The Sierra Leone Web


February 1997

28 February: The World Food Programme has reported peace violations along the Bo-Freetown highway and along roads and in villages in northern and eastern provinces as the RUF leader called upon his troops to resume activities. WFP activities have not been disrupted, except for a halt of deliveries on February 19-20 due to attacks on the Bo-Freetown highway. The WFP also reported that the Committee for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) is holding talks with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Abidjan, and that all necessary structures are in place for the start of demobilisation once Government/RUF agreements are finalised. The report also referred to the rescue by government soldiers of some 700 unaccompanied children living in the forest in Kailahun district. The children, aged 9 to 15, apparently fled rebel attacks four years ago and are reported to be severely malnourished.

27 February: Leaders from African Commonwealth countries meeting in Kasane, Botswana released a communiqué which said that "sustainable democracy could only grow within societies and could neither be prescribed nor imposed from outside." The elements of democracy, the communiqué said, include the right of people to elect freely their government, the primacy of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the right of freedom of expression and association, and the transparency and accountability of government. It also noted impediments in the way of consolidating democracy, especially poverty, underdevelopment, and tribalism. The communiqué called for a national effort by all political leaders to cultivate a culture of tolerance, mutual respect, and cooperation to promote national peace and stability to remove these obstacles. The two day summit, which ended Thursday, was attended by the leaders of Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

British Prime Minister John Major has said that West African countries and shipping companies must tackle the problem of stowaways. He made the statement Thursday after being informed that ten stowaways from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, seven of them dead, had been discovered on ships in British ports over the past six months. The seven deaths resulted from dehydration as the stowaways hid in cargoes of copra, cocoa, or oilseeds. "We do need to examine both with the host countries and with the shipping lines better arrangements to ensure that (stowaways) are not hidden away on their ships," Major said.

25 February: More than 200 children roaming the forests in eastern Sierra Leone have been rescued in a government operation to "find the forest children." The rescue operation, which began last week, involves government soldiers and Kamajors and targets Kenema and Kailahun districts. A field worker for the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement said there may be thousands of children still wandering in the bush. "Our aim is to liberate these children, get them medication, and then reunite them with their families," he said. Father Johannes George, head of the Catholic diocese in Kenema, said that most of the children are malnourished and may be suffering from various diseases as a result of lack of food, good drinking water, and medicines. "Some of the children have been put in an interim care center in Kenema for medical observation and my information is that they are undergoing treatment," he said. Military sources expect more children to be found in the forest as the operation continues. The children are sent to rehabilitation camps sponsored by UNICEF and other agencies. "We are rehabilitating over 200 children who fought as boy soldiers on either the government or rebel side and these forest children are just a new angle to the problem of children associated with the war," said Arthur Scotland-Nicol, manager of Grafton Camp for Demobilized Boy Soldiers. "What is more apparent with these children is the psychological traumas they exhibit in their behaviors," he said. Many of the children are war orphans who fled to the bush after RUF rebels attacked and destroyed their villages. They are being cared for by the Catholic mission in Kenema, the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and UNICEF, while the Retracing Committee of the Ministry of Rehabilitation tries to locate any family members of the children.

Parliamentarians from 18 African Commonwealth countries meeting in Gaborone, Botswana have called upon their governments to entrench democracy in their constitutions, and to fund both ruling and opposition parties. They also called upon the Commonwealth to develop a code of conduct for political parties to guarantee equality for women and equal access to the media. The parliamentarians said that governments and their oppositions have the responsibility to create a climate of tolerance and mutual respect, which would strengthen democracy while protecting the right to oppose. The proposals adopted by the parliamentarians in their two-day meeting will now be presented to an African Commonwealth summit meeting in Kasane, Botswana. The heads of state of at least 10 of the 18 countries are expected to attend. The 18 countries are Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Liberia has refused to grant asylum to some 2,000 RUF fighters who gave themselves up to Liberian security forces last December. Liberian President Ruth Perry made the announcement after receiving an application for asylum from Commander Michael Lamin, the leader of the group of RUF fighters. "We do not encourage fighters to come to Liberia to create problems for other countries," Perry said. "Anybody doing that will not get the support of the Liberian government. We cannot give them political asylum. We are not going to tolerate any combatants coming into our country." Perry made the announcement in Freetown Tuesday after holding talks with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The two leaders discussed security along the common border and reports of rebel buildups along the frontier. In a joint statement, they called on the RUF "to cooperate with the Peace Commission to facilitate the implementation of the Abidjan Accord in good faith." The leaders also agreed to take "urgent steps to repatriate Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in each other's country." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are still 119,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, and over 10,000 Liberians in Sierra Leone.

23 February: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has sent condolences to China on the death of Deng Xiaoping. He praised Deng's contribution towards strengthening bilateral relations between China and Sierra Leone. Deng was "a historic figure during his country's period of transition and an outstanding statesman of vision (who) will be remembered by his countrymen and certainly by all peace-loving people everywhere for his phenomenal contributions towards the economic and social transformation of the People's Republic of China and for lasting peace in the world." Parliamentary Speaker Sheku Mohamed Fadrill Kutubu said Deng's "concept of national development were exemplary not only for the people of China but for the entire world. Although none of us in Parliament ever enjoyed the privilege of meeting this exceptional Flower of Chinese civilization, his greatness was of such transcendence, towered so much over national boundaries, that it flowed throughout the world."

