31 January: ECOMOG said Sunday it had pushed AFRC/RUF rebel forces further out of Freetown and was sending men and armoured vehicles to Calaba Town, described as the last part of Freetown held by the rebels. The area was reported calm Sunday morning after fighting overnight, Reuters reported.
State radio has confirmed rumours that former AFRC Chief Secretary Solomon "SAJ" Musa was killed in fighting at Benguema last month, the BBC reported on Sunday.
30 January: Thirteen foreign hostages abducted by rebel forces were released on Friday, the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported on Saturday. Those freed include three of six nuns of the Missionaries of Charity order who were abducted on January 14. One of the nuns, Sister Aloysius Maria of Kerala state in India, was shot by the rebels on January 22. Two others, Sister Carmeline from Kenya and Sister Sweva from Bangladesh, were killed during fighting between the rebels and ECOMOG troops. "It was a tragedy in that the victims fell under the crossfire of fighting between the two factions on the outskirts of the capital," said Brother Guglielmo Zambiasi, who was also released Friday. He added that two of the freed nuns, Sister Suchelle and Sister Jeremy Joseph, had suffered injuries during the fighting and had been hospitalised. The Madrid daily newspaper El Mundo, quoting journalist Javier Espinosa who was briefly held by the rebels, had reported that three of the nuns had died. Also freed Friday were nine of thirteen Indian nationals abducted last week including, according to the Japan's Kyodo news service, Japan's Honorary Consul to Sierra Leone, Kishore Shankerdas. One of the Indian men is reported to have been hospitalised with serious wounds. Two others were killed in captivity, while a third was killed during the kidnapping. A fourth was wounded and his whereabouts are unknown.
Hundreds of people stood in lines to obtain passports while others crowded onto boats and helicopters in a growing exodus from Sierra Leone. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe appealed to Sierra Leoneans not to leave. "Nobody should leave this country because of the security," Khobe said. "ECOMOG has reversed the situation." According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Minister of Trade, Industry and Transportation Allie Thorlu Bangura appealed Friday to a private helicopter company to charge "decent" rates after fares from Freetown to Lungi International Airport rose to $100. Reuters quoted Bangura as criticising those who were attempting to flee the country. "The idea of vacating their own country is very unpatriotic," he was quoted as saying over Radio Democracy 98.1. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that helicopter fares to Lungi had soared to as high as $300.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting what it called "reliable sources", said Saturday that enough rebels remained on the peninsula — both in Freetown and in the surrounding hills — to mount a new attack on the capital. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said searches of vehicles and pedestrians at checkpoints in the city had become "really necessary because over the last 48 hours we have found women with guns hidden between their clothes and the the child on their back."
29 January: Eight West African leaders held impromptu talks in Conakry on Friday, and appeared to be in broad agreement on the need for a negotiated settlement in Sierra Leone. The heads of state of Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone to attend the swearing-in of Guinean President Lansana Conte, who last month was elected to a second five-year term. "Essentially the line of thinking is dialogue," said Mohamed Haruna, spokesman for Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He said the countries contributing troops to the ECOMOG force — Nigeria, Ghana, and Guinea — had endorsed dialogue as the best formula for achieving lasting peace. Haruna said ECOMOG had retaken control of Freetown, but could not secure all of Sierra Leone. "The idea is to fortify the place (Freetown), then dialogue," he said. "There is no way you can clean up the whole country."
More than 4,000 persons are known dead following the fighting in Freetown, but the final death toll could be even higher, authorities said on Friday. They said the count did not include bodies buried in unauthorised graves. Witnesses said other bodies may be still undiscovered around the capital.
ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said ECOMOG had extended its control to the eastern edge of Freetown, but that the highway leading to the interior was still vulnerable to RUF attacks. "The Freetown-Waterloo highway is now used by troops but it is not yet safe for motorists because we are concerned about RUF rebel ambush," he said. Olukolade said the rebels had been driven into the hills surrounding Freetown, where they were being attacked by artillery and fighter planes. "As many as about 70 rebels were killed yesterday," he said. There was no independent confirmation of his claim.
A United Nations assessment team will travel to Freetown early next week at the request of the U.N. humanitarian coordinator, who wants international aid workers to return to the city as soon as possible. A mission sent by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, together with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), returned from Sierra Leone Thursday night to report that health and sanitation conditions in Freetown were very serious.
A United Nations official "familiar with the Nigerian government's deliberations over Sierra Leone" told the Associated Press (AP) on Thursday that the Nigerian government's patience with President Kabbah was growing thin. "Kabbah hasn't taken the initiative to speak with the rebels and isn't playing an active role to end the war,'' the official said on condition of anonymity. The official added that the bodies of up to 30 Nigerian soldiers a day were being transported back home, an indication of the rising cost of the war to Nigeria, the AP reported.
Summary executions of suspected rebels and rebel sympathisers in Freetown have become more public in recent days, the Agence France-Presse reported on Friday. AFP correspondents witnessed the execution of a man in front of a local hospital on Friday, and of a woman who had tried to flee from a military checkpoint on Thursday. "There are rebels in the city. You must know that we will execute them where we find them," one soldier said. The AFP described Freetown as a "labyrinth of military checkpoints" where residents are body searched and sometimes forced to remove their shoes so that ECOMOG can check for "trademark rebel tattoos." Rebels are said to tattoo their recruit's feet and ankles to discourage their fighters from deserting, the AFP said.
The French-based charity Medicins du Monde (Doctors of the World) was forced to suspend its work in Freetown on Friday after local medical staff suspected expatriates of collaborating with the rebels. "You French, you are helping the rebels, you are collaborators and murderers," said Daphnee Pearce, a doctor at the hospital. Pearce also accused Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the International Committee of the Red Cross of being "highly suspect." A surgeon, an anesthetist, and a logistics expert with Medicins du Monde had begun work Thursday at Connaught Hospital, where hundreds of patients were in need of medical treatment. Authorities said the French team must now get formal permission from the Ministry of Health before they will be allowed to resume their activities.
Freed Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa told Catholic Bishop George Biguzzi that he had seen other foreign prisoners held by the rebels during his captivity, according to the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA). These included a man with a beard (probably Xaverian missionary Brother Guglielmo Zambiasi), two nuns of the Sisters of Charity order, and eleven Indian nationals. "For the moment there is no precise news regarding the (other) three Sisters of Charity, kidnapped on the 14th of January," MISNA reported. The Madrid newspaper El Mundo, for which Espinosa works, quoted him as saying that the three nuns had been killed during clashes between the rebels and ECOMOG troops.
Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah told reporters Friday that the Sierra Leone conflict is a regional conflict, not a civil war. "It is not an internal conflict. It is a regional conflict. It is an attempt being made by a group of countries and individuals to deny the people of Sierra Leone the right to choose their own government," Jonah said at the United Nations in New York. "The recent invasion of our capital, Freetown, was organized from outside, sustained from outside, and financed from outside...The fact is that the war in Sierra Leone was initiated by (Liberian President) Charles Taylor and his NPFL fighters." Jonah said he was delivering two communications to the United Nations Security Council, the first relating to Liberian interference in Sierra Leone's internal affairs, and the second a comprehensive statement "about the way we perceive the situation and how we plan to deal with it." He added that the government of Sierra Leone believed there was no need for new talks between the government and the rebels, "because there is an existing agreement...We believe that what is needed is implementation, honest and genuine implementation of the Abidjan Accord. This is our position." Referring to the December 28 communiqué issued at the conclusion of the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone meeting in Abidjan which called on the Chairman of ECOWAS (Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema) to arrange a meeting between President Kabbah and President Taylor, Jonah said: "The Sierra Leone Government is willing and ready to begin, immediately, diplomatic moves to deal with this burning issue of the involvement of Liberia and Burkina Faso, and perhaps about Ukrainian mercenaries." He acknowledged, however, that "We have not heard anything from the Government of Togo." Jonah called on the international community to deal "even-handedly" in its treatment of the Sierra Leone crisis. "Let us put it clearly and frankly, he said. "You cannot pursue rogue states in the Middle East and Europe, and not pursue rogue states in Africa...We would like the Security Council to make it very clear, as has been done in the case of Kuwait and countries in that part of the Middle East, that the world community would not tolerate any more interference in our internal affairs by Liberia and Burkina Faso."
The Security Council Committee established to oversee sanctions imposed on Sierra Leone by Security Council Resolution 1132 met Monday for the first time in 1999, under the leadership of its new chairman, Ambassador Fernando Enrique Petrella (Argentina). The Committee reaffirmed the need for continued close cooperation with ECOWAS and the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), and renewed its request for regular reports on compliance with the arms embargo and other sanctions on Sierra Leone. In an effort to improve compliance with a travel ban on members of the former AFRC military junta and their families, the Committee requested additional information from the government of Sierra Leone in order to update lists of AFRC and RUF members.
28 January: ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said Thursday that a group of rebels, "mainly dismissed soldiers previously in the Sierra Leonean Army," trapped in the eastern suburbs was prepared to fight on. Olukolade said the group, which he said consisted mainly of former Sierra Leone Army soldiers who had become "full time rebels," led by "Colonel Rambo," was "determined to fight and would rather die" than flee. He said the group had kidnapped of foreign workers, missionaries, and journalists in order to get "publicity in the world press." There have been conflicting reports as to the identity of the group, with Spain's Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Maria Rosa Boceta, and freed Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa both believing that it was a unit of the RUF. Olukolade warned residents of Kissy and Wellington not to collaborate with the rebels. Freetown was reported calm overnight Wednesday, with residents of the central and western areas of the capital telling Reuters that Wednesday was the first night since the invasion that they had heard no firing.
Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar left Nigeria Thursday to hold talks on the Sierra Leone crisis with in Ghana and Guinea, both of which have contributed troops to the ECOMOG force. On Wednesday, Abubakar told Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy Wednesday that he hoped Nigerian ECOMOG troops will have left Sierra Leone by the time he hands over power to an elected government on May 29. Abubakar said Nigeria would support any negotiation between President Kabbah and the rebels if it would bring about peace. "It is the government's ardent wish for the restoration of peace and normalcy in Sierra Leone so that Nigerian troops in that country could be withdrawn before May 29," he said. Axworthy, a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which had recommended Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth, arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday to consult with Nigerian officials on the two countries' bilateral relationship and security issues — "particularly the situation in Sierra Leone," he told reporters. The Nigerian Daily Times newspaper reported that Axworthy promised Abubakar that Canada would contribute U.S. $660,000 to the ECOMOG force.
About 1,360 Sierra Leoneans have fled to Guinea since the fighting in Freetown began on January 6, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday. The refugees are being sheltered at camps in Madina Oula, about 90 miles east of Conakry. The UNHCR statement said the refugees, most of them from Northern Province near Makeni and Kamakwie, left their homes amid "growing security threats in the region." Many refugees said rebels had burned down entire villages and stolen food supplies, the statement added.
ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade on Thursday condemned what he called "the high level of rebel collaboration by civilians" in Freetown with AFRC/RUF rebels, adding: "This is unusual in a situation such as this." Olukolade said some women were hiding weapons under children carried on their backs, while civilians were sheltering rebels in their homes. "These discoveries are disturbing," he said. Olukolade also said ECOMOG was suspicious of residents who were fleeing their homes. "The exodus of civilians from some parts of the city is suspicious as it is aimed at giving rebels the chance to infiltrate already cleared areas," he said. "We are not going to tolerate this ill-motivated migration, and where necessary we will enforce certain regulations that will stop these unnecessary migrations because of the mischievous intentions."
The Ministry of Health said Thursday it had set up seven clinics and three hospitals in western Freetown to perform surgery on wounded victims. Plans were being made to open others in the east, it said.
United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, met Thursday with President Kabbah. During the meeting, Okelo reportedly stressed the need for a ceasefire in Sierra Leone, and said that other countries in the sub-region should play a part in the peace process. Okelo repeated U.N. support for President Kabbah's government and the need for humanitarian assistance for Sierra Leone, according to a "local radio" broadcast quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). Okelo arrived in Freetown following visits to Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Togo, where he briefed leaders on the situation in Sierra Leone.
ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate left Abuja, Nigeria for Freetown on Thursday to hold talks with President Kabbah and ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. "Since the latest fighting in Freetown, the ECOWAS Authority has been making serious efforts to bring about a durable political solution to the crisis in the country," and ECOWAS statement said.
The United States government is seeking an additional $1.7 million in assistance for the ECOMOG force, U.S. State Department Spokesman James Foley said on Thursday. Foley said U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joseph H. Melrose Jr. had been in Freetown earlier in the week to assess the situation, including the requirements of ECOMOG and the needs of medical and relief organisations. "We will assess what the situation requires we're going to be working with Congress to obtain additional funds to support ECOMOG so that they can do the job they need to do to counter the horrendous brutalities perpetrated by insurgents," Foley said. He added that the Clinton administration will ask Congress for $1.7 to be used for spare parts for vehicles and communications equipment, among other things.
City officials on Thursday ordered grave diggers to report for work "immediately" at their assigned cemeteries. Many corpses throughout the city had been buried in mass graves, residential compounds, or school compounds, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The Director-General of Medical Services in Sierra Leone, Sheku Kamara, said Thursday that authorities had "buried all corpses that were littering the streets in the city." Kamara ordered private pharmacies to distribute free of charge all drugs which had been donated by the international community and aid agencies. "We shall close down any pharmacy found defaulting this statement," he warned.
Freetown Mayor Victor Johnson said Thursday that the City Council "is appalled over the unprecedented carnage and destruction in the city" following three weeks of fighting in the capital. "We note with anguish the destruction of historic buildings and the loss of civilian lives as well as the hundreds of thousands rendered homeless, he said. Johnson said the City Hall had been partly destroyed in the attacks, as had the council records. Regular council activities were to resume next week.
27 January: Fighting was reported Wednesday on the eastern edge of Freetown. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said the force was targeting rebel hide-outs in the hills overlooking Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said Wednesday morning's shelling was the most intense in three weeks of fighting in and around the capital. An ECOMOG spokesman said Guinean and Ghanaian ECOMOG troops advancing from Port Loko to the east had linked up with their Nigerian counterparts along the main road. He said the ECOMOG force would now concentrate their efforts on "flushing out" rebels from the nearby hills. Fleeing residents told Reuters that several hundred rebels appeared to be in control of parts of the eastern suburbs, but that their numbers were increased by rebels who descended from the hills at night. Sustained small arms fire was also heard from the western edge of the capital, causing panic among residents. The spokesman said the shooting was from ECOMOG troops who had fired into the air during a search for rebel infiltrators at Juba Barracks, which houses soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army.
Fighting in Freetown has created some 500,000 displaced persons in the city, Bishop George Biguzzi told the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) . "The eastern sector of Freetown, where most of the heavy fighting took place in the last weeks, is the most critical considering it is also the poorest area of the city," Biguzzi was quoted as saying.
Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa was released on Wednesday, two days after he and French journalist Patrick Saint Paul were taken prisoner by AFRC/RUF rebels. His released came after Saint Paul, who was freed on Monday, disclosed the contents of a rebel communiqué in a BBC interview. The rebels had demanded that their message be read over the BBC before they would release Espinosa. Espinosa told his newspaper, El Mundo, that only two of six Sisters of Charity nuns kidnapped last week were still alive. He said three of the nuns were killed in an exchange of fire between the the rebels and ECOMOG troops, and were buried in the hills near the rebel camp where he was held captive. A fourth nun was murdered on Friday. The rebels said they would kill the remaining two nuns if ECOMOG attacked their camp again.
Four journalists have been killed in Freetown since January 9, and at least four more are missing and feared dead, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Wednesday. Jenner Cole of SKY-FM, Mohammed Kamara of KISS-FM, and Standard Times deputy editor Paul Mansaray were all killed on January 9. Associated Press Television News journalist Myles Tierney was killed on January 10. Missing and feared dead are Michael Charlie Hinga, an on-air broadcaster for Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS), Mabay Kamara, a freelance journalist, James Ogogo, an editorial consultant for the Concord Times, and BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers. The CPJ said it was clear that journalists had been targeted by the rebels for their perceived anti-RUF coverage of the war, adding that some of the same journalists had been under attack by Sierra Leone's civilian government for their coverage of the RUF's advances toward Freetown.
RUF legal representative Omrie Golley, in a statement issued on Wednesday, denied that the RUF was responsible for atrocities committed against civilians in eastern Freetown in the past week. "The Battlefield Commander of the RUF on behalf of the Movement, Brigadier Sam Bockarie, has assured me that the RUF are not behind or responsible for recent attacks against innocent civilians, including children, and has stated unequivocally that they equally condemn these acts," Golley said. He blamed the atrocities, which have included murders and the chopping off of hands, on the pro-government Kamajor militia and vigilante groups. "The Movement believes that the Government and their supporters have been behind moves to discredit the RUF by accusing them of these accounts of atrocities against individuals," Golley said. While denying RUF complicity in the attacks, Golley stated: "The RUF condemns the unwarranted attacks on innocent individuals, and has requested me to state that they have today at 11:00 am GMT re-issued severe warnings to all its commanders in the field, and through them to their combatants, that they will face instant court martial if they are caught, or they receive any reports of incidents of atrocities against innocent people." Golley called for an independent commission to investigate the allegations of atrocities, and called for "a political and social answer" to Sierra Leone's civil conflict.
A day after ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said vigilante groups in Freetown had the support of ECOMOG, a statement issued by ECOMOG's military office said activities of the neighbourhood civil defence units were causing concern. "Activities of the civil defense units have become worrisome and uncomplimentary to ECOMOG's security effort," the statement said. "Behaviour and activities include the burning of used tires, ringing of bells, raising unnecessary alarms to keep people awake, drumming and singing at night as a means to deter rebel attacks," it added.
26 January: ECOMOG bombarded suspected rebel positions overnight in the hills overlooking Kissy and in the wooded areas beyond Lumley before dawn on Tuesday. Shelling was also reported Monday night around around Calaba Town. ECOMOG officers said they were targeting "rebel infiltrators," Reuters reported. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported "relatively little shooting" overnight, but said tension in Freetown remained high. A military source said ECOMOG troops were "moving south, and would start bombarding adjacent hills in the next 48 hours." In conflicting reports, Reuters quoted medical staff at Connaught Hospital Tuesday as saying that the number of wounded arriving there had decreased substantially, while the AFP said wounded victims, many of them mutilated, continued to arrive at the city's five hospitals. The AFP, quoting hospital sources, reported more than 3,000 persons are known to have died during nearly three weeks of fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebel forces, with the final death toll expected to be much higher. No estimate of military casualties has been released.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday that some 60 people were killed Sunday in an attack on Waterloo. The number is based on reports by residents of 25 civilian deaths and a claim by Guinean ECOMOG sources that 35 rebels were killed during clashes in the town. Some 17 houses at Waterloo were reported to have been burned down. On Monday, ECOMOG said rebels were present at Wellington, but claimed to have surrounded the rebels on all sides. "We have blocked all known routes and are patrolling the coast," said ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola, adding that rebel forces were caught between ECOMOG troops at Kissy and in Waterloo. Okunlola said the rebels' supply lines had been cut and that they were running out of ammunition. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said Tuesday that neighbourhood vigilante groups which have sprung up in Freetown have the support of ECOMOG. "We encourage that but there should be orderliness. They should be organised enough to help ECOMOG in countering the movement of suspicious characters or likely rebels in the society," he said in a radio broadcast.
RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie threatened Tuesday that the RUF would make Sierra Leone ungovernable unless the movement was given a share of power. "No government can rule. We'll make the country ungovernable," he said. "We are demanding a political role." Bockarie said ECOMOG troops would be "unable to provide security" for the Sierra Leone government. "We are negotiating the liberation of (RUF leader Corporal) Foday Sankoh, and we want a new government of inclusion," he said. "No government can succeed in this country if it doesn't include Foday Sankoh." Bockarie ridiculed ECOMOG claims to have "trapped" rebels southeast of Freetown. "Can you trap a rebel in the bush?" he asked.
The Spanish foreign ministry said Tuesday that the BBC had interviewed French journalist Patrick Saint Paul who, along with Spanish reported Javier Espinosa, was kidnapped by rebels on Monday. Saint Paul was released with a message which the rebels have demanded be read over the BBC as a condition for Espinosa's release. As reported by Madrid EFE (radio), the BBC said stressed that its broadcasts could not include communiqués from guerilla groups anywhere in the world, adding that it could not "shape its news programmes as dictated by violent groups of any kind," the interview closely paralleled the rebel statement. Saint Paul said the rebel group wanted to assure the international community that in no case would it harm the civilian population. Earlier, the Spanish foreign ministry said RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie had given assurances to Spain's ambassador to the Ivory Coast that he would order the release of Espinosa, who allegedly was being held by a "Colonel Rambo." The Spanish foreign minister confirmed that Spanish embassies in Nigeria, Senegal, and Ivory Coast, as well as the French secret service, were working to secure Espinosa's release. ECOMOG press spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade called the two journalists "irresponsible" Wednesday, adding they had put "their lives in danger to publicise people who have committed the worst atrocities." He said the journalists had ignored all the rules of caution in entering a zone believed still to be occupied by the RUF.
Freetown experienced fuel shortages Tuesday, a day after a fire at the Kissy fuel terminal on Monday further reduced already diminished supplies. "This is what we expected to happen. There has not been any supply for weeks and oil companies have had to supply ECOMOG with lots of fuel," said an engineer close to Safecon. "We don't know when the next shipment is coming in as no insurance company will cover any tanker docking at Kissy," he added.
Some shops began to reopen in the central business district of Freetown on Monday, Reuters reported on Tuesday. Some banks and shops reopened last week in western Freetown, which largely escaped the fighting. Few cars were on the streets Tuesday afternoon due to the fuel shortage.
Telephone and electrical service, which was partially restored in some areas last week, remain disrupted in central and eastern Freetown due to the destruction of power lines and overhead cables. "It will take several weeks to get things to near normal as burnt buildings have to be knocked down to prevent any catastrophe," a construction worker was quoted as saying.
The Sierra Leone Council of Churches continued emergency food distribution of rice and flour on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
The Nigerian newspaper P.M. News reported Tuesday that the bodies of 31 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers were returned to Nigeria on Sunday for burial. "A military source revealed that the dead soldiers include a major," the newspaper reported.
Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings called for peace talks to resolve the Sierra Leone conflict, but said AFRC/RUF rebels must first stop committing atrocities. "We are prepared to sit down to talk provided they stop those acts of violence, killing and maiming of innocent civilians," he said following talks with the United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo. Rawlings said ECOWAS should review its strategy of using force. "We do not believe this is the only way to handle the situation," he told Okelo, adding that constitutional legality must be respected. "The will of the people must be made to prevail," Rawlings said. "I implore you to get to some of the sober-minded allies of the rebels to bring their influence to bear on them to see reason."
