The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

February 1999
 

28 February: President Kabbah said Sunday that RUF rebels and their allies had apparently accepted his offer, made earlier in the month, for an RUF delegation to hold a face-to-face meeting with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh "so that they could have their own dialogue and consultations on how they intend to pursue the peace process." In an address to the nation, Kabbah said that although he had not received any formal response from the RUF leadership to his proposal that the meeting take place on board a foreign frigate in Sierra Leone's territorial waters, he said his government had no objection to holding the meeting in Lomé, Togo or Bamako, Mali. "Our decision that Foday Sankoh could meet his RUF leadership in Lomé or Bamako is based on the clear and unequivocal understanding that after their internal dialogue and consultations, Foday Sankoh would be returned to Sierra Leone, without delay, to resume his defence against his conviction," Kabbah said. Kabbah also used the address to appeal to the RUF and their supporters to release children who had been abducted by the rebels, including those abducted during the attack on Freetown in January.

27 February: AFRC/RUF rebel forces fought Kamajor militiamen for control of Moyamba on Saturday. Civilians who fled the area said the rebels attacked the town on Thursday, and that the fighting continued Friday and Saturday. Reuters quoted "security sources" who said the attack was carried out by rebels retreating from their positions around Freetown. "It is in their path of retreat," one official was quoted as saying. Civilians fled to Freetown by sea. One witness told of seeing scores of bodies lying in the street.

President Kabbah said Friday he expected some Nigerian troops to be withdrawn from the ECOMOG force after Saturday's presidential election in Nigeria, but said he was still counting on ECOWAS to defend his regime. He said he did not believe that regional allies would withdraw all their troops. "We have a defence treaty. That defence treaty does not automatically come to an end because of an election," Kabbah said during a visit to Sierra Leone by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata. He added that Freetown housed the general headquarters of ECOMOG. Kabbah said, however, that Nigerian participation in the ECOMOG force was likely to be reduced following a 40% drop in the price of oil, which makes up Nigeria's main export commodity. "With that type of decline of revenues, any responsible government would have to reorganise their own priorities," he said. "If they decide that because of these difficulties they want to scale down their participation, I think this is reasonable." Kabbah said that with this in mind, the reorganisation of Sierra Leone's armed forces had already begun. He also called on ECOWAS member states to do more to contribute to the ECOMOG force.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Saturday that food distributions to internally displaced persons (IDPs) were continuing in Blama, although of the 170 tons of food allocated to Blama to meet the needs of 15,000 IDPs for 30 days, only 92 tons of food had been delivered between 21 and 22 February because of fuel shortages. WFP food aid monitors from Kenema were in Blama to oversee food distribution carried out by the Kailahun District Development Foundation. Some IDPs in Blama had returned to Kenema, the WFP said, adding that ECOMOG was in control of the security situation there but rebels were "suspected to be in the vicinity." In Bo, the WFP said it was providing food assistance to about 5,500 persons. While distributions were continuing in Bo itself, they were being delayed in Mandu and Jembeh because of fuel shortages. The recent commandeering of vehicles by the Civil Defence Forces has caused concern in the humanitarian community, the WFP said. In Kambia District, the WFP cited reports that rebels had attempted to cross to Gbenle, on the western edge of the Great Scarcies River. This, coupled with measures taken by the Guinean government to prevent rebel infiltration across the border, has caused many IDPs to remain at Gbalamuya. A WFP food aid monitor has not been able to reach the IDPs at Gbalamuya for the past ten days because of Guinean restrictions on cross-border movements. The WFP has 120 tons of relief food at Forecariah, Guinea ready to distribute when the situation permits, the report said. The WFP quoted the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL) as saying that ECOMOG has secured Waterloo and is in control of Kabala, Daru, Joru, and Bumbuna. There are reports that 3,000 people have returned to Waterloo, the WFP added. The feeding programme is continuing in eastern Freetown, and the government has opened a new centre at NATCO, in Calaba Town. "Although security situation has improved in Freetown, it is still not safe enough for the return of international humanitarian staff," the report observed. A WFP technical team was scheduled to visit Freetown on Saturday to assess the port and other facilities. The report added that a UN/WFP chartered helicopter had reached Conakry on February 24, and its first flight to Freetown was scheduled for Saturday.

26 February: The U.S. State Department issued its Sierra Leone Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 on Friday, describing human rights abuses on the part of both the government and AFRC/RUF rebel forces during the past year. "The Government's human rights record was characterised by serious problems," the report said. "Some members of the security forces, including the Civil Defense Forces, committed extra-judicial killings, and tortured and beat suspected rebels and rebel collaborators." The report alleged harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, government interference with humanitarian relief efforts, arrest and detention without trial under emergency decrees, and restrictions on freedom of the press. "The Government harassed, arrested and detained journalists for their coverage of security-related issues," the report said. It added that violence against women and prostitution remained problems. "CDF units inducted child soldiers and female genital mutilation continued to be a widespread practice. Discrimination against ethnic minorities persisted. There was some forced labour in rural areas. Child labour persists. ECOMOG forces operating in support of the Government occasionally beat and detained non-combatants," the report said. The State Department accused AFRC/RUF rebels of "numerous egregious abuses, including brutal killings, severe mutilations, and deliberate dismemberments, in a widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population known as 'Operation No Living Thing.' While still in power in January and February, junta forces continued their previous pattern of abuse, which included assaults and other acts of intimidation against political opponents, non-governmental and other civic and humanitarian organisations, and citizens. During the fighting for Freetown in February, their retreat to the interior in March, and their advance on the capital in December, junta forces were responsible for killings, kidnappings, mutilation, rape, and destruction of property." The report said said rebel forces "detained, decapitated, burned alive, and inflicted bullet and machete wounds on civilians," adding that many died before they could receive treatment. "The rebel forces abducted missionaries and aid workers, ambushed humanitarian relief convoys and raided refugee sites. The junta forces continued the long-standing practice of abducting villagers and using them as forced labourers, as sex slaves, and as human shields during skirmishes with Government and ECOMOG forces. Boys were forced to become child soldiers. Rebel forces used rape as a terror tactic against women," the report alleged.

Phillip Neville, managing editor of the independent newspaper Standard Times, was arrested by plainclothes police officers on Wednesday following publication of an article entitled "Jo Demby's Partner to Kill Kabbah and Jonah." The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the article alleged business ties between Vice President Albert Joe Demby and Israeli national Ya'ir Klein, alias Galklein, who has been in detention for the past three weeks on espionage charges. The newspaper said Klein planned to assassinate President Kabbah and Finance Minister James Jonah.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, will meet with President Kabbah, and will relay a message from refugees saying they wanted a peaceful solution to the Sierra Leone conflict, the BBC reported on Friday. Ogata began an eight day tour of West Africa on Tuesday to get a first hand look at the refugee situation in the sub-region.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley called on the Sierra Leone government to agree on a venue for preliminary talks between imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and his supporters. "We are seeking a very firm commitment from the government to get this process started," Golley said in a Reuters interview. "We have reiterated our commitment and we have heard nothing from the government." The Sierra Leone government has said it preferred that the meeting take place on either a British or American warship off the coast of Sierra Leone, and both governments have reportedly offered to guarantee security. Golley rejected the proposal. "We do not feel safe on a boat regardless of who actually owns it," he said.

25 February: A Nigerian cargo ship, the Bulk Challenge, has left Freetown carrying 1,048 Nigerian civilians whose property was looted or destroyed during last month's fighting in Freetown, port officials said on Thursday. Many of the evacuees had been long-term residents of Sierra Leone. "This exercise is solely aimed at ameliorating the suffering of our nationals displaced by the war and it does not in any way mean a total evacuation of the over 35,000 Nigerians resident in Sierra Leone," the Nigerian High Commission said in a statement. Nigerian diplomats said, however, that more evacuations by sea might be necessary.

Some 2,000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 have been missing since AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Freetown on January 6, a Ministry of Social Welfare official said on Thursday. "We believe that many of the children have been abducted by the rebels when they were chased out by ECOMOG and have been taken to the bush," he said. "Some are being used as cooks, carriers of looted goods, while others have been illegally married to rebel commandos." The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted escapees from rebel camps who said boys were receiving weapons training or were sent on spying missions. The Social Welfare official disclosed that 980 former child soldiers who had received rehabilitation between 1992 and 1997 rejoined the rebels after the project folded in November 1997 for lack of funds. "With assistance not forthcoming, the children joined their colleagues in the jungle after the ousting of the junta in February last year," he said. His account was disputed by former AFRC Secretary of State for Information Mohamed Bangura, who was subsequently quoted by the National Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone as saying that the late Lieutenant-Colonel Kula Samba had continued the demobilisation project even after aid agencies had been prevented from assisting her efforts. Bangura alleged that Samba's records had been destroyed in February 1998 by supporters of the civilian government.

The situation at Kambia remains "extremely chaotic," the Italian-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Thursday. While ECOMOG troops are positioned near the city, the area surrounding Kambia is subject to frequent rebel incursions, MISNA said, adding that in the past few days "many men of both sides have lost their lives in the heavy fighting." The news agency confirmed that both Lunsar and Makeni remained in rebel hands where, it said, young men were being recruited to join the rebel forces.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Wednesday that RUF representatives and U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo had together drafted a document "in which we express our desire for the search for a peaceful solution" to the Sierra Leone conflict. He added that a copy of the document had been sent to President Kabbah. "We see that the United Nations is exercising its moral authority to reach a negotiated solution, and we are glad of it," said Golley. He said he had spoken directly to President Kabbah two weeks ago "for the first time in two years" in a conversation arranged by the U.S. State Department while he was in Washington, D.C. "It wasn't talks strictly speaking, but a simple discussion during which I repeated our demand for Sankoh's release. Since then we have had no contact," he said.

Freetown's Inter-Religious Council appealed Wednesday for the rebels to free three Christian priests they are holding: Italian Xaverian missionary priest Father Vittorio Mosele, Irish Brother Noel Bradshaw of the "Brothers of Christian Instruction," and Sierra Leonean priest Dominic Kargbo. "If the rebels should consent, it would indicate a political opening and a positive step towards, dialogue," Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi told the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA).

