The Sierra Leone Web


February 1996

28 February: The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) has taken an early lead in the vote counting. The People's Democratic Party is in second place. James Jonah stated that the votes counting should be finished by Thursday. To win outright, a presidential candidate must get 55 percent of the vote or face a run-off with the runner-up within 14 days.

28 February: Envoys of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Sierra Leone government have arrived in Abidjan to hold exploratory talks on Thursday, 29 February.

27 February: Heavy gunfire was reported at Wilberforce Barracks in Freetown. No details were available. In Bo, voting was interrupted by a salvo of rocket-propelled grenades, forcing all 55 polling stations to close for a time. One attacker was reported to have been caught and killed by civilians; another was caught with the launcher by police. Their identities were not immediately clear, but both wore uniforms.

Paul Kamara, Minister of Land and Housing, stated that he was shot in the leg by soldiers on Monday night, after the first day of voting. Kamara, who is also managing editor of "Di People" said, "Soldiers on board a black Mercedes-Benz car shot at me as I was coming out from the office building and it was immediately when the curfew imposition was announced by Sierra Leone radio." As motive for the attack, he stated, "I think it is because I have to oppose a decree which the government wants to bring and publish to postpone the elections."

26 February: Voting in the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections has been delayed by missing voter lists. An hour after the scheduled 7:00 a.m. start, long lines of people were waiting in front of polling stations. It was not immediately clear what was happening in the interior of the country. Approximately 1.6 million people have been registered for the election, which is being monitored by foreign observers from the Commonwealth, the African-American Institute, the British government, the European Union, and other organisations.

Voting in Bo was disrupted by a salvo of rocket propelled grenades, forcing all but 2 of the 55 polling stations to close for a time. It was not immediately clear whether the attackers were rebels or renegade soldiers, but their aim appeared to be to frighten people from voting. A grenade fell near a polling station, but there were no reported injuries. One of the attackers was captured and beheaded by a mob; a second was captured by police. Both attackers wore uniforms. Elsewhere, most places reported voting to be going smoothly, although there have been problems with delivery of voting materials. Shilendra Singh, chairman of the Commonwealth observer group, blamed the military for creating obstacles in getting materials to the polling places.

25 February: Hundreds of armed men staged an election eve attack on Bo, according to residents. Many accused the army of involvement in an attempt to derail the elections. Hundreds of residents armed themselves with knives, sticks, and primitive rifles, vowing to uphold the elections.

21 February: Rebels have beheaded 22 farmers and hacked the hands off 5 other people in a village in Moyamba district in an attempt to force the government to cancel the polls. Meanwhile, the Interim National Election Commission reported that thousands of would-be voters were coming in from the bush to register to vote in the upcoming elections.

15 February: Rebels attacked the town of Gbendembu, Bombali District, killing two people and burning some houses before being driven back by the army, military sources said Thursday...In Kenema, three small children were killed during a stampede of voters to register for the upcoming elections. The children, who were strapped to their mothers' backs, were suffocated in the crowd.

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed Sierra Leone's decision to go ahead with the elections. The council statement read in part: "Any delay in the elections or interruption in this process is likely to erode international donor support for Sierra Leone...It is also likely to greatly increase the potential for further instability and violence with consequences for the people of Sierra Leone...The Security Council reiterates its belief that the holding of free and fair elections as scheduled is of critical importance to Sierra Leone's transition to democratic constitutional rule."

14 February: Medical sources reported that two members of the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes were killed and six seriously wounded last week in a rebel attack. The South Africans were ambushed on the Makeni highway, about 55 miles (90 km.) from Freetown.

Sierra Leone's military leader Julius Maada Bio told the nation that the elections will go ahead as on 26 February as scheduled, in line with recommendations by a national conference of political parties and groups. On Monday the conference rejected a proposal to delay the election while the government negotiated with the RUF. "I have always stressed in my statements on the subjects of peace and the democratisation process that the people should have the last say and that the NPRC government will abide by whatever decisions are taken by them," Bio said. He stated that the army would ensure security during the elections, and warned that party activists who attempted to make trouble would be dealt with severely.

10 February: Unidentified gunmen attacked the home of Interim National Electoral Commission chairman James Jonah at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. Bullets pierced the front door, but no one was hurt. "There are people who are afraid of letting me speak at the consultative conference for the holding of elections on February 26," Jonah told reporters. Jonah has opposed the government's call for postponing the presidential and parliamentary elections while negotiations are held with the Revolutionary United Front. The headquarters of the Interim National Electoral Commission was also hit by gunfire overnight.

Military leader Julius Maada Bio and RUF leader Foday Sankoh agreed Saturday to send delegations to the Ivory Coast on February 28th to begin peace talks. In the radio conversation, which was witnessed by journalists in Freetown, Sankoh called for the elections to be postponed. "Without peace in the country, the elections will prove futile," he said. Bio has called a national consultative conference for February 12th to determine whether to proceed with the elections. INEC chairman James Jonah said Bio had told him that many people in the government want peace before holding elections. The elections have already been postponed once at the recommendation of a national consultative conference, and were originally scheduled for late 1995.

7 February: Military leader Julius Maada Bio made his first radio contact with RUF leader Foday Sankoh on Wednesday. Bio, speaking before journalists from military headquarters in Freetown, told Sankoh that he is ready for peace talks anywhere, at any time. He suggested that talks be held in Burkina Faso or Ivory Coast, but Sankoh said he preferred that the talks be held in Sierra Leone. "This is an internal matter and we must solve it without bring foreigners into it," he said.

A spokesman for the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes denied a report published in the newspaper For Di People that three of its men had been captured by rebels while guarding a rutile mine. He stated that Executive Outcomes had not been guarding the mine in question, located in the southern town of Mobimbi.

6 February: The bi-weekly newspaper For Di People reported Tuesday that rebels have captured three South Africans guarding the Sierra Rutile titanium mine in Mobimbi. The newspaper said that the three, who work for the South African mercenary firm Executive Outcomes, had been captured over the past two weeks despite a rebel ceasefire. The report said that the Executive Outcomes had sent "a top delegation" to negotiate their release. Military authorities have refused to comment on the report.

3 February: Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, Sierra Leone's new military leader, stated that he plans to hold direct talks with RUF leader Foday Sankoh by radio. "This morning Corporal Foday Sankoh requested through the ICRC in Sierra Leone to talk directly with me by radio communication and arrangements are being put in place for that," Bio said. "The Ivorian head of state said he would employ all means of contacting RUF leader Foday Sankoh so as to get the NPRC and the RUF to the round table...The Burkinabe leader Blaise Campaore has also sent out envoys to Corporal Foday Sankoh."

Brigadier Julius Maada Bio said the military will not accept an RUF demand that elections be postponed until negotiations are concluded. The elections will be held as scheduled unless the national consultative forum that set the date asks for a delay. However, Bio hinted that the peace overtures from the RUF might be sufficient cause for a rescheduling of the polls. "The people might need to decide, taking into account the new factors that are coming to play, whether to keep that date or to postpone that date," he said. Bio has made assurance to the West that the elections will be held as scheduled, but has made other signals to the contrary, such as appointing a new cabinet only weeks before a civilian government would take power.