The Sierra Leone Web


January 1997

31 January: The United States has announced a $5 million food aid package to Sierra Leone.

30 January: Ten of an expected sixty United Nations military advisors are in Freetown to work out ways to oversee the disarmament and demobilization of RUF fighters, according to a diplomatic source. "The others and 720 peacekeeping U.N. soldiers will come as soon as the RUF leader gives his support to the operation," the source said. The RUF issued a statement in Abidjan on Wednesday saying that the U.N. force should be scaled back to 100. The U.N. observers will also work out plans to reduce and restructure the Sierra Leone army which grew from about 3,000 to over 16,000 troops between 1991 and 1994. President Tejan Kabbah said that "the demobilization and disarmament of rebel combatants will begin in February," but gave no particulars as to the date or the number of combatants involved. However, one source said that February 15 would be a likely start for the encampment of 2,000 RUF combatants — mainly children between the ages of 8 and 14. According to U.N. interviews with 2,300 street and unaccompanied children in Bo and Kenema, 28 percent of them had been associated with the RUF.

A Sierra Rutile delegation meeting with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has spoken of plans to "recommence operations" in March. The company will re-employ about 3,000 Sierra Leoneans in addition to 60 expatriate staff. The mines were overrun by RUF rebels in 1994, with a number of senior staff and 8 foreign nationals being abducted for months. The foreigners were released in Guinea after the intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Most of the Sierra Leoneans opted to stay with the RUF, taking up senior positions.

The South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes has pulled out of Kono ahead of next month's expected deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops. According to the peace agreement signed November 30 in Abidjan, Executive Outcomes "will be withdrawn five weeks after the deployment of a neutral monitoring group." The Executive Outcomes group will stay near Freetown until their departure.

The U.S. State Department's latest global human rights report points to an improving human rights situation in Sierra Leone. The report notes that Sierra Leone in March 1996 had its first "free and fair" elections since 1967. However, the report says, government forces "were responsible for extrajudicial killings, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and illegal searches."

Three hungry war orphans discovered a flawless 100 carat diamond in Pujehun District Tuesday, worth an estimated $500,000. The orphans, whose parents had been killed in a rebel attack on their village of Hinnah Malen two years ago, found the diamond under a yam. Morie Jah, 14, said the children had gone out early after two days without food, but had returned home hungry after searching for yams for three hours. "On the way back we found a yam under a palm tree and dug it up. Right under the yam we found the diamond. It was easy to see because it was shining and sparkling," he said. It is not clear what the children received for the stone. Some reports from Bo indicated that a Lebanese trader had given them bicycles, personal stereo players, and food. Other reports suggested he paid them cash.

CAF, African soccer's ruling body, has disqualified Central African Republic from African Nations Cup competition for forfeiting their Nations Cup qualifying match in Freetown earlier this month.

29 January: The World Food Programme announced Wednesday that it was launching a $19.4 million food aid operation in Sierra Leone to encourage the resettlement of persons displaced by the war. The Rome-based agency said in a statement that some 775,000 persons would benefit from the six-month operation. The majority of the aid will be used to support a resettlement, repatriation, and rehabilitation programme; the remainder will go to support Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone who cannot yet return home. Food aid will be discontinued for those who have freely decided to remain in their adopted cities. "WFP field reports indicate more than one third of the country's four-million strong population were displaced by the six-year civil war," the statement said. The U.N. agency has been feeding more than half a million people since the beginning of the war.

The Sierra Leone parliament has blocked the expulsion of 14 opposition members from the house.

28 January: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has outlined plans to send a peacekeeping force to Sierra Leone. The force, composed of 720 troops, would be charged with monitoring and verifying the ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign troops, the disarmament and demobilization of RUF fighters, and the withdrawal to barracks and eventual demobilization of government troops not required for normal security. The proposed U.N. operation, to be headquartered in Freetown, would last for eight months, and be headed by a special representative appointed by Annan. The Sierra Leone government has pledged to cooperate with the operation. Annan said that once the RUF gave its consent, he would submit recommendations to the Security Council for the creation of a U.N. force.