24 February: ECOMOG troops and the Civil Defence Forces militia have pushed rebel forces out of Waterloo, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said on Wednesday. Waterloo is 18 miles from Freetown. "The battle to flush the rebels who had made bases in Waterloo Town and in the forest around the town started on Saturday. Yesterday, we were able to crush them finally and fully deploy in the town," he said. "Our flushing of the rebels from Waterloo and the surroundings means Freetown is now safe, for the time being, from the threat of rebel attacks." Olukulade said ECOMOG had used tanks and planes in the military operation, and had also captured Benguema, the site of a major military barracks. Radio France International reported Wednesday that ECOMOG was continuing to use Nigerian Alpha jet fighters to bomb the hills around Waterloo where rebel forces are believed to be located.

The Inter-Press Service (IPS), quoting an eyewitness, reported Wednesday that more than 70 homes in Kambia were burned down by rebel forces "who looted foodstuffs and other moveable items from civilians." The IPS, quoting "Ministry of Defence Sources," said heavy fighting was going on for control of Makeni.

The RUF is prepared to hold peace talks with the government, according to a joint communiqué issued by RUF representatives and U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo. The RUF called for the release of their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, who remains under a death sentence on charges of treason. Responding to the government's offer to allow an RUF delegation to meet with Sankoh in a neutral venue, the RUF said it preferred the meeting to take place in either Ouagadougou, Abidjan, or Lomé. "The RUF delegation welcomed the recent offer of dialogue from President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his renewed commitment to peace," the joint statement said. "It maintained that in the spirit of peace and reconciliation Foday Sankoh should not be held in custody after the preliminary consultations. ...The RUF delegation expressed the readiness of the RUF to consider a ceasefire with the government of Sierra Leone and ECOMOG at the beginning of the internal RUF consultations provided United Nations military observers were immediately deployed to monitor and verify strict compliance." The statement said the RUF was prepared to punish any members committing human rights violations. "The RUF delegation stated that it condemned and will continue to condemn all human rights violations and atrocities including amputations, mutilations, maiming, rape etc perpetrated against the civilian population," the communiqué said. The RUF added that it would respect the neutrality of humanitarian organisations and their staffs, and give them free access to any area under their control.

National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray said Wednesday he would like ECOWAS to bring about early peace talks, despite pro-government attacks on rebel positions in eastern Sierra Leone. "The government is not retreating from the proposed peace negotiations with the rebels," he said. He added that both Britain and the United States had offered to guarantee Sankoh's security and to host preliminary talks aboard ships off the coast of Sierra Leone.

ECOMOG and the British Joint Rapid Deployment Force (JRDF) held a high-level meeting in Freetown Tuesday, state radio said on Wednesday. During the meeting, ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi welcomed British support for the ECOMOG force. "ECOMOG continues to appreciate the assistance being given in the form of logistics and other aid as they greatly relieve the stress on west African countries, especially those maintaining troops," Shelpidi was quoted as saying. JRDF commander General David Richards said the British government had already "initiated necessary action on the preliminary report" the JRDF had submitted. "A comprehensive package would be worked out based on the current consultation" between the JRDF, ECOMOG, and the Sierra Leone Defence Headquarters, he said.

The Liberian government has ordered the immediate deportation of two of the ten persons arrested last week on suspicion of collaborating with rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Charges against the others were dropped. Justice Minister Eddington Varmah has now accused the two, Sierra Leonean Sheik Ahmed Kompah and the British general manager of Red Deer Corporation, Richard Ratcliffe, of "mercenarism" and of collaborating with the Sierra Leone Embassy’s information officer, David Sesay, to fabricate evidence of Liberian involvement in Sierra Leone’s civil conflict. Ratcliffe was unable to assist the investigation because of ill health. Varmah alleged that Sesay was "an intelligence officer...posing as an information officer," and declared him persona non grata for having engaged in "acts incompatible with his status." Varmah accused Sesay of organising a "covert network" with the aim of spreading lies to undermine the Liberian government. He also accused Sesay of printing an RUF/Junta letterhead which was used to circulate damaging and misleading information about Liberia’s role in the war in Sierra Leone.

23 February: Deputy Defense Minister Sam Hinga Norman said Tuesday that while the government controlled Freetown, rebels remained active outside the capital. "Freetown is relatively safe while its environs...are not yet satisfactorily controlled by security (forces)," he said. He predicted that the government would soon restore control. Norman said rebels controlled Kono, Kailahun, and Bombali Districts, which include the towns of Koidu, Kailahun, and Makeni, and that rebel forces also controlled part of the Western Area. Norman said fighting was continuing for the diamond mining town of Tongo, adding that it was important for the government to retake the mining areas. "The government has been losing millions of dollars and what is my determination now as deputy defence minister is for ECOMOG and Kamajors to retake the entire Kono district urgently," he said. Norman also said Tuesday that the government wanted to ensure that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh would be returned to custody after meeting with an RUF delegation. "The laws of the land must prevail," Norman said. He added that he would like to see Sankoh pardoned, but that Kabbah could only do this once the legal process had run its course.

The ECOMOG force, backed by Kamajor militiamen, have captured the town of Segbwema from AFRC/RUF rebels, while fighting for the town of Tongo was continuing, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Tuesday. He added that ECOMOG troops were advancing on the rebels in the north, and had cleared Kambia of rebel troops. Reuters did not identify the spokesman for its report, and the claims have not been independently confirmed.

Aid workers warned Tuesday that areas of Eastern and Southern Province could soon face acute hunger. Reuters quoted the aid workers, whom it did not identify, as saying that the problem was extremely serious in towns and villages around Bo and Kenema. "A humanitarian catastrophe is not too far off if food and medicine do not get through to these people in the next few weeks," one aid worker said, adding that malnutrition might have already caused hundreds of deaths.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed Tuesday for 6.5 billion CFA francs ($11 million) to help victims of war, hunger, and disease in West Africa. "Since 1990, armed conflict in certain West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau has displaced and continues to displace hundreds of thousands of people," the group said in a statement issued in Abidjan. "The death rate from epidemics of cholera, meningitis, yellow fever, and hepatitis A in the region remains high. The spread of AIDS continues."  The statement said 5.3 billion CFA francs would be used to help and later to repatriate refugees, while the balance would be used for more general assistance.

22 February: RUF legal representative Omrie Golley told the BBC Monday that talks with U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo in Abidjan over the weekend "went very well." Golley said the RUF reaffirmed to Okelo their commitment to achieving a "peaceful dialogue" with the government. "We’ve sent documents in to the United Nations into our side for it to be ratified, but we felt that the talks were very, very constructive," he said. "Details will be released in due course — we would hope within the next 24 to 48 hours." Golley said he was continuing to hold consultations in and around the sub-region, but criticised the Sierra Leone government for not following through on its proposals. "We understand that the United Nations would be taking these proposals into Sierra Leone," he said. "However, we are forced to say that comments like the ones made by the president yesterday in his speech to the nation we consider to be provocative and do not really advance the peace process. Nothing effectively has been said beyond the statement made over two weeks ago that Foday Sankoh was going to be released to us for consultation purposes. We haven’t had any definitive proposals from them as to how substantive talks would take place."

Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai disputed Golley's contention that the government had offered to release Sankoh. "The president said 'we will make available to you your leader for consultation,'" Kaikai said. "And when that offer was made to the RUF people, they have not taken it up because a venue was suggested for them which they outrightly rejected." In order for the meeting to take place, Kaikai said, the RUF would have to agree to a venue acceptable to the government. "We offered that they could meet on the British ship, which they rejected. And to the best of our knowledge, every effort made by us, other suggestions made by us with regards to other venues, the answers to those requests have not come forth yet," Kaikai said. "We believe that the suggestions which were made were very good suggestions. (On the British warship) they would have been able to meet their leader in privacy, and they would have been assured all the security that they could have expected to get from anybody under the circumstances." He added that Sierra Leone had asked the U.S. government for help and were awaiting a response. He stressed that the government's offer was to allow RUF leaders to meet with Sankoh. "Again, let me indicate to you that the president has made the offer that he would make him available for consultation with the members of the RUF," Kaikai said. "We have to remember that Foday Sankoh is here with us, and we want to make sure that he is going to be made available to them. Once that is done, and we have a peace process, then other things will come as a result of that."

The U.S. State Department warned Monday that "there is no truth" to a story being circulated on the internet that a special visa program exists for Sierra Leoneans to bring their parents, spouses, and children to the United States from Conakry. The internet posting reportedly advises green card holders to provide family members with lodging and tickets to travel from Freetown to Conakry. Once there, the State Department would supposedly provide a visa and tickets which would be billed to the families later. "Unfortunately, this is a garbled and incorrect description of an existing U.S. refugee resettlement program," the State Department statement said. "The factual errors in the program's description may cause hardship to Sierra Leoneans stranded in West Africa and their relatives in the U.S. and should be disregarded."

The Liberian Foreign Ministry has offered to grant an amnesty to Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone, provided they return home within 45 days. After that time, the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone would arrest and prosecute any Liberian national involved in the Sierra Leone conflict, a ministry statement said. The government appealed to the United Nations to help it identify, document, and process an organised repatriation for Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone. The foreign ministry said the measure was being proposed "to discourage Liberian citizens from complicating the crisis in Sierra Leone, and to ensure compliance with laws and conventions relating to mercenaries." The international community has alleged that RUF rebels in Sierra Leone are receiving Liberian training and support, a charge which the Liberian government has denied. "Liberia has not and will not support, nor be a party to any attempt to destabilize and remove the legitimate government of Sierra Leone from office," the statement said. The Liberian government estimates that some 3,500 Liberians are "fighting on all sides" in Sierra Leone, but maintains that they are mercenaries. "Liberia is sensitive to the international concerns that have been expressed regarding its alleged complicity in the Sierra Leone crisis...and is cognizant of the adverse effect that this state of affairs is having on the maintaining of peace, unity, stability and progress in Liberia, the ECOWAS sub-region and the larger international community," the foreign ministry statement said. The Liberian government renewed its call for Sierra Leone to accept joint monitoring of the two countries' common border, and requested help from the United States and the European Union to facilitate the patrol. Liberia also appealed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate Sierra Leonean refugee camps within Liberia further from the border "to discourage any attempt to use these camps for subversive activities" in Sierra Leone. The foreign ministry also said that Liberian national security agencies had been directed to ensure that no cross-border trans-shipment of arms and ammunition took place through Liberian territory.

