The Sierra Leone Web


February 1995

10 February: United Nations special envoy Berhanu Dinka held talks with NPRC military leader Captain Valentine Strasser on Friday, and said that both the government and the RUF had assured him of their cooperation. "I was very much encouraged from what Captain Strasser told me about his government's position to the crisis," he said. "I am going to use all means in my power to find a lasting solution to the rebel war, as they have also assured me of their cooperation in this regard."

9 February: NPRC military leader Captain Valentine Strasser told OAU envoy Abdullah Sahid Osman on Thursday that his government was willing to work closely with the OAU to find a peaceful settlement to the country's four-year rebel war. He said his government would appreciate whatever the OAU could do to bring about a settlement. Osman said the OAU would try to help.

8 February: Organisation of African Unity envoy Abdullah Sahid Osman arrived in Sierra Leone on Wednesday. Osman, a Somali, will spend five days meeting officials and expressing the OAU's concern. He will report his findings to OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim. A foreign ministry official said a United Nations envoy was due in Sierra Leone next week to help set up negotiations with rebels holding 17 foreigners. The official said Sierra Leone would welcome mediation efforts by the two envoys. Another delegation, of Nigerian military officials, was in Freetown on Wednesday to discuss the welfare of Nigerian soldiers helping Sierra Leonean troops combat the rebels.

7 February: Italian Foreign Minister Susanna Agnelli stepped up efforts Tuesday to secure the release of 7 Catholic nuns kidnapped in an attack on Kambia. A foreign ministry statement said Agnelli spoke by telephone with International Committee of the Red Cross President Cornelio Sommaruga. The ICRC is trying to mediate a settlement to Sierra Leone's four-year-old civil war.

5 February: 7 Catholic nuns held kidnapped by rebels have told Catholic Bishop George Biguzzi by radio that they were not being mistreated, Italian state television reported Sunday. "We are being treated with respect, both as women and as members of a religious order," one of the captive nuns told the Biguzzi in a radio conversation organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the television report said.

3 February: U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said Friday that an estimated 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have fled to Guinea since a rebel attack on Kambia two weeks ago. The was up from 24,000 at the beginning of the week. Redmond expressed concern that more refugees could be crossing the border due to tension in Freetown. At least one refugee had died of cholera. A UNHCR food convoy with 22 tonnes of rice, 20 tonnes of maize and three tonnes of oil left on Thursday for Forecariah province in northwestern Guinea, just inland from the capital of Conakry. Local villagers have taken in the Sierra Leonean refugees, who are are mostly women and children. A UNHCR water engineer is searching for clean water sources, and the agency is looking at 10 possible sites for the refugees. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) of France and Belgium has started a vaccination programme.

2 February: 5 Sierra Leonean refugees who crossed the Guinea border following a rebel attack have died of cholera, Guinean officials said. The officials, who put the number of refugees in the border area as high as 40,000 on Thursday, said food and medical aid had been slow arriving in isolated border settlements. Relief officials said the United Nations, the Red Cross, and Guinean Health Ministry officials were working together to speed food and drugs to the refugees. "Fortunately for them they arrived just after the harvest and were willingly assisted by the local inhabitants," Deputy Prefect Karamoko Soumah said. "The problem is now they are running out of their reserves...a family of five now has to feed 50 people." Guinean health official Blackie Bangoura said drugs had been sent to the border area, which has 31 reception centres. "A medical team has arrived to evaluate the sanitary situation and make the necessary recommendations for immediate action," he said.

Government troops searched Thursday for foreign nationals and Sierra Leoneans abducted in attacks two weeks ago on the Sierra Rutile and SIEROMCO mining sites at Mobimbi.

The United States Department of State in Washington warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Sierra Leone. "Travel within Sierra Leone should be considered extremely hazardous due to random and sporadic attacks by insurgents," it said.

1 February: Guinea has appealed to the international community for assistance to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing the fighting in Sierra Leone. "Their massive and sudden presence is already causing public health problems," a government spokesman said in a statement broadcast by Guinean radio after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. He said three people had already died of cholera and there was a shortage of drinking water. "The international community is called upon to intervene as quickly as possible to assist these refugees and the affected villages," the spokesman said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Tuesday that 24,000 Sierra Leonean refugees had fled to Guinea since rebels attacked Kambia a week ago. "We expect 30,000 will go to Guinea," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said. Guinea already hosts some 190,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea who began arriving after the onset of the rebel war in 1991. There are some 120,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia.

Pope John Paul II appealed to both sides in Sierra Leone's civil war on Wednesday to lay down their arms and begin peace talks. The Pope said at his weekly general audience that he felt deeply saddened by the conflict in Sierra Leone. "I ask the parties in the conflict to have the courage to lay down their arms and begin a dialogue to find a worthy solution to the grave problems that afflict the country," he said. The Pope said he was worried about the fate of 7 nuns kidnapped by rebels last week. "They were kidnapped while offering a sign of their evangelical charity for the people with generous zeal," he said. Officials of the nuns' order, which is based in Italy, said on Sunday the women were being forced to march south with the rebels, but were in reasonable health.

Sierra Leone government troops recaptured the Sierra Rutile mine at Mobimbi Tuesday night, military sources said on Wednesday. "Government troops finally took the operation site last night after a fierce battle of bombardment which led to several deaths," one source said.

Sierra Leone's military government has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to set up a meeting with the RUF, a Red Cross official said Wednesday. Georges Paclisanu, regional delegate of the ICRC, said in Ivory Coast that the Red Cross was now contacting the Revolutionary United Front to see if it would accept. "The ICRC has accepted to mediate in trying to establish the modalities for a meeting," he said. "We have received an official request from the government and are seeing what the RUF say about it." Paclisanu emphasised that the ICRC's role would be purely to use its contacts with both sides to set up a meeting, not to intervene on the substance.

The United Nations on Wednesday appointed an Ethiopian diplomat, Berhanu Dinka, to help negotiate a settlement in Sierra Leone's war. U.N. spokesman Joe Sills said that Dinka, a former U.N. ambassador, would go to Sierra Leone for three months later in February at the request of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Last week Nigerian U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari said the situation in Sierra Leone was alarming and urged the Security Council to support peace talks. He also said that the flood of refugees and general chaos would further destabilise Liberia. The United Nations brokered talks at the end of last year which failed to bring about a solution to Sierra Leone's conflict.

Swiss Ambassador to Ghana Pierre Monod is currently in Sierra Leone in an attempt to track down 3 kidnapped Swiss businessmen. Monod flew to Sierra Leone last week because the honourary Swiss consul in Freetown is on leave. Monod last weekend called together the roughly 20 Swiss citizens still living in Sierra Leone and advised them to leave. "The ambassador said they should take a holiday unless they had to stay in Sierra Leone. It's better to leave the country when there is danger," a foreign ministry spokesman said. The three Swiss businessmen were seized last month. Two were among a group of five Europeans and five Sierra Leoneans abducted by rebels on January 18 at a bauxite mine run by the Swiss group Alusuisse-Lonza Holding AG. The third businessman was taken hostage in a separate incident earlier last month.