International humanitarian agencies, whose foreign staff had fled Freetown following the rebel attack on January 6, began to return to the capital on Monday. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Judith Kumin said security concerns had forced cancellation of an aid flight to Kenema, where the UNHCR said there are currently 50,000 displaced persons. ECOMOG reportedly wants to move these people because of their proximity to the rebels. Kumin said a Sierra Leonean employee of the Irish aid agency Concern was killed when rebels set his house on fire. The victim worked with Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone, she said.
The Japanese foreign ministry has called on AFRC/RUF rebels holding its honorary consul, Kishoie Shankerdas, who was reported to have abducted Sunday along with ten other Indian nationals. "We are deeply concerned about the report," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "We strongly demand the anti-government rebels release the honorary consul general and other civilians." Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Sadaaki Numata said Japan was working through several countries, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Britain, to confirm the whereabouts of the eleven. Shankerdas, who has served as honorary consul for Japan since 1986, contributed greatly to the evacuation of Japanese citizens from Sierra Leone, the statement said.
Five Italian Xaverian missionary priests departed Sierra Leone for Italy via Conakry on Tuesday. Three of the five, Father Giuseppe Berton, Father Giovanni Ceresoli, and Father Mario Guerra, escaped from RUF custody last week, along with Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda. A fourth, Father Girolamo Pistoni, survived an execution attempt by RUF fighters on Friday, and was hospitalised for a bullet wound in the chest. Father Giuseppe Cavallin (Giuseppino del Murialdo) had been isolated by the fighting and hid out for some days. The flight, which also includes civilians, was organised by the Crisis Unit of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
25 January: President Kabbah on Monday appeared to rule out a political settlement of the Sierra Leone conflict for the time being. "Now there is only a military solution," Kabbah said. "We have to push the rebels far, far from Freetown." Kabbah made the pronouncement following talks with Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka and Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshall Al-Amin Daggash, who were in Sierra Leone to assess the military situation. Daggash said ECOMOG troops were making good progress in what he termed "open warfare." Referring to reports of rebels using civilians as human shields, Daggash added: "We are moving slowly towards the east because we don't want to kill everybody."
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that intense fighting took place Monday between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebel forces at Waterloo. Thousands of civilians were said to be fleeing toward the city centre from the eastern suburbs. In Kissy, the Safecon petroleum depot was reported to be on fire, according to a report by the pro-government Radio Democracy 98.1. Aid workers said they had registered 17,000 of an estimated 50,000 residents sheltering at the National Stadium. Throughout Freetown, members of the "Citizens Security Movement," comprised of groups of neighbourhood civil defence units, manned checkpoints and conducted searches.
Diplomatic sources said Monday that 140 rebels surrendered to ECOMOG Saturday at Tombo, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has rejected charges by ECOMOG that its staffers in Freetown used their communications equipment to aid AFRC/RUF rebels. "These allegations are without foundation and undermine the ICRC's reputation for strict neutrality," the ICRC said in a statement issued in Geneva on Monday. The ICRC said it used its communications equipment for the sole purpose of maintaining contact with its field staff, in order to ensure their safety. If ICRC equipment was used for any other purpose, the statement said, it could only have been after the equipment was confiscated or stolen by armed groups. "In accordance with the mandate conferred upon it by the international community, the ICRC respects the recognized principles of neutrality and impartiality," the statement said. "In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, it has contacts with the various parties to conflict and does nothing whatever to conceal those contacts. In the case of Sierra Leone, they took place with the knowledge and consent - and even at the request - of all the parties involved, in particular the government and ECOMOG." The ICRC deplored any consequences the accusations might have for its Sierra Leonean staff, "in particular the six employees arrested by ECOMOG, about whom the authorities have as yet provided no information."
Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka warned Monday that Nigeria would hold the Liberian government "fully accountable" for its alleged support of AFRC/RUF rebels. "We shall make every effort within the international community to bring men like President Charles Taylor and his collaborators to justice," Olisemeka said following talks with President Kabbah. "We shall pursue them until we exact full restitution for properties lost and a full accounting of the lives of our men and women in pursuit of peace."
AFRC/RUF rebels have kidnapped eleven Indian businessman in Freetown, including the honorary Japanese consul, Kishoie Shankerdas, a spokesman for the Indian Mercantile Association said on Monday. The eleven were abducted Sunday from Wellington. One other Indian national was burned to death after rebels broke into Shankerdas's compound and set the place on fire, the spokesman said.
Two European journalists were kidnapped by rebels Monday at Rokupr, near Wellington. The rebels later freed Patrick Saint Paul, a French reporter for the Paris newspaper Le Figaro, with a message which reportedly outlines rebel demands for negotiations with the ECOMOG force. The rebels continued to hold Spaniard Javier Espinosa of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, saying he would not be released until their message was read over BBC radio. The BBC said Monday it had not received any demands from the rebels, adding that while it had a policy of refusing such requests, the statement could be read as part of a news story. The kidnapped journalists had earlier been misidentified as Spanish Ramon Lobo and photographer Gervasio Sanchez of the Madrid daily newspaper El País.
The European Union (EU) on Monday condemned atrocities in Sierra Leone. The EU's foreign minister, in a statement issued in Brussels, welcomed international and African efforts to support the country's civilian government. The foreign minister called on the government and ECOMOG to provide the necessary security for international aid organisations, adding that the EU was prepared to provide humanitarian assistance as soon as conditions permitted.
Pope John Paul II has condemned the "barbarous assassination" of Sister Aloysius Maria by RUF rebels. "No motive can justify" such an act, the Pope said during a Mass in Mexico City.
Three Italian Xaverian missionary priests who escaped from RUF rebels last week will be flown to Italy Tuesday, according to the Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA). The three were identified as Father Giuseppe Berton, Father Giovanni Ceresoli and Father Mario Guerra. A fourth priest, Father Giuseppe Cavallin (Giuseppino del Murialdo), who had been isolated during fighting in Freetown is also being evacuated. At Italian airplane was due to land at Lungi on Monday and is expected to leave Tuesday. The condition of Father Girolamo Pistoni, who was shot by the rebels, continues to improve, Bishop George Biguzzi said.
The African Nations Cup second leg qualifying match between Sierra Leone and Togo has been postponed indefinitely due to Sierra Leone's civil conflict. Sierra Leone, which currently stands at the bottom of Group 2, is scheduled next to play Guinea at Conakry on February 28. Match results from the weekend: Group 1: Ghana 1, Mozambique 0; Eritrea 0, Cameroon 0. Group 2: Guinea 1, Morocco 1. Group 3: Ivory Coast 3, Namibia 0; Congo 0, Mali 0. Group 4: Mauritius 1, South Africa 1; Angola 3, Gabon 1. Group 5: Nigeria 2, Burundi 0; Senegal 1, Burkina Faso 1. Group 6: Madagascar 1, Zambia 2; Democratic Republic of Congo 2, Kenya 1. Group 7: Algeria 0, Tunisia 1; Liberia 2, Uganda 0.
24 January: Reuters confirmed Sunday that "tens of thousands" of residents fled Kissy on Saturday, saying that rebels were active there and were mutilating civilians. "The situation is worsening. The number of people who are moving from the east is up to 150,000," said a member of a British humanitarian assessment team after a visit to the area. Civilians crossing the Ascension Town Road Bridge over the Congo Valley River said they had come from as far away as Wellington and Hastings. Reuters, quoting witnesses, said large numbers of ECOMOG troops had gathered in Congo Town, adding: "rebel infiltrators have in the past hidden among civilians." One witness told Reuters that the rebels set fire to a mental institution in the Kissy area on Saturday, killing around 70 inmates. Frightened civilians also fled the Lumley area on Saturday, but the suburb was reported calm on Sunday. Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer appealed to residents late Saturday night not to panic. "I am appealing to you not to panic. We as Sierra Leoneans, have to defend our country. You must not be afraid of these people, they are human beings like you," Spencer said in a broadcast over Radio Democracy 98.1. He urged young men to take machetes to defend their homes and their districts. Church services resumed in the capital for the first time since the rebels entered Freetown on January 6. Christians and Muslims prayed and sang together, sometimes in the open air, in areas controlled by ECOMOG, witnesses told Reuters.
Britain airlifted 22 tons of medical supplies to Freetown on Sunday. The medical aid, which was delivered to the Ministry of Health, included two ambulances.
23 January: RUF rebels Friday murdered one of six nuns of the Sisters of Charity who were kidnapped in Freetown last week, the Italian Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Saturday. The nun was identified as Sister Aloysius Maria, from the Indian state of Kerala. The rebels also attempted to kill Xaverian priest Fr. Girolamo Pistoni, but Pistoni was able to twist quickly and was only injured, MISNA said. Pistoni is currently hospitalised in Freetown and, according to Bishop George Biguzzi, is not in critical condition. "He was shot in the left side of his chest, though fortunately the bullet did not lacerate his lung," he said. Pistoni said the rebels were abandoning their provisional headquarters in the area in a disorderly manner when they decided to "get rid" of some of their prisoners, shooting them in cold blood, MISNA related. "The rebels shot (Sr. Aloysisus Maria) because of her fragile condition. She could not keep up with their rhythm as they fled," Pistoni said. Among those chosen to be executed was an Indian national, whose name and condition have not been released, but was said to still be alive after being shot in the mouth. There was no word on the number of prisoners killed or on the fate of the other missionaries still held by the rebels. MISNA identified them as Xaverian missionary Brother Guglielmo Zambiasi, and five other Sisters of Charity: Sister Suchelle (Kerala, India), Sister Jeremy Joseph (Kerala, India), Sister Hindu (Ranchi, India), Sister Carmeline (Kenya), and Sister Sweva (Bangladesh).
Fr. Mario Guerra briefed government and ECOMOG officials to share "the experience and knowledge he acquired over the course of two months," the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said Saturday. Guerra was abducted at Kamalo in November by a rebel faction led by former AFRC Chief Secretary Solomon "SAJ" Musa. He escaped on earlier in the week along with Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda and four other priests, and was picked up by ECOMOG troops on Friday. "A military solution alone will not resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone," Guerra was quoted as saying.
ECOMOG sources said on Saturday that their troops were still encountering resistance from AFRC/RUF rebel troops in the eastern suburbs of Freetown, between Calaba Town and Kissy, an area overlooked by hills. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said ECOMOG was searching for stragglers among the retreating rebels in the eastern suburbs, and were "shooting on sight" many rebels they encountered although they had captured about 200 adult rebels and a number of child combatants.. An ECOMOG spokesman indicate said the force was conducting house-to-house searches in Kissy, but indicated that the town had not yet been secured. "Once a place is swept we deploy soldiers. This has not been done in Kissy yet," he said. ECOMOG sources also reported that rebels had infiltrated the forest area on the western fringes of the city, beyond Lumley. Lumley residents heard the sounds of shelling beyond the town Friday night, and took to the streets with machetes and sticks after hearing reports of rebel sightings in the area, Reuters reported. ECOMOG confirmed it had shelled wooded areas to the west. President Kabbah, who spoke on Radio Democracy 98.1 late Friday, said that military operations by ECOMOG would continue beyond the weekend, and apologised for the continued presence of rebels in the capital two weeks after they first entered the city. The Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported Saturday that about 100,000 displaced persons had arrived in Freetown, fleeing fighting in the areas of Calaba Town and Wellington "due to the 'turn' the conflict is taking and for fear of the eventual atrocities the rebel groups could commit while escaping." ECOMOG Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade confirmed the exodus from the eastern suburbs of the capital. "People are so afraid that they're willing to risk their lives to flee the area," he said. "Rebels are making incursions along the main road before going back up to the hills," Olukolade added, calling the rebels "afraid and thirsty for blood." ECOMOG Major Kaya Tanko told London's Independent newspaper, "We have secured 50 per cent of the eastern end of the city, but our problem is the hills above Kissy. The rebels are hiding there. They come down at night to attack civilians and loot and burn their homes." MISNA said that while Sierra Leonean authorities were trying to tackle the emergency, "until now they have not found a way to provide food, water and shelter for the displaced. It is the mere beginning of a human catastrophe."
The Medical Director of Sierra Leone's prisons, Dr. Jibao Sandy, said his teams had buried 2,768 bodies by late Friday. "More bodies are being discovered. But some places are not accessible," he said at the Connaught Hospital compound. He added that most of the dead were males who had died from gunshot wounds. Civilian victims and witnesses interviewed Saturday at Connaught Hospital accused the rebels of lining up adults and children as young as eight in Kissy and hacking off their hands. About 50 newly-mutilated civilians awaited treatment at the hospital on Saturday.
The United States Charge d'Affaires to Liberia, Donald Peterson, told Liberian Star Radio that the Liberian government's alleged support for AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone might affect the naming of a U.S. ambassador to Liberia if the issue were not satisfactorily resolved.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting "a military source," said Saturday that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh is being held in Guinea. The source added that Sankoh is brought to Freetown at regular intervals where he holds discussions with authorities.
22 January: Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda and five Catholic missionary priests escaped from rebel captivity on Wednesday and were picked up by ECOMOG troops on Friday. The priests were identified as Fr. Giuseppe Berton, Fr. Giovanni Ceresoli, Fr. Giuseppe Cavallin (Giuseppino del Murialdo), and Fr. Mario Guerra of the Xaverian order, and Spanish priest Fr. Luis Perez Hernandez. Six nuns of the Missionaries of Charity, and two Xaverian missionaries, Father Girolamo Pistoni and Brother Guglielmo Zambiasi, are still in rebel hands. Bishop George Biguzzi said the priests had been held along with many other prisoners, including former President Joseph Momoh, at what he described as a brewery building at Grassfield. Fearing an ECOMOG attack, the rebels decided to relocate in great haste, Biguzzi related. "There was a sudden advance of ECOMOG from outside Freetown. There was a lot of chaos and shooting. Everybody was trying to move into a safer area and eventually we were freed by ECOMOG," said Fr. Mario Guerra, who was abducted in November from the Catholic mission at Kamalo, in northern Sierra Leone. Biguzzi related that the rebels first moved the six nuns and two Xaverian missionaries, leaving Archbishop Ganda and the other priests alone. "They were able to find shelter, where they spent the first night," Biguzzi told the Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA). "The following day they cautiously continued their escape and then found shelter in another building for the second night. This morning they tried to reach the 'main road' but were intercepted by a group of rebels. Though in that same moment also a civil defence patrol arrived and the rebels decided to not confront them and escaped." The six were retrieved by ECOMOG and taken to Ferry Junction with an escort which included "an armoured tank and a truck loaded with soldiers," Biguzzi added. "Their health conditions are satisfactory, and now they are resting," he said. "They were not mistreated, though they were not able to wash for two weeks." Said Archbishop Ganda, ""We're happy to be alive but there are others still there with the rebels. We're praying for them."
Thousands of displaced persons formed long lines Friday to receive emergency food aid being distributed by church and relief groups. Rev. Moses Khanu, President of the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone, said that stores of 8,000 to 10,000 tons of food had not been looted from warehouses near the port during the rebel attack on Freetown. The stocks, which include high nutrition corn and soya blend, bulgar, and vegetable oils, are owned by the United Nations World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, and World Vision. "We believe that we have enough for the first phase of emergency aid," Khanu said. Aid workers said the number of displaced persons sheltering at the National Stadium had decreased by half, to about 17,000. They added that many had gone to check their homes but would return to the stadium to sleep.
ECOMOG officers said Friday that Nigerian fighter jets were attacking rebel strongholds in the mountains surrounding Freetown, while Nigerian and Guinean ECOMOG units were closing in on rebels trapped on the eastern fringes of the city. "(The rebels) have been devastated and (are) running in all directions," said ECOMOG spokesman Colonel Chris Olukuoade. "We are now on phase two of the operation, which is cordon and search." RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Friday that AFRC/RUF rebels planned to launch an attack to retake the capital. "We are changing our tactic and planning a surprise attack on Freetown," he said, adding that despite their retreat the rebels "were still a strong fighting force." Bockarie denied allegations that the RUF was receiving assistance from Liberia and Burkina Faso. He claimed that the rebels had purchased or captured their arms from ECOMOG. "The Nigerians in ECOMOG are selling us arms and ammunition. They are collaborating with us," Bockarie said. He added that other weapons had been "seized from ECOMOG soldiers who were captured," adding that had captured "250 ECOMOG soldiers so far."
Kissy residents reported that "continuing atrocities by pockets of rebels," who attacked Thursday for the second night in a row, Reuters reported. World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said Friday that ECOMOG had recorded at least 30 cases of mutilations. "The people are traumatised and in a state of shock," she said, adding that there had been summary executions and other human rights violations. Quoting witnesses, she said up to half of the houses had been burned down in the east of the city. A United Nations World Health Organisation official said retreating rebels had hacked off the limbs of civilians, including babies, in eastern part of the city. "The rebels have resorted to amputating arms and fingers of civilians, some as young as one-year-old babies," the official said. RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie denied that the rebels had mutilated civilians or burned houses. Instead, he blamed the atrocities on the Kamajor militia. "The Kamajors are known for using machetes. They are committing these atrocities," he said. Bockarie deplored the "incredible suffering of Sierra Leoneans in Freetown," and said the RUF had called a cease-fire for this week which was to have allowed food and emergency relief supplies to reach civilians trapped by the fighting. He warned that any future suffering would be "the responsibility of the Kabbah government and the Nigerians who have rejected a peaceful solution to the crisis." RUF spokesman Omrie Michael Golley also denied that the rebels were responsible for the atrocities. "The RUF was not responsible for the horrific recent atrocities in the east of the capital," Golley said. "ECOMOG said it had completely cleared the area of rebels on Tuesday. How is it possible then that rebels burst into people's homes on Wednesday and began cutting off their arms and legs?" In a separate interview, Golley said: "I have investigated this and spoken to our military high command, and I want to refute the idea that the RUF was behind these mutilations." Asked to comment on why survivors at Connaught Hospital had blamed their wounds on the rebels, Golley responded, "If anything happened, it must have been the civil militia going in and mutilating people they thought were rebels...There are a lot of terrible things going on. I'm not saying we've never committed atrocities, especially in the early stages of the war," he added. "In recent times, in the north and east, events will show it was not the RUF, it was the Kamajors that did the atrocities."
Following a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, Council President Ambassador Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim (Brazil) read out a statement expressing grave concern about the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone, and the increasing number of refugees. Council members expressed the need for all parties to ensure the safety of humanitarian personnel, to allow them to work effectively, and to respect their impartiality and neutrality, the statement said. "Council members expressed support for the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah, and the efforts that are being made by ECOMOG," Amorim said. Council members urged the international community for "continued and sustained" support for the ECOMOG force, while indicating "their hope for an early resumption of dialogue that respect the legitimate government of President Kabbah."
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International on Friday termed "unacceptable" plans by the United Nations Security Council to reduce the number of human rights monitors attached to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) from five to two or three. "At a time when it is more urgent than ever to monitor human rights abuses in Sierra Leone and to report them accurately and impartially, the UNOMSIL human rights section is being weakened dramatically" Amnesty International said. "Despite the difficulties posed by the security situation in Freetown, there is still much that UNOMSIL human rights officers can do." The Amnesty statement detailed human rights violations committed by both sides in the fighting. It said rebel fighters had "deliberately and arbitrarily" killed hundreds of unarmed civilians, and abducted large numbers of civilians, including children and young people. Rebels also killed eleven police officers near the Cotton Tree, in central Freetown. Amnesty said rebel forces had arrived in Freetown with lists of people to be targeted, including members of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, lawyers, and journalists. Amnesty said ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) had summarily executed "captured rebels or people they suspect of supporting rebel forces." The statement said ECOMOG troops had summarily executed 22 captives on Aberdeen Bridge on January 13, and that such executions were continuing. The CDF last week summarily executed six young men at Kingtom whom they alleged were rebels. Amnesty said indiscriminate aerial bombardments by ECOMOG had resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties. The human rights group also said eight Sierra Leonean humanitarian aid workers had been detained by ECOMOG and accused of cooperating with rebel forces. "Most of them are reported to have been beaten while detained," the statement said.
The West African Journalists' Association (WAJA) on Friday said it was "outraged and shocked" by indiscriminate attacks and persecution of foreign and local journalists in Sierra Leone. "We condemn in no uncertain terms the abduction of journalists by the rebels, the killing of journalists, and the destruction of media houses and equipment," WAJA said in a statement. "WAJA has had occasion in the past to condemn the anti-media measures of the Tejan Kabbah regime, particularly the death sentence passed against some journalists. Whilst urging all parties in the crisis in Sierra Leone to lay down arms and bring peace to the long-suffering people of Sierra Leone, we equally appeal to them to respect the dignity and right of journalists, irrespective of their perceived political leanings, to do their work."
21 January: Heavy gunfire was heard throughout the day Thursday from areas southeast of Freetown. ECOMOG sources said they had encircled rebel forces, who were caught between Nigerian troops pursuing from Kissy, and by Guinean troops advancing from Hastings who had now linked up with Nigerian forces closing in from Waterloo. French helicopter pilots under contract to ECOMOG said armed men identified as RUF rebels had been spotted Wednesday in villages in the Songo area, but ECOMOG sources said the current offensive against rebel forces would keep them confined to the high ground of the peninsula. AFRC/RUF rebels re-entered the Ferry Terminal area of Kissy on Wednesday night, killing scores of people and mutilating many more, witnesses said. Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Ibrahim I. Tejan-Jalloh said rebels had hacked off the hands of at least 30 Freetown residents. Rachel Fallah, a Sierra Leonean employee of the United Nations Development Programme, told the Associated Press that the rebels had raped young girls and forced teen-age boys to carry goods looted from homes. She added that rebels were using women and children as human shields against the ECOMOG force.
Connaught Hospital staff reported Thursday that many wounded people were dying because of an acute shortage of medical supplies. "The situation is bad enough in hospitals here, and we have no idea what is happening elsewhere in the country," said surgeon Dr. Johnston Taylor. "We are in desperate need of everything, above all antiseptic. The international community must intervene fast," Dr. Johnston pleaded. The British frigate HMS Norfolk last week transported 3.5 tons of medical equipment and supplies from Lungi to Freetown. As of Thursday, the AFP reported, there was no confirmation that they had been distributed. Reuters television filmed doctors at Connaught Hospital performing amputations on screaming victims. "I have never seen anything like this since the latest fighting started," Dr. Mumba Kawa said. "I am very short-staffed. My people have been working very bravely day in, day out. All they are using is local anaesthetics."