The Missionaries of Charity mission has re-opened in Kissy, little more than a month after six members of the order were kidnapped by rebels during fighting in Freetown. Four of the six died as a result of their ordeal. Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi, who visited the house on Saturday, described its re-opening as a "Godsend," the Italian-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported. "I was convinced that everything would have been abandoned after all the looting in the past weeks," Biguzzi said. "To my great surprise I discovered that the personnel re-opened the House to the poor, despite the absence of the sisters. There were about thirty people, mainly elderly and children, all suffering from malnutrition. They were assisted by two men and two women who in the past co-operated with the missionary sisters in their mission." At present, food and medicine is being supplied by Saint Martin Parish, run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, MISNA said. Biguzzi expressed hope that the nuns would soon return to Kissy.

21 February: President Kabbah called on the United Nations Security Council Sunday to exert pressure on Sierra Leone's rebel leaders and "on those states and individuals who continue to supply the weapons and logistics" in support of rebel forces. Kabbah said his government had already made major concessions to promote the peace process. "At this stage, and from now on, I wish to declare, on your behalf, that all calls for dialogue, and all calls for a political settlement, should to directed at the RUF rebels who are waging a brutal but unnecessary war against the people of Sierra Leone, with massive material assistance from abroad," Kabbah said in a nationwide broadcast. "For a change, let the RUF and its supporters make concessions, genuine concessions for peace, if they really want peace." He urged the Security Council to "consider the possibility of taking further action, not excluding the threat of force, against the rebels and their supporters" to back up their call on rebel leaders to "'cease all violence and seek genuine dialogue for the restoration of lasting peace and stability in Sierra Leone.'" Kabbah said that while Sierra Leone was now "safer than it has been in awhile," the government was still determined "to defend every corner" of the country. "Having said this, I must reiterate that my Government’s attention is still focused on the search for a peaceful resolution of the crisis," Kabbah added.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo ended three days of talks with RUF legal representative Omrie Golley in Abidjan on Sunday. The two conferred on means of advancing the peace process in Sierra Leone. "We just ended our discussions and we are reporting to our respective sides," Okelo said.

20 February: 428 Malian troops have arrived in Freetown to reinforce the ECOMOG force. The airlifting of the Malians, along with armored vehicles and other equipment, began Friday night and was completed on Saturday. "We are happy that you have come to Sierra Leone as our main constraints have been fighting men and logistics," ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier-General Abubakar Ahmadu told the Malians in a ceremony at Lungi International Airport.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley said Saturday he had met with U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo in Abidjan on how to advance the peace process. "He has brought some proposals with him which are constructive and which we are looking at," Golley said. He added that the talks began on Friday night and would continue Saturday.

Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-General Maxwell Khobe said Saturday that AFRC/RUF rebel forces had been pushed to 12 miles from Freetown, the Associated Press reported.

19 February: Kamajor militiamen and RUF rebels battled for control of the diamond mining town of Tongo continued on Friday, ECOMOG sources said. The Kamajors were said to be in control of the town, but fighting was continuing.

President Kabbah said Friday he felt that progress had been made toward ending Sierra Leone's civil conflict. "There are countries now ready to host peace talks between the government and the rebels, and the peace process is definitely in progress," Kabbah told journalists at the presidential lodge. "Among those countries ready to host the peace talks are Togo, Mali and Norway, while the British have agreed to help provide a warship for talks between Corporal Foday Sankoh and senior members of the RUF/AFRC." However, RUF legal representative Omrie Golley ruled out any suggestion that RUF leaders meet Sankoh on board a ship. "Various feelers have been put out to us — from the British, the French, the U.S. — about using their frigates as a possible venue," Golley said. "We are not going to go on any ship when there is so much land available in the sub-region." Golley indicated that progress depended on the government's actions toward Sankoh. "The idea seems to be that they will let Foday Sankoh meet us for a while then he will be transferred back to jail in Freetown. If that happens, it shows the government is not really interested in peace," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, will begin an eight-day tour of West Africa starting February 23 to take a first hand look at the refugee situations in the region. Ogata will visit Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and, security permitting, Freetown, Sierra Leone. She is scheduled to meet with heads of state and to review UNHCR operations in the field. Guinea hosts a refugee population of almost 450,000 — about 350,000 from Sierra Leone and 120,000 from Liberia. There are an estimated 95,000 Sierra Leoneans refugees in Liberia and an estimated 90,000 Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast.

Israeli Reserve-Lieutenant Ya'ir Klein will face trial soon on charges of supplying weapons to the RUF, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Friday. "The government has now concluded its investigations about the activities of Klein in Sierra Leone and we will be putting him on trial shortly." Berewa said Klein had admitted involvement in shipping arms from Ukraine and Libya to the rebels. "Klein has provided us with maps and other details about the rebel army bases in Sierra Leone where helicopters flew in the arms from Liberia," he said. He displayed a faxed letter from Colombian authorities who are seeking to extradite Klein to Colombia, where he faces charges of training and arming the Medellin drug cartel. President Kabbah on Friday ruled out extraditing Klein. "We will not release Ya'ir Klein until he has answered to the crimes he has committed against this country," Kabbah said. Klein has denied the charges and in an interview with Reuters television said he was arrested when he attempted to inform authorities that the RUF was getting help from Libya. He has also denied any involvement with the Medellin drug cartel. The Israeli foreign ministry has said it was pursuing diplomatic efforts to secure Klein's release.

President Kabbah said Friday that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had halted all aid to Sierra Leone since the AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Freetown January 6. Kabbah said he was disappointed that "the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have stopped all disbursements to Sierra Leone until the security situation has stabilised." The two agencies are estimated to have advanced more than $50 million to Sierra Leone since the civilian government was restored to power in March 1998.

At least 12 people are dead and dozens more missing after a crowded boat hit a rock off Freetown and capsized. "Twelve bodies of passengers have so far been found, but many more are missing and feared dead," a National Boat Owners Association official said on Friday. The official could not say when the boat, the Tamaraneh, left Freetown, but fisherman found the bodies on Thursday. Fisherman who went to the scene managed to rescue at least seven people. "The drowning people were screaming for help. But because our canoe was small we only rescued seven. Two other boats rescued about 10 people, but they were still crying for their wives and children and other relatives and friends who had drowned," fisherman Morlai Kanu said. Freetown residents have continued to leave the city every day, most of them bound for Guinea, fearful that rebels who remain near the capital might mount another attack.

18 February: ECOMOG troops have driven AFRC/RUF forces from Kambia, but fighting continues on the outskirts of town and in surrounding villages, relief workers said on Thursday. "ECOMOG troops drove the rebels out of the center of Kambia yesterday but they are still fighting in the outskirts of the town and in some villages around the town," a relief worker said by radio. "Hundreds more Guinean troops arrived in Kambia yesterday, and this morning have broken apart the main force of the rebels in the town with heavy artillery and shells."

Heavy fighting was reported Thursday at the diamond-mining town of Tongo, in eastern Sierra Leone. BBC correspondent Prince Brima said AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Kamajor positions at about 2:00 a.m. "Residents fleeing the area from surrounding villages told me that the casualty figures are high, and that the Kamajors have the upper hand," Brima said. "They say that the Kamajors have repelled the rebels to about a mile outside the town, and the road leading to Tongo is littered with corpses. The Kamajor commander of Kenema District, Ishmael Koroma, told me that the battle is still fierce, and more replacements of Kamajors have been sent to that area."

ECOMOG troops battled rebel forces for control of Segbwema on Thursday, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday. ECOMOG had announced on February 9 that it has "liberated" Segbwema. Norman said Segbwema "which rebels have been using as a launching pad, is now being heavily contested by both sides," adding "I will not be surprised if the town falls to government forces within the next few days." Norman said that Tongo Field was "firmly in the hands of ECOMOG and its allies." He said that Kenema was calm after heavy fighting for the town last week. "The rebels did not even enter the township but caused terror on the outskirts of the town. Many people fled because they wanted to secure their lives," he said. Tens of thousands of people fled the city after last week's rebel attack. A local journalist told the AFP that hundreds of civilians "are now stranded between Blama and Gbenbeh with very little food and shelter."

Norway has offered to host peace talks between the government and AFRC/RUF rebels, Sierra Leone Council of Churches President Moses Khanu said. Khanu, who is also co-chairman of the Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Council, disclosed the Norwegian offer during a meeting with members of parliament in Freetown. "The Inter-Religious Council Sierra Leone is making all efforts to mediate between the government and...rebels," he said. "Our institution is waiting for both parties...so that we can confirm with the government of Norway, who have agreed for the talks to take place in Oslo, a date and time when the talks will start. If the plan for Norway is not acceptable by both parties, our institution has also received an offer from the British government to make available a British warship."  Khanu said the Inter-Religious Council had not yet been able to contact the rebels. In addition to Norway, Togo and Libya have made public offers to host the talks.

A U.S.-chartered ship arrived in Freetown Thursday carrying the first non-military aid supplies to reach Sierra Leone since December. The shipment from the U.S. government included 20,000 blankets and plastic tarpaulins to provide shelter for about 7,000 displaced persons, according to CARE official Nick Webber. "It is a big first step, and we expect more urgently needed supplies in the coming days and weeks," Webber said.

