in two attacks on mines in the southeast last week.

21 January: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has told diplomats that he intends to free the two VSO aid workers kidnapped in November. British High Commissioner Ian McCluney told the BBC on Saturday that diplomats spoke by radio to volunteers Robert D'Cruz and Calum Murray on Friday night. Both said they were in good health and being treated well. The diplomats also spoke to Sankoh himself, McCluney said. "He was telling us that he was looking after them very well and he would be able to release them fairly soon. He was quite friendly to us," McCluney said. McCluney said there was no indication where the two VSO workers were being held, although they said they had walked a long way since they were kidnapped in Kabala on November 7. He said diplomats were not convinced that Sankoh controlled the fighters who abducted two British, two Swiss, a German and seven Sierra Leonean workers from the Swiss-owned SIEROMCO mine on Wednesday or two more Britons and three local staff from a nearby U.S.-run mine on Friday. "We have no way of knowing whether these rebel attacks and events are coordinated or not. Certainly he is not claiming that he holds them or that he has anything to do with it," McCluney said. Sankoh demanded that the British stop supplying arms to Sierra Leone's military government. "We don't have any military aid to Sierra Leone," McCluney said, adding that Sankoh had also repeated a demand for the withdrawal of West African troops helping to fight the rebels. "He asked us to try to arrange that the Nigerians and the Guineans and other foreign troops here should withdraw...this is not something which the British government is capable of arranging," he said.

Hundreds of rebels attacked the Sierra Rutile compound, abducting two British nationals and three Sierra Leonean security guards, company spokesman Philip Palmer said Saturday. Palmer quoted witnesses at the mine who said the five were captured at outlying sites and forced to walk barefoot about a mile back to the main compound. He quoted an employee as saying about 500 men and women in combat fatigues and wearing t-shirts reading "RUF Peacekeeping Force" took part in the attack. The military said it had sent reinforcements to the area after the latest two raids, but Palmer quoted the employee as saying no troops had arrived by the time the staff had evacuated the site. British Overseas Development Minister Lynda Chalker said she believed Sierra Leone's military government was trying its best to rescue the hostages but the situation was worrying. "We remain in close touch with the Sierra Leone authorities who are doing their best in a a confused and fluid situation. Our primary concern remains the safe and early release of those held as well as the safety of the British community," she said.

20 January: The British aid organisation Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) said Friday it had talked by radio to its two workers who were kidnapped by the RUF in November. The two, Calum Murray, 24, and Robert D'Cruz, 30, told VSO they were healthy and in good spirits, but missing their families. A VSO spokesman said Friday that one of its officials and a British detective had managed to establish the radio link with the kidnapped workers from Freetown. The spokesman said there had been radio contact with the rebels before, but that this was the first time the hostages had been contacted. British Foreign Office officials confirmed that a radio link had been set up to the RUF camp. They said they were trying to keep the radio link going to talk to the rebels, but it was up to the rebels to decide whether to answer.

The British Foreign Office on Friday named the two British nationals captured by the RUF in a raid Sierra Rutile on Friday as Peter White, who is employed by Group Four, a British security firm, and Andrew Young, who works for Sierra Rutile. Abducted from the nearby Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Company (SIEROMCO) mine on Wednesday were General Manager James Westwood and Ross Milne, both British nationals, Swiss nationals Walter von Rotz and Thomas Pluess, and German Rudi Bruns, and seven Sierra Leoneans: chief medical officer Mohamed Barrie, chief chemist Abdul Rahman Abdullah, accountant Benson Williams, cashier Vivian Gorvie, personnel superintendent Thomas Kamara, technical supervisor Mohamed Conteh, and mechanical supervisor Edmond Lamin. There has been no news of the kidnapped workers. "The army are pursuing the matter in the area," a diplomat said. "The situation is still very fluid." The British Foreign Office warned travellers not to visit Sierra Leone. "Nonessential travel should not be undertaken," a spokesman said. Together with two VSO workers kidnapped in November, the RUF is believed to be holding a Swiss national who disappeared January 4 in Panguma.