25 January: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has accused the RUF of delaying the peace process by failing to nominate members of a joint monitoring group and demobilisation commission. "The RUF has still not named representatives on the joint monitoring group and the Committee for Demobilization and Resettlement, thereby holding up the establishment of encampment zones and the process of encampment and disarmament," Kabbah told an annual military parade in Freetown Friday. The charge was denied by RUF spokesman Staff Captain Gibril Massaquoi. "No, that is not true. The U.N. representatives came and they were (welcomed) by Foday Sankoh. They all had lunch that morning, but the only problem was (Sankoh) had wanted to talk to the rest of the delegates, but not in the presence of (the United Nations envoy to Sierra Leone) Bahunu Dinka. This is because (Mr. Dinka] has been very, very biased. He has no (respect) for (our) leader, nor the RUF high command. He is always on the side of the government. He does not even talk to the RUF. (Mr. Dinka) just marched out, and the other delegates...went along with him. But (Foday Sankoh) has sent a message to the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, asking (the U.N. to send in peace monitors)," Massaquoi said. He stated that Foday Sankoh has named a list of representatives to the joint monitoring group, but that government-instigated attacks on RUF strongholds have prevented the nominees from travelling to Freetown. President Tejan Kabbah has also accused the RUF of denying free movement of Kailahun residents who want to repair access roads. Massaquoi responded that soldiers are infiltrating the area in the guise of returning civilians. "A few days ago we were under severe attack in Kailahun District. If this is going on, it shows little or no enthusiasm for the peace accord," he said. Massaquoi also blamed the government for supporting the Kamajors in their attacks on the RUF. The government has denied the charge, saying that local disputes may be behind the Kailahun violence. President Tejan Kabbah said last week that there is no constitutional provision for civilian groups to be working with the military. He said that from now on the Kamajors and others will be assigned to work with the police. A government spokesman said that any group taking the law into its own hands will be held accountable.

24 January: Allegations of torture and forced confessions have surfaced in the treason trial of eight soldiers accused of having plotted to overthrow the Sierra Leone government last September. Third Accused Joseph Yajah, a former security officer at State House, told Judge Henry Cowan that he was tortured at CID headquarters, where deputy head Samuel Soumassa urged him to change his statement. "I refused," Yajah said, "And I was then tied to a chair in the crack squad office...I was stripped naked, ice water was poured on me and a cable from a tape recorder was plugged into a socket and I was given four terrible shocks. The officers stuffed a cap in my mouth when I screamed in agony." Yajah also testified that a sub inspector put out a cigarette on his head and "ordered other men to scratch my back with wire. They also prevented a Sierra Leone Red Cross official from seeing me afterwards." He showed the court wounds which he said he received as a result of the torture. Yajah later signed a confession under pressure. A police inspector has denied the charges.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has reported that all general food distributions in Sierra Leone have been phased out in a transition from relief to resettlement and targeted food assistance for 1997. The last distributions were completed on December 24. Four agencies will be responsible geographically for food supply to Sierra Leone in 1997: WFP, CRS, World Vision, and CARE. This will ensure better targeting of resources and avoid parallel distributions. The WFP also reported that significant numbers of internally displaced persons have been resettling throughout the country. An estimated 25 percent of displaced persons nationally and 50 percent of those displaced in Bo have returned home in the past month.

17 January: The Revolutionary United Front has accused the Sierra Leone government of violating the peace accord signed November 30 in Abidjan. In a statement released in advance of next week's United Nations Security Council meeting, RUF spokesman Alieu Mustapha said said, "On 14th January 1997, Godama, Glayala and Jaama were attacked. On the 15th January 1997, Kpolu and Mende Buima were attacked and some of these towns are still occupied by government forces...RUF views this as a lack of commitment on the part of the government and as a ploy to provoke the RUF into launching a counter-offensive, something we have patiently refused to do." In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on January 13, RUF leader Foday Sankoh said that Sierra Leone does not need a classic peacekeeping force. "We believe the Abidjan Peace Accord is very clear about a Neutral Monitoring Group and not a peacekeeping force. We want to have the country demilitarised as much as possible," he said. He stated that the RUF is in complete control of its fighters and would not present any security problems, and he called upon the government to control the army and the Kamajor militias. There was no immediate response from the government, but President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's senior adviser, Sheka Mansaray, acknowledged problems with armed elements not a party to the peace accord. "Apart from RUF combatants even other people who are short of food will carry out attacks for food, so the government is also trying to help these distressed people," he said.