Liberian police raided a foreign company in Monrovia on Wednesday and arrested eight persons, including three foreign nationals, on suspicion of collaborating with rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Police Director Joe Tate said on Thursday. Tate named the company as Red Deer International (RDI), and said those arrested included the company's general manager, Richard Ratcliffe, a British national, David McDaniel, an Australian, a Lebanese national, Liberians, and Sierra Leoneans. He said a search of the company's offices turned up military uniforms, communications equipment, and "sensitive documents." Tate displayed letterheads reading "Combined RUF/Junta Forces - Republic of Sierra Leone, Randall Street, Zone 2" and a list of military hardware. Red Deer International, which is located on Randall Street in Monrovia, buys and exports processed rubber and manages rubber plantations under contract. Sierra Leonean suspect Sheikh Ahmed Komba told police in the presence of journalists that Ratcliffe and a Liberian, Mohammed Kaba, were the "anchor men for Liberia" for the rebels. He said another Liberian identified only as Yancy served as the middleman between the company and the rebels, and was engaged in supplying food and military hardware from Liberia to the rebels. Both Ratcliffe and Kaba denied the accusations.

European Union Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino said Thursday that the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone was "desperate." She said access was limited and that most of the aid agencies had been forced to withdraw to Conakry for security reasons. "On top of that I strongly believe that it's only the top (sic.) of the iceberg, because we don’t know what is happening in the country due to the fact that there is no access on at least a third of the country. So I think that the absence on top of that of any framework for a solution of the conflict, the situation is really dramatic," she said. Bonino noted that Freetown remained insecure. "Just to get there you have to cross the rebels’ lines," she said. "So that explains everything. Unless you fly by helicopter — but as you can imagine, a major humanitarian intervention cannot be done by helicopter."

Nigerian Army Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella denied Thursday that any Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers had been arrested on charges of carrying out summary executions. United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu announced Wednesday that 100 ECOMOG soldiers had been detained after ECOMOG officers acknowledged "incidents of excess" to U.N. officials. No Nigerian soldier is being detained. They are well-trained and have always kept strictly to the Geneva Convention," Tella said, adding: "I am speaking for the Nigerian armed forces, I can't speak for any other country." Nigerian soldiers make up the majority of ECOMOG troops deployed in Sierra Leone. Otunnu said two senior ECOMOG had acknowledged excesses and promised swift action against anyone found guilty. "They welcome any further evidence indicating those who have been involved and have promised to take swift action against them," he said.

Denmark has written off loans totaling $635 million to nations described as either a Least Developed Country (LDC) or a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC), the Inter-Press Service reported on Thursday. The countries included whose debts have been forgiven include Sierra Leone, Angola, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal,  Zimbabwe, Egypt, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

17 February: Heavy fighting between Guinean ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels for the town of Kambia has caused thousands to flee the area, aid workers and witnesses said on Wednesday. Reuters quoted one aid worker as saying the death toll could number in the hundreds as the fighting continued. "The fighting is raging as companies of Guinean mechanised infantry and airborne battalions are fighting to push hundreds of well-armed rebels out of Kambia," the aid worker said after fleeing to Petifu. ECOMOG officers said Guinea was trucking in reinforcements, as the border area was strategic for its own security. Aid workers have estimated that up to 30,000 people had fled Kambia and surrounding villages since the attack began on Friday. Many had reached the towns of Gbalamuya and Pamalap, on the Guinean border, but aid workers said tens of thousands were preparing to flee Pamalap after shells landed there.

About 100 ECOMOG soldiers have been arrested on allegations that they carried out summary executions of suspected rebels and collaborators in Sierra Leone, United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu said on Wednesday. The announcement followed a report on human rights violations issued last week by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). The report, while blaming most of the atrocities on AFRC/RUF rebels, accused ECOMOG soldiers of summarily executing rebel suspects. The report's findings were rejected over the weekend by ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade, but Otunnu said ECOMOG had now acknowledged "incidents of excess" to U.N. officials. "They have arrested about 100 of their men who are now being investigated and interrogated," Otunnu said. "I appeal to the leadership of ECOMOG ... to rein in their men and to ensure that there is maximum discipline and that those who may have committed excesses are brought to book and are punished." Otunnu said responsibility for "massive atrocities" rested primarily with rebel forces. "I condemn these acts in the strongest terms," he said. Otunnu appealed to rebel leaders to stop murdering, raping, and maiming civilians if they wanted a political future in Sierra Leone.

The government is preparing to re-enlist 200 senior and junior officers from the disbanded Sierra Leone Army, according to an announcement broadcast over Radio Democracy 98.1 (state radio). The officers range in rank from colonel to second lieutenant. The radio read out the officers' names and asked listeners whether there were any objections.

100,000 people who fled last week's AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Kenema have returned, but many are in desperate condition, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Wednesday. "On arriving in Kenema yesterday evening, I saw thousands of displaced people in a desperate mood, searching for food, and most of the aid agencies which fled the area have still not returned," Brima said. "Medical facilities in Kenema are deplorable, and there are no doctors at the hospitals there. Patients who were abandoned by the doctors who fled are dying. The death rate is high, mainly among children and the aged, because of the outbreak of epidemic diseases coupled with hunger and starvation." Brima quoted the commander of ECOMOG's 15th Brigade, who claimed his troops had inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels while civilian casualties were minimal. Shops have now reopened but prices of basic commodities have tripled, Brima reported. He noted that the price of a gallon of petrol had increased from Le 4,000 to Le 48,000 since last week's attack.

An Xaverian missionary priest from Kambia reported missing since Friday has been kidnapped by RUF rebels, the Italian-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) said on Wednesday. Bishop George Biguzzi said he was informed of Father Vittorio Mosele's abduction by displaced people whom he met with on Tuesday in an area not far from Kambia. Father Mosele is reportedly being held near Makeni and is unharmed, Biguzzi said.

Nigerian People's Democratic Party candidate for president General Olusegun Obasanjo has promised to withdraw Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone if he is elected later this month. "I wonder what we are doing in Sierra Leone and Liberia when Nigeria is peaceful and, after all, the nation's wealth is being wasted," Obasanjo said on Tuesday, adding: "The amount we are wasting in peace-keeping in another country is enough to provide infrastructure in this country." His rival Chief Olu Falae, who is joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and the All People's Party, said earlier he would pull Nigerian troops out of Sierra Leone within a year.

16 February: More than 1,000 people in the town of Bomalu, 15 miles from the Liberian border, are "trying to break away from rebel control and flee" to Liberia, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva on Tuesday.  The assertion was based on reports by ten refugees who arrived at Vahun, Liberia this week after walking four days through the bush to escape a rebel attack on Segbwema, a town formerly held by the Kamajors, Janowski said. "This is just a little trickle, but we're probably seeing the tip of an iceberg of a displacement and a fear and escape problem inside Sierra Leone," he added. Tuesday's press briefing was based on a UNHCR press release dated February 12.

15 February: The United Nations Security Council has instructed its Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to help start a dialogue between the government and AFRC/RUF rebels. A press release issued by U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo's office in Freetown said UNOMSIL was to report back to the Security Council by March 5. The statement said Okelo had been engaged in negotiations with the governments of neighbouring countries in order to stimulate efforts to address the crisis and to bring about a cease-fire so that urgently-needed humanitarian assistance could be delivered to Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone government has reportedly forwarded peace proposals to the RUF via the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, and diplomatic sources were quoted as saying that arrangements were being made for a ship where the parties could begin talks. Several countries have suggested in recent days that the would be prepared to host peace talks between the government and the rebels. State radio quoted President Kabbah as saying he hoped the RUF would seize the opportunity for peace. "My decision as president of Sierra Leone calling for a peaceful dialogue with the RUF is indeed a genuine one. I hope that this time the RUF themselves will see reason and come to the table for lasting peace," he said. One government official said the RUF was seeking a government of national unity, but added that the government had not yet been informed of this officially.

The Sierra Leone government is prepared to talk to rebel leaders, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya said Monday evening in Paris. But he said that the rebels would first have to "lay down their arms arm and recognise the elected government" of President Kabbah. "The authorities in Sierra Leone have never ruled out dialogue with the rebellion," he said. Banya, who met Sunday with French Overseas Aid Minister Charles Josselin to request logistical assistance for ECOMOG and diplomatic support, rules out talks in either Liberia or Burkina Faso. The two countries, he said, were "implicated in the conflict in Sierra Leone" and were "interested above all in the diamond mines in our country." Banya was critical of Burkinabe President Blaise Campaore, who described the ECOMOG presence in Sierra Leone as an "occupation force." "Mr. Compaore is ill-placed to talk about ECOMOG when he sends mercenaries into our country," Banya said. "He is one of those who are sabotaging the return to peace in our country."

Kambia may have been retaken by ECOMOG forces from Port Loko, according to a report Monday in the Italian-based Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA), which quoted "an unofficial source close to the government." MISNA noted that was no independent confirmation from independent sources. RUF rebels attacked Kambia Thursday night at 11:50 p.m., and had taken control of the city centre and surrounding areas, the report said. "The situation however remains extremely critical since it seems that rebel reinforcements are headed towards the city from Makeni," MISNA said, adding that local residents were being forced to escape in the direction of Guinea. In a subsequent report, MISNA reported that the Catholic Mission of Kambia was looted on Friday. MISNA added that there had been no news of Xaverian missionary priest Father Vittorio Mosele since the day before the attack.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has set up four emergency food distribution centres in eastern Freetown, which was most badly affected by fighting last month. Meanwhile, U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo has held talks with neighbouring countries to bring about a cease-fire which would allow for the distribution of humanitarian supplies, his office said.

About 1,500 Nigerian residents of Sierra Leone will be evacuated to Nigeria, the Nigerian High Commission in Freetown said on Monday. The evacuation will involve those who lost their property and means of livelihood in last month's rebel invasion of Freetown. "The exercise is solely aimed at ameliorating their losses and it does not in any way mean a total evacuation of the over 35,000 Nigerians resident in Sierra Leone," the High Commission said.