18 January: NPRC leader Captain Valentine Strasser has replaced his interior and information ministers, and appointed a new deputy head of the armed forces, SLBS (state radio) said Wednesday. Sahr Maliki, a former civilian politician and director of the U.S.-run development organisation Opportunity Industrialisation Centre replaced retired army colonel Alimamy Kamara as Interior Minister. Information Minister Hindolo Trye exchanged jobs with Transport Minister Arnold Bishop Gooding, previously the first attorney general under the NPRC government. Trye had been a controversial figure for his efforts to regulate the press by introducing registration and requiring newspaper editors to hold professional qualifications. Housing and Environment Minister Lieutenant Samuel Koroma was promoted to colonel and named Deputy Chief of Staff of the Sierra Leone army. On Tuesday, the Defence Ministry said Army Chief of Staff Colonel Kelly Conteh had been promoted to brigadier, and that Resident Minister Southern Province Major Samuel Williams had been promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

RUF rebels attacked Swiss-owned Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Company (SIEROMCO) in the Mokanji Hills Wednesday, capturing a number of expatriate and Sierra Leonean employees. The British Foreign Office in London said two Britons were among 8 foreigners captured. A Swiss diplomat in Ghana said only five expatriates — two Britons, two Swiss, and a German national — were taken prisoner, along with three Sierra Leone citizens. A staffer at SIEROMCO's Freetown office said communications with the Mokanji site had been cut off. "We are certain that the rebels have disconnected all communications sets to the headquarters in Freetown so we still don't know what is the position of our foreign and national workers," he said. Military sources said a helicopter gunship had left for Mokanji on Wednesday, but there had been no report on its progress since.

16 January: RUF rebels raided the campus of Njala University College on Saturday, killing seven civilians and looting a food store, witnesses said Monday. "I saw the bodies of seven men and most of them were members of the college junior staff," a lecturer said. "There were about 20 paramilitary police on campus when the rebels attacked, but they fled across a nearby river, leaving the lecturers at (the rebels') mercy," he added. He said the rebels identified themselves as members of the Revolutionary United Front.

Military sources said that government troops, backed by Nigerian and Guinean units, engaged RUF fighters around Lunsar over the weekend, killing 8.

12 January: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh Thursday rejected peace overtures from from Sierra Leone's military government. "We are ready to talk peace on condition that all foreign military troops and advisers to the government are removed from our country," he told NPRC representative Captain Abdul Rahman. Sankoh also said the two British VSO aid workers abducted by the RUF in December were still alive but would be executed "if any so-called rebel collaborators are killed." Reacting to the threat, a member of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces said it "has convinced us that some government troops are collaborating with rebel forces." The Defence Department and Army High Command have mounted a campaign to round up all suspected rebels and their collaborators in a bid to bring to an end the war. On Tuesday the NPRC sent a delegation to meet with RUF representatives for a second round of talks on the Mano River Bridge, on the border with Liberia, where the two sides had held a first round of talks in December. At the meeting, the Sankoh turned down the NPRC's offer of peace because of conditions which he described as "ridiculous." The military government has asked for a cessation of hostilities and transformation of the RUF into a political party while the government set in motion a programme for transition to civilian rule. The NPRC also asked for there to be meaningful dialogue, and said the RUF should denounce "terrorism and banditry."

The British Foreign Office said Thursday it was trying to negotiate the release of two British Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) workers held in Sierra Leone by RUF rebels, who have reportedly threatened to kill them. The RUF has alleged that the two were disguised military advisors. "The safety of the hostages is the responsibility of the RUF. We have made sustained efforts to negotiate their safe release but the RUF has shown no willingness to negotiate," a Foreign Office spokesman said. Officials said there had been no contact with the RUF since December 16, despite efforts by negotiators to contact them. Reports said RUF leader Foday Sankoh told a defence department official in a radio message that the aid workers would be killed if the authorities executed Lieutenant-Colonel Chernor Deen, who was convicted Wednesday of collaborating with the rebels. "We have heard these reports," the spokesman said. "We very much hope the threat will not be carried out." Sankoh said in the message the two VSO aid workers were disguised military advisers. "These are two aid workers," the Foreign Office spokesman said. "They have nothing whatsoever to do with the political or military process in Sierra Leone." The VSO said in a statement: "We have heard the report and are deeply disturbed by it...The two volunteers are humanitarian aid workers who should not in any circumstances be used in what their captors maintain is a political situation...From the beginning of the situation we have consistently urged the government of Sierra Leone to avoid any action which might endanger the lives of our volunteers." VSO road engineers Calum Murray, 25, and Robert D'Cruz, 30, have not been heard from since they were captured during a rebel attack on Kabala on November 7. It is thought they are being held in the southeast.