The first cases of cholera were reported in Freetown on Thursday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
There is no acute food crisis in Freetown, World Food Programme (WFP) officer for Sierra Leone, Patrick Buckley, said on Thursday. Despite looting by rebels and Freetown residents, Buckley said various humanitarian agencies, including the WFP, had between 8,000 and 10,000 tons of food, mainly rice, warehoused in Freetown ready to distribute. "Now that we have access to our stores, there is no acute food crisis," Buckley said. Aid workers had been prevented from reaching the stores until now because of sniper fire. Buckley said the WFP had commercial trucks and fuel available, and would begin distributing food from eight sites around the capital starting on Friday. A Sierra Leone government official said in Conakry that the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone, which has its own food stores, had already begun distributing it to some 4,000 people. Paul Ares, the WFP Regional Manager for Coastal West Africa, said that security and logistical problems still remained. "Despite numerous appeals by aid agencies, the warring parties have not yet committed themselves to guarantee the safe passage of relief supplies to tens of thousands of war-affected Freetown residents," he said in a statement issued in Ivory Coast. "Humanitarian work is severely hampered by the ECOMOG ban on aid workers' use of telecommunications equipment," the statement added. "Although limited telephone services were restored to some areas of Freetown, international humanitarian personnel who were evacuated to neighboring Guinea have been unable to exchange vital information with their colleagues in the capital."
Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah said Thursday that the Sierra Leone government is planning to raise a 15,000-strong interim civil defence force pending the formation of a new national army. "This will be on a nationwide basis, 1,000-strong from each district, to fill the gap in the event of ECOMOG phasing out after a period of time," Jonah told the BBC. "We want to raise this 15,000 strong civil defence force between now and perhaps June. We envisage that it would take some time to train properly the 5,000 strong national army, and in the meantime we want to use this 15,000 strong national defence force." Jonah, who is in London holding talks with the British government, said the Sierra Leone government would ask Britain to provide training, and hoped that Britain would also consider providing "some little weapons supplies" for the militia. Jonah said while he did not anticipate that ECOMOG would pull out of Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone government had to be prudent and make contingency plans. Jonah said the international community had recognised that the conflict in Sierra Leone was the result of foreign aggression. "Foreign aggression — this is now clear to everybody. And therefore the approach and the solution should be different," he said. "We are faced with rogue states in our sub-region." Jonah repeated accusations that Liberia and Burkina Faso were supporting AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. "I had a statement by the president of Burkina Faso saying ECOMOG is one-sided. Does he know that we have information that many of the fighters in Sierra Leone were trained in urban warfare in Burkina Faso?," Jonah said. "The foreign minister said why didnt I accuse them last time we met in Abidjan? Because at that time we did not have the information. We have since had by interrogation enough information to show that Liberia and Burkina Faso have been the most destabilising force in our sub-region." He claimed that "thousands" of rebel fighters had been trained in Burkina Faso.
Opposition parties in Burkina Faso have called for an international investigation into accusations that the Burkinabe government has been backing AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, the BBC reported on Thursday.
President Kabbah has welcomed the British government's announcement of £1 million in humanitarian aid and non-lethal military assistance, the BBC reported on Thursday.
Life has begun returning to a semblance of normal in western Freetown, where buses and cars plied the streets Thursday. ECOMOG troops carried out searches of vehicles, as well as bags carried by pedestrians, saying they were trying to prevent rebel infiltration. The government-controlled Radio Democracy 98.1 has called on government workers to return to their jobs by Monday. It said the improving security situation in the capital had allowed authorities to partially lift the curfew, which will now run from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
1,140 bodies have been collected for burial in the vicinity of Connaught Hospital, the health authorities said on Thursday. The BBC added that there were "certainly many more." Early estimates of the number of dead as a result of fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels in the capital was a minimum of 2,000. Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Ibrahim Tejan-Jalloh said Thursday that government workers had buried 420 bodies in mass graves and were searching the streets for more. Residents had buried many bodies in shallow graves, he said, and these would be disinterred and reburied. ECOMOG has refused to reveal how many of its soldiers have been killed in combat, but on Tuesday British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Parliament that "many hundreds of ECOMOG troops" had lost their lives in the battle for Freetown.
Kamajor militiamen attacked a Liberian cargo boat on the Mano River, which separates Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Thursday, quoting local press reports which were confirmed by the Liberian Ministry of Defence. The boat was reportedly carrying mining equipment owned by a South African company, Greater Diamond. Defence Ministry officials said the company had failed to inform them of the attack, or of their operations in the area. They said the incident was under investigation.
20 January: A shipload of rice donated by Italy has been diverted to Conakry because of security concerns in Freetown, a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman said on Wednesday. "The ship is not going to Freetown," the spokesman said in Abidjan. "When the situation in Sierra Leone improves we will transfer the food to Freetown." The ship is already unloading 1,800 tons of rice in Conakry. Earlier, ECOMOG sources said the ship's captain had demanded security guarantees in Freetown. On Wednesday, ECOMOG said it was putting security measures in place at the port for aid ships. "Even if we have security, logistics will be a major problem," the WFP spokesman said. Aid agency representatives met in Conakry Wednesday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Freetown. They said 8,000 tons of food had been warehoused at Clinetown, not far from the port. Aid workers who tried to reach the warehouse Wednesday were forced to turn back because of sniper fire.
ECOMOG planned to continue its offensive on Wednesday, targeting Hastings and Waterloo, according to an ECOMOG officer. He added that ECOMOG intended to prevent AFRC/RUF rebels from reaching the interior of the country.
ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu accused local staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Tuesday of spying for the rebels. "We have arrested six of them but they are continuing to use the ICRC net to spy on us. There are others we are looking for and that is why we have taken away all aid agency radios," Ahmadu said. Last week expatriate ICRC staffers were expelled from the country, and over the weekend ECOMOG confiscated all communications equipment from aid organisations and United Nations agencies. A "senior official" of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), after holding talks in Freetown on Tuesday, said there was some progress with the government and ECOMOG in resolving the communications dispute. An ECOMOG officer was quoted Wednesday as saying that all aid was to be distributed by the ECOMOG force.
United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo told Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka Wednesday that Nigeria had a central role to play in resolving the Sierra Leone conflict. "I made it a point to emphasise to the foreign minister that the role of Nigeria is central in the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone," Okelo said after meeting with Olisemeka in Abuja. "This is a country that has staked a lot in terms of lives, resources and manpower in a typical African crisis." Okelo said he was invited to Nigeria to brief the foreign minister on U.N. involvement in Sierra Leone, the humanitarian crisis facing people in the country, and to explore ways to end the conflict.
Pope John Paul II appealed on Wednesday for an end to violence in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, which he said had been characterised by "ferocity and ruthlessness." The Pope made mention of Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda, abducted by rebels in Freetown, and of other missionaries being held in Sierra Leone. "I appeal to those responsible to release them...as soon as possible," he said.
President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, in an interview published on Wednesday, accused ECOMOG of taking sides in the Sierra Leone conflict, and said the crisis could not be solved militarily. "(ECOMOG's mistake) is that it failed to try to bring parties together, and that it developed into a defence force of one of the two parties, in this case President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah," said Compaore, who is also the current OAU chairman. "The military path is not a solution," he added. "Once war has been won, peace must be won by organising reconciliation."
British High Commissioner Peter Penfold made a visit to Freetown from Conakry on Wednesday, promising British support for the ECOMOG force. "The British government has been fully supporting ECOMOG and they clearly recognise the great sacrifice that their people have been making," Penfold said. "We have been flying in support for ECOMOG." Penfold noted the damage to the capital in the wake of the fighting. "A hurricane has come to Freetown. This time it was man-made," he said. "We need to help galvanise the government of Sierra Leone and the people to help them get back on their feet," after visiting more than 30,000 displaced people sheltering at the National Stadium. "Undoubtedly there has been a lot devastation and from all accounts the areas that we cannot get to are even worse."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said reports from Freetown made it clear that AFRC/RUF rebels targeted journalists for retribution during fighting for control of Freetown. "We have received reports that the RUF entered Freetown with a list of journalists who were to be eliminated for what was perceived as 'anti-RUF' coverage of the war," the CPJ said in a statement issued Wednesday. The group pointed to the murders of journalist Jenner "J.C." Cole and SKY-FM 106 reporter Mohammed Kamara, along with attacks on other journalists and the destruction of newspaper offices, as evidence of a pattern of retribution. The CPJ cited reports that the offices of the Concord Times and the Standard Times had been burned down, along with the building housing the SKY-FM 106 radio station. "The SLBS transmitter site at Leicester Peak is intact, but the building suffered serious damages because RUF rebels and AFRC forces were based there the first three days of the fighting," the CPJ said. "The SLBS studios were seriously damaged."
Journalists reported on Wednesday that ECOMOG soldiers had summarily executed suspected rebels. "On Tuesday, ECOMOG troops rounded up a group of five or six men, attached their hands together, and led them to another area to be summarily executed," the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, adding: "In Freetown, neither side has taken many prisoners."
19 January: Fighting continued to the south and east of Freetown Tuesday, as a seven-day unilateral cease-fire declared by the RUF for Monday was ignored. ECOMOG escorted journalists to Kissy, which ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said was recaptured on Monday. London Times journalist Sam Kiley confirmed Tuesday that ECOMOG had forced the AFRC/RUF rebels from their strongholds in the Kissy and Clinetown area, and had recaptured the strategic Queen Elizabeth Quay. Kiley reported that fighting was continuing at the Ferry Terminal, about a quarter of a mile from the main dock, where the rebels continued to resist. Guinean ECOMOG troops were advancing through Waterloo, which was now in ECOMOG hands, he added. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said the "worst fighting" was taking place in southeast Freetown, at Foulah Town and Maeba. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the current ECOMOG offensive began Monday near Hastings, along the main highway linking Freetown to the interior. Military sources told the AFP that ECOMOG intended to prevent the rebels from escaping along the highway into the interior, thus trapping them within the peninsula. The AFP also reported that an unknown number of rebels had retreated Monday into the hills around Freetown, near the western suburb of Aberdeen, toward Lumley, Goderich, and Lakka.
London Times journalist Sam Kiley on Tuesday described scenes of devastation in Kissy, the scene of heavy fighting between the two sides. "Practically every single building in the Kissy suburb has been burned to the ground by the rebels, and at every street one crunches on spent cartridges," he said. "There are very, very few people on the streets. The atmosphere is extremely tense. Its overlooked by mountains where the rebels can look straight down into the town. But in the west of town the streets are actually quite full of people, until the curfew at 3:00 when they disappear." Reuters correspondent Jeff Koinange wrote of "streets strewn with corpses and...burned-out houses, shops and churches," adding that both Holy Trinity Church on Kissy Road and the Eastern Police Station had been destroyed. Kiley said that while ECOMOG was now in control of strategic sites in Freetown, the rebels maintained bases in the hills surrounding the capital. "My understanding is the Kamajors are operating in those areas that theyre familiar with, but in general Freetown is now very largely back in the hands of ECOMOG," he said.
Reuters reported that looters had replaced rebels at the port, "stealing food, drink, and anything else they could find" from warehouses, and, together with the threat of a rebel counter-attack, would further delay the arrival of emergency relief supplies. "We need security at the port for vessels and cargoes, we need trucks and diesel, and we need security for them to get to distribution points in the city," one aid source said. "Before that we'll need to send our own assessment teams in." ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu told reporters that Nigerian ships bring reinforcements and supplies were due to dock on Tuesday. "Any other ships waiting to use the port can do so as it is now safe," he said. Ahmadu said Fourah Bay College, atop Mount Aureol, was also recaptured on Tuesday. He said the rebels had defended the "strategic site" with mortars and anti-aircraft guns.
Telephone service has been restored to Freetown, ten days after the telephone system was disabled during heavy fighting in the capital between AFRC/RUF rebels and ECOMOG troops.
Britain has pledged an additional £1 million in humanitarian aid for Sierra Leone, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Parliament on Tuesday. "I can today announce to the House that the Government will be urgently releasing another £1 million of humanitarian assistance to the people of Sierra Leone, and also logistical support for ECOMOG," Cook said, observing: "We still have a long way to go to restore an integrated, stable Sierra Leone." Cook said Britain had sent a message to Liberian President Charles Taylor "demanding that he withdraw support" for rebel forces in Sierra Leone. "Britain will remain fully committed to alleviating the suffering of its people and in providing practical and political support for their right to be ruled by the legitimate government of their choice," he said. "We believe there are over 200,000 refugees, which is a very large proportion of a relatively small country, and they will require substantial assistance for relocation and resettlement." He said he intended to rally further support for Sierra Leone at next Monday's meeting of European Union foreign ministers. Cook told Parliament that "many hundreds of ECOMOG troops" had been killed in the fighting in Freetown. "The House will wish to pay its respect to the courage and sacrifice of those who have fought to sustain the legitimate Government of Sierra Leone," he said. We are relieved that the capital has not fallen, but the situation remains worrying. Much of Freetown has been destroyed and much of the rest of the country remains in rebel hands."
The leader of the British Reconnaissance Mission to Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, met ECOMOG officers and members of the Sierra Leone government on Tuesday to discuss how Britain can best support the ECOMOG force. "It is my job to make recommendations to the British Government about how we can help. The first priority will be humanitarian. What military assistance we will be able to give is likely to be very limited," he said on Monday. Richards, operating from the British frigate HMS Norfolk, will submit his report to a Cabinet committee in London on Wednesday. ECOMOG has asked Britain to provide air transport for their troops. "What we need is a couple of gunships and several transport helicopters which could bring men in to react to attacks. It is difficult to use roads because of the threat of ambush," said ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned Tuesday that the food situation in Freetown was desperate and could degenerate into famine. "Following the recent escalation of violence in Sierra Leone, the food supply situation has seriously deteriorated, virtually wiping out modest gains in food security in Freetown and surrounding areas," the FAO said in an alert issued in Rome. It said the situation was especially critical in Freetown, where fighting has deprived the civilian population of food, water, and electricity. "With continued fighting despite diplomatic efforts to negotiate a cease-fire, their situation has become desperate and could degenerate into famine as food stocks are nearly depleted and fighting is blocking food supplies from the interior of the country...The situation is most critical in Freetown where its population, estimated at around one million, is facing severe food shortages that could result in starvation if the fighting continues and impedes delivery of food and other humanitarian assistance." The FAO, quoting the UNHCR, said the recent fighting had increased the number of internally-displaced persons in the country by 80,000, now estimated at 350,000. Most of the newly-displaced are in the Kenema area. The food supply situation was expected to worsen because of the disruption of aid activity previously coordinated from Freetown. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) had been supplying food to some 63,000 persons before the recent fighting, but this has now been suspended. The current insecurity is also expected to impact the marketing of the 1998 rice crop. If the fighting persists into the next planting season, most agricultural rehabilitation activities planned for 1999 would be delayed or remain very limited, the agency said.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a senior member of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to Sierra Leone. Kevin Kennedy, chief of the Emergency Liaison Branch of OCHA, will assist Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo in Freetown.
Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has accused AFRC/RUF rebels of abducting Freetown residents, including the chairman of the SLPP party, whom they planned to use as hostages. In a BBC interview Tuesday, Spencer alleged that the Sierra Leone conflict was "not so much a rebellion as an invasion," adding: "The vast majority of people involved in the fighting in Freetown are foreigners — lots of Liberians involved in the fighting. Some Sierra Leone soldiers, some Burkinabes, and some mercenaries, some other mercenaries, white people." He said the Sierra Leone government had not foreclosed the possibility of negotiations with the rebels, but accused rebel leaders of not being sincere. "Their actions speak very loudly. Even they said they declared a unilateral cease-fire Monday, from yesterday evening, which they did not observe," he said. Spencer rejected a suggestion that it was the ECOMOG force which refused to observe the cease-fire. "It is not. It is definitely not," he said. "They are the ones mounting the attack. What they were hoping to do, with declaring a cease-fire, is to lull us into a sense of complacency so that we will now relax and say ok, there is a ceasefire,' and then they will do what they want to do."
Two Italian mercenaries, a man and a woman, were captured in Freetown Monday, according to a French pilot Jean-Jacques Fuentes, who is under contract to ECOMOG. Fuentes, himself a mercenary who has seen action in Rwanda and Angola, said the two were caught "red-handed as they torched houses and fired guns." The Sierra Leone government has alleged that Ukrainian mercenaries have been aiding the rebels, a charge which Ukraine rejected on Tuesday. "Ukraine rejects any accusations that its citizens are taking part in the conflict in Sierra Leone," said Volodymyr Strehal, the head of the information department at Ukraine's foreign ministry. On March 12, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andriy Veselovskyy said Ukraine had no official knowledge of involvement by Ukrainian citizens, but he added that the possibility could not be ruled out.
18 January: The sound sustained heavy artillery and mortar fire erupted in Freetown's western side Monday, indicating that AFRC/RUF rebels have penetrated the area for the first time since fighting began in the capital on January 6. The sounds of gunfire came mostly from the neighbourhood of Cockerill, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, adding that "reliable sources" said the rebels were heading north along Lumley Road. A Nigerian ECOMOG officer said the rebels had regrouped in the hills overlooking Aberdeen and the Wilberforce Military Barracks before infiltrating the Westend. Clouds of smoke surrounded the barracks, the AFP said. An ECOMOG helicopter, its guns aimed at the ground, circled around Cockerill, where ECOMOG has its headquarters, making sorties to Lungi International Airport and a heliport at a nearby hotel. A Nigerian officer confirmed that fighting was still continuing at Hastings, east of Freetown. Earlier Monday, most of Freetown was reported calm, although residents reported hearing sporadic heavy gunfire overnight from Kissy, where AFRC/RUF rebels continued to offer resistance.
Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, quoted Monday by BBC correspondent Prince Brima, said in respect of a cease-fire declared by the RUF that the government would not only insist on the cease-fire, but would prevent the rebels from moving into any areas they do not currently control. Norman said the government would observe the cease-fire as long as they were not attacked, but if the rebels did attack they would defend themselves. The unilateral cease-fire was to have taken effect Monday at 6:00 p.m. Witnesses were unable to confirm Monday whether it had gone into effect. ECOMOG has not committed to the cease-fire, but said it would step up its offensive against the rebels if the RUF did not stop firing. "If these rebels do not observe this cease-fire, we're going all the way," and ECOMOG officer said. Said Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe: "The operational situation is progressing very fast. We have secured the Port of Kissy in the far east of the city." RUF spokesman Omrie Golley repeated Monday that the RUF cease-fire was still scheduled to take effect at 6:00 p.m. "When the RUF gives an assurance, particularly in these instances, it sticks to them," Golley said. He told the BBC he expected the government to use the cease-fire "to really think about their position and enter into a political dialogue to effect peace and reconciliation in our country and to join the process...We want peace, and we want ultimately national reconciliation in our country. I would urge the international community and President Kabbah to basically take this situation as, maybe, a step forward, a good step forward, as a window for peace." Golley warned that "from past experience" the RUF was in a strong position militarily should the cease-fire fail. "But what we should not be doing is continually talking about military, military, military situation. What we should be talking about now is how we are going to bring peace and national reconciliation in our country," he said. RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said he thought ECOMOG would ignore the cease-fire because "they do not want to share control of Freetown" with the rebels. "We are ready... If they do not respect (the ceasefire), then we won't either," he said. "If we are attacked, we will reply."
The British frigate HMS Norfolk has sent three tons of medical supplies and equipment to Connaught Hospital, where medical staff have been struggling to treat the sick and wounded with virtually no medicines. Hospital Services Manager S.I. Koroma described the supplies as a "Godsend," but said much more was needed. "We are so hard pressed for drugs and medical sundries. I just don't know how to express our gratitude," he said. "There has been so much devastation in the city and there are so many wounded people who have not been able to reach the hospital. There are wounded people who have reached the hospital and cannot get drugs or any kind of help whatsoever." Hospital employees told Reuters that the hospital had been looted and ransacked by rebels during the fighting. Some of the rebels had shot patients, then climbed into the beds and demanded treatment for their own wounds, hospital staff said.
RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie repeated his accusation Monday that the Norfolk was involved in military action in support of the government. "Great Britain is part of this conflict. They are using their boat against us," Bockarie said. "(Britain is) bringing in arms and ammunition to kill our people." In a separate interview with Reuters, Bockarie said, "The British have taken sides. They have no good intentions regarding the people of Sierra Leone." A British Foreign Office spokesman dismissed the allegations. "The U.K. has not taken any military action and does not intend to," she said.
Up to 40,000 people made homeless by fighting in Freetown are sheltering at the National Stadium, according to Richard Shariff, spokesman for local humanitarian organisations in Freetown. "Cholera is our major concern right now. If it breaks out we are finished," Shariff said on Monday. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said water was being provided to those at the stadium, but aid officials said there was little food and no sanitation facilities.
Seven foreign mercenaries, supposedly five Ukrainians and two Mauritanians, were killed near Koidu in Kono District over the weekend, BBC correspondent Prince Brima said Monday, citing a Kamajor commander as his source, later confirmed by Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman. The seven were said to have been traveling between Koidu and Jaiama Sewafe when their four-wheel-drive vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The Kamajor commander claimed that, in addition to the mercenaries, 27 rebels were killed in the fighting and a large quantity of arms and ammunition seized. "The corpses of the white mercenaries were later displayed at the checkpoint on the Masingbi-Kono highway by the Kamajor militiamen," Brima reported.
Aid agencies are said to be negotiating the return of their communications equipment which was confiscated over the weekend, apparently because ECOMOG feared it could be used to assist the rebels. The Paris-based charity "Action Against Hunger," in another sign of increased tensions between humanitarian agencies and the ECOMOG force, said Monday that ECOMOG had arrested two of its local workers in Freetown.
Four Catholic priests, six nuns, and a junior cleric were kidnapped from Kissy a week ago, the Italian missionary news agency MISNA reported on Monday. Three of the priests and the cleric were Italian and one was Spanish, MISNA said. Four of the nuns were Indian, one was Kenyan, and one was believed to be from Bangladesh. The Xaverian missionary order in Madrid identified the Spanish priest as Fr. Luis Perez Hernandez, 47, who had been in Sierra Leone for a year and a half. The nuns are reported to be affiliated with the Missionaries of Charity, an order founded by Mother Teresa. RUF spokesman Omrie Golley said in Abidjan that he had no knowledge of the abductions, but would try to contact RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie. "If it is our side that is holding them, I will seek to secure their release," he said. He added that pro-government militias or "freelance fighters" in Freetown might have been responsible for the kidnappings.
17 January: Fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels continued to the east of Freetown on Wednesday. London Times journalist Sam Kiley reported that the sounds of tanks and heavy artillery could be heard from around the university area, where "rebels are believed to be using a disused quarry and caves around there for cover." The number of casualties in the city since the onset of the fighting has been conservatively estimated at 2,000, the BBC and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Sunday. The number is expected to rise on account of the number of injured, starving children, and because of the lack of medical care. Fires started by the rebels which have destroyed key installations, and reportedly even whole streets, coupled with damage from ECOMOG bombing raids, have left the city badly damaged.
ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Sunday that re-establishing complete control over Freetown was a matter of "a few days," but he acknowledged that "urban warfare creates a lot of difficulties." He said bands of RUF rebels, often teenagers carrying assault rifles, and snipers on rooftops posed a threat which ECOMOG needed "better and more efficient means" to counter. He said the Nigerian Alpha fighter jets used by ECOMOG were too rapid, and said the force required helicopters, light arms, more communications equipment, and a commitment from other ECOWAS countries to contribute troops to the ECOMOG force. "We're now organising civil defence," Shelpidi added. He said the rebels, who had been prevented from getting back to the interior of the country, were now in the forested hills overlooking Freetown. "The worst thing is that the rebels change their clothes all the time," said a Nigerian major. "One minute, they're on the street in jeans and t-shirts, like you or me; the next they're in stolen ECOMOG battle dress."
Freetown was reported calm on Sunday morning, Reuters reported. Saturday night was reported generally quiet, although distant bombardments could occasionally be heard from the east. The news service described Freetown as a "disaster area," with bodies littering the streets. At Connaught Hospital, a few local doctors with almost no medicine attempted to care for the sick and wounded, while dogs and vultures disturbed bodies piled in the hospital driveway. "The hospital is in a dire situation right now. There are over 80 war wounded requiring all kinds of medical help, and we just do not have the means to assist them," said surgeon Dr Johnston Taylor. "There are bodies littered everywhere, unattended as well. We are appealing for any kind of help and assistance that we can get." Most aid agencies evacuated their personnel to Conakry following the AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Freetown. Five expatriate staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), including a Dutch battle surgeon, were expelled by ECOMOG last week without explanation. On Friday, ECOMOG ordered non-government organisations and United Nations agencies to hand over their communications equipment, further hampering humanitarian operations.
The British frigate HMS Norfolk anchored off Freetown on Sunday. The British government has said the warship will not take direct part in fighting, but might provide logistical support for the ECOMOG force and assist in humanitarian operations, according to the British Foreign Office. In March 1998 the British frigate HMS Cornwall provided humanitarian and technical assistance following the ouster of the AFRC military government. The Foreign Office said Friday that the Norfolk would not undertake an evacuation of the estimated 50 British nationals remaining in Freetown. "That particular boat is equipped to provide humanitarian assistance, they have crew who will probably help to restore some of the essential services that the people so badly need," President Kabbah said on Saturday. Brigadier David Richards, the leader of the British Reconnaissance Team, said the Norfolk was carrying three tons of medical supplies. "Our focus in the first instance is clearly on the humanitarian situation," he said. Richards added that the British "plan to support ECOMOG in any way we can to do whatever is necessary to restore stability in the country." London Times journalist Sam Kiley said Sunday that the Norfolk's immediate mission would be to airlift the medical supplies from Lungi to Connaught Hospital in Freetown. He also reported that Richards met with Chief of Defence Staff Maxwell Khobe and President Kabbah to discuss the situation in Freetown both from a humanitarian and a military point of view. "So as yet the British certainly havent ruled out some sort of military role, although the Foreign Office in London of course have ruled out an actual direct combat role of the frigate thats here, which may in fact be augmented in the future," Kiley said. He pointed out that the frigate was equipped with only one Lynx helicopter, capable of lifting about half a ton of equipment, but speculated that it could possibly supply "guidance or intelligence-gathering equipment" to direct ECOMOG Alpha fighter jets. RUF political spokesman Omrie Golley said RUF commanders in the field feared the Norfolk would help ECOMOG's Alpha jet fighters locate rebel positions. "They are worried it will eavesdrop on our communications and help the Alphas pinpoint our positions," Golley said. "Britain seems to have confused objectives. They say they are looking for dialogue and yet they are playing a great part in supporting ECOMOG." On Friday, Britain flew a planeload of military vehicles to Freetown, destined for the ECOMOG force. RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, in an interview on Sunday, accused the Norfolk of shelling rebel positions. "Their shells have landed on our soil," he said. "We will attack their embassy. It's going to be burned down." A British Defence Department spokeswoman in London called the accusation "absolute rubbish." "All that has happened is that HMS Norfolk has arrived in international waters off Sierra Leone, and has sent a reconnaissance party in a helicopter to assess the situation from the air," she said. The British Reconnaissance Team intends to remain in Freetown until early February to assess the situation in the country.
The Ivory Coast reacted Saturday to criticism by Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisiemeka of efforts by the foreign ministers of Ivory Coast and Togo to mediate the Sierra Leone conflict. A statement issued by the Ivorian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abidjan recalled that the final communiqué issued by the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone following their extraordinary meeting on December 28 called both for reinforcement of ECOMOG and for a restoration of dialogue between the government and the rebels in Sierra Leone, as provided for by the Abidjan Accord and the Conakry Peace Plan. The ECOWAS foreign ministers called on Ivory Coast and Liberia to use their influence to establish contacts between the government and the rebels for possible further negotiations, the statement said, adding that the decision had received the support of all of Committee of Five foreign ministers. "It is worth recalling that the involvement of Ivory Coast in the settlement of the crisis in Sierra Leone is the result of an urgent request made in this regard by former Sierra Leone President Maada Bio and President Kabbah to President Henri Konan Bedie, who had made great efforts toward the signing of the Abidjan Peace Accord on 30 November 1996, an accord which had received the support of the entire international community," the statement added.
Malian army spokesman Aboudlaye Coulibali said Sunday that 428 Malian troops were sentX to depart for Freetown following an assessment mission Friday by General Nimkaro Kame. "Our aim is not to fight, unless we're attacked, but to provide security for the population and facilitate negotiations between the belligerents," Coulibali said. Reuters reported that a military delegation from Mali flew to Freetown Saturday for talks with ECOMOG as to when the long-expected contingent of Malian troops might arrive.
RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said Sunday that the rebels would go ahead with a seven-day cease-fire set to begin at 6:00 p.m. on Monday. "Our guns will go silent for a week. If the Nigerians do not try to do anything, they will stay silent for a week," he said. Bockarie warned, however, that any ECOMOG action — even a single flight by an ECOMOG jet — would end the cease-fire. "We will not sit down and look at them shooting at us," he said. Bockarie threatened to unleash anarchy on the capital unless RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh were released. "We have made Freetown ungovernable," he said. "We can do that until Kabbah steps down or they release Sankoh." United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), said he feared "the intransigence" of President Kabbah toward the AFRC/RUF troops "could trigger, very quickly, a new wave of violence."
The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed "rebel official" in an "undisclosed location" in Sierra Leone reported Sunday that AFRC/RUF rebels will abandon their unilateral cease-fire unless President Kabbah agrees to release RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "We are hoping that there will be a significant shift on Kabbah's part," he said. "But if (there isn't), we fight and fight to the bitter end." President Kabbah, in a Reuters television interview on Saturday, refused to release Sankoh. "What the rebels are saying is 'Mr. President, we have a gun pointed at your head. Either you release our man or we are going to shoot you'", Kabbah said. "They are saying that we should ignore our constitution, we should ignore our legal system, and just obey their orders to release Sankoh. I am not going to succumb to that." RUF political spokesman Omrie Golley told Reuters Saturday that the rebels planned to go ahead with their cease-fire beginning Monday, and that Sankoh's release was not a pre-condition. The "rebel official" told the Associated Press that rebel forces remain entrenched in parts of Freetown and could regain full control of the city within ten days. He acknowledged that the rebels were hampered in their movements by ECOMOG Alpha fighter jets and artillery, but said they were able to move freely after dark. "We have the upper hand by night, and they have the upper hand by day," the official said. "Although they are better equipped, we are smarter." He claimed that the rebels controlled most of Sierra Leone, except for the cities of Bo and Kenema.
BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported Sunday that AFRC/RUF rebels clashed with Kamajor militiamen at Jomu, 12 miles from Kenema. Brima said the battle lasted for three hours "before the rebels were repelled with heavy casualties." An afternoon curfew lasting from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. was imposed on Kenema Saturday, he said, adding that the town was calm Sunday. Heavy fighting also broke out Saturday near Masingbi, on the Makeni-Kono highway, between rebel forces and the Kamajor militia, Brima reported. He said the two sides continued to battle along the highway Sunday.
United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo flew from Conakry to Freetown Saturday to try to revive mediation efforts, and to arrange to bring humanitarian aid to Freetown by road from Guinea. "We've been assured of the necessary escorts and security and I'm on my way back to Conakry to relay this good news to the (aid agencies) so that they can begin right away," Okelo said.
The First Secretary at Sierra Leone's embassy in Liberia, James Sawi, has described as "false and misleading" a report by the Daily Times newspaper that the Sierra Leone government had asked Liberian refugees to leave the country. The newspaper said the Liberians were being expelled because of Liberian support for AFRC/RUF rebels. Sawi acknowledged that there were serious problems between the two countries, but said this would not cause Sierra Leone to expel Liberian nationals.
16 January: ECOMOG has relaxed a curfew on Freetown's Westend, saying that rebels had been cleared from the area, according to pro-government Radio Democracy 98.1. Residents were free to leave their homes between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., the radio said, but were warned not to gather in groups. Anyone on the streets outside of those hours would be treated as a rebel, the radio added. A 24-hour curfew remains in force on all eastern areas of the city, where rebel forces continue to offer resistance. ECOMOG officers reported heavy fighting at Jui, where ECOMOG soldiers from Nigeria's 2nd Brigade have their barracks. London Times journalist Sam Kiley said Saturday that while things had eased somewhat in the west of the city, the general situation was still extremely desperate. "The whole east of the city is still very much an area of heavy fighting and destruction," he said. "The rebels in retreat were ordered to burn everything they could as they left, and they made good on that. Last night it looked as if there was a forest fire raging through the wooden buildings that are so characteristic of Freetown. And so I think the situation there when it becomes safe enough to go into — ECOMOG is still mopping up — that there will be scenes of quite unimaginable carnage." Kiley said "quite heavy fighting" was continuing in the direction of Kissy and Hastings Airport. He added that despite the rebels' offer of a cease-fire, ECOMOG appeared determined to press on with their counter-offensive. Kiley confirmed that there had been instances of ECOMOG soldiers summarily executing "identified rebels," but added: "That is certainly not a policy of ECOMOG. Its very heartening that theyre going to stay very much on the side of the law."
RUF political spokesman Omrie Golley said Saturday that the RUF would begin a seven-day unilateral cease-fire on Monday despite the government's "intransigence." "We are going ahead with our temporary ceasefire at 1800 GMT on Monday. A week from Monday is as far as our commitment goes," he said in Abidjan. He added that the cease-fire would be unilateral if necessary, and that the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was not a pre-condition. Golley said the cease-fire would be reviewed on January 25, and warned that it would be curtailed if the rebels were attacked on the ground or from the air. Golley added that the RUF wanted United Nations observers to monitor and verify the cease-fire.
BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported Saturday that AFRC/RUF troops launched simultaneous attacks Friday on the hydroelectric power station at Dodo and at Masingbi. "The RUF troops at midday yesterday attacked the hydroelectric power station at Dodo, in which the entire residential staff quarters of the power stastion were burnt down," Brima said. "The rebels, who are desperate to destroy the entire power station, were heading toward the dam when they ran into the Kamajor ambush. This resulted in a battle which lasted throughout the night before the rebels were repelled this morning with heavy casualties." Brima said rebel troops who were dislodged from Masingbi three weeks ago made a bid to recapture the town, but were repelled by the Kamajor militia in a five-hour battle. "Meanwhile, six truckloads of rebels who were yesterday afternoon retreating from Makeni town and heading towards Kono with looted property ran into a Kamajor ambush near Masingbi," he added.
15 January: President Kabbah rejected on Monday a key RUF demand to release RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh or to transfer him to a neutral country — conditions RUF leaders insisted be met by the end of a unilateral seven-day cease-fire they announced on Thursday. Kabbah said he would need parliamentary approval to release Sankoh. "Otherwise I would be impeached by my own people," he said. Kabbah added that he had not ruled out negotiations with the rebels, but said that power sharing was "totally out of the question." He also refused to transfer Sankoh to a third country, and specifically ruled out Burkina Faso, which the government has accused of aiding the rebels. "If I release him he will have to stay in Sierra Leone and not go to a third country," he said. United Nations sources said Sankoh was flown back to Sierra Leone on Friday after three days of talks in Guinea aimed at bringing about a cease-fire in the conflict. The sources said the Sierra Leone government had rejected an offer by Guinea to keep Sankoh under house arrest in order to facilitate contacts with U.N. and ECOWAS mediators. "President Kabbah said he wanted Sankoh back, so he was flown to Freetown this morning," a U.N. source said in Conakry.
Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Friday that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh would not be released because he gone back on a cease-fire agreement with President Kabbah. "Corporal Foday Sankoh himself has now denied that he is not agreeing to any cease-fire at all with President Kabbah," Kaikai said in a BBC interview. "If he had agreed to the cease-fire, at the end, he would release him within seven days. But he did not agree to it at all. But the president went beyond that. He met with the ministers, foreign minister from Togo, met the foreign minister from la Cote d'Ivoire, and the U.N. special envoy to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Okelo, and asked them to meet with Corporal Foday Sankoh, which they did. It was in that meeting that Corporal Foday Sankoh flatly denied that he had signed any agreement at all with President Kabbah." Kaikai said the government would not agree to a cease-fire called by the RUF at the urging of Liberian President Charles Taylor because it had been delayed while RUF fighters continued to conduct operations. "You know the rebels had agreed to the cease-fire proposed by President Charles Taylor, which would have gone into effect on Sunday," he said. "(RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie) pushed it to Monday, because he says that his people had already [words indistinct] and he was going to engage an operation, therefore, he could not agree to that particular cease-fire until Monday. But what government — responsible government — is going to sit down and allow his people to be annihilated? No, [words indistinct] I think the government should be very negligent it did allow something like that to take place." Kaikai rejected reports that Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers were summarily executing rebels and rebel supporters. "I do reject that very strongly," he said. "These are the most professional people. [words indistinct] they would have murdered a lot of people on the way [words indistinct] to enter town. They did not. If the rebels were able to enter Freetown, it was simply because the Nigeria-led ECOMOG troops refused to engage in any such activity at all."
AFRC/RUF rebels continue to put up resistance in the Eastend of Freetown. Explosion were heard there on Friday, and thick black smoke was seen rising over the area. A Lebanese trader told Reuters that civilians in the east were trapped in desperate conditions. He said there were hundreds of bodies lying in the streets, some of them with their eyes or intestines hanging out.
AFRC/RUF rebel forces and Kamajor militiamen clashed at Thursday about 30 miles from Kenema on the Kenema-Liberia highway, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Friday. Quoting a paramount chief from the area, Brima said the rebels had launched a "massive offensive" on two chiefdoms in Kenema District on Tuesday. While they were regrouping to attack Kenema they were surrounded and attacked by 2,000 Kamajor militiamen. 338 rebels were killed and large amounts of arms and ammunition seized, the chief said. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. AFRC/RUF forces also attacked Segbwema on Thursday, but were driven back with heavy casualties, Brima said. This was the third attack on the town by rebels seeking to capture the Moa Barracks near Daru. Brima reported that ECOMOG fighter jets had attacked rebel bases in Kailahun District on Thursday, but gave no details.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisiemeka has voiced disapproval at efforts by the foreign ministers of Ivory Coast and Togo to mediate the Sierra Leone conflict. "Those who do not even have a soldier in Sierra Leone are pretending to be peacemakers. I would ask them to stop it. We cannot be taken for a ride," he said at a ceremony honouring fallen Nigerian soldiers. "When we are ready for peace we shall let them know." Senior Nigerian sources in Guinea have said that all mediation efforts had been effectively suspended. They said a new negotiating formula would be defined after Nigeria consulted with the other two countries contributing troops to the ECOMOG force, Ghana and Guinea. "A larger regional meeting will have to be convened. The three countries with troops on the ground will decide modalities of such a meeting," a Nigerian source said.
ECOMOG on Friday ordered all communications equipment belonging to the remaining humanitarian organisations, United Nations missions, and embassies to be confiscated. "They ordered all agencies with communications equipment to hand it over this afternoon to ECOMOG...They promised to give it back when the situation improves," one aid worker said. "From what we hear they suspect some of the humanitarian agencies to be involved in passing information to the rebels." Some organisations were accused of helping recharge batteries for the rebels' communications equipment. The action was taken after ECOMOG summoned all non-governmental organisations left in Freetown to a meeting on Friday morning. A U.N. official said relief groups throughout Sierra Leone had been given until Friday afternoon to surrender their satellite telephones and radios to ECOMOG. He quoted ECOMOG officials as saying the equipment had fallen into rebel hands, and that the confiscations were being carried out to tighten security. Officials from two major aid agencies said ECOMOG was hindering their efforts. An official of a major aid agency, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said the move effectively cut the remaining humanitarian links between Sierra Leone and the outside world and jeopardized already inadequate medicine and food distribution efforts being guided by "remote control" from nearby countries. "If we are not able to call the combatants to arrange safe passage, it is too dangerous to continue to travel or continue our work," the official said. One London-based aid agency expressed concern for its workers' safety now that communications links were broken. "Our staff will be more than ever exposed," an officer at the agency said.
United Nations agencies issued a joint appeal in Geneva Friday for a quick cease-fire in Sierra Leone and security guarantees for a humanitarian corridor so agencies could deliver food and medicine to tens of thousands of civilians whose lives were in danger. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern about the condition of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by fighting in Freetown. "The situation is very serious. The WFP launches an appeal to the parties of the conflict to accept a ceasefire and guarantee the necessary security conditions for humanitarian organisations to have rapid access to distressed populations in Freetown and inland," said WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume. "Tens of thousands of lives are in danger. "We must react rapidly if we are to avoid a catastrophe." She said residents of Freetown were already suffering from hunger and malnutrition after being deprived of food, water, and electricity for ten days. The WFP still had 63 local employees in place, but was not sure about the state of more than 2,000 tons of food stored in Freetown warehouses, she said. "We could distribute food immediately, tomorrow, if we have a humanitarian corridor and security guarantees. Our local staff can reach people," Berthiaume added. UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick said an estimated one million people had been trapped by the fighting, and many had run out of water and food. "We are appealing to stop the fighting, it would be the first step to begin to end this ridiculous war," he said. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said local staff had reported residents of the capital were traumatised. "We don't have any reports from rebel-controlled areas," Janowski said. "We don't know the extent of loss of life."
The British foreign office said Friday that no decision had been taken on what role the HMS Norfolk would play when it arrived in Freetown, probably on Saturday. However, foreign office sources ruled out any direct intervention in the fighting or evacuation of an estimated 50 British nationals still remaining in the capital. The Norfolk could assist humanitarian operations or give logistical help to ECOMOG such as providing intelligence information on rebel forces, the sources said.
An ECOMOG spokesman has denied reports that two government ministers were killed Wednesday in a rebel attack. Minister of State for Public Affairs M.B. Sesay and the Minister of State for Northern Province Dr. Y.M. Koroma were not dead, the source said. Nigerian Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella told reporters Friday that the two had "strayed into rebel-held areas and were killed." The Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington, D.C. reported Thursday that the two had been killed on Goderich Street by a sniper when they entered the area to search for Sesay's father.
President Kabbah has sent his condolences to the family of Associated Press journalist Myles Tierney, who was killed during fighting in Freetown on January 10. "I'm very sorry for the journalist who was killed by the gangsters. Sierra Leone used to be such a peaceful country before 1991," Kabbah said.
ECOMOG pulled its remaining troops out of Monrovia overnight, in a move which Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea termed as "abrupt." ECOMOG troops had been stationed in the Liberian capital since 1990. the troops' destination was unknown.
Israel's foreign ministry disclosed Friday it had received an unconfirmed report that an Israeli private arms dealer had been arrested by Sierra Leonean authorities on suspicion of aiding the rebels. The arms dealer was identified as Ya'ir Klein, who is also a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Israeli Reserve Army. In 1989, Colombian government indicted Klein in absentia for providing armaments and training to death squads associated with the country's Medellin drug cartel. He was found guilty by an Israeli court in 1991 of supplying weapons to Colombia without a license. Israel's foreign ministry said it was seeking ways to assist Klein through its ambassador in Senegal, and had also contacted its ambassador in Nigeria.
14 January: RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said Thursday the RUF had agreed to an unconditional cease-fire, beginning on Monday. "After that one week, if (RUF leader Corporal Foday) Sankoh is not released, we are going to resume our offensive," he said. Bockarie said the RUF had agreed to the cease-fire at the behest Liberian President Charles Taylor. "He only said to me that we should allow a temporary cease-fire to allow the humanitarian relief officers to be given a chance and that during that period Foday Sankoh would be released. That's why I agreed," Bockarie said. Rebel spokesman Eldred Collins added that after "lengthy discussions" with Taylor, the rebels agreed to a week-long cease-fire. Taylor, who announced the cease-fire at a press conference in Monrovia's Executive Mansion, said agreement with the rebels was reached after two days of stringent negotiations. He said that the rebels had agreed to institute their cease-fire at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Liberian government wanted to secure the cease-fire to allow humanitarian agencies to reach the civilian population with relief assistance, he added. Taylor said he was encouraging other parties to the conflict to respect the cease-fire, and for negotiations to continue. Despite international accusations that Liberia supported the rebels, he said, Liberia would continue its efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Liberia was suggesting that the ECOWAS Committee of Six on Sierra Leone meet in Ivory Coast within the next seven days to discuss the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, so that he could be part of the peace process, Taylor added. Bockarie, in a BBC interview, said that while the cease-fire was originally to have started on Saturday, difficulty in communicating with his forces meant it could not be implemented before next week. "(The cease-fire) should have started on Saturday, but after I have passed on this information to them, some of our chiefs of stations or commanders told me that some men...they have dispatched men already to go on operation, so it will take time to get to withdraw them back to return to base. So, I decided to call back to the president the number he gave me this morning to call him back. I called him and informed him that: 'Oh, chief, yes, you have talked to me about a temporary cease-fire, but I asked him so that it shouldn't be on Saturday again, but on Monday or Tuesday.'" Bockarie said the fighting would continue "for a couple days" because his fighters had already left to conduct operations. "You cannot just cease fire as you want," he said. "You have to, I mean, send other men to withdraw from operations." Bockarie said the cease-fire would take effect on Monday. "We don't want to announce a cease-fire, then break it," he said.
U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said the RUF was insisting on meeting with Sankoh this weekend, and had demanded that he be released next week. "This message has been conveyed to President Kabbah and there will be further consultations before we know if it is a genuine development," Okelo said. He added that it was unclear whether President Kabbah's government or ECOMOG would support the proposal. Sankoh has demanded his freedom and recognition of the RUF as the price for his agreeing to a cease-fire, mediators said. "We're still waiting for Kabbah's response," said a U.N. official. "What we were briefed on yesterday (by Okelo in Conakry) did not include President Kabbah's response to the cease-fire proposal. I think President Kabbah just wants some time to study the proposal, but obviously, with Sankoh there is an agreement."