Sierra Leone's Leone Stars fell to Guinea's National Syli 1-0 in an African Nations Cup match played Saturday in Conakry. The game's only goal was scored in the 67th minute by Guinea's Fode Camara. Other Nations Cup results: In Group One Zimbabwe defeated Angola 1-0. In Group Two Benin tied Algeria 1-1 and Ivory Coast beat Mali 2-1. In Group Three Ethiopia drew with Egypt 1-1 and Senegal and Morocco tied 0-0. In Group Five Kenya and Cameroon played to a 0-0 tie while Namibia drew with Gabon 1-1. In Group Six Tanzania tied Liberia 1-1 and Togo and Zaire played to a 1-1 draw. In Group Seven Malawi beat Mozambique 2-0 while Mauritius tied Zambia 0-0.

21 February: Former President Joseph Saidu Momoh said Friday that he is returning to Sierra Leone from exile in Guinea, where he has lived since his government was ousted in a military coup in April 1992. He said that the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has cleared the way for his homecoming. "I am going home with lots of fond memories for the entire people of Guinea and my friends in Conakry, and most especially my brother and friend (Guinean President) General Lansana Conte," Momoh said. As a retired general and former Minister of Defence, Momoh is entitled to a government house, a chauffeur-driven car, servants, security guards, and a monthly pension of Le 900,000. Speaking of President Tejan Kabbah, Momoh said "I have him in the highest esteem — a fine gentleman I would be willing to cooperate with in any field that would spell progress for our nation." Asked about his own political ambitions, Momoh answered "Time will tell."

The Leone Stars will play Guinea's National Syli Saturday in an African Cup of Nations playoff match. Sierra Leone's new Yugoslav coach, Dusan Droskuvic, will be making his first appearance with the team. Sierra Leone earlier lost to Tunisia 2-0 and won over Central African Republic by default. Other matches scheduled for Saturday: Group 1: Zimbabwe-Angola, Sudan beaten by default. Group 2: Mali-Cote d'Ivoire, Algeria-Benin. Group 3: Senegal-Morocco, Ethiopia-Egypt. Group 4: Sierra Leone-Guinea, CAR beaten by default. Group 5: Gabon-Namibia, Cameroon-Kenya. Group 6: Tanzania-Liberia, Togo-Zaire. Group 7: Zambia-Mauritius, Mozambique-Malawi.

19 February: There have been reports of renewed fighting between the government and the Revolutionary United Front.

18 February: The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has called on the two sides in the Sierra Leone conflict to stick to the peace accord they signed in November.

16 February: The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will assess the group's visit to Sierra Leone, and will consider Sierra Leone's approach to the Commonwealth's offer to provide monitors to oversee the peace process. CMAG begins a two-day conference in London on Monday. Also on the agenda are a return of Nigeria to the Commonwealth and a review of the last phase of Gambia's transition to civilian rule.

14 February: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has criticized police for opening fire on demonstrators in rioting Wednesday which left one person dead, 20 injured, and another 20 arrested. Police, who also used teargas to disperse rioters, said they opened fire after protesters started hurling stones at them. The dead man was shot in the chest as he emerged from Ash Wednesday mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, near the post office where the riot took place. The riots started after thousands of visa applications for the U.S. green card lottery were found floating in the ocean off King Jimmy Wharf. The protesters initially believed the visa forms were dumped by postal workers on instructions from the government wanting to cover up Sierra Leoneans' eagerness to leave the country. However, rumors in Freetown Thursday suggested that some would-be emigrants had paid agents to file multiple applications on their behalf. The agents had dumped the extra letters in the ocean. Only one application is allowed per person. President Tejan Kabbah has called on police to investigate the cause of the riots, and warned the public against "plunging the country into chaos again after six years of war." The city center was reported calm, but there were reports of running battles elsewhere.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has given details of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. He said that 55 observers and about 700 security personnel would be deployed to Sierra Leone for about six months to help implement the peace accord. "We are still trying to get (RUF leader Foday) Sankoh's agreement to the deployment of the force without wanting to give him a veto power over deployment of the force," he said. Annan said the 55 observers who will monitor the ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign troops, and the disarmament and demobilisation of RUF troops will be protected by the 700 member security force. "We believe the security group is necessary given the fact that if things went wrong, the international observers cannot rely on another security group in the country to protect them," Annan said.