In response to a request from the Sierra Leone government, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has announced plans to send a seven-member team to the region on January 18 to assess the situation and propose plans for the return of some 380,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. During its one month mission, the team will travel to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. It will assess the security conditions prevailing in major areas of return, determine whether the situation is conducive to mass repatriation, and determine the willingness of the refugees for repatriation. The breakdown of Sierra Leonean refugees in the main countries of asylum is as follows: Guinea (250,000), Liberia (120,000), Gambia (3,750), and Côte d'Ivoire (1,500). Sierra Leone itself hosts 4,700 Liberian refugees.

15 January: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has ordered that subsidised rice supplies to the army, police and prisons be "drastically cut down." Rice for the army will fall from 40,000 bags to 17,000 bags, while rice for the police will be reduced from 30,000 bags to 17,000. The prison department will receive only 3,000 bags. "The president is worried over reports that some senior military and police officers are collecting bags of rice for their personal use," an official said. Rice for the security forces is sold at Le 1,000 a bag, versus a market price of around Le 23,000 a bag. The country's imports of rice from Burma, China, and Pakistan total around $30 million.

14 January: The government has ordered the rationing of fuel for motor vehicles, saying that the country is short of gasoline and diesel. Quoting the order, SLBS (state radio) announced that, "Petrol stations should sell only three gallons to private cars and five gallons to taxis and passenger vans daily." Meanwhile, the price of transport and fuel has doubled throughout the country, and long lines have formed at petrol stations in Freetown. Trade officials say a fuel tanker is expected from Ivory Coast before the end of the week. The International Monetary Fund has been pressing the government to do away with fuel subsidies, which are contributing the the $5 million annual deficit, trade officials say. Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura told parliament in his 1997 budget speech that the government will end gasoline subsidies by March.

12 January: About 100 girls circumcised by the Bondo Society in a mass ritual Thursday have developed serious complications, aid workers said. The circumcisions were performed on about 600 girls at Grafton Camp, a camp for displaced persons in the eastern suburbs of Freetown. "Some are suffering from profuse bleeding and other attendant illnesses of female circumcision," a health worker said. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has admitted the most serious cases to intensive care. SLBS broadcast a statement Sunday denying that the camp circumcisions were sanctioned by Patricia Kabbah, wife of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "The First Lady never forced anybody to be circumcised against their will," the radio said. Activists have said that in the runup to the elections last March, Bondo women pledged to support Kabbah in return for his promise to check the anti-circumcision lobby. There have been no reports of forcible initiation at Grafton, but some parents have said they were approached by the Bondo in the name of Patricia Kabbah.

According to reports from Liberia, 2,000 RUF fighters who surrendered to Liberian rebel leader Alhaji Kromah in November have been turned over to ECOMOG, the West African peacekeeping force.

11 January: Sierra Leone defeated Gabon Saturday 1-0 in a World Cup qualifying match held in Freetown before a crowd of 40,000. The lone goal came in the first minute of the second half, when Abu Gbanaloko Kanu beat Gabon goalie Deckou Shond. In other World Cup qualifying games played during the weekend (Group 1) Guinea beat Burkina Faso 2-0 and Kenya tied Nigeria 1-1. (Group 2) Liberia tied Namibia 0-0 in Windhoek and Tunisia beat Egypt 1-0. (Group 3) South Africa tied Zambia 0-0 in Lusaka and Zaire tied Congo 1-1. (Group 4) Cameroon tied Angola 0-0 and Zimbabwe beat Togo 3-0. (Group 5) Ghana tied Morocco 2-2.

9 January: Five military officers arrested Sunday were questioned by a joint army and police team in Freetown on Monday. The five were identified as Lieut. Col. Tom Nyuma, Major Francis Kamara, Captain Paul Thomas, and retired lieutenants Kindama Kargo and Jeff Kallon. A fifth officer, Col. Kes Boya, was questioned and released. Also arrested was Sierra Leonean lawyer Andrew Kaikai, who practices in London. The residences of the three active duty officers were "thoroughly searched by military police three times but nothing of relevance in terms of arms and ammunition or documents were found," according to family sources. "Nyuma was on the verge of returning back to Zimbabwe to resume his military studies," a relative said. There has been no official explanation of the arrests, but police investigators say those detained "would have to explain how they spent the whole Sunday of January 5 and their movements and actions along a prominent beach in the capital."