The foreign minister of Ivory Coast, Amara Essy, has said that the two sides in Sierra Leone's conflict have expressed their willingness to seek a peaceful solution. "Concerning Corporal Foday Sankoh...He told us and repeated to us that, according to him, the conflict cannot be resolved through the use of force. He added that there must be absolutely a political solution and that he was determined to change the Revolutionary United Front into a political movement. President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who was elected on a program of peace, is also seeking peace for the country...That is why it is up to all of us to make efforts to reach a consensus on how to solve the crisis." Essy said ECOWAS had ruled out a military solution to the conflict. "I think that the ECOWAS has never been a war body," he said. "All that we have done so far with the ECOWAS Cease-Fire Monitoring Group is aimed at achieving peace." He added that although "lack of information gives the impression" of divergent opinions within ECOWAS on how to solve the Sierra Leone crisis, "actually, there is no divergent views" among ECOWAS countries. "However, at a certain moment there is the need to coordinate all the various views so that we can achieve the same objective," he said.
AFRC/RUF rebels have abducted Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda, the Italian missionary news agency MISNA reported on Thursday. The 66-year old archbishop is believed to have been taken from his home on Tuesday or Wednesday. MISNA said it had been informed of Ganda's kidnapping by Bishop George Biguzzi. According to Biguzzi, Ganda was being held along with Xaverian missionary priest Father Mario Guerra, who was kidnapped in November. "Biguzzi told us that the kidnappers have maintained contact with the church and permitted a series of exchanges with Monsignor Ganda," MISNA said. A MISNA spokesman in Rome said the rebels had offered to release Ganda in return for a cease-fire. MISNA also reported that Fr. Guerra had been released for a few hours on Tuesday. He took a meal with members of his order and spoke with Biguzzi before returning to his captors.
Two Italian missionaries priests kidnapped on Sunday, Rev. Maurizio Boa and the Rev. Giuliano Pini, have been freed, according to the Italian missionary news agency, MISNA. "The two priests are safe and sound in a zone controlled by ECOMOG, the African intervention force," the news service reported. The two said ECOMOG soldiers who found them Monday had at first believed them to be European mercenaries and had beaten them. The ECOMOG soldiers had wanted to kill them, but then decided to take them to their headquarters where a Sierra Leonean priest confirmed their identity, the priests related. In a BBC interview on Wednesday, Pini described the damage he had observed in the center of Freetown. "I can see that the scene was apocalyptic," he said. "The city was deserted, many houses destroyed — completely destroyed. The town is in ruins." He said the rebels had detained the two priests at State House on Sunday and Monday. "While ECOMOG was moving up, we called their attention and a soldier took us to Wilberforce Barracks," he said. Pini said State House itself "is not damaged too much for what we saw at that moment."
Food stores in Freetown began to reopen on Thursday as residents ventured out in search of rice or "anything edible," Reuters reported. In the aftermath of a week of fighting, the Associated Press said Thursday that "raging fires and artillery explosions" had destroyed large areas in Freetown's suburbs. A Reuters correspondent reported seeing dozens of bodies while touring the city in the company of ECOMOG troops. State House was "honeycombed with bullet-holes" and was serving as a shelter for residents flocking to the city center in search of food, the Reuters report added. The Italian missionary news agency MISNA said Connaught Hospital was "overflowing with dead," posing a clear risk of epidemic.
ECOMOG has enlisted the help of Nigeria's 72nd Airborne Regiment to help fight AFRC/RUF rebel forces who have withdrawn to the hills around Freetown, according to a "senior source" in ECOMOG. "Last time we made the mistake of not going all the way, this time we're going to finish the job," the source said. He said the regiment would arrive in Freetown on Thursday afternoon.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has evacuated its last five expatriate staff from Freetown at the request of the Sierra Leone government, ICRC Michael Kleiner said on Thursday. The five, including three medical staff who were believed to be the last expatriate medical workers in the capital, were flown to Conakry on Wednesday evening aboard a chartered helicopter. "The ICRC has been asked by a member of the Sierra Leone government to leave Freetown for security reasons," Kleiner said. "The ICRC regrets this decision because it obliges its delegates to leave Freetown while the humanitarian situation remains highly preoccupying as most civilians are trapped in their homes by incessant fighting. The five were a reassuring presence for 180 civilians who had sought shelter in the ICRC compound and for the wounded at Netland Surgical Hospital in the capital," Kleiner said, adding: "The ICRC has informed the authorities of its readiness to resume its humanitarian activities in favour of the victims of the conflict as soon as it is authorised to do so." ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said on Wednesday that he had requested the deportation of aid workers from an unnamed non-governmental organisation. ECOMOG sources said Thursday that Shelpidi was referring to the ICRC staff because they had communications equipment which could listen in on ECOMOG transmissions. Dutch battlefield surgeon Willem Boere said the staff were surprised to be ordered to leave at a time when there was such huge humanitarian need. "Chaos is enormous and wounded have not been able to get any treatment. There has been no access to food or water for the population which is getting desperate," he said. Some 200 Sierra Leonean ICRC staff remain in Freetown.
The Nigerian government has termed it "regrettable" that AFRC/RUF rebels have been receiving support from a number of countries, some of whom were members of ECOWAS and the OAU. "The actions and policies of these countries not only subvert the principles and collective decisions of these organizations but also jeopardize bilateral relations among states," the statement said. "In this regard, Nigeria's Federal Government views with grave concern the nefarious role being played by Liberia and some other countries, in and outside the sub-region, in Sierra Leone. It cannot be business as usual with countries which provide the bullets that kill and maim our sons and daughters."
13 January: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh spoke with his military commander, Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, on Wednesday, reportedly by satellite telephone. "They spoke for about three hours. I set up the discussion and it went beautifully," said United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo. He declined to comment on the talks or where Sankoh was when the two spoke, but U.N. officials said the RUF leader had been returned to Freetown. A U.N. official said Sankoh "urged the rebels to stop the looting and the killing, and that they should be committed to peace." Okelo held "private talks" with Sankoh in Freetown on Wednesday, according to U.N. sources. The foreign ministers of Ivory Coast and Togo, together with U.N. mediators, will continue to try to arrange a cease-fire on Thursday. "I am very hopeful we will make a breakthrough in cease-fire negotiations," Okelo said after mediators met with President Kabbah at the presidential lodge.
RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, in a BBC interview Wednesday, recounted his conversation with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh: "He spoke to me, he asked me about everybody. I told him that everybody is doing well, and that the operation is going on, and that we have been wishing to receive him and to hear from him, and he told us that we should not worry, that they're talking. The foreign ministers of Togo, Abidjan, and the ECOWAS Secretary-General, together with Mr. Francis Okelo, the U.N. representative to Sierra Leone, and that they are trying to reach an agreement [words indistinct] may be leaving from Conakry to go to Abidjan and from Abidjan, he will be taken to a neutral ground, where he will remain and instruct me to announce a unilateral cease-fire." Bockarie said he thought that Sankoh would be taken to Ivory Coast within the next 48 hours. "They are just going there to see how best they can reach real agreement for him to be taken to neutral grounds to assure us that he is not under any duress as to the instructions that he will be passing on to us," he said. Bockarie insisted that mediation of the Sierra Leone conflict should be conducted by "the OAU chair," President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso. The Sierra Leone government has ruled out Compaore as a mediator because of allegations that Burkina Faso is providing support for the rebels. "We are still standing by our word, Bockarie said. "We do not want to change our venue of this negotiation, where we have suggested, of the negotiation being held in Burkina Faso." Refusal to accept Burkinabe mediation "means it must be a trick again. They want me to be the next man to be arrested. I will not allow that. [Words indistinct] also will not allow for RUF to be destroyed," Bockarie said.
RUF spokesman Omrie Michael Golley called Wednesday for Sankoh's immediate release, and deplored the fact that the RUF leader had conducted peace negotiations dressed in prison garb. "A man who is negotiating a cease-fire should be properly attired, for goodness sake," Golley said in Abidjan. "The fundamental issue is that he is still a prisoner. We have not been able to talk to Corporal Foday Sankoh, the leader of our movement."
ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Wednesday that his troops were in control of most of Freetown and that the greater part of the rebel forces had retreated to the hills surrounding the capital. "The operation is almost complete." He acknowledged some rebels remained in areas around Kissy, but described them as isolated pockets. Shelpidi claimed ECOMOG casualties had been "light," but refused to give numbers. He said more than 1,000 rebel fighters had been killed in the fighting. There has been no independent confirmation of these claims. On Monday, journalists based at Lungi reported heavy casualties on both sides. A U.N. security officer who accompanied U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo to Freetown said about 200 bodies were lying around Connaught Hospital, near the city centre. Guinean Foreign Minister Lamine Camara, following talks with President Kabbah, said the city appeared quiet. "We've just been on a tour of the town. Everything is calm. We believe ECOMOG has everything under control," he said. Shelpidi said the rebels had caused "colossal" damage to parts of Freetown, but that he hoped electricity and telephone service would be restored by the weekend. Residents reported power had already been restored to parts of the western area by late Wednesday.
ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi has blamed rebel successes on a shortage of military equipment. He said Wednesday that ECOMOG needed assistance from friendly countries, and deplored a cut in U.S. financial assistance for the ECOMOG force. "What we need is hardware, military hardware. If only we could have helicopter gunships, MI24s, then we would have ended this thing a long time ago. Right now we're relying on one single helicopter and that is slowing down operations," he said.
Shooting was heard overnight, but residents said there was no fighting in the western and central districts of Freetown, Reuters reported Wednesday, adding that the situation in the east remained unclear. Italian missionary news agency MISNA reported that fighting was continuing in the east of the capital. "Very heavy fighting is currently underway in Kissy, where artillery fire can be heard and ECOMOG is using a fighter plane," the news agency reported. Reuters quoted residents who said the rebels had killed many people and taken others hostage, including women and children. Many bodies have washed up along the shore of the western peninsula, and fisherman have reported seeing bodies at sea. Radio Democracy 98.1, which began broadcasting again Tuesday after having been off the air for several days, warned that any boats trying to leave Freetown would be sunk. The warning followed reports that prisoners, including soldiers loyal to the former junta, who were freed from Pademba Road Prison, had been trying to leave Freetown by boat.
BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported Wednesday that thousands of people had fled to Kenema following three days of fighting between Kamajors and AFRC/RUF fighters from Tongo Field, creating a humanitarian crisis in the town. Brima said the refugees had told him the Kamajor militia was in control of the town. "Definitely at the moment now the Kamajor militias are now controlling Tongo Field because the rebels had fled from the area on Monday," he said. "In fact, thousands of Kamajors were seen yesterday moving toward Tongo Field just to strengthen their position on the ground." Brima said Civil Defence Forces commanders in Kenema told him they were preparing to launch more attacks on rebels in Kailahun District. "In fact, most of the fleeing rebels are also burning houses, murdering people, just as what is happening in Freetown," he said. He reported that youths had erected checkpoints to prevent rebel infiltration into Kenema. "But one thing interesting that I saw yesterday was that three rebels were caught, that is, three rebels infiltrated into the township and were apprehended by the youths and burned alive," he said.
The commander of the 181-member British "reconnaissance and liaison team" aboard the British frigate HMS Norfolk, Brigadier David Richards, said Wednesday that his mission was to support the government of President Kabbah. "Our aim is...to see whether or not we can do something more to assist the restoration of stability in support of Mr. Kabbah and the democratically elected regime there," Richards said during a refueling stop in Dakar. "How we are going to do that is really my business." The ship was due to sail later Wednesday, heading for Conakry, Guinea.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has appealed to both sides to allow safe passage for urgently-needed food supplies to reach starving Freetown residents. WFP Regional Manager for Coastal West Africa, Paul Ares, said people were being forced out onto the streets either in search of food or because rebels had burned down their homes. He said there were no markets or fresh food because all roads to Freetown were blocked.
Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, meeting with a Liberian delegation led by Vice President Enoch Dogolea on Wednesday, bluntly accused Liberia of supporting AFRC/RUF rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. ''You are being accused of supporting the RUF. You have a hard task on your hands to prove that you are not playing any role in Sierra Leone. It is a stab in the back,'' Rawling said. He told the Liberians that ECOMOG was in Sierra Leone not to wage war, but to support a democratically-elected government. ''This is exactly what we did in Liberia,'' he said. He also accused another West African country and a North African country of aiding the rebels, but did not name them. Rawlings said neighbouring countries had nothing to gain from involving themselves in the Sierra Leone conflict. ''Are there any gains to be made in this conflict? Frankly speaking, there are no gains. The political and economic stability of West Africa is being jeopardised.'' In response, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan repeated the Liberian government's assertion that Liberia was not backing Sierra Leone's rebel forces, although Liberian mercenaries were involved in the conflict. ''We are not involved at the government level,'' Captan said.
ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate has sent a message of condolence to the family of Myles Tierney, the Associated Press journalist was was killed Sunday while covering the fighting in Freetown.
12 January: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh held talks with the foreign ministers of Ivory Coast and Togo on Tuesday after being flown to Conakry, Guinea. According to the United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, who attended the talks, Sankoh said he wanted his freedom and official recognition for the RUF before agreeing to a cease-fire. "He is 100 percent committed to peace...He is willing to order a cease-fire and he recognizes the legitimacy of President Kabbah," Okelo said. Foreign Ministers Amara Essy of Ivory Coast and Joseph Kokou Koffigoh of Togo said Sankoh had expressed his "willingness for peace" and for a "political, not a military solution" to the Sierra Leone crisis. The two ministers found Sankoh in "good shape, dynamic, combative, and having a clear vision of his objectives." The RUF leader, dressed in a prison uniform marked with the letter "C", did not repeat the unconditional call for a cease-fire which was attributed to him by Kabbah on Thursday. A U.N. official said the result of the talks were unclear, but that U.N. delegates attending the meeting were "optimistic." Further talks were a possibility, he said. Because of Sankoh's terms, no cease-fire was arranged and the talks were adjourned after three hours. Okelo said he and the mediators would convey Sankoh's position to President Kabbah at Lungi. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya also took part in the talks, representing the Sierra Leone government. Military sources said Sankoh remained in Conakry on Tuesday night.
RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said Tuesday he would continue the armed struggle until RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was released. "We want our leader to be freed. We want to meet him on neutral ground," he said. "I am carrying his orders." Bockarie told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) his forces had seized missiles from the Guinean ECOMOG contingent, and would use them to attack Lungi International Airport. "We will fire the missiles," Bockarie said. "We will use them on all aircraft that land at Lungi." He claimed that fires which have destroyed parts of Freetown were not set by rebel forces, but resulted from attacks by ECOMOG Alpha fighter jets. "The jet bombed the civilians. Now they want to conceal it....All that they are saying is propaganda," Bockarie said. He dismissed ECOMOG claims to have regained control of most of the capital, saying his forces controlled most of Freetown, except for Wilberforce Barracks and Goderich Barracks to the west of the city. "If they controlled the city, they would be distributing food, but that isn't the case," Bockarie said. He told the AFP that the execution of 24 military officers for treason last October was responsible for the rebel offensive against Freetown. "Kabbah killed 24 people, one of them a woman. Some of them gave themselves up to authorities but were still killed," he said.
Reuters reported no sound of fighting overnight Monday in Freetown, although the news service said clouds of smoke were billowing over the eastern part of the city. The Associated Press, however, said artillery fire and small arms bombardments were heard Monday night and Tuesday morning. The Bishop of Makeni, George Biguzzi, said ECOMOG troops had captured the city center and were battling for the eastern suburbs. "There is a lot of fighting and you can hear it and see it from miles away. The fires lit up the sky last night and the explosions continued this morning," Biguzzi said from Lungi. Reuters said "sketchy reports from the battle zone" indicated that the ECOMOG force, believed to number about 15,000, was recapturing the city street by street Tuesday. Witnesses said the streets of the capital were littered with bodies, adding that rebels had burned houses and cars as they retreated. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday, quoting an ECOMOG helicopter pilot, said that "much of Freetown lay in ruins." Fourah Bay College, Connaught Hospital, the central telephone exchange (SLET), the Government Wharf, warehouses at Kissy Dockyards, and countless homes had been set on fire, he said. The AFP reported that residents whose houses had escaped the blaze remained inside for fear of being attacked by rebels or Kamajor militiamen. One resident told Reuters that he was hijacked with his car by four Kamajor militiamen holding a rebel fighter. The Kamajors then stopped the car and summarily executed their prisoner, he said.
RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie promised Tuesday to free Italian missionary priest Father Mario Guerra, but denied any knowledge of two other priests kidnapped on Sunday. Bockarie said Guerra was being held by the RUF "for his own safety," and would be turned over to church officials when "the security situation allows." He refused to reveal Guerra's location, saying this was to prevent pro-government forces from killing him and blaming it on the rebels. Bockarie refused to confirm or deny that his forces were behind the attack on an ECOMOG convoy on Sunday which killed one journalist and seriously wounded another. "This is war and it is a dangerous situation. It is not professionalism to go into a situation like this," Bockarie said. He suggested that the journalists secure the protection of the RUF.
The United Nations Security Council, meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday, voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) for two months, until March 13.
The European Union (EU), in a statement issued Tuesday by its German presidency, condemned AFRC/RUF rebel attempts to overthrow Sierra Leone's civilian government, and gave the EU's full backing to President Kabbah. "The European Union strongly condemns all those who have supported the rebels in Sierra Leone and expresses its grave concern at reports that arms and personnel are being supplied, in particular, from the territory of Liberia. It calls on all states to comply strictly with existing arms embargoes," the statement said. The EU said it supported diplomatic efforts and the efforts of ECOMOG to restore peace to the country.
The South African foreign ministry issued a statement on Tuesday calling for a cease-fire in the Sierra Leone conflict. The statement expressed support for the government of President Kabbah, and called the use of force by RUF rebels unacceptable. "South Africa believes that the underlying causes of the violence have to be addressed through negotiation," the statement said. "An immediate cease-fire would furthermore allow the U.N. and other international aid agencies to carry on their vital role of addressing the urgent needs of Sierra Leone's internally displaced population." The foreign ministry statement condemned the RUF for using civilians as human shields, and urged them to halt their offensive as a prerequisite to dialogue leading to national reconciliation.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku urged AFRC/RUF rebels Tuesday to cease hostilities, accept President Kabbah as the democratically-elected president of Sierra Leone, and demonstrate a willingness to negotiate in good faith. "The only way forward is for them to accept the futility of fighting...and that the international community wants democracy in every country and carve out a role for themselves under a democracy," Anyaoku said. "The rebels were in my office last Wednesday, and I made it clear to them that the Commonwealth is in support of President Tejan Kabbah's democratically-elected government." He added: "I don't believe the rebels are at the moment anymore on the offensive as the tide of the battle is now turning against them. They have been on the retreat from Freetown and the ECOMOG are on the offensive. So I don't think things are hopeful for them." He reaffirmed that the Commonwealth supported "peaceful resolution of the crisis in the country."
The British naval frigate HMS Norfolk, on its way to Sierra Leone, is due to dock in Senegal on Wednesday for refueling.
Local staff of the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have reported that Freetown residents remain trapped in their homes without water or electricity, unable to go and search for food. "They say a humanitarian disaster is looming in the capital unless some kind of cease-fire is arranged and humanitarian supplies can be brought in," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva. "The situation is quite terrifying for civilians. People are holed up, and are not in a position to move out of their homes, let alone flee the capital. That may explain while so few people have moved out."
The journalists' group Article 19 has condemned the killing of Associated Press journalist Myles Tierney, and "all parties to the civil war in Sierra Leone to respect international humanitarian and human rights principles in relation to local and foreign journalists reporting the conflict." In a press release issued by Article 19 Acting Director Malcolm Smart, the group said, "Journalists are a prime target for repression and violence by both governments and rebels in such situations. We call on all sides in Sierra Leone to respect the efforts of journalists, in the most difficult of circumstances, to engage in their legitimate professional activities."
Liberian House Majority Leader Momolu Massaley, responding to allegations that of Liberian support for AFRC/RUF regels fighting in Sierra Leone, said his country was being used as a scapegoat. "We have repeatedly said that Liberia is not supporting rebels in that country, but they are finding a scapegoat by repeatedly accusing us of involvement," Massaley said. "The problem in Sierra Leone is the responsibility of Sierra Leoneans and not Liberians." He urged "peaceful negotiations rather than fighting as the way forward in solving the crisis."
The Ukrainian foreign ministry said Tuesday it had no official knowledge of Ukrainian nationals involved in mercenary activities in Sierra Leone, according to the Kiev UT-3 Television Network. Diplomats in Kiev know the facts that Ukrainian citizens are trying to enlist as mercenaries," the report said. A foreign ministry spokesman, Andriy Veselovskyy, who heads the political analysis and planning directorate, said that as the number of trouble spots around the world was growing, he could not rule out the possibility of Ukrainian citizens taking part in the conflicts. "If it is possible to rescue these unfortunates—or these fools, depending on the circumstances—by diplomatic means, we certainly will do so," he said.
11 January: There was renewed heavy fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels in the central part of Freetown on Monday, Reuters reported, quoting witnesses. The BBC and Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that there had been heavy casualties on both sides, and said rebels had used non-combatants as human shields, resulting in civilian casualties. At Lungi International Airport, numerous ECOMOG casualties were brought in, while journalists and a pilot who had flown over the city reported seeing many uniformed bodies lying in the streets. "There is continued shelling and gunfire from the central district. It started around 9.00 a.m.," one witness said. BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported that the rebels had set fire to Freetown. "Whole streets have been burnt down," he said. "The United Nations military headquarters has been burnt down, the roof collapsed. As a result its completely destroyed. Other buildings, government buildings, have been set on fire by the rebels, and it seems that what they cant have theyre going to destroy." A local journalist who walked on Monday morning through parts of the city behind ECOMOG lines, including Tengbeh Town, Brookfields, Congo Cross, and Pademba Road, said many houses had been burned. From a distance, he said, he could see the telephone exchange (SLET) and the City Hall on fire, while a thick cloud of smoke hung over the city, obscuring some buildings. The ECOMOG force said Monday it was gradually regaining control of the city. While claims of who controls various parts of Freetown are difficult to confirm independently, Doyle said ECOMOG appeared to be making advances. "I do know though that the Nigerian-led forces have entered an area, quite an important area of the city, where they werent yesterday, and the Nigerians say that they are advancing, and that certainly does appear to be the case," he said. ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said his troops had secured the port and State House, and were pushing the rebels southeast towards "Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town." The AFP reported that Nigerian Alpha fighter jets made continuous sorties from Lungi on Monday, while helicopters ferried in ECOMOG and Kamajor reinforcements and evacuated casualties.
The government's spokesman, Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, claimed that ECOMOG had retaken the central part of the city reached the eastern parts of the capital. "They should have gone past the Cline Town roundabout and probably are now in the Kissy area," he said. Spencer acknowledged that ECOMOG had met stiff resistance from rebel forces at Kingtom, Brookfields, Tengbeh Town, and Pademba Road.