14 February: ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade denied Sunday the findings of a report by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) that ECOMOG had carried out summary executions of suspected rebels and rebel collaborators in Freetown. "The accusation by the United Nations published by international media is incorrect," Olukolade said. "(ECOMOG) "is not engaged in summary executions of suspected rebels or rebel collaborators...We are not aware of this." The report, while blaming rebel forces for most of the atrocities committed during the battle for Freetown, quoted what it said were reliable witnesses who reported seeing ECOMOG soldiers "summarily executing detainees who were allegedly either rebels or rebel sympathisers." According to the U.N., "Witnesses of the highest probity state that they (ECOMOG) were present at executions," including one case where "the killing or disposal of up to 40 bodies" had been reported at one location. "It is reported that ECOMOG regained control of Connaught Hospital on January 12. Well-considered witnesses allege that ECOMOG summarily executed some 20 patients who were pointed out to them to be rebels," the U.N. said. An Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter related on January 29 that he had witnessed the executions of two persons by ECOMOG troops. "There are rebels in the city. You must know that we will execute them where we find them," he quoted one soldier as saying. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International alleged last month that ECOMOG soldiers had killed 22 captives on Aberdeen Bridge on January 13, and that such executions were continuing. The allegations were confirmed by BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle. "Nigerian officers say quite openly that they shoot rebel suspects on sight," Doyle reported on January 26. One Nigerian officer told me his forces were advancing against the rebels because the Nigerian army had adopted the rebels' own tough guerrilla tactics, (adding) It takes a thief to catch a thief.'" African Champion newspaper editor Mohammed D. Koroma reported witnessing the summary execution of the paper's news editor, Abdulai Juma Jalloh, in central Freetown on February 3 by an ECOMOG soldier, as detailed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Olukolade suggested that Jalloh was killed by members of the Civil Defence Forces militia. "Civil Defence forces were there...We are sorry about it but the journalist was not killed by ECOMOG," he said. "ECOMOG soldiers are trained and are aware of the conventions that operate in war and none of us have been mandated to execute anyone. "We have exercised restraint in carrying out our operations even to some extent that they amounted to serious risks on the lives of ECOMOG soldiers." Sierra Leone's United Nations Charge d'Affaires, Foday Dabor, described the U.N. report as inaccurate and unfair. "I am surprised and disturbed about that report because I don't think it is very accurate," Dabor said. "ECOMOG cannot just kill civilians as it is alleged in the report." He said ECOMOG had been very careful in dealing with civilians, which made it possible for rebels to disguise themselves as civilians and attack Freetown last month. On the allegation that ECOMOG had bombed civilian targets, Dabor said "a few civilians may have died when ECOMOG bombed some targets, but that could not have been deliberate."

Lungi International Airport and seaports in the capital have reopened, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Transport said on Saturday. "Ship owners, importers, and shipping agencies can now resume normal commercial activities, as security is assured," a ministry communiqué said. Meanwhile, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade on Saturday criticised a statement by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Abidjan which described Freetown's port as insecure. "This is a complete falsehood and there is no truth in it whatsoever," Olukolade said. "The port is functioning, vessels are coming in. The ECOMOG Navy is patrolling the territorial waters of Sierra Leone to ensure safety. In any case there is no threat on the seafront. If the WFP has any support items for the people of Sierra Leone, it should feel to bring it in. There is no hindrance whatsoever as claimed."

The bodies of two cabinet ministers, Minister of State for Public Affairs Mohamed B. Sesay and Minister of State for the Northern Region Y.M. Koroma, have been found in a shallow grave in Kissy Brook, state radio said on Saturday, adding that "they had been murdered by the rebels." The two had previously been reported killed, but on Friday a statement from the president's office suggested that they might instead have been abducted by the rebels. The ministers were due to be buried on Saturday afternoon following separate funeral services.

ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said Saturday that a "cordon and search" operation in Freetown would continue indefinitely. "Huge quantities of arms and ammunitions of various types have been discovered in addition to hundreds of suspected rebels and their alleged collaborators who are now in the security net," he told reporters.

13 February: ECOMOG restructured its command structure on Saturday, setting up a new garrison to protect Freetown. State radio said the new garrison, which will be commanded by Colonel Buhari Musa, "will be primarily responsible for the implementation of all ECOMOG security arrangements for the defence of Freetown. ...All operation in Sierra Leone will be directly controlled from the ECOMOG headquarters, where Brigadier-General Abubakar Ahmadu is now the Chief of Staff." According to the announcement, the structure formerly known as the ECOMOG Task Force in Sierra Leone (ETFSL) has been scrapped. The change was ordered by ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, Reuters reported, adding that the former Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General Gabriel Kpember, would remain in command of the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG troops.

12 February: Continued fighting in Freetown could trigger a large-scale food crisis in as little as three weeks, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Friday. "The residents of Freetown will risk a major city-wide food crisis in just three to five weeks if food merchants aren't able to replenish their stocks or if aid agencies can not gain better access to the city," said WFP Regional Manager for West Africa Paul Arès in a statement issued by the agency on Friday. The WFP previously thought Freetown residents could weather a food crisis for two months, but has revised its estimates due to the poor security situation. Sporadic  fighting in the capital has exacerbated food shortages and displaced people from their homes, leaving them without food, water, or shelter. "If the food supply is not improved in the next couple of weeks, we'll be seeing the numbers of people in need of our help skyrocket," Arès said. The WFP still has substantial stocks of food in Freetown, but Arès warned that they would not be sufficient to feed the entire population in a major food crisis. "If the general population can't get enough food, we could see a massive movement of people trying to get out of the city, either into the interior or out of the country altogether. That means that we may be faced with all the issues associated with massive populations of displaced people and refugees. The problem will become bigger than just providing food aid," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor on Thursday again denounced accusations that his government is supporting AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. "We deplore these assertions which are intended to portray us as evil, to encourage any party to bring havoc to our resurgent climate," Taylor said in an Armed Forces Day message read out by Defence Minister Daniel. "We perceive it to be part of an international ploy to draw outside forces into any cross border conflict with this nation."

Abdulai Jumah Jalloh, news editor of the African Champion newspaper, was summarily executed on February 3 by an ECOMOG officer in central Freetown, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on Friday. Jalloh and his editor, Mohammed D. Koroma, were on their way to the John Love Printing Company near State House when a Civil Defence Forces officer called Abass saw Jalloh and "stated he resembled someone who owed him money," the CPJ said. Abass then approached a group of ECOMOG officers and identified Jalloh as an RUF rebel responsible for setting houses on fire in Kissy. Jalloh denied the accusations, as did Koroma, who informed them that Jalloh was living with him because his house in Kissy had been burned by rebels a few weeks earlier. The ECOMOG soldiers rejected their statements of defence, saying that the CDF officer had no reason to lie. Koroma was warned that he would be killed if he continued to defend Jalloh. An unidentified ECOMOG officer then took Jalloh aside and executed him at point blank range. Local journalists have been attempting to meet with ECOMOG officers to discuss the case and to implement measures that would prevent a repeat of such an occurrence if a journalist were to be arrested in the future, so far without success. Koroma wrote a letter on 11 February requesting an investigation into the killing to the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, with copies to the ECOMOG High Command, the Minister of Presidential Affairs, and numerous media houses in Freetown, the CPJ statement said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also reported that freelance journalist Munir Turay, who had been published in the independent newspaper Punch and the state-owned Daily Mail, and had worked as a correspondent for Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, was killed on an unspecified date between January 9 and 15. The circumstances of his death are unknown, but colleagues who attended his funeral said there were bullet holes in Turay's back, the CPJ said.

Two government ministers who were believed to have been killed during the rebel invasion of Freetown, Minister of State for Public Affairs Mohamed B. Sesay and Minister of State for the Northern Region Y.M. Koroma, may instead have been abducted, a statement from the president's office said on Friday. "Rumours persist that they are still alive and in the hands of the rebels," the statement said. "Government would like to take the opportunity to request the rebels to arrange either their release or to confirm their detention. Such an action on the part of the RUF will be regarded as an act of good faith in the light of government's recent peace and reconciliation offer."

About 150 prisoners detained at police stations in Freetown were released after rebels invaded Freetown on January 6, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday. 102 suspects were set free from four police stations in eastern Freetown, and 28 others were released from the Central Police Station. 50 detainees were freed from the Criminal Investigations Department, which was subsequently burned.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said this week it had instituted more rigorous screening of refugees arriving in Guinea in order to screen out rebel infiltrators. Normally, the UNHCR interviews each person, takes a picture, and creates individual files. The Guinean government, however, as asked the UNHCR to conduct more in-depth interviews with the refugees about the circumstances surrounding their departure. There are approximately 460,000 refugees in Guinea — 430,000 from Sierra Leone and Liberia and about 30,000 from Guinea-Bissau. The UNHCR began conducting a more detailed census of refugees on Wednesday.

More than 150 persons are being treated at Connaught Hospital, among them victims of gunshot wounds, burns, amputations, and gouging out of eyes, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday.

11 February: RUF rebels reached the Kenema city centre on Wednesday before  being pushed back, the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported. Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe confirmed that the rebels had entered Kenema for a time, but he said casualties were minimal and that the security threat was no longer serious. ECOMOG said Thursday that the city was now back under their control. The BBC added that there was no independent confirmation of the claim. The latest fighting has caused tens of thousands of refugees — as many as 50,000 by MISNA estimates and about 60,000 according to the World Food Programme (WFP) — to flee the city for Bo. ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen are preventing the people from reaching Bo for fear that rebels may be hiding among the civilians. WFP spokesman Jeff Rowland said the people were massing near the village of Jenbeh, and expressed concern that aid agencies would not be able to deliver food to them there. MISNA, quoting a human rights worker, said the people were in a desperate situation.

In a BBC interview Thursday evening Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe said loyalist troops were in control of Kenema. "The rebels attacked from the position of the military force [at] Kenema; they started that attack the day before yesterday and yesterday, but today there has not been any attack on the outskirts of Kenema," he said. Khobe said the rebel attack did not pose a serious threat to security. "We have troops in Daru, we have in Mano Junction, and other areas around there. So, it is a question of mustering them to clear the rebels," he said. Referring to reports that up to 60,000 Kenema residents had fled the town for Bo, but had been stopped by ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen, Khobe replied: "Well, normally when people hear gunshots they try to move out of their houses to safety, I am not sure of the exact number. I am aware that some people left their houses and looked for safety toward Bo. Between Bo and Kenema, there is an ECOMOG location in a village called Blama. If they reach there, and the troops there are strong, why don't they just have refuge there and get back when the situation is calm? I am sure that was why they were stopped." Khobe said a lot of rebels had been killed in the fighting, adding: "But our side, (the number of casualties) is very, very, very small." Khobe told a press briefing Thursday that ECOMOG had routed the rebels from Kenema and was now launching ambushes along the highway. "We have therefore closed the highway and warned civilians and vehicles to hold on," Khobe said. There has been no independent confirmation of the situation in Kenema.

The Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported Wednesday that while Makeni remains in rebel hands, it is being constantly bombarded by ECOMOG artillery in what MISNA described as a "massive ECOMOG offensive."

The ECOMOG force is in a standoff with AFRC/RUF rebels in the eastern part of the Freetown peninsula, with the rebels threatening to recapture towns in the interior, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Thursday, quoting a "military source." The AFP added that Makeni remained in rebel hands Thursday "despite an ECOMOG announcement a week ago that the city was about to be recaptured." Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe said ECOMOG currently had troops at Kabala, Bumbuna, Port Loko, and Kambia, but that they had not yet advanced upon the rebels. The AFP said a Ghanaian ECOMOG contingent was based at Waterloo, which residents described as being now a ghost town with about a quarter of the homes burned down. A Guinean contingent which had been stationed at Waterloo has now moved further east along the Freetown - Bo highway, the AFP report added.

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi has renewed his invitation for President Kabbah and RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to hold peace talks in Libya, state radio reported on Thursday. The invitation was delivered to Kabbah on Wednesday by a special envoy from Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Coomasie. Coomasie was in Freetown to brief Kabbah on his talks in with Kadhafi in Tripoli on bringing the Sierra Leone government and the rebels together.

ECOMOG troops have arrested forty youths in connection with two bags of arms and ammunition found in their vicinity, Liberia's Star Radio reported on Thursday. The weapons were said to have been found in the compound of a Senegalese construction company in central Freetown. A number of Civil Defence Unit members arrested during the week were being held for questioning, the report said.

A human rights mission undertaken last week by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has reported that rebels inflicted "devastating   human rights violations" on Freetown. Many of the estimated 5,000 people killed during the fighting are feared to have been civilians, and hundreds of civilians have been mutilated, the report said. The rebels, many of them child soldiers, also committed mass rapes. Up to 20 per cent of the housing in Freetown was estimated to have been destroyed by fire, with the losses in some areas, such as Calaba Town, reaching up to 90 per cent. At least 150,000 persons have been displaced, and more than 1,000 men, women, and children are known to have been abducted by the rebels. While UNOMSIL concluded that "ultimate responsibility for the fighting, most civilian casualties and the related humanitarian emergency in Freetown rests with the rebels," the report said that ECOMOG troops and members of the Civil Defence Forces had been accused by witnesses of carrying out summary executions of suspected rebels and otherwise mistreating civilians, including children. ECOMOG fighter jets bombed Freetown during the fighting, causing civilian casualties, the report added.

Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe said Thursday that "public executions of alleged rebel collaborators must not be encouraged even if one is certain that an individual is a rebel." His statement followed a report by the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) that ECOMOG soldiers had carried out summary executions of suspected rebels and rebel collaborators. "No one has the authority to take another man's life without due process of the law," he said.

Chief of Defence Staff Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe denied Thursday that any sudden pullout of Nigerian troops from Sierra Leone was in the offing. "Nigeria is not going to withdraw immediately. If there is a thing like that, it is going to be gradual because in the first place, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have bilateral agreements," Khobe said. "That apart, the ECOMOG headquarters is in Sierra Leone and the sub region has not taken a decision to move the headquarters out."

A contingent of 488 Malian soldiers was expected to arrive in Sierra Leone on Thursday, Mali's Defence Ministry said. The Malian contingent will solely perform peacekeeping duties and not take part in combat, authorities said. A battalion of Ghanaian troops arrived in Freetown from Liberia on Wednesday.

The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, David Scheffer, said Thursday that Liberia and Burkina Faso had become "collaborators" in the atrocities committed by rebels in Sierra Leone, and face possible sanctions. "Those who work with the rebels are as subject to investigation and prosecution as the rebels," he said from Conakry. Scheffer declined to give specific evidence, but said there were weapons transfers from the two countries, and that the U.S. clearly saw Liberia as a sanctuary. "The word has to go forth very clearly to the Liberian and Burkina Faso governments that they stand as collaborators in these atrocities," he said. Scheffer acknowledged that applying sanctions risked destabilising Liberia, but noted that individuals could be held legally accountable.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, said Thursday that the Clinton administration would ask Congress for $4 million in logistical support for the ECOMOG force. Rice described ECOMOG as "the only thing between the vicious atrocities of the RUF and the civilian population," adding: "We are looking to do even more with respect to support for ECOMOG, even as we encourage our allies and other donors around the world to do the same."

British Liberal Democrat Party leader Paddy Ashdown has said that British firms have been supplying arms to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Ashdown was speaking during a parliamentary debate following the release of a report by the Foreign Affairs select committee which criticised the government over its handling of the "Arms to Africa Affair." Ashdown did not say which firms he believed were involved. However, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper alleged last month that Sky Air Cargo of London and Occidental Airlines, which is partly British-owned, were using aging Boeing airplanes to transport AK-47 rifles and 60 mm. portable mortars to the rebels, in violation of a United Nations embargo which bans the supply of weapons to Sierra Leone.

10 February: Rebels have renewed their assault on Kenema one day after ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen turned back the fifth attack in recent weeks, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Wednesday. "The rebels attacked Kenema again today in larger numbers and heavy fighting is now going on for the town as the ECOMOG troops and the Kamajors are fighting back to hold the town against the rebel invasion," he said. Reuters quoted "sources close to the presidency" as saying the rebels had penetrated the defences on the edge of town. Independent sources said ten civilians were reported killed in the crossfire on Tuesday. An ECOMOG spokesman said 40 rebels had been killed. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai called the attack unfortunate. "This means that the rebels are not ready to talk peace with the government," he said.

The ECOMOG force, along with Kamajor militiamen and other local hunters,  pursued isolated groups of rebels hiding in the bush and hills near Hastings and Waterloo on Wednesday, residents told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). ECOMOG had already combed the areas around Gloucester, Regent, Bathurst, and Charlotte, residents reported.

A British Minister of Defence spokesman said Wednesday that British military personnel are advising the ECOMOG force on the use of logistics equipment provided by Britain. "We will provide advice and information from our personnel that are on the ground," the spokesman said, adding that Britain was also passing on intelligence information to pro-government forces. The spokesman denied, however, that Britain was "directing ECOMOG's war," and said "there are no plans for the U.K. to become involved in a military conflict in support of the government of Sierra Leone and ECOMOG."

The United States strongly condemned rebel atrocities in Freetown Wednesday, and announced it had sent its Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, David Scheffer, to Sierra Leone. "He's there. Secretary Albright wanted him to go there," Rubin said. "We have been deeply concerned about rebel atrocities in the past that have included some horrific kinds of crimes. We call on the rebel forces to respect the human rights of the population. The vicious attacks the rebel forces make upon civilian targets are totally indefensible and outrage the world." Rubin announced that the United States planned to provide another $4 million to assist ECOMOG "on the commercial logistics side - communications equipment, spare parts, trucks and the like." The U.S. also sent a medical assessment team to Nigeria with four tons of supplies to treat wounded Nigerian troops, he added. "It's a fact the Nigerians have paid a heavy price for their commitment, and we applaud this commitment and recognize the sacrifices made," Rubin said. "We do hope that Nigeria, despite the difficulty, will continue to play a considerable role in Sierra Leone. We do think that the uncertainty about the Nigerian force's future makes it even more urgent that the international community increase its support for the ECOMOG forces, and for the political solution."

The British frigate HMS Westminster has rescued 39 Sierra Leonean refugees after their small boat broke down six miles off the coast of Freetown. The refugees had been at sea for four days and had run out of water before the warship found them. "They would have undoubtedly died unless we came along," said Westminster Commander Jerry Standford. After transferring food and water to the boat, the Westminster towed the refugees back toward Freetown. "They were very happy to go," Stanford said. "It was a lot safer and their choice was to stay at sea and starve."

A face-to-face meeting that would bring together RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and members of his movement was proposed by President Kabbah  because of "conflicting signals coming from various factions and allies of the RUF, and from some undisclosed locations," according to a government press release issued on Wednesday. Such a meeting, the statement said, "should provide them a golden opportunity to resolve their conflicting signals about peace, and to come up with a clear position on how they intend to facilitate the peace process, so that we can achieve security and genuine peace in our country."

Togo has offered to host proposed peace talks between the Sierra Leone government and AFRC/RUF rebels, Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh said on Wednesday. Koffigoh said that Togo, which currently holds the ECOWAS presidency, "has a responsibility to seek peace in Sierra Leone." He said he had not been asked to prepare for such a meeting, but said Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema "was always available to seek peace in Africa."

Liberian President Charles Taylor has welcomed an offer made by President Kabbah on Sunday to allow imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to meet with his supporters. "This positive initiative on the part of the Kabbah government is the first step towards achieving a realistic dialogue with the rebels," Taylor said in a statement which also called on Sankoh to ensure that the Sierra Leone conflict comes to an end. He condemned "all acts of violence against innocent civilians," and urged all sides to agree to a ceasefire and to observe human rights.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo called President Kabbah's offer of talks with rebel leaders a "positive step." "It is important for the rebels to respond positively to the challenge by presenting their grievances in an atmosphere of peaceful dialogue," Okelo said. "Such dialogue must first be in full recognition of the legitimacy of President Kabbah's democratically elected government, done in an atmosphere of ceasefire with the utmost sincerity, so that whatever decisions are taken will meet with the international community's consensus for lasting peace for Sierra Leone." Okelo said the U.N. Security Council would meet in New York on Friday "to fully endorse (Kabbah's) statement and also take stock of the humanitarian conditions in Freetown in particular, which desperately need to be addressed."

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) condemned Tuesday what it called "misdirected violence" by the rebels against journalists. SLAJ called "on all parties with the support of the international community to help resolve the conflict and save the people of Sierra Leone from more carnage and mayhem." "It is disheartening to note that amputation, rape and murder of civilians should be a strong part of a people purported to be bringing peace," the statement said.