8 January: Three military officers were arrested on Sunday for plotting a military coup, according to reports from Freetown. Army Director of Information Abdul Sesay would confirm only that "three senior officers are being interrogated." Military sources named the three as former Deputy Defence Secretary Lieut. Col. Tom Nyuma, Director of Logistics Col. Kes Boya, and Lieut. Kindama Kargbo, a former member of the Ruling Council of the Supreme Military Council of the NPRC. An unconfirmed report indicated that a fourth man, Captain Paul Thomas, is also under arrest. Last week president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah stated that "certain military officers have been identified as sympathetic to the former military government and want to bring back army rule." He said that they had been identified by a special Nigerian investigative team.

The Nigerian Army Training Assistance Group (NATAG), which has been training the Sierra Leone army, will extend its training to the police and other security forces at the request of the Sierra Leone government. According to the Nigerian newspaper "The Guardian," a "Status of Forces Agreement" which will extend the scope of NATAG, and an earlier memorandum of understanding between the countries, are ready to be signed. The newspaper quotes Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Alhaji Muhammed Chadi Abubakar as saying that the training will likely cover Sierra Leone's navy and air force.

Former NPRC head Brigadier Julius Maada Bio was among those present in Accra, Ghana Tuesday for the swearing in President Jerry Rawlings and the new parliament. There were also delegations present from Guinea, Niger, Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali — all countries which have gone from military governments to civilian rule. Also present was Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha.

7 January: The South African parliament will debate a law which would ban the training of mercenaries in South Africa. The effect of the law would be to cripple the operations of Executive Outcomes, a private company which provides mercenaries and military training to African governments, including Angola and Sierra Leone. The company plans to appeal to the South African Supreme Court, but reports are that the company will close operations in South Africa and open offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands. The use of Executive Outcomes soldiers in Sierra Leone was reported to have been a major factor in the army's eventual success against the RUF. There have been reports that Executive Outcomes is working for the government of Zaire to suppress the rebel uprising in that country. The company has denied any involvement in the Zaire conflict.

Sierra Leone will play Gabon January 11 in the second game of the second round World Cup soccer qualifying matches. The game will be played in Freetown at 11:30 a.m. (GMT).

The value of the leone against the U.S. dollar as reported on January 7 remains unchanged at Le 820.00 to $1.00.

6 January: KLM Airlines will begin twice-weekly flights from Amsterdam to Abidjan as of April 1, with Abidjan becoming the company's new hub for French-speaking West Africa. The company will then drop its service to Conakry, Guinea. Using Boeing 767 aircraft, Amsterdam-Abidjan flights will stop in Freetown, with non-stop returns.

3 January: RUF leader Foday Sankoh refused to hold talks with a United Nations mission in Abidjan Friday, objecting to the presence of U.N. envoy Berhanu Dinka. The talks were to be part of the U.N.'s assessment of Sierra Leone's peacekeeping needs. "Dinka is an obstacle to peace in Sierra Leone. The U.N. is aware of it because I have complained on several occasions about his partisanship in my country," Sankoh said. U.N. officials left after failing to convince Sankoh that talks could not take place without the representative of the Security Council. Afterwards, Dinka told reporters Sankoh was angry because he had refused to give the RUF leader U.N. funds without accounting for them. Sankoh later denied the charge.

1 January: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah today commissioned into service a gunboat donated by China, saying that it would "minimise the high rate of poaching in Freetown's territorial waters by foreign vessels." The boat, worth three million dollars, can carry up to 200 security personnel. It is part of $20 million in assistance provided by China after a high-level delegation from Freetown visited Beijing in 1995. According to World Bank statistics, Sierra Leone loses $30 million annually as a result of poaching by foreign vessels.

Foday Sankoh has given assurances of his commitment to the peace process and said that the war is over. In his new years greetings to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Sankoh said, "May God Almighty continue to guide us to work together for the good of our country and look forward to a better Sierra Leone in the years ahead. The RUF is firmly committed to the peace process and the nearly six-year war is now virtually at an end."

The Sierra Leone government has ordered that all military checkpoints be dismantled, except for five major ones leading to the north, east, and south. A statement broadcast on SLBS (state radio) said that it will be illegal for security personnel manning the checkpoints to demand money or goods from passengers. It also warned security personnel, including civil defence units, not to board any public transport while carrying arms.