Overnight Sunday the city was reported quiet. "We didn't hear a single shot fired overnight. It seems to be very, very calm," one journalist in Freetown said. At least 500 new Nigerian soldiers reportedly reinforced ECOMOG troops at Wilberforce Barracks on Sunday.
The foreign ministers of Togo and Ivory Coast, together with a United Nations negotiator, flew into Lungi on Monday in a bid to mediate the conflict in the strife-torn country. Foreign Minister Amara Essy of Ivory Coast and Togo's Foreign Minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh met first with President Kabbah and ECOMOG commanders. "(Without speedy action) this could turn into another Somalia and the international community will no longer take care of the situation," Essy said. The two foreign ministers plan to meet next with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. According to Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer, they will confirm that Sankoh's call for a cease-fire was genuine and not made under duress, and communicate their findings to RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie. Sankoh's location has not been disclosed, but the BBC referred last week to persistent rumours that he is being held aboard a Nigerian naval ship off the coast of Sierra Leone.
Nigeria hosted a meeting on the Sierra Leone conflict on Monday, according to Nigerian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Wahab. "Efforts are being made to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone," he said. "A lot of contacts are being made. Consultations have been going on."
ECOWAS said Monday that its secretary-general, Lansana Kouyate, would travel to Lome, Togo on Tuesday to meet with President Gnassingbe Eyadema, the current ECOWAS chairman, for consultations on Sierra Leone. "Consultations are currently going on between ECOWAS heads of state and parties to the conflict with a view to convening a dialogue meeting as soon as possible on the crisis," an ECOWAS statement said. The statement said ECOMOG troops were making headway against rebel positions. "The rebels are now being pushed out of Freetown following reinforcement by ECOMOG," the statement said. "ECOMOG has successfully taken control of the State House in Freetown. Efforts are being made to flush the rebels out of private residences in Freetown where some of them are still taking refuge."
ECOWAS Secretary-General Lansana Kouyate said ECOWAS had received a proposal from the rebels for talks in Burkina Faso, to be mediated by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, the current OAU chairman. Sierra Leone's Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning, Dr. James O.C. Jonah, on Saturday rejected any Burkinabe role, accusing Burkina Faso of being "hostile to Sierra Leone." Kouyate said ECOWAS had rejected a rebel demand to ensure their safety prior to the commencement of the proposed talks in Ouagadougou. "ECOWAS is prepared to allow the talks at any agreed venue so that apart from the rebels meeting their leader, the peace process could also move forward, for the talks will not be based on conditionalities," Kouyate said. In an interview on Monday, Kouyate said that ECOMOG was now making headway in its battle with AFRC/RUF rebels in the capital. "In Freetown, (ECOMOG) troops are about to retake control of practically the entire city," he said. "For about three days now, the rebels have run out of ammunition and men. The reinforcements they were expecting did not come, because naturally ECOMOG troops are behind them. Although the situation has radically changed, there are still some pockets of resistance." In a separate interview with the Pan African News Agency (PANA), Kouyate said: "As I speak to you now, I can confirm that the State House is under ECOMOG control."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed deep concern Monday about the plight of the civilian population in many parts of Freetown. "Incessant fire from both light and heavy weapons in the crowded capital and the destruction of civilian property and essential infrastructure are giving rise to serious fears for the safety of the inhabitants," the ICRC said in a statement issued from its Geneva headquarters. "In some areas of the city people are finding it difficult to leave their homes in order to gather food, assist the wounded or simply bury the dead. A continued power and communication blackout is further aggravating the situation." The ICRC also deplored the misuse of its red cross symbol, as vehicles taken by force from the Sierra Leone Red Cross and the ICRC were being driven around the capital. "The ICRC calls on all the parties involved to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, and in particular to make a clear distinction between combatants and civilians and spare persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities," the statement said. "The ICRC urges all those bearing weapons to respect the men and women displaying the protective red cross emblem, to allow them to carry out the necessary surveys and to give unimpeded passage to urgently needed humanitarian assistance." The ICRC currently has five expatriates and about 200 Sierra Leonean staff in Freetown. The statement said more than 180 persons had taken refuge in the ICRC compound in the past few days, and 126 patients were receiving treatment at the Netland Surgical Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned Monday that hundreds of thousands of Freetown residents trapped in their homes for almost a week could soon face starvation if fighting continues. "We urgently need all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded access to needy people in Freetown and the rest of the country," said the WFP Regional Manager for Coastal West Africa, Paul Ares, in a statement issued in Abidjan. Freetown residents have been trapped with little or no food, water, and electricity since the fighting started last week. "We are gravely concerned about the severe hardship imposed on the civilian population," Ares said. Prior to the rebel attack on Freetown, the WFP was providing food to some 63,000 farmers and vulnerable persons in Sierra Leone. At present, the WFP is continuing to feed some 20,000 persons who arrived in Bo and Kenema last month, fleeing fighting between rebel forces and ECOMOG. The agency has sufficient food reserves to feed them for two months, the statement said.
Russia has called on the Sierra Leone government and the rebels to institute an immediate cease-fire and start a dialogue, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said in Moscow on Monday. "We can feel nothing but regret at seeing the hostilities continuing in that country lead to casualties and damage, especially in its capital, Freetown," Rakhmanin said. He added that he hoped the conflict could be settled by negotiations, and said Russia supports the regional efforts, including those of ECOWAS, to find a peaceful settlement.
The United States on Monday directly accused the Liberian government of support for AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. "We have told the government of Liberia that we know they are supporting RUF activities, and we condemn support from any source to the insurgence," State Department spokesman James Rubin said in a press conference. "This has come from a growing body of evidence that indicates that the government of Liberia has been supporting those activities, and we continue to urge Liberia to stop the support and play a more constructive role in the conflict in Sierra Leone." Rubin said the U.S. was "extremely concerned" about the welfare and safety of Freetown residents caught up in the fighting. "So far in the current RUF offensive against Freetown, we have not received reports of mass executions, mass kidnappings and other forms of extreme torture that the RUF has been known for since 1991," he said. "We do, however, have reports of rapes, looting, house burnings and other abuses of civilians by rebel forces."
Italy's Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Luigi Costa Sanseverino Di Bisgnano, said Monday that two Italian missionary priests kidnapped on Sunday had been "tricked" by rebels who told them they could meet their fellow priest, Father Mario Guerra, who was abducted at Kamalo in November. Di Bisgnano, who resides in Ivory Coast, was accompanied by the Bishop of the Diocese of Makeni, George Biguzzi.
About 100 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in Dakar, Senegal protested Monday in front of the UNHCR office to demand legal refugee documents, assistance, and medical care. "We have made several attempts to discuss our situation here in Senegal with the appropriate UNHCR authorities but they have always refused to talk to us. This is what prompted us to lead this demonstration," said the leader of the Sierra Leonean group, John Kanu. "It is appalling that we continue to live here without shelter, food, medical facilities, or even a legal document." The regional UNHCR delegate, Ousseni Fassassi, tried to calm the refugees and called for "understanding and dialogue." He said he had looked into their situations, and a positive decision would soon be made regarding them. "We will now issue them a six-month attestation and hold meetings with them in order to look into the modalities of working out an assistance programme for them," he said.
10 January: Foreign Minister Amara Essy of Ivory Coast and his Togolese counterpart, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, arrived in Guinea Sunday to confer with Guinean President Lansana Conte, on bringing about a cease-fire in the Sierra Leone conflict. Aides said they would fly to Lungi International Airport on Monday. "We are going to meet the two parties in the conflict," Koffigoh said.
RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said Sunday he would not leave his stronghold to meet regional mediators or for a face-to-face meeting with detained RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "Why should I leave my ground? ...I am not going to accept that. There is a trap," he said. Bockarie also asserted that the RUF was holding 200 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers captured during the fighting. "We have a lot of them as prisoners of war...we are feeding them with rice and gari and the like," he said. "Now we have over 200."
Hundreds of Nigerian troops arrived at Lungi International Airport overnight on Saturday to reinforce ECOMOG, and Reuters reported signs Sunday that the ECOMOG force was gearing up to counter-attack rebels holding the eastern parts of Freetown. BBC correspondent Mark Doyle, reporting Sunday from the far west of Freetown, said that the Nigerian troops were being ferried across to the capital by military helicopter. "The Nigerians tell me that they have taken most of the town. I havent yet been in the center of town to confirm that," he said. The Associated Press reported Sunday that shooting was taking place at Congo Town on Sunday. An ECOMOG spokesman said: "Our mission now is to prevent destruction." The BBC quoted "reliable sources" as saying ECOMOG troops had entered Brookfields over a key bridge which they had not been able to cross earlier. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reported that "following renewed heavy fighting with countless dead, including civilians, the rebels in Sierra Leone were on the defensive Sunday for the first time in five days." The DPA said dozens of people were killed when Nigerian Alpha fighter jets attacked RUF positions in densely populated residential neighborhoods.
An Associated Press (AP) journalist was killed and a second wounded Sunday while travelling in four cars through downtown Freetown. An earlier Reuters article indicated the attack took place in Congo Town. Dead was AP television producer Myles Tierney, 34, of New York. The wounded journalist was the AP's bureau chief for West Africa, Ian Stewart, from Toronto, Canada. The two were among a group of journalists and Ministry of Information officials, including Minister of Information Dr. Julius Spencer, who were being escorted through the downtown area by ECOMOG troops. According to Reuters, the vehicle in which they were riding was approached by "a fighter" who, after an exchange of words with an ECOMOG soldier also riding in the car, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. The AFP said several ECOMOG vehicles came under fire after stopping at a crossroads. Witnesses said the ECOMOG soldiers returned fire, killing three rebels. ECOMOG flew the dead and wounded journalists to Lungi International Airport by helicopter, and from there to Conakry, Guinea by charter flight.
"Scores" of AFRC/RUF rebel fighters were killed in an ECOMOG ambush on the Masiaka - Mile 91 highway on Saturday, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Sunday. "According to passengers and truck drivers arriving in Bo last evening, the AFRC troops were yesterday morning heading in four trucks from Masiaka area to attack the ECOMOG garrison at Camp Sally, three miles from Mile 91, when they were ambushed by ECOMOG troops," Brima said. The attack was confirmed by the commander of the 26th ECOMOG Brigade, he said. Brima added that an RUF attack on the garrison on Saturday afternoon was repulsed with "heavy casualties."
AFRC/RUF rebels are preparing to release Italian Catholic priest Father Mario Guerra, kidnapped at Kamalo on November 15. "We are making arrangements for him to go home," said Martin Coker, an aide to RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie. "We just want to make sure that his repatriation is safe." Father Edward Garcia, an Xaverian priest based in Rome, spoke to Guerra and confirmed that he was alive. "As they made me listen to it over the phone it was impossible to hear what he said, but I recognised his voice," he said. Meanwhile, two more Italian missionaries were abducted in Freetown on Sunday, according to the Italian missionary news agency, MISNA. The two were identified as the Rev. Maurizio Boa and the Rev. Giuliano Pini. The RUF said the two would be taken to meet with Father Guerra.
Freetown residents have been without food, water, and electricity for days, and the Red Cross has described the situation in the capital as grave.
Liberia and Burkina Faso have been aiding AFRC/RUF rebels with arms and recruits, the Washington Post reported on Saturday. The governments of Britain, Nigeria, the United States, and Sierra Leone, along with ECOWAS and the United Nations, have all pointed in recent weeks to Liberian involvement. Despite denials by Liberian President Charles Taylor that the Liberian government was involved in aiding the rebels, "several Liberian sources, including one close to Liberia's security agencies, said it is doing so," the Post reported. The U.S. has solid evidence of Taylor's support for the rebels, but "cannot discuss it openly for fear of compromising intelligence sources," one official said. Other officials said U.S. intelligence reports indicated the bulk of aid to the rebels was originating elsewhere, notably from Burkina Faso. "Liberian sources said rebel recruits from Burkina Faso have in recent months crossed Liberia to reach Sierra Leone," the article said. According to Liberian sources cited in the Post article, aid to the rebels is being conducted by a secret military force known as SWAP, reportedly run by Taylor's son. "Liberian officials declined to discuss SWAP, but other Liberian sources said it is training men from Gambia, Guinea and Burkina Faso for missions that may include fighting in Sierra Leone," the Post said. The article quoted Liberians, including journalists and "a source close to the country's security agencies" as saying that the RUF has recruited Sierra Leoneans from refugee camps at Vahun, Bopolu, and Sinje. Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea responded that there were hundreds of Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone, "but they are people who were recruited as early as 1990" by various parties to the conflict.
Two British companies are suspected of having supplied weapons to AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, according to a report in Britains Sunday Times. The newspaper quoted crew members involved in the operation as saying that Sky Air Cargo of London, and Occidental Airlines, which is partly-owned by a British pilot, were using aging Boeing airplanes to transport AK-47 rifles and 60 mm. portable mortars to the rebels, in defiance of United Nations sanctions on the supply of arms and ammunition to Sierra Leone. The Sunday Times reported that air crews were encouraged to falsify flight plans. Aviation sources said the companies had shipped arms in 40-ton consignments from Bratislava, Slovakia, ostensibly bound for Uganda. Instead, the sources said, the arms were diverted to Liberia and Gambia, where they were switched to flights bound for a rebel-held bush airstrip near Kenema. The crews have on occasion also used the services of a former KGB officer, Viktor Bout, who has used his own cargo plane to transfer equipment to Sierra Leone. "I had to help transfer weapons from my aircraft to Bout's aircraft," said a crew member on one of the aircraft. "One of his crew told me they were flying to [rebel] forces at an airstrip outside Kenema." A western intelligence official told the Sunday Times that the Kenema airstrip had been used for arms shipments to the rebels in the past.
9 January: Witnesses reported Saturday seeing large numbers of wounded soldiers being evacuated by helicopter from Freetown to the ECOMOG base at Lungi International Airport. "I saw 60 or 70 wounded ECOMOG men evacuated. They looked like fresh injuries," one witness told Reuters. The casualties provided evidence of heavy fighting between ECOMOG troops and rebel fighters for control of the capital. Nigerian Alpha fighter jets took off from Lungi to attack rebel positions.
Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told the BBC that an ECOMOG counter-offensive had made advances in Freetown Saturday. "So as of now, ECOMOG troops are in the center of the city, clearing the rebels out of that part of the city. In fact theyre already moving toward the eastern part of the city," he said. He added that "the rebels are in disarray. Theyre fleeing." Spencer said he was unable to give an assessment of civilian casualties in the fighting. "I dont think it has been high, because ECOMOG has tried to be very careful. But the casualties are those caused really be rebels, because theyve gone to knock at peoples houses, pulled people out of their houses, shot them dead." News accounts have emphasised civilian casualties resolting from bombardments by Nigerian Alpha jet fighters attached to the ECOMOG force. Spencer denied, however, that the government was planning a final counter-offensive to defeat the rebels. "The government has said we are prepared to adopt the multi-track or dual-track approach: dialogue and military force," he said.
News agencies gave varying reports of the fighting on Saturday. The AFP, quoting witnesses, spoke of a "precarious calm," in Freetown Saturday morning, with deserted streets and few direct clashes between rebel and pro-government troops. "(Friday) night was quiet, and ECOMOG's Alpha jets were not seen early Saturday," the AFP said. The Associated Press (AP) reported that artillery fire pounded Freetown Friday night and Saturday morning, and said heavy street fighting took place Saturday near Wilberforce Barracks and in Congo Town. The AP described Nigerian ECOMOG jets screaming over Freetown, "firing rockets into rebel-held territory." The report said Alpha jets circled the capital for about an hour searching for groups of rebel fighters, while platoons of ECOMOG soldiers patrolled near-empty streets in the West End and artillery was fired at rebel positions in the hills to the south. Reuters described smoke rising from burning buildings in the east of the city after strikes by ECOMOG Alpha jets "which screamed low over the dilapidated city." The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) said rebels and pro-government troops engaged in heavy fighting on Saturday, with ECOMOG claiming successes on Saturday evening.
Artillery fire pounded Freetown through Friday night and there were unconfirmed reports Saturday that Wilberforce Barracks was under attack by AFRC/RUF rebels. Reuters reported that smoke could be seen billowing from burning buildings in the rebel-held areas of the capital. "We can see burning buildings in the eastern district but the rest of the city looks calm," a Reuters television journalist said. "A handful of people are stepping out cautiously to assess the damage in the streets. There is no traffic on the roads." The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) quoted witnesses as saying that rebel forces were firing on Wilberforce Barracks and that ECOMOG troops stationed there were returning fire. The DPA quoted residents as saying that numerous houses were burning in the rebel-held east of the city, and noted "partly unconfirmed reports" that Kamajor militiamen were engaging the RUF in street battles.
The Sierra Leone government is trying to arrange a meeting between RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and RUF leaders, Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah told the BBC on Saturday. "We spent over three hours with President Conteh, reviewing the situation and trying to determine what role Guinea might play," Jonah said. "For example, Sam Bockarie had expressed the interest to meet somewhere or to have some connection with Foday Sankoh, and we were exploring the possibility of a venue in Conakry perhaps through the U.N. mediation." He said there would be no preconditions, but he ruled out holding the meeting in "certain foreign countries which have been hostile to Sierra Leone. See, we will not accept either Liberia or Burkina Faso. Thats out of the question." Jonah confirmed that he had requested mediation by Togo and Ivory Coast to facilitate negotiations between the government and the rebels. He said he was exploring the possibility of travelling to Togo, and that the government "might have some meeting" with Ivory Coast representatives, "perhaps in Conakry," within the next 24 hours. Jonah explained why outside mediation was deemed necessary: "(Sankoh) said he has been out of circulation for a long time. Therefore, he cannot go beyond the Abidjan Accords. And that is a reasonable position, so we believe that thats why my government is prepared to facilitate contact even between the U.N., Sankoh, and Bockarie to find out precisely what we should do."
Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Essy said Saturday he had been asked to mediate the conflict in Sierra Leone. "Both President Kabbah and the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front have asked me," he said. He did not indicate whether he would accept the requests. Essy said the rebels had faith in Ivory Coast as an honest broker, but in an interview with the government newspaper Fraternite-Matin, he denied that Ivory Coast was pro-rebel. "Everything Ivory Coast has done so far has been to help the government of Sierra Leone, not the rebels," he said. Essy said he doubted whether Togo, which currently chairs ECOWAS, would succeed in diplomatic efforts or organise a new regional summit on Sierra Leone. In a separate interview, Essy said he spoke to RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie on Saturday and tried to convince him to agree to a ceasefire. "I told him there's no point humiliating a great power like Nigeria which can send reinforcements to dislodge him," Essy said. "I told him he should agree a ceasefire because at the moment he is in a strong position to negotiate something."
Britain has despatched the Royal Navy frigate HMS Norfolk to the Sierra Leone region, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said on Saturday. "The ship will be monitoring events," the spokesman said. "It's a straightforward precautionary measure to give us a ship available in that part of the world. No decision has been taken yet on what, if anything, to use the Norfolk for." The Norfolk is expected to arrive in the area next week. RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" told the BBC that he had "intelligence reports" that the Norfolk was planning to land British mercenaries in Freetown, and threatened retribution should that take place. "We want to express ourselves that that is not going to be accepted and if British naval boats attempt that, we are going to burn down all invading countries embassies. First step. Second step, well start burning state house, all banks, all government offices, electricity, water supply, and all buildings that have been functioning with the government are going to be burned down," he said. "I also got an information from Mr. Amara Essy, Foreign Minister of Ivory Coast, telling me that the Nigerians are bringing in more reinforcements and artillery pieces to come and join up with the British nationals to invade Freetown. And if thats the case, before we leave Freetown, we are going to burn down all these areas that I have just mentioned to you — After we have evacuated all civilians out of the town."
OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmad Salim called on President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh Saturday ''to follow the path of peace and proceed to establish a ceasefire,'' and called for dialogue between the two sides. He said the OAU is ready to facilitate, ''together with the countries of ECOWAS and other members of the international community, the conduct of a sustained process of dialogue and negotiations for the achievement of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone.'' Salim repeated the OAU's "unyielding support" for Sierra Leone's civilian government, and appealed to the international community to provide assistance for the Sierra Leonean people.
BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported Saturday that an RUF offensive to capture the diamond mining town of Tongo, in eastern Sierra Leone, had been turned back by Kamajor militiamen. "During the four hour battle, 87 rebels were killed and large quantities of arms and ammunition were captured," Brima said, quoting residents fleeing the area. "The success of the Kamajors, who have been guarding their towns and villages against rebel attacks, was greeted with joy in the eastern town of Kenema. The Kamajors laid down a display of arms and ammunition they captured from the rebels. These include rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and AK-47 rifles."
8 January: Reuters reported Friday that "apart from the odd explosion from the rebel-held east of the city," there was no sign of fighting in the capital as night fell. During the day, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, rebels intensified their attacks against pro-government positions. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer said that there had been shooting on Thursday night. "By all indications, the rebels seem to have no intention of respecting the ceasefire," he said. He added that fires had been set in Kingtom. Spencer said he believed the central power plant had been attacked, since all electricity had been cut off in the city. The AFP reported that Nigerian ECOMOG planes stepped up their attacks on the city on Friday afternoon "after a relatively calm morning." The AFP quoted a resident of western Freetown as saying that ECOMOG "only controls the extreme west of the town. The majority of the town is in rebel hands."
The United Nations Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, said he was optimistic that a ceasefire declared Thursday by President Kabbah, and in a recorded message by RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, would hold despite shelling earlier in the day. "It is not surprising to have some clashes in the early stage of a ceasefire," he said. "What is important is that there is a cease-fire." Okelo returned to Lungi briefly on Friday to evacuate remaining U.N. staffers and other aid workers, and to hold "crisis talks" with President Kabbah, ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, and government ministers. RUF leader Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie dismissed the tape of Sankoh calling for a ceasefire as having been faked. He said the recording had been made by Sankoh following the Abidjan Peace Agreement in November 1996 and was sent to RUF fighters in the bush. "Sankoh did not announce a ceasefire," he said. "That is not a recent recorded cassette. Otherwise they would have played the whole cassette. It was the cassette that our leader sent to us to join the brothers for lasting peace in Freetown...What I heard from Kabbah last night made me to intensify my offensive. He is not the one to call for a cease-fire." In an interview with the BBC, Bockarie ruled out any negotiations with the civilian government. "No chances were there when Kabbah was in power," he said. "He failed to do that, he said he was not going to talk to us, we are thieves and bandits, and that he was going to kill all of us at the end of this year, and it never succeeded. That is why God has given us the upper hand to have overrun him, and now he is gone." Bockarie said a peaceful solution to the crisis hinged on Sankoh's release. "If they are ready, our leader cannot be under duress there, being humiliated, molested, and then people asking us to cease fire. We are trying to do everything possible that will secure his release." In a separate interview, Bockarie said: "There is no cease-fire. We will take the rest of the city and save our country...We do not recognize Kabbah, we will not talk to Kabbah, he is ousted." Bockarie said he had ordered an all-out offensive on pro-government positions. "Our plan started since last night," he said. "My men are on the move. We will take Lungi...that is not a secret any more. We know we can do it." He said the rebels would pin the Nigerians down until they ran out of ammunition and surrendered, as they did during fighting at the Mammy Yoko Hotel in June 1997."We will suppress them until they are out of food and ammunition and later they will surrender and we will negotiate how to repatriate them," he said. In an interview with the AFP, Bockarie said: "We are now fighting in Jui and Wilberforce (and) we are heading to Lungi. "I've ordered an offensive to start today on Lungi. Anyone who is found there is considered an enemy." He denied news reports that the rebels were forcing people from their homes, and accused ECOMOG of killing civilians during their air raids on the city. "ECOMOG has killed a lot of people. No one is talking about that," he said. Bockarie told the BBC that since the start of the offensive on Thursday night, "Tongo has fallen to us."