10 January: A Sierra Leonean delegation left Freetown for Liberia Tuesday for talks with representatives of the Revolutionary United Front. Foreign Minister Abass Bundu said the delegation was made up of private citizens who had the support of the Sierra Leone government.

The United States and Sierra Leone signed an agreement Wednesday to reschedule $1.7 million of bilateral debt over 30 years. The accord is part of an agreement reached in July between Sierra Leone and the Paris Club of official creditors on Sierra Leone's $1.2 billion foreign debt.

A military court sentenced Lieutenant-Colonel Chernor Deen to death Wednesday for collaborating with the Revolutionary United Front. Deen was arrested in September after two soldiers overheard him talking on a military radio. He had been serving as battalion commander in Makeni. If the sentence is confirmed by Head of State Captain Valentine Strasser, Deen, 55, will be executed by firing squad.

9 January: RUF rebels foraging for food killed four farmers harvesting rice near Kenema on Sunday, according to Regional Governor Major Bashiru Konteh. He said six farmers were wounded. Several people were killed during raids around Kenema over Christmas. Officials say many attacks ascribed to RUF rebels are the work of undisciplined soldiers, army deserters, and ordinary bandits.

6 January: NPRC leader Captain Valentine Strasser on Friday offered the RUF a six-point peace package, but said if the rebels spurned his offer the army would hunt them down on all fronts. In New Years remarks to diplomats, Strasser said he was sending a 9-member delegation to Liberia to sound out RUF representatives on prospects for peace. "We remain optimistic that Corporal Foday Sankoh and his men will now see sense and accept the peace offer so that this senseless and destructive war can be brought to an end," he said. Strasser said if the RUF declined his offer, "We shall fight them in the forests and in the fields, we shall fight them in the hills and in the air, we shall fight them in the sea and mountain if need be...we shall fight them wherever they go. We shall chase them wherever they hide." The plan calls for an unconditional ceasefire and urges the RUF to draft a political agenda for a transition to peace.

3 January: The National Rehabilitation Committee (NARECOM), a government body which deals with refugees, displaced persons, and the rehabilitation of war-affected regions, said Tuesday the NPRC is looking for a solution to the plight of people affected by the war. "We are deeply worried about this development and we are actually working on plans to have these refugees and displaced persons properly sheltered," a NARECOM official said. "It is an unfortunate development but we are trying to arrest the ugly situation." The NARECOM statement followed a New Year's Eve attack on a camp for displaced persons at Gondama village near Bo, looting property and causing 85,000 refugees to flee. "We don't know exactly what to do about these displaced persons since their safety might be in jeopardy if they return to the camp," an aid worker in Bo said. The refugees are being housed in various school buildings in Bo, and this provoked a large demonstration by Bo residents on Monday. The demonstrators, led by the Chairman of Bo Town Council, urged the military authorities to help people affected by the war by providing them with secure camps, medical assistance, and food. They also expressed concern that school buildings in Bo are now occupied by displaced persons, although schools were to re-open Tuesday. Social worker Francis Ganda said the changing face of the war might mean further problems for the refugees, who have neither adequate shelter nor adequate food. "If the rebels genuinely want to liberate the people, then they should spare the refugees and displaced," Ganda said. "This single act of chasing them out of their camp is immoral and unforgivable."

1 January: RUF rebels attacked the town of Ferodugu, about 80 miles from Freetown, on New Year's Day. The attack marked the rebels' closest attack to the capital to date. The army responded with a helicopter gunship for the first time. There were no casualty details from the raid, but military sources said they had killed 8 rebels.