9 February: A British House of Commons Foreign Affairs select committee issued a scathing report on Tuesday, criticising both officials and government ministers over their handling of the "Arms to Africa Affair" — allegations of Foreign Office involvement in shipments of weapons to Sierra Leone last year by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. The Permanent Under-Secretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service, Sir John Kerr, was accused of having "failed in his duty to ministers." The Committee said Kerr had withheld details of a Customs and Excise Office investigation from Foreign Secretary Robin Cook for four weeks, even though Sandline was claiming to have received Foreign Office permission to supply weapons to Sierra Leone's civilian government-in-exile. "The Permanent Under-Secretary must be held responsible for this unacceptable situation," the report said. "It represents a serious failure of communication by the permanent head of the department to his Secretary of State." Africa Command Director Richard Dales and Ann Grant, the head of the Africa Department (Equatorial), were criticised for "serious errors in judgment" for not taking action when they received evidence of Sandline's activities. "The way in which no one with a right to put papers up to ministers ... did in fact do so reveals at best political naiveté and at worst a "Yes, Minister-like" contempt for civil servants' duties towards their ministers," the report said. The Committee also expressed surprise over High Commissioner Peter Penfold's "ignorance and lack of due diligence" in understanding the U.N. arms embargo, which he thought applied only to the junta. At the same time, the Committee found "inexcusable" the Foreign Office's failure to properly inform Penfold about the embargo. "We concluded that Mr. Penfold's relations with Sandline were open to criticism," the report said. "Mr. Penfold did not pass on crucial information to the Foreign Office during the period December 19 to January 30. We believe that Mr. Penfold acted (in what) he thought was in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of Sierra Leone, and that he did not consider that his actions went beyond government policy. Nonetheless, we believe that they did." Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was criticised for his refusal to cooperate with the Committee while an independent investigation by retired civil servant Sir Thomas Legg was still underway. Cook and Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed the report's conclusions. "I think the report is very harsh on people who were doing a pretty good job on the whole in very difficult circumstances," Blair said. Cook, in France for the Kosovo talks, said: "Seven months later the select committee has not come up with a single significant fact that was not already in the Legg Report. It is wrong that the same officials should be put on trial for a second time and unfair that officials who cannot speak back should be condemned in the colourful language of political knockabout."

Kamajor militiamen recaptured the town of Segbwema from RUF rebel forces over the weekend, according to local journalists quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). 47 rebels were said to have been killed in the fighting and scores of houses burned. No casualty figures were given for the Kamajors. The RUF had occupied Segbwema for three weeks.

Health authorities are investigating unconfirmed reports that 20 people who fled the rebel-held town of Makeni to villages in Lebasagahun Chiefdom had died of cholera.

Catholic Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda is said to be responding well to medical treatment at a private clinic in Guinea after being freed by his rebel abductors. Ganda "went through arduous times in the hands of the rebels before he was finally rescued by ECOMOG," a mission official said. "The rebels used lit cigarettes to torture the archbishop."

Hundreds of people who want to leave Kailahun District are being held by the RUF against their will as fighters, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday, quoting refugees who had fled to Liberia. More than 40,000 Sierra Leoneans fled to the town of Vahun in 1998, 12 miles inside the Liberian border. 25,000 of those refugees have since been moved farther from the border area, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said.

A Nigerian lieutenant-colonel has been detained pending a court martial in connection with last month's AFRC/RUF rebel invasion of Freetown, Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe told Nigeria's Guardian newspaper. The officer, who was not named, commanded ECOMOG's 93rd Mechanised Battalion, which was responsible for the Kissy area. "Definitely, the commanding officer failed in his job. There is a board of inquiry going on. They will come out with their report and I am sure they will make it public," Khobe said. "(The rebel incursion was) a very big disgrace. It should never have happened like that," Khobe said. "I tell you, from the head of state down the line in defence headquarters, army, navy and air force, no one is happy about it. They are all very annoyed. There is a need to have dedicated officers to do this job...If we have had a different commanding officer, those rebels wouldn't have come to Freetown...At the end of it, the officer moved his troops behind the headquarters he is supposed to defend."

8 February: An RUF spokesman said Monday the rebel group "cautiously welcomes" an offer made by by President Kabbah on Sunday to "continue (his government's) efforts for dialogue" with the RUF within the framework of the Abidjan Accord. "We would wish to receive proposals as to how the Government wishes to proceed with these matters within the shortest possible time in order for us to carefully study them and respond," RUF legal representative Omrie Golley said. "There are many matters that would have to be resolved, including proposals from the Government as to where they would wish Corporal Sankoh to be taken, together with guarantees in respect of the security of Corporal Sankoh, as well as those members of the Movement who would need to be present to have discussions with him, bearing in mind the travel ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council."

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo praised President Kabbah's offer of negotiations Monday and urged the rebels to accept. "It is important that the rebels respond positively to President Tejan Kabbah's challenge by presenting their grievances in an atmosphere of peaceful dialogue," Okelo said during a brief visit to Freetown.

AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Kenema on Sunday, according to BBC correspondent Prince Brima, who reported from Bo on Monday. According to the report, some 200 rebel fighters "dressed in combat trousers, red headbands, and Tupac t-shirts" entered the town from the Kenema Airfield and Koroma Street section at about 2:00 p.m. The rebels reportedly clashed with ECOMOG troops for four hours.  According to ECOMOG, 78 rebels were killed and 20 captured by ECOMOG troops, with an additional 50 rebels killed in an ambush by Kamajor militiamen in the Kombema section of town. Brima also reported rebel attacks Sunday on the towns of Bambawo and Mano Junction.

ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said that a rebel attack on the town of Tombo late last week was thwarted by ECOMOG. Witnesses quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday said some rebels had pretended to surrender while others emerged from the bush to attack the ECOMOG troops. Olukolade said ECOMOG suspected the "trick" and quickly repelled the attackers. "At this level, it will be difficult for anyone to trick ECOMOG, he said.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka warned over the weekend that Nigeria would take Liberian President Charles Taylor to the International Court of Justice at the Hague unless he stopped supporting AFRC/RUF rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. "We shall teach him a lesson, and very soon we shall do that. We have all the instrumentalities of the international community," Olisemeka said. "Unless he stops his backing of the rebels we shall go ahead. We expect him to stop his support to them, and allow the government in Sierra Leone to settle down." The Liberian government has denied accusations of Liberian military involvement in Sierra Leone, or that it has armed and trained rebel forces.

7 February: President Kabbah on Sunday offered to meet AFRC/RUF rebel leaders for peace talks on condition that the rebels stop fighting and publicly recognise his government. Kabbah also said he would allow a rebel delegation to meet with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh at an undisclosed venue. Kabbah warned, however, that he would withdraw his offer if the rebels imposed conditions of their own. "The idea is to give them an opportunity to consult and let us know how they intend to facilitate the peace process. In other words, we want them, in their face to face meeting, to come up with a clear position, bearing in mind the international consensus on peace, and the willingness of my government to use the Abidjan Peace Accord as a frame of reference for a peaceful settlement," Kabbah said. The move comes amid increased international pressure on the government for a negotiated settlement of the Sierra Leone conflict, and warnings that Nigeria plans to pull its troops in the ECOMOG force out of Sierra Leone before handing over power to a civilian government in May.

The British warship HMS Norfolk, which entered Sierra Leonean waters on January 17, has been replaced by the HMS Westminster, the British Minister of Defence said on Sunday. The Westminster, which like the Norfolk is a also a Type 23 Frigate, was deployed off the coast of Sierra Leone on February 4. The Westminster is expected to assist in the distribution of humanitarian aid and to provide logistical assistance to the ECOMOG force. The warship, with 180 personnel, is carrying aid from the Department for International Development, such as disinfectant and rice.

The British Ministry of Defence on Sunday rejected claims by the RUF that the HMS Norfolk had deployed troops in Sierra Leone in what it said was a "hostile" action. "There are no plans for the U.K.'s armed forces to become involved in the conflict," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

6 February: Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar said Saturday he hoped for a peaceful resolution to the Sierra Leone crisis. "We are trying to broker peace there, and I think we are making a breakthrough," Abubakar said during a visit to Dakar, Senegal. "I am happy to say that President Kabbah is not averse to dialogue and we will encourage him to enter into dialogue with the rebels." Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer confirmed that the Nigerian government was involved in ongoing talks with other regional leaders. "We have had no feedback yet. But the Sierra Leonean government welcomes any attempt to resolve the problem," Spencer said. Abubakar criticised the Commonwealth for not doing more for Sierra Leone. "It is unfortunate that the members of the Commonwealth have not done much for Sierra Leone. There are at least 54 countries in the Commonwealth. If one of them would chip in anything to assist, I think the Sierra Leonean crisis would have been over by now," he said. He said the expectation was that "we could see the reduction of Nigerian troops, indeed ECOMOG troops, from Sierra Leone" by March or April, adding that despite the latest setback there was still some hope that some measure of peace could be obtained to justify the reduction in ECOMOG troop strength.

Automatic weapons fire was heard in Freetown again Saturday as ECOMOG troops and Civil Defence Forces militiamen continued to conduct house-to-house searches for suspected rebels and rebel collaborators. At least one suspected rebel was dragged from a house in western Freetown and summarily executed, the Associated Press reported. ECOMOG said in a radio broadcast that a number of arrests had been made. Residents were prevented from leaving their neighbourhoods by roadblocks, and shops remained closed.

A fourth Missionaries of Charity nun has died from wounds she suffered while held captive last month by AFRC/RUF rebels in Kissy. Sister Hindu died of cardiac complications at a hospital in Conakry, Guinea on Friday night, Bishop George Biguzzi said. While held by the rebels, Sister Hindu was gravely wounded by a shot to the abdomen. Biguzzi said the funeral would take place Saturday afternoon at the Catholic cathedral in Conakry.