In a BBC Network Africa interview Friday, Bockarie said he had not listened to Sankoh's appeal for a ceasefire. "I haven't heard his voice since the time he instructed me to join up with the brothers in Freetown for lasting peace; I haven't heard him," he said. "Even if we hear that, we're not going to obey that. Because we are not too sure of his health, or whether he is the one that is even talking. Let us have access to him. Let's first speak to him, and let's see face to face, and see that he is mentally and physically fit. Then we'll see what next to be done." Bockarie demanded that a caretaker government be set up. "We are asking the OAU chairman to immediately step in to call on both parties to see how best we can resolve this problem now once and for all, and now we want a caretaker government, which is a broad-based government, till we can organize a fresh election which will bring in a democratically elected government that people want."
ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate said Friday that President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh had met Wednesday to discuss a ceasefire, shortly before the rebels began their offensive to capture Freetown. "President Kabbah made the request for a ceasefire two hours before the rebels came into the town. He went to Foday Sankoh and proposed they stop fighting," Kouyate said from Abuja, Nigeria. "Sankoh asked President Kabbah him to let think about it for two hours and that was when the rebels entered the city." On Thursday, the BBC quoted Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah as saying that talks between the government and the rebels had been attempted on Tuesday through a third party. Kouyate said he believed President Kabbah had accepted the need for a "change in strategy," replacing confrontation with dialogue. "There has been a change in strategy. Previously, President Kabbah believed that the rebels should go before the courts, the process of law. Now he has agreed there must be a political solution," Kouyate said. He added that ECOMOG would continue to play a peacekeeping role in Sierra Leone. "ECOMOG is in a position to play a role. ECOMOG is playing a fantastic role, a vital role. Though the financial burden is very heavy. "What we are receiving from the international community is not enough... It is a drop in the ocean," he said. Kouyate dismissed suggestions that a civilian government in Nigeria might cut back the country's commitment to peacekeeping operations. "The commitment of Nigeria to ECOWAS and ECOMOG is permanent...Even after the elections, I am sure that the government will follow the same line," he said.
Rebels holding the East End District looted food aid warehouses, stole cars, and ransacked houses and offices there on Friday, United Nations agencies reported, quoting their remaining staff in Freetown. "This might affect the ability of agencies to respond immediately to a humanitarian situation," a U.N. official said.
OAU Chairman and President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaore on Friday condemned the rebel invasion of Freetown. The OAU "condemns these attacks, which, far from settling the problem, are only worsening the situation, at the same time putting off prospects for a lasting peace in this country," he said.
President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, the current ECOWAS chairman, has expressed concern about the situation in Freetown. He said the surge in fighting has caused the deaths of many civilians, the fleeing of a large part of the population, and huge property damages. Eyadema appealed to President Kabbah and the rebel leader to lay down their arms and begin a political dialogue with a view to finding a final solution to the conflict.
Ghana is holding consultations with other West African countries on how to restore sustainable peace and consolidate democracy in Sierra Leone, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported on Friday. A delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister James Victor Gbeho left Accra for Abuja, Nigeria early Friday, while a second delegation headed by the Deputy Minister of Defence, Lt. Col. E.K.T. Donkor, left for Guinea.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Friday that the the mandate of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) be extended by two month when its original six-month mandate expires on January 13. Annan said that although the future of UNOMSIL appeared much less clear than it did a few weeks ago, there was still much it could do. He said that he intended to reduce the number of military observers, who would be based at Conakry, Guinea and would return to Sierra Leone when conditions permitted. In a letter to the Security Council, Annan said that military successes would not win the rebels legitimacy or recognition. "I therefore call on them to open discussions with the government on any legitimate political demands and grievances they or their supporters may have,'' he said.
The Nigerian newspaper Post Express, quoting military sources, has reported than 38 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers were killed in the battle for Freetown. Lagos P.M. News said Thursday that 26 Nigerian soldiers killed last Sunday were secretly buried at an army cemetery in Nigeria. The newspaper also reported that some 35 seriously wounded soldiers and officers had been flown back to Nigeria and were being treated at the ECOMOG ward of the Yaba Military Hospital. "(The burials) came as Nigeria's military authorities are contemplating withdrawing Nigerian soldiers from the troubled country," P.M. News said, citing "high military sources." The Guardian (Nigeria) said Nigeria, apparently worried about the situation in Sierra Leone, is consulting with regional allies.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku told the BBC from Nigeria Friday that he had met with RUF representatives and encouraged them to abide by the ceasefire announced Thursday. "Yesterday the representatives of the rebel group came to my office, had a discussion with us, and we are now encouraging them to support this cease-fire," Anyaoku said. "And I hope the international community will come in support of that as well as in support of shoring up democracy in Sierra Leone." He did not identify the RUF representatives or provide details of the talks. Anyaoku said there was mounting evidence of Liberian support for the rebels, and said international pressure should be brought to bear on Liberia while at the same time supporting peace talks. "We (the Commonwealth) are focusing on the representations made to us by the rebel group to try and help sustain this cease-fire. At the same time we are asking the international community to rally around the democratically-elected government," he said.
Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings on Thursday appealed to nations supplying arms to AFRC/RUF weapons to stop. ""ECOMOG did not enter that place to wage war," he said. "We entered that place to put in place a lasting democratic process." He argued that continuing to supply weapons to the rebels would mean suffering for the innocent women and children of Sierra Leone. Rawlings said it "is not beyond the capability of the regional force to launch a full-scale offensive to reverse the rebel incursions within 48 hours. But its preference is dialogue rather than force." He urged the rebels to lay down their arms and to realise that dialogue "is the best approach, else a lot of things will go wrong and they will be the losers."
Over 200 Sierra Leonean refugees, along with other foreign nationals and U.N. staff, arrived at the Guinean port of Bassora on Wednesday, Liberian Star Radio reported Friday. A UNHCR spokesman said the refugees were being screened at Bonfi Stadium and will later be transferred to the Forecariah Refugee Camp. The spokesman said the UNHCR, WFP, and other aid agencies have met to discuss the situation in Freetown, and are making contingency plans to receive some 30,000 refugees in Guinea.
Kabbah's statement Thursday night (English translation from Krio): "I have been very, very busy doing what we have to do in this situation to make sure that all the security apparatus is in place. Foday [Sankoh] and myself have had straight talks — straight talks about the country. During the seven-day cease-fire period, we will work out modalities as to how Sankoh will get access to his people. If we just go on fighting and win the war, as we could surely do, after all that, we will still have to talk peace. So let us do both at the same time. Let us go back to the Abidjan Peace Accord, but let us be sincere this time. I am sorry for the inconvenience that we have all had to suffer."
Sankoh's recorded statement: "Fellow Sierra Leoneans: I, Corporal Foday Sankoh, leader of the RUF, am speaking to you on a matter of interest. I am always committed to peace for my beloved country. I can say I am a prisoner of peace; and President Kabbah and I met today for several hours to discuss the situation in our country. President Kabbah and I agreed that for the eradication of poverty in the country, there must be security, peace, and stability. So our combatants should keep to their defensive positions and cease all hostilities. We further agreed that the best way to achieve a sustainable peace is to use the Abidjan Peace Accord."
7 January: President Kabbah told the nation Thursday that he and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh had agreed on a seven-day ceasefire between pro-government forces and AFRC/RUF rebels battling in Freetown. Kabbah said that negotiations would take place between the government and the rebels, and that if conditions at the end of the seven-day period were met, "I will authorise his release." He listed those conditions as "an immediate ceasefire, adoption of the (1996) Abidjan Charter, and consultations with my cabinet colleagues." While Kabbah spoke live, Sankoh's statement came in the form of a recorded message. "Our combatants should keep to their defensive positions and cease all hostilities," Sankoh said. "No offensive, I repeat. Within the seven days we will work out modalities for me to join you." Kabbah said: "During the seven-day period we will work out modalities as to how he will get access to his people...If we just go on fighting and win the war, as we could surely do, after that we will still have to talk peace. So let us do both at the same time. Let us go back to the Abidjan peace accord. But let us be sincere this time. Let us cease all hostilities and go back to the accord." News accounts spoke of thousands of Freetown residents gathering on the streets to celebrate the news, both in the rebel-held East End of the capital and in the West End under the control of pro-government forces. A senior ECOMOG official said: "We will heed the ceasefire and keep a low profile militarily, while watching developments on the ground closely." Reuters reported that there was little evidence that fighting between rebels and government forces was abating. In a BBC interview, RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said his forces would ignore the call for a ceasefire unless he received the order from Sankoh in a face-to-face meeting. "As I see him standing before me as I used to see him, Im ready to take his orders," Bockarie said. Im just waiting for me to have access to him. If not, things will have gone out of control. Hes the only man thats able to control the RUF." He suggested that such a meeting might be arranged by the President of Burkina Faso and current OAU Chairman, Blaise Compaore. "We have suggested him to mediate, as we consider him as being a neutral body as will be ready to resolve these problems the way it is that it has to be solved." Bockarie said that his forces were making headway against ECOMOG troops and "during the next 48 or 72 hours the situation will be under perfect control." In a separate interview Thursday Bockarie warned, "The time to talk has finished. We are now in a position to drive the Nigerians out of our country."
President Kabbah first announced the ceasefire agreement at a press conference in Lungi earlier in the day. He told journalists Freetown had been devastated by the fighting, and said the rebels had burned Connaught Hospital, Fourah Bay College, and "former State House." News services have not independently confirmed his account. Kabbah said the seven-day truce period would be used for negotiation, to be mediated by Ivory Coast and Togo. Kabbah displayed a cassette tape of Sankoh's recorded message to his men, in which he said the rebel leader ordered "an immediate ceasefire to save innocent lives." Kabbah quoted Sankoh as saying, "There needs to be peace and security. We must create a climate for peace, and I am ready to ensure this with sincerity." According to BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle, Kabbah declined to disclose where Sankoh was being held, or to allow journalists to interview him. "We asked if we could see Mr. Sankoh and the president said 'no, not now, because I need to pursue negotiations with other countries including Togo and Ivory Coast, and negotiations with the parliament and so on'", Doyle reported. "But he did make it clear when I pressed him that he did intend to try and get Sankoh released after seven days, and he said that there there was now a ceasefire that had been agreed by him and Sankoh."
ECOMOG troops remained in control of the West End and most of the central district of Freetown late on Thursday, while AFRC/RUF rebel forces continued to hold the East End. The two sides faced each other across the Congo Cross Bridge, dividing Congo Town in the west end from the central area. Reuters reported bodies lying in the streets in the rebel-held areas, and a thick cloud of smoke rising above the east end where the rebels had burned government and police vehicles. ECOMOG reportedly pushed the rebels out of most of the city centre they captured on Wednesday, retaking Pademba Road Prison and State House. Nigerian Alpha jet fighters attacked rebel positions throughout the day. Witnesses said about a dozen people, both rebels and civilians, were killed when an Alpha jet bombed a street in the city centre where rebels had forced residents to "demonstrate for peace and a government dialogue." Government officials called the bombing "regrettable," but urged residents to remain off the streets and not to allow themselves to be used as human shields. One resident said rebels were burning the homes of those who refused to join them in the streets. "They are using us as human shields," he said. Witnesses reported seeing the bodies soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army lying near the national stadium. They said at least 15 such soldiers had been killed in clashes with ECOMOG troops on Wednesday night. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, in a broadcast on Radio Democracy 98.1, urged residents to keep off the streets. "ECOMOG is mopping up the rebels," Spencer said. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said that ECOMOG was in control of Freetown, and ordered the rebels to surrender "or have themselves to blame."
The United Nations Security Council expressed "grave concern" Thursday at AFRC/RUF rebel attacks in Freetown and at the resulting loss of life. In a statement read out by Council President Ambassador Celso Amorim (Brazil), the Council condemned the "unacceptable attempt by the rebels to overthrow by violence the democratically-elected government of Sierra Leone" and demanded that the rebels "lay down their arms immediately and end all violence." It also condemned the rebels' continued campaign "to terrorize the country's population," noting especially atrocities committed against women and children. The Council "strongly condemned" those supporting the rebels with arms and mercenaries, and "expressed its grave concern at reports that such support was being afforded in particular from the territory of Liberia." The council stressed the importance of dialogue and national reconciliation, while expressing concern about the potential serious humanitarian consequences of the fighting. The Council called on member states and international organisations to provide "appropriate humanitarian assistance."
The United States government said Thursday it had again warned Liberia to stop allowing AFRC/RUF rebels from receiving support from Liberian territory. "The U.S. government is especially concerned about external regional support for the RUF insurgency," a State Department spokesman said. "We continue to urge the government of Liberia to take all necessary measures to stop support for RUF activities emanating from its territories."
Britain has added its voice to those pointing an accusing finger at Liberia for supporting the rebels. "I have...sent a very firm message to Liberia that we believe there is credible evidence they are supporting the rebels, "Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC Thursday. "If they are giving any support to the rebels, that support must stop immediately." Cook urged EC countries and the United States to follow Britain's lead and help support ECOMOG forces battling rebels for control of the Sierra Leone. The should "do what we have been doing for some time, which is to provide financial and logistical support to the Nigerian forces so that they do have a better opportunity of sustaining the legitimate government of Sierra Leone," he said. Cook said Britain had invested £30 million in Sierra Leone since President Kabbah was restored to power last year. Most of it had been earmarked for economic reconstruction, but some had also gone for demobilisation of combatants and to provide employment for rebels willing to give up their arms.
The French Foreign Ministry said Thursday it wanted "to encourage the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore peace" to Sierra Leone. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that France, "in close liaison with its partners, notably those of the European Union, is following as closely as possible the alarming developments in the situation in Sierra Leone and is particularly concerned about the fate of the civilian population and the deterioration in the humanitarian situation."
Nigeria's Acting Director of Defence Information Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella said Wednesday night that the Nigerian government was aware of rebel attacks on Freetown, but said the crisis in Sierra Leone would soon be brought to an end. He said the Defence Headquarters was monitoring the situation in the country with regard to the strategies of the ECOMOG force, Xinhua reported on Thursday.
Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman said early Thursday he did not know the whereabouts of President Kabbah. "I don't know where he is. I wish I knew," Norman told journalists at Lungi International Airport. "As a president, (Kabbah) should not go too far from his people. He should be in Sierra Leone," Norman added. "I'm not president, and I haven't left." Norman said the Civil Defence Forces "controlled certain points" in Freetown, but maintained he had no knowledge of rebel positions. "Only their friends, their collaborators, know where they are," he said.
RUF commander Gibril Massaquoi told the BBC Wednesday night that the rebels were in complete control of Freetown. "The Armed Forces and Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone have taken over the reins of government," he said. "Within the next 72 hours we will be clearing out the enemies from the Lungi airstrip...In the next couple of days we will clear ECOMOG from Lungi." Massaquoi, who said he was speaking from State House "from the office of former head of state President Kabbah," told the BBC that the rebels controlled all of Freetown except for Lungi. "We are in complete control of Wilberforce (Barracks), he said, adding that the ECOMOG troops had "all fled into the bushes." Massaquoi claimed that the rebels had captured "a lot" of ECOMOG soldiers including 17 during the attack on Freetown. "We have a lot of them, not only the ones in Freetown here," he said. "We have several of them whom we captured in the bushes. We have them, we have to hand them over to the international community to prove to them that we have not been killers as the government — the former government in Freetown — has been claiming: that we are being killers, we have been maiming the people. We will prove to the international community that we have not been maiming our people." Massaquoi rejected a suggestion that most Sierra Leoneans did not want to be governed by the RUF. "No, it's completely false. It is due to the propaganda being made by the SLPP government, former government in Freetown," he said. "That is not a democratic government. We don't have proportional representation in our constitution. (Kabbah) does not even have the support of the majority of the people. Now he is claiming that he is legitimate government. He is not."
ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade claimed Thursday that ECOMOG controlled most of Freetown including State House. "We are still maintaining our position of ensuring perfect security within Freetown and I am glad to reassure the international community once more that we have achieved other successes in countering the nuisance that the rebels came to create...We are ensuring that we do not lose the control of the city, and we have been able to ensure that so far. I agree they made some attempts to upset the normal situation in town, but so far we have been able to reverse that considerably." He claimed that ECOMOG soldiers were in control of State House and Wilberforce Barracks. "Wilberforce Barracks is the headquarters of our task force in Freetown," he said. "I am just coming from that place now. I was surprised when they were making claims that they have overrun the place. There is no truth whatsoever in that claim."
6 January: AFRC/RUF rebel forces battled their way into Freetown on Wednesday, and according to many reports have seized State House and burned down the nearby Nigerian Embassy, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters, and the capital's main police station. Rebel fighters, many carrying assault rifles, roamed through abandoned streets in the city centre. "Districts in the Eastend of Freetown are under control of the rebels. We can see them from our windows patrolling the streets on foot and in looted vehicles," one resident told Reuters. Others reported that bodies were lying in the streets while rebels prepared defensive barricades. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay described the fighting: "The firing at one stage, the shelling at one stage, was actually very heavy," he said. "They burnt down the CID, they burnt down Eastend Police, and a popular place called Picadilly at St John has also been destroyed." He confirmed reports that rebel forces had captured Pademba Road Prison and released the prisoners, many of them former members of the AFRC government convicted of treason or awaiting trial on treason charges, along with surrendered solders of the former Sierra Leone Army whom the government feared posed a security risk. "Yes, yes, that was one of their first actions when they entered Freetown," he said. "When they came into Freetown they simply marched into Pademba Road Prison with no resistance from ECOMOG and set free all of those detained there."
At 2:30 p.m. the BBC spoke to a "Colonel Sesay" who claimed to be in State House where, he said, the rebels had "overthrown the SLPP government." State House is not currently used for governmental affairs, which are conducted from the "The Lodge" at Hill Station. Sesay said AFRC/RUF fighters had met no resistance from ECOMOG as they entered the city, and he claimed that rebel forces, which he put at "15,000 armed men," controlled nearly all of Freetown. He told the BBC that the rebels were engaged in a battle for Wilberforce Barracks. "I cant talk it to you now, the battle is going on. Someone has just told me they have captured, they have captured, the main office, that is the holding room and the guard room," he said. Sesay's claims were sharply disputed by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer. "This fellow is lying," he said. "And he also said theyve captured Wilberforce Barracks. That was a blatant lie. Its a lie. Ive been to Wilberforce Barracks, Ive been to State House. And Im actually talking to you now from Wilberforce Barracks. Ive been to State House earlier in the day. They are not there." Spencer acknowledged that the rebels held parts of Freetown, including the Pademba Road area, Brookfields, and Ferry Junction. He claimed many of the rebels were hiding, because they were being pursued, and predicted that the rebel onslaught would be ended before nightfall. "You see they are going to be thrown out completely, not just from Freetown. In the areas which they attacked, in Makeni, the northern part, they are also going to be thrown out...You see, the real issue is that the people of Sierra Leone have said they want a democratic government. Nobody should think that they can come and overthrow a government by force of arms and take control of the country — that is out of the question!"
BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay confirmed that rebel forces had reached the city centre, although he could not say whether they had occupied State House. "I cannot again confirm whether they are in fact in charge of State House," he said. "What I can tell you is that they are occupying several houses very close to State House. I have spoken to one or two friends of mine who have called me on the phone telling me that the rebels have actually occupied their homes, which is just about a stones throw to State House." Ojukutu-Macaulay said it appeared fighting was going on for control of Wilberforce Barracks. "By the sound of the shelling, I think that either ECOMOG is trying to push them away or the junta and the rebels are trying to force their way into the barracks." The BBC correspondent noted that the rebels had met very little resistance when they attacked, "and that has taken a lot of people by surprise here in Freetown."
A source in Freetown reported Wednesday night that Wilberforce Barracks had not come under attack. He said the fighting which was reported took place at Congo Cross Bridge, near the stadium, when ECOMOG troops clashed with rebels to prevent them from releasing surrendered soldiers. "The barracks are safe, nothing is going on," he said by telephone from near the barracks themselves. He added that ECOMOG troops were pursuing rebels in Freetown.
RUF commander Col. Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, claiming to be "just within around Freetown" said he was confronting ECOMOG with a force of 30,000 men, but told the BBC that ECOMOG soldiers should "stay calm, cease fire" so that the rebels could "negotiate their repatriation." He said his fighters had the ECOMOG troops at Wilberforce Barracks surrounded, but that the rebels were holding off on attacking the ECOMOG base at Lungi. "Lungi Airport is just an outlet, thats why we decided to just leave it open for awhile for those foreign nationals to leave. As soon as they leave, well be ready to take Lungi," he said. Bockarie warned that members of the civilian government had 24 hours to leave the country or turn themselves over to the rebels. "Anyone who is caught after that, he is going to be dealt with militarily," he said. The rebel leader said he thought President Kabbah had already left the capital, a claim disputed by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer and Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah. In a separate interview with Reuters, Bockarie said his forces had captured most of Freetown, including the broadcasting station, but that fighting was continuing at Waterloo. "We even have the seaport. Fighting is at Waterloo now, and we are trying to get rid of the elements (of ECOMOG) that are putting up stiff resistance there," he said. Bockarie said the rebels would agree to a ceasefire once RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh were handed over to them. Sankoh was reportedly transferred from Pademba Road Prison to an undisclosed location prior to the rebel advance. "If Sankoh is released and handed over to us we are ready to cease fire. And we will see to it that we can secure the repatriation of these Nigerian soldiers, because they are our brothers,'' he said, adding that "the leader will tell the nation what next." Bockarie appealed to Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar to release Sankoh to the RUF. "We are appealing to our big brother, his Excellency General Abubakar, we are appealing to him to instruct his commanders to turn our leader over to me,'' Bockarie said.