12 February: Several hundred youths rioted in Freetown Wednesday after thousands of completed visa application forms for the U.S. green card lottery were found dumped in the ocean. Police used teargas and live ammunition to disperse the rioters, who hurled rocks at the post office, smashed windows on mail trucks, and looted nearby shops. The riot began when several hundred youths charged the post office, after 5,000 immigration lottery forms, in stamped envelopes and containing applicants' photos and personal information, were found floating near King Jimmy Wharf on Tuesday. Connaught Hospital reported 17 people were admitted, some with gunshot wounds. Police reported that there were no injuries. Transport and Communications Minister Suleiman Tejan-Jalloh has appealed for calm and ordered an investigation into the dumping. He has promised stiff punishments if the perpetrators are found.

10 February: The World Food Programme (WFP) has reported a deterioration of security in the interior of Sierra Leone, after reports of fighting between government troops, Guinean soldiers, the RUF, ULIMO-K and the Kamajors in Kailahun. In its report dated February 10, the WFP also reported that the UNHCR has repatriated 1,400 Sierra Leoneans from Monrovia. The WFP provided emergency rations to the returnees at the Freetown transit point.

A proposal by Sierra Leone to establish a dispute settlement service has been adopted by the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization. The proposal will be included in the committee's final report (Section IV) to the United Nations General Assembly.

8 February: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has ordered the immediate release from prison of former army senior battalion commander Lt. Colonel Chernor Malado Deen. Deen was originally sentenced to death in 1995 after a court martial found him guilty of "collaborating with the Revolutionary United Front." The charges stemmed from a rebel attack near Makeni in which an anti-aircraft tank was captured by the rebels. Deen's sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, but he has always maintained his innocence. In a broadcast marking Aidilfitri, the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Kabbah described Deen's release as a "confidence building measure." Deen was the highest-ranking officer convicted of treason for aiding the rebels, and at the time of his arrest had commanded troops in the north. The RUF had repeatedly called for his release.

10 children were killed and a further 13 seriously injured in Njaluahun when a rocket-propelled grenade they were playing with exploded, SLBS (state radio) reported Friday. The children's ages ranged from 2 to 15. The village is located in eastern Kenema District.

7 February: Sierra Leone will hold its first local elections in thirty years, Local Government Minister David Quee told parliament Friday. He said the elections will be held in six months time if the necessary funds are available. Quee said the Revolutionary United Front will be encouraged to take part. "Our fledgling democracy can only be meaningful if elections are conducted at the local level," Quee said. He indicated that the elections will be based on a direct vote rather than proportional representation which was used in the February 1996 parliamentary elections. A diplomatic sources estimated that the elections could cost $8 million. A previous request by the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) that other parties nominate officials to the 12 district councils and the Freetown City Council was rejected last week. "The arrangement is an attempt to derail democracy," one party leader said.

5 February: The heads of state of 18 African Commonwealth countries, including Sierra Leone, will hold a summit Kasane, Botswana on February 26-27 to discuss the state of democracy in Africa. The summit will be preceded by a four day round table meeting on democracy and good governance, organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Botswanan government, which for the first time will bring together representatives of the governing and opposition parties in each of the countries. Heads of state from Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are expected to attend.

4 February: 21 persons have died in a road accident which happened Monday about ten miles from Freetown. 19 were killed on the spot when a van struck a government bus, and two later died in hospital. 8 others are hospitalized in serious condition, with 3 or 4 not expected to live. The others must undergo "a long period of hospitalization," according to pathologist Arthur Williams. An initial police report attributed the accident to "excessive speeding" on the part of the van driver, who also died in the accident.

The nominal value of the leone was reported at Le 820.00 to $1.00 as of Tuesday, February 4.

3 February: The South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes left Sierra Leone Monday, after 20 months of backing the army in its fight against the RUF. "The lot of them have gone already and the remainder will be leaving Monday. Only three or four people will be left behind to wind down the accounts," Executive Outcomes Commander Brig. Burt Sachse said on Sunday. The group was hired by the former NPRC military government in May 1995 after RUF fighters overran key bauxite and diamond mines and started attacking near Freetown. At the height of its operation, Executive Outcomes had about 300 troops in the country, helping to train the Sierra Leonean army and providing security at important mining sites. On January 31 the group's Sierra Leone contract officially ended and was not renewed. Despite continued security concerns, Sachse sounded optimistic. "There is no longer a requirement for an offensive force in the land," he said. "I believe the government is quite capable of handling its own internal security problem. We must now leave the country."

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)has begun the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia.

United Nations General Assembly President Razali Ismail has informed the General Assembly that 41 member states — including Sierra Leone — were in arrears on their dues as of January 21. Under Article 19, member states in arrears shall have no vote in the Assembly if their arrears equals or exceeds their dues for the preceding two years.

1 February: A measles outbreak has killed 15 children in northern Sierra Leone, SLBS said Saturday, quoting health officials. The outbreak initially has affected five villages in Kambia District, but is showing signs of spreading.

The Sierra Leone government has suspended diamond mining in Pujehun District, where three hungry war orphans discovered a flawless 100 carat stone worth an estimated $500,000 on Tuesday. SLBS (state radio) announced the move Saturday, but gave no reason. Sources close to the Ministry of Mineral Resources said the aim was to curb illegal diamond mining in the district.