RUF legal representative Omrie Michael Golley said Friday that the RUF had become "increasingly concerned" about British role in the Sierra Leone conflict. Golley said reports by RUF military intelligence that military personnel had disembarked from the British frigate HMS Norfolk "fly in the face of British assurances that the reason for the frigate being sent to our country was an has been for humanitarian purposes only." While the British Foreign Office in January ruled out any direct intervention military intervention by the Norfolk in Sierra Leone, Foreign Office sources said that the frigate might provide logistical support for ECOMOG, as well as assist in humanitarian operations. "The RUF military High Command believe that the real reason for the frigate being in Freetown, particularly with the disembarkation of British troops, is to protect British Commercial interests, particularly the extensive Diamond kimberlite mineral concessions owned by British Companies, including DiamondWorks, the Company who also has a mercenary subsidiary company, Sandline International, involved in mercenary activities in Sierra Leone and actively supported by the British Government," Golley said in a statement. DiamondWorks Ltd. is a Canadian-based public corporation whose stock is publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It holds diamond concessions in Sierra Leone and Angola through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Branch Energy. The British government, while acknowledging inappropriate contacts with Sandline International by British diplomats and civil servants, has denied allegations of British government support for the firm's activities. "The Military High Command has requested me to state that it considers these developments (by HMS Norfolk personnel) as hostile and cannot be held responsible for the consequences of any military operations against this group," Golley said. He said the RUF wanted "a definitive answer from the British government as to what their real interests are in our country," and called on "all interested parties in England and internationally to investigate these matters." Golley said the RUF had requested meetings with British officials "to deal with the above, and also in respect of ascertaining their own proposals for bringing about a just and lasting peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone," but he said the requests had always been turned down.

5 February: ECOMOG troops conducted a massive house-to-house search in central Freetown on Friday. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay said the security clampdown came amid rebel threats and reports of civilian collaboration with rebel forces. The Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) said Freetown was paralysed on Friday morning as the few vehicles left on the road were halted at checkpoints. The decision was made to allow ECOMOG to rout out a group of rebels who had infiltrated the city from the west and were reported to be at Kroo Town Road and in the Kingtom area, MISNA said, adding that an unknown number of rebels had been arrested. The Agence France-Presse quoted military sources as saying the decision to cordon off traffic in the city of a second consecutive day was "purely a precautionary move and that there was no cause for alarm." The Associated Press (AP), however, quoted ECOMOG sources as saying that the crackdown was aimed at rooting out rebel sympathisers hiding in the city. The AP said ECOMOG troops summarily executed at least six suspected rebel collaborators. The BBC (online) quoted witnesses who said that while some suspected rebel sympathisers were detained, "others were summarily shot dead." In the south and east of Freetown ECOMOG troops surrounded suspected rebel hideouts which they then "systematically shelled and mortared," the BBC said. According to the AP report, intermittent gunfire was heard in Freetown, while the few shops and market stalls which had reopened following the fighting closed on Friday amid fears that the rebels were planning a weekend attack on the capital.

A group of rebels firing mortars was repelled by ECOMOG troops Wednesday night as it headed toward the presidential lodge at Hill Station, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday.

Thousands of Freetown residents are attempting to flee the country in fear of a new rebel attack, the Agence-France Presse (AFP) said Friday. ECOMOG troops fired in the air to disperse a crowd of several hundred who had lined up at the emigration bureau for permission to go to Guinea.

The Director of the U.S. State Department's Office of West African Affairs and Special Envoy to Liberia, Howard Jeter, told non-governmental organisations  that while the United States supports Sierra Leone's civilian government, a political solution to the Sierra Leone conflict is essential. He added that the U.S. would be willing to push for all major parties to the conflict, including the RUF, to be present at the negotiating table. Jeter was quoted as saying that there were currently up to 12,000 ECOMOG troops in the country, some of whom had been fighting in Liberia and Sierra Leone for years with infrequent and low pay. He said the (Nigerian) ECOMOG troops were doing an extraordinary job, but that leadership was lacking and was responsible for the "fiasco" in Freetown. There is "unequivocal evidence" that Liberian President Charles Taylor is supplying troops and arms to the AFRC/RUF rebels, Jeter was quoted as saying.

Kevin Kennedy, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told non-governmental organisations Thursday that the RUF, which previously was believed to have about 3,400 fighters, now consists of three different forces with one of them numbering 3,400. Kennedy was quoted as saying that over 2,000 took part in the attack on Freetown. The rebels now have nearly complete control of the bush, he added, as ECOMOG has neither the ability nor the will to fight in the bush. He said the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone was very likely to deteriorate further, as two-thirds of the country was inaccessible except by plane while rumours about a new rebel offensive in the next few days has increased the refugee outflow from Freetown.

Bishop George Biguzzi said Friday he had seen "an incredible number of refugees on the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone, The Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported on Friday. Biguzzi, who is heads the Catholic Diocese of Makeni, travelled to Kambia on Friday morning. "This small town is truly desolate," Biguzzi said. "The great majority of civilians have fled." Biguzzi told MISNA that two of the six Xaverian missionaries released by rebels last week, Brother Guglielmo Zamiase and Father Giuseppe Berton, would return to Italy next week for a period of rest. The two are currently in Conakry, Guinea.

Sheku Tejan Kamara, who heads Sierra Leone's medical services, rejected on Friday charges made by the French medical charity Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) that Sierra Leonean doctors were charging wounded patients for treatment. Kamara called the allegations "baseless," adding that local doctors had worked at risk night and day since the January 6 rebel attack on Freetown. "I am not aware that our doctors...are charging patients for treatment," he said. The group's charges were repeated Thursday by the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, which quoted last Friday's edition of France's Le Figaro newspaper. In it, the group claimed that hundreds of war victims were denied medical care at Connaught Hospital because of the "greed for profit" of local doctors. Medecins du Monde alleged that their medical team was denied access to the hospital because they disturbed local doctors' "medical care business." Although Connaught Hospital's pharmacy had all the medical supplies required to treat some 600 war-wounded in need of assistance, the group alleged, five doctors working at the hospital were performing just six operations a week, treating only those patients who could afford to pay. The charges contrasted sharply with news reports from Connaught Hospital in January, including video by Reuters television which showed doctors performing amputations on war victims. "Medecins du Monde is just trying to create a problem where there is no problem," Kamara said. "A team of four came to our ministry saying they are interested in assisting us at the Connaught Hospital and we reacted positively." Kamara said he had requested that the medical team register with the Medical Council and provide documentary evidence of its qualifications. "They left the country because they cannot provide documentary evidence. If they disapprove of that, let them show us that they are doctors. How can anybody go to another man's country and say 'I am a doctor'? Every doctor in Sierra Leone has to register. If we go to France, we have to register," he said. French and Belgian medical teams from Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) began working at the hospital this week. A Guinean medical team is expected to be dispatched from Conakry shortly, and will work from the Rokupr Satellite Clinic in eastern Freetown.

Humanitarian organisations say they will step up efforts to monitor the distribution of relief aid after widespread reports that "rogue" aid workers and drivers had seized food and medical supplies provided free by the international community, which were then sold for exorbitant prices on the black market. A government official called the selling of food aid "unpatriotic," adding: "Despite our many appeals that these goods should be given to vulnerable groups, some people are using the situation to enrich themselves."

Israeli arms dealer Ya'ir Klein, arrested in Sierra Leone last month, will face trial shortly in Freetown, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said late on Thursday. Klein is accused of having trained RUF rebels who attacked Freetown on January 6. According to a report by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Klein is believed to have begun training rebels in 1996 in Liberia, where he ran a rubber plantation and diamond mining operation in Lofa County. Klein, who is in ECOMOG custody, denied charges of arms trafficking in Sierra Leone in an interview broadcast on Israeli television, and demanded that the Israeli authorities intervene to secure his release. Klein, who is a   Lieutenant-Colonel in the Israeli Reserve Army, was convicted in-absentia in Colombia in 1989 for providing armaments and training to death squads associated with the country's Medellin drug cartel. He was convicted by an Israeli court in 1991 for supplying arms to Colombia without a license. Sierra Leonean authorities are also seeking another Israeli mercenary, Simon Rosenblum, who is wanted for questioning.

The Liberian Council of Churches (LCC) said Friday that despite the Liberian government's denial of involvement in the Sierra Leone crisis, it was an open secret that Liberians were fighting on all sides in the country. The LCC called on all Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone to lay down their arms and "come home and participate in the reconstruction of Liberia." The statement said the LCC was "disturbed for two reasons: first, innocent and precious lives are being destroyed daily, and second, our government has been persistently accused by the international community of supporting the rebels." In a statement faxed to the Sierra Leone Council of Churches Secretary-General Alimamy Koroma on Thursday evening, the LCC expressed solidarity in finding a way out of the crisis.

4 February: ECOMOG troops were in a state of general mobilisation Thursday amid rumours of an imminent rebel attack on Freetown. Armoured vehicles, followed by truckloads of soldiers, moved around Cockerill military headquarters while Freetown's main streets were largely deserted. "We have asked residents to stay inside their homes, we do not want them to take any risks in case fighting breaks out," ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade said. He said the general mobilisation was intended to "maintain security in Freetown and prevent any action against residents," adding: "We have deployed troops at all strategic points." Nigerian ships could be seen off the coast of Aberdeen on Thursday, while scores of youths — recruits for the new Sierra Leone Army — trained at a golf course in Lumley and on a road running along the beach.

150 Ghanaian troops landed in Sierra Leone on Thursday, and more than 1,000 had arrived in the country since Monday to strengthen the ECOMOG force, according to ECOMOG sources. "More Ghanaian troops are again arriving today to beef up our operations," said ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola.

A "decisive" military operation involving Kamajor fighters and ECOMOG air support is being prepared in northern Sierra Leone, military sources said late on Wednesday. On Thursday, soldiers at ECOMOG headquarters loaded weapons and ammunition, including missiles, onto two helicopters, along with food and supplies. An ECOMOG officer said the helicopters were bound for Kenema and for areas in the north. The liberation of Makeni and Kabala were the next "short-term objectives" for the force, and ECOMOG source said. On January 29, Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah told a press conference in New York that the rebels were still in control of Makeni, but maintained that the rest of the north was "still firmly under government control."

ECOMOG said Wednesday it had recaptured the towns of Lunsar and Port Loko, while acknowledging that AFRC/RUF rebel forces were still active near Freetown. Residents and ECOMOG officers said