Nigerian leader General Abusalam Abubakar, ECOWAS Executive Lansana Kouyate, and services chiefs of the Nigerian Armed Forces met Wednesday to discuss the security situation in Sierra Leone. There was no word on details of their discussions.
Sierra Leone's High Commissioner to Nigeria, Joseph Blell, was in Abuja Wednesday to hold consultations with senior Nigerian officials. Blell said he hoped to meet with defence and government officials on Thursday to discuss the situation in Freetown. He described reports as "scanty" and "confused", but said he hoped to discuss possibilities for action with Nigerian officials.
ECOMOG officials maintained Wednesday that they were in control of Freetown. "We do have this under control and there is no way they can hold their ground," said a Nigerian ECOMOG officer at Lungi. Radio Democracy 98.1 broadcast only music for much of the morning, but Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has made frequent broadcasts since then. "ECOMOG will deal with the rebels decisively," he said. Residents reported that rebels held the east end and parts of central Freetown while ECOMOG units patrolled the west end of the capital.
Radio Democracy 98.1 announced that the curfew has been moved up an hour, so that residents must now be off the streets by 6:30 p.m. instead of 7:30. "Anybody found in the streets will be shot on sight," the radio warned, adding "ECOMOG is warning all civilians behind rebel lines to heed this warning and not to get involved with the rebels." Minister of Trade, Industry and Transportation Alie Bangura said that ECOMOG troops had been hampered by fleeing residents. "When the rebels tried to penetrate Allen Town, many civilians took to the streets. That is why it became difficult for ECOMOG to prevent the rebels from entering," he said. "If ECOMOG encounters any group in streets, whether civilian or rebel, it will open fire," he warned.
United Nations personnel left Freetown on Wednesday as the security situation in the capital deteriorated. Members of the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL), along with U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, left Freetown by air from Lungi International Airport. Okelo confirmed that their destination was Conakry, Guinea. "We can't guarantee the security here anymore," he said. Asked about the state of fighting between ECOMOG troops and rebels in Freetown, military observer Col. Andre Bobylev replied, "It's difficult to say. It's war." A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said seven motorised boats had arrived in Conakry on Wednesday carrying 120 persons fleeing the fighting.
BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported Wednesday that several government ministers, including Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah, were at the ECOMOG base at Lungi International Airport. "Im told by people here at the airport that there are several ministers," Doyle said. "I dont know if theyve taken refuge or what, but this is obviously one of the safest places in Sierra Leone for the government for the time being. And yes, Dr. Jonah is certainly here, but I wouldn't like to characterize him as taking refuge. But he is putting a very confident face on things."
AFRC/RUF rebel forces entered Freetown from the Eastend District early Wednesday and pushed to within a mile of the city centre before being turned back by ECOMOG troops, Reuters reported on Wednesday. A two-hour barrage on the Eastend beginning at 1:30 a.m. sent thousands of residents fleeing at dawn toward the center of the capital, Reuters said, adding that the sound of bombardments subsided after two hours but began again sporadically. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that the latest fighting began an hour after midnight, and said the rebels which included soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army engaged ECOMOG troops in heavy fighting. The BBC cited reports that the rebels were moving in from hills overlooking Freetown. ECOMOG used artillery and Alpha fighter jets in an attempt to halt the rebel advance. The rebels burned down a police station and briefly broadcast from a private radio station until an ECOMOG bombardment put it off the air. Radio Democracy 98.1 warned residents to keep off the streets, but said ECOMOG was in "complete control." It promised an announcement on the situation shortly. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, in a BBC interview, told people to stay at home. "Anyone found on the streets will be considered as a rebel," he said. "Rebels have entered the east end of town and there is a bit of panic...The situation is very serious but it is going to be dealt with." Spencer said ECOMOG troops had found it difficult to engage the rebels because they had been mixing with the crowd. He said the government had no plans to flee the capital, but called developments "a disaster for Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone people," adding: "Apparently this is happening and the rest of the world is standing by and watching." BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle said the latest fighting in Freetown did not necessarily mean the rebels have broken through the government's main defences, or that the government itself was threatened. He said that strategically important points in the city, such as the airport, were being defended by thousands of government and ECOMOG troops.
Members of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned outside support for rebels fighting the government in Sierra Leone, Council President Ambassador Celso Amorim said on Wednesday. Amorim said Council members expressed their strong support for President Kabbah and for the efforts of ECOWAS and its military arm, ECOMOG, to bring peace to Sierra Leone. "Council members strongly condemned penetration of rebel forces in Freetown and also condemned the support for the rebels from abroad," said Amorim. "Council Members strongly condemned rebel activities in Freetown. They expressed support for diplomatic efforts, particularly regional ones, to restore peace and security in Sierra Leone.
The British Foreign Office has condemned rebel efforts to overthrow the Sierra Leone government, while urging the 50 estimated British nationals remaining in Sierra Leone to leave as soon as they could safely do so. "We condemn the rebel efforts to overthrow by force the legitimate government of Sierra Leone and atrocities that they have committed against innocent civilians," a Foreign Office statement read. "We will work with the international community to restore peace and democracy to Sierra Leone." The statement added that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had been in touch with "key allies" to rally support for the government.
Students occupying the Sierra Leone Embassy in Moscow have ended their protest peacefully, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said Wednesday. "All the students, 15-20 people, who made their way yesterday into the Embassy of Sierra Leone in Moscow and besieged that country's ambassador have left the embassy building, and it is functioning normally," Rakhmanin said. The students complained of unpaid allowances and other "unresolved social and humanitarian matters," the Foreign Ministry said. The occupation of the embassy followed the death of a student in a Moscow hospital. "Naturally, these demands are the preserve of the government of Sierra Leone, but, as regards the official call from that country's ambassador for help with clearing the embassy premises of the participants in the protest action, appropriate steps were taken by the relevant Russian agencies," Rakhmanin said. He stressed that no force was used against the students.
5 January: More than 100 AFRC/RUF rebels were killed Sunday in bombing raids by Nigerian Alpha jet fighters which bombed their mountain cave stronghold in Mankey, near Hastings, an ECOMOG officer said on Tuesday. "We flattened the cave and killed more than 100 rebels on Sunday," said the officer, who was based at the Jui military garrison. Civilian survivors of Sunday's rebel attack on Hastings and Jui said ECOMOG killed more than 200 rebel fighters. Reporters who were allowed into Hastings on Tuesday said that the rebel force, thought to have numbered more than 1,000, had completely overrun the town. ECOMOG sources said that many of the rebels wore civilian clothing and had infiltrated past Hastings. A witness told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that after the first attack on Hastings, the rebels had split into two groups, one comprised of renegade Sierra Leone Army soldiers, and the other of RUF fighters.
United Nations sources said Tuesday that AFRC/RUF rebels still control Makeni, which they captured from ECOMOG last week. "The rebels have conscripted thousands of able-bodied men and women in Makeni and are training them to fight," a U.N. source said. "They are patrolling Makeni in jeeps and on foot, stopping people from fleeing the town." Makeni residents who have reached Freetown have given accounts of summary executions of those believed to support the civilian government of President Kabbah. "They have shot dead government workers, local politicians and business people," one witness told Reuters.
State radio has announced that a military delegation from Mali will visit Freetown next week to meet with ECOMOG commanders. "Our soldiers are soldiers of peace and they are ready to be by your side," Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare said Monday after talks with President Kabbah in Bamako.
Britain announced Tuesday that it would provide £1 million to Sierra Leone, two-thirds of it in logistical support for ECOMOG, with up to one-third of the full amount to be earmarked in a separate package for developmental assistance. "This further assistance to the government of Sierra Leone and ECOMOG is a demonstration of our commitment to help bring stability to Sierra Leone and promote democracy both in that country and more widely in Africa," said Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release. "The U.K. has led the international community in both diplomatic and practical support for the democratically elected government. We would urge other countries to show the same level of commitment."
Thousands of people fleeing fighting in eastern Sierra Leone have swollen the population of Kenema and are badly in need of food, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) representative in Sierra Leone Patrick Buckley said on Tuesday. Some 20,000 people are believed to have fled in the wake of an ECOMOG counter-attack to recapture the town of Segbwema. "People are arriving by the thousands and they are in urgent need of food and other humanitarian assistance," Buckley said. "The influx in Kenema is just the tip of the iceberg. We are gravely concerned about the situation of several thousands of people we believe are hiding in the bush and waiting for a lull in the fighting to come out." Despite the problematic security situation, the WFP shipped additional food to Kenema last week and has now stockpiled 1,500 tons of food stored in its warehouse there — enough to feed 160,000 people for a month. Extra food was also sent to Bo, where refugees fleeing fighting in Makeni and in Kono District have begun to arrive. The WFP said nearly 100,000 people had been displaced by renewed fighting in Makeni and Kono. Clashes over the past three weeks have prevented WFP workers from providing food to 24,000 persons in Makeni, the agency said.
United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo toured Bo and Kenema on Monday. The visit was intended "to demonstrate U.N. solidarity with people in the provinces, observe the situation, and bring back the military observers," Okelo said after a visit with the Minister of State for Eastern Province, Dominic Gombu. "The restoration of constitutional order and democracy is not enough. It is equally important to consolidate what has been achieved so that the gains are capable of withstanding any threat like the recent turbulence that threatened Freetown," Okelo said.
A group of Sierra Leonean students has broken into the Sierra Leone Embassy in Moscow and is holding the consul hostage, and are demanding a meeting with their Ambassador, Deyo Caybani, Radio Ekho Moskvy reported on Tuesday. The students said their action was motivated by the death of a Sierra Leonean student of cancer in a Moscow hospital. "We are holding the Ambassador's deputy hostage. We want the Consul to make her come to the Embassy, said spokesman Paul Amara. "We are on our own territory. This is the Embassy of Sierra Leone. No force is being used. We are just sitting and waiting for her to come here which she does not want to do. Let them kill all of us. Our friend has already died. Let them kill all of us." The students are demanding that the Sierra Leone government pay them their allowances; currently, according to Amara, the students receive only $100 a year. The students are also calling for the Embassy to be replaced by a consulate, with the resulting savings being given to the students. Caybani told the radio she was tired and was not planning to meet with the protestors. "Where did you get this information from?," she demanded. "Our office is closed and our staff has left for home. Our staff will be glad to answer all your questions tomorrow morning when the office opens. I am now at home."
The current chairman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Executive Committee, Rodriquez Cedano, will begin a ten day tour on Wednesday to visit UNHCR operations in Liberia, Guinea, Ivory Coast and, if the security situation permits, in Sierra Leone. Cedano, who is Venezuela's Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, will hold talks with government officials, donor representatives, and U.N. agency officials. The UNHCR said Tuesday it was very concerned about the upsurge in fighting in Sierra Leone, which has caused new displacements within the country "raising the spectre of another refugee exodus from Sierra Leone." The UNHCR estimates there are currently 350,000 internally displaced persons within Sierra Leone, with 300,000 additional refugees in Guinea and Liberia. "Over the past few days, over one hundred refugees have fled into neighbouring Guinea but we received reports of 5,800 more people being displaced in the border area of Kambia and possibly intending to cross into Guinea if fighting between rebels and the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) continues," the statement said. "UNHCR has made preparations to receive new arrivals on the Guinean side of the border."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern Tuesday about the safety of BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers. Rogers, who was arrested by the CID on December 8 and charged with "false reporting" and reporting news on the war without clearing his reports with ECOMOG or Ministry of Information censors, also faces threats from the RUF, the CPJ said. "On 31 December 1998, Col. Sam Bockarie of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces said, during an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), that BBC Makeni stringer Sylvester Rogers was biased against the rebels in his reporting, and that such people would be dealt with if the rebels take Makeni," the CPJ reported. "Rogers now faces possible execution by the rebels and imprisonment by the government. His whereabouts remain unknown." In a 9 December letter to President Kabbah, the CPJ argued that it believed "these arrests are aimed at controlling news coverage of the on-going conflict in the country." The group also protested an official statement which described the journalist's actions as "unpatriotic behavior and a criminal act which is tantamount to acting as a propagandist for the rebels."
United Nations Ambassador Fernando Enrique Petrella of Argentina has been elected chairman of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1132 (1997) concerning Sierra Leone. Ambassadors from Bahrain and Namibia were named vice chairmen. Their terms run through 31 December 1999.
4 January: AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Hastings Air Field early Monday morning, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola. "The rebels attacked Hastings at about 3:00 a.m. this morning, but we have now beaten them back into the hills around the town," Okunlola said. He added that ECOMOG, backed by the Civil Defence Forces, was mopping up the area around Hastings. Okunlola said "dozens" of rebels were killed in the attack. He gave no casualty figures for pro-government forces. The rebels attacked their air field on December 31, burning ten buildings including, according to Liberian Star Radio, the newly-refurbished police training school and several private residences. Two planes used for shuttle flights were also reportedly destroyed. The fighting closed the airport, which had been due to reopen on Monday.
Renewed fighting between ECOMOG and AFRC/RUF rebels is taking place at Calaba Town, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Monday. "Details are very hard to come by from ECOMOG, but when I drove down to Calaba Town this afternoon, which is now the frontline, I was told by both eyewitnesses and police officials that the fighting started round about 10 p.m. last night," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "When I contacted ECOMOG and the Minister of Information (Dr. Julius Spencer) when I returned back to Freetown, I was told that ECOMOG and the civil defense forces are on the offensive at Pawpaw Valley, which is 16 miles to Freetown, and also at Miami Hills, another location very close to Hastings. They say that ECOMOG is on the offensive." He quoted ECOMOG officials at Calaba Town as saying that ECOMOG was in control of Hastings and Waterloo, but that the rebels were off the road in the bush. Ojukutu-Macaulay said reports reaching Freetown on Sunday night indicated that ECOMOG was now in control of Port Loko after four days of heavy fighting.
ECOMOG has launched a counter-offensive against AFRC/RUF rebels occupying the town of Lunsar, U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said on Monday. The BBC reported that Nigerian Alpha jets strafed rebel positions around the town.
ECOMOG tightened security in and around Freetown Monday as schools reopened in the capital, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. "We have effectively thrown a security dragnet around the capital and residents need not have any fear," an ECOMOG official said. ECOMOG troops are reportedly targeting the area of Kossoh Town, where they believe AFRC/RUF rebel fighters are trapped and cut off from their rear base. Kamajor militiamen are posted in the hills near Charlotte, Bathurst, Regent, and Gloucester, "searching vehicles and combing the bush for rebels," the AFP reported. The road between Freetown and Masiaka, closed the past two days because of rebel attacks, is now open to traffic truck drivers said on Monday.
Nigerian ECOMOG troops have retaken Port Loko and halted the AFRC/RUF rebel advance toward Freetown, an ECOMOG spokesman said Monday. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that ECOMOG troops are now in a position to mount a counter-offensive to drive rebel forces from other towns they occupy north and west of the capital.
President Kabbah travelled to Bamako, Mali on Monday for several hours of talks with Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare. "It is totally normal that I consult President Konare on the major issues of the times," Kabbah told journalists. Konare said Mali would deploy some 400 troops in Sierra Leone as part of the ECOMOG force. Mali had previously pledged to send 300 soldiers. Kabbah was accompanied by a delegation which included Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya and National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray. The two leaders will hold extensive discussions on the security situation in Sierra Leone, State House officials said.
3 January: Members of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) have begun returning to Sierra Leone in view of the improving security situation. About ten military observers and support staff returned from Guinea Sunday with U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo. The rest are expected to return soon. "The situation in Sierra Leone is improving steadily, due mainly to the rapid action taken by the Sierra Leone government, ECOMOG, and its allies, the CDF, and civilian alertness to reinforce the efforts of the armed forces," Okelo said.
"Latest reliable reports" indicate that pro-government forces are in control of Port Loko despite a rebel onslaught, the BBC reported on Sunday.
The Kamajor militia said it has captured Masingbi and Jaiama Sewafe from AFRC/RUF rebel forces, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Sunday. "The battle for the recapture of these towns started on New Year's Day," Brima said. "The Kamajor militiamen from Pundulu in the Kenema District attacked Masingbi Town from four fronts. This attack caught the rebels unawares and during the battle, according to the operational commander...93 rebels were killed, including a white mercenary, while a large cache of arms and ammunition..was captured." Brima said the capture of these towns, on the Makeni-Kono highway, meant that there would soon be a battle for Koidu and that the rebels would be cut off from reinforcements. "A Kamajor director of war who arrived in Kenema this morning...told me that they are now in control of all the areas recaptured and that very soon, Koidu Town will be recaptured," he added.
Pope John Paul II called on Sunday for an end to conflicts in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and expressed concern about the situations in Angola and Kosovo. The Pope argued that only respect for human rights would end the violence and conflict. "Echoing the anguished appeals that reach me from so many parts of the world, I turn to political and military leaders and ask them to take all possible initiatives to bring about a just and lasting peace," he told a crowd at St. Peter's Square in Rome.
2 January: AFRC/RUF rebel forces mounted a new attack on Port Loko on Friday evening after reportedly having been driven from the town on Thursday. "We beat them back from the town. They can't take Port Loko. We have brought more Guinean troops and tanks into and around the town to protect it," an ECOMOG officer said. "The rebels have been attacking Port Loko because it is the key town on the highway to Guinea. They think they can cut off reinforcements from Guinea...then take Port Loko and cut it off from Freetown." He added that the rebels had been reinforced by fighters from the nearby rebel-held town of Lunsar. Port Loko residents arriving in Freetown said the fighting had continued into Saturday. A priest in Kambia told Reuters Saturday that thousands of people had fled the town toward the Guinea border. West African diplomats in Freetown said that Guinea, citing security concerns, was refusing to allow the displaced persons to cross the border, although the border was not officially closed. The diplomats said Guinea had turned back ferry boats arriving in Conakry on Friday, refusing to allow the passengers, including Guinean nationals, to disembark.
Aid workers in Sierra Leone say tens of thousands of persons have been displaced by the latest fighting between pro-government forces and rebel fighters. Because communication between Freetown and the provinces has been disrupted, accurate figures on the number of refugees are impossible to obtain. About 40,000 residents of a displaced camp at Masingbi, most of them Kono residents displaced by earlier fighting in the east, scattered following a rebel raid. 4,000 persons are known to be heading for Kambia, while several thousand more have reached Bo. The BBC quoted aid workers as saying that the number of new refugees is relatively small, compared to those who fled hostilities before the recent rebel offensive. "Medical sources say that large-scale mutilation of civilians has now stopped and that the rebels appear to be trying to convince people to stay in the areas they control," the BBC reported.
Travel by road from Freetown to northern Sierra Leone has been rendered impossible by recent fighting, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Saturday, quoting the Sierra Leone Motor Drivers Association. "What they told me was vehicular traffic to Makeni, after Masiaka, has not been very successful for the past one week or so," he said. "There are no vehicles going towards Makeni, Lunsar, from after Masiaka. However, theyve had vehicles going to Bo and Kenema, and also vehicles coming from Bo and Kenema to Freetown."
RUF representative Omrie Michael Golley, in a BBC Focus on Africa interview from Macedonia on Saturday, claimed that Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe had moved RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh from Pademba Road Prison to an unknown location Saturday morning. "I want the government to be very clear as to the significance of these actions," Golley told the BBC. "I dont believe it augers well for a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict and, most importantly, Im concerned that at this particular delicate time these type of actions are being taken. We want to know where he is, what conditions hes being held under, and to allow United Nations or other impartial international organizations to intervene to see him so that they can report back." The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association - Sierra Leone reported on Saturday that Sankoh had been transferred to an undisclosed location on December 23 amid fears that rebel infiltrators planned to break Sankoh out of prison. Neither report has been independently confirmed.
1 January: ECOMOG troops have driven AFRC/RUF rebels from Port Loko, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Friday. "We inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels in our air and ground operations to flush them out of Port Loko," the spokesman said. "Our war jets massacred them as they moved truckloads of more men to reinforce the positions they had taken in the town." Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer and residents who fled the fighting confirmed that ECOMOG was in control of Port Loko with the help of thousands of Civil Defence Forces militiamen. Spencer said Lunsar was still under rebel control.
Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said Friday that many soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army had defected to the rebels, while others had shown little willingness to fight. "Apart from the outright betrayal, others had demonstrated some high degree of cowardice in battle, leaving the allied forces, ECOMOG and the civil defense forces to do battle against the AFRC/RUF rebel fighters," Khobe told soldiers at Lungi who were being retrained to join a new national army. "The episode has posed a great challenge to the existence of the Sierra Leone army in the near future, Khobe said. ""It would require extraordinary effort ... to redeem the image of the Sierra Leone soldiers. Those of us who are committed to peace in Sierra Leone are totally embarrassed."
Liberian Vice President Enoch Dogolea Jr. is set to leave for Lome, Togo carrying "a message of peace and ideas as to how a cessation of hostilities can be achieved in neighbouring Sierra Leone," according to President Taylor's radio station, Liberia Communications Network. The station quoted Taylor as saying that all sides in the Sierra Leone conflict should agree to an immediate ceasefire. Taylor repeated the Liberian government's "support and recognition for the legitimate government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah," but repeated his call "for the government of President Kabbah to show good leadership by engaging in dialogue to end the crisis as was done in Liberia," the radio said.
70 refugees, most of them claiming to be from Sierra Leone, arrived by boat Friday at Syracuse, on the Italian island of Sicily. Their identities have not been confirmed. Many of the thousands of refugees attempting to reach Europe across the Mediterranean from North Africa claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of increasing their chances for asylum.
UNPP Leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart has rejected a statement made by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer at his Thursday news conference, and reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), that Karefa-Smart, Abass Bundu, and Omrie Michael Golley — "three known supporters of the RUF" — had visited Monrovia to hold discussions with rebel leaders. Karefa-Smart, speaking from his Washington, D.C. area residence, denied having travelled to Liberia, and rejected the allegation that he supported the RUF. "At the Abidjan Conference, I was the only one from the Sierra Leoneans present there who refused to shake the hands of Foday Sankoh," he said. Referring to Liberian President Charles Taylor's denial of Liberian government of the rebels, Karefa-Smart asked: "Who would we have been talking to?" Abass Bundu, in a written statement, also denied that he had visited Monrovia or that he was an RUF supporter. "I have not been to Monrovia as alleged by Spencer; the last visit I remember making to that country was as Executive Secretary of ECOWAS in 1993," he said. "Nor am I a supporter of the RUF or the AFRC. My stance on the crisis in Sierra Leone is well known. I do not, and will not, support the use of violence as an instrument of political change in our country nor as a means of ending the current conflict." Omrie Golley, in a subsequent written statement, also denied the allegations. "I wish to make it clear that I was not in Liberia at that time, nor have I ever been to Liberia," he said. "I was on vacation in Central Europe at the time that Spencer made these unfounded allegations, and what makes his behaviour more sinister is the fact that he called me in Skopje Macedonia where I was to discuss the escalating war in our country and how we could pursue a diplomatic end to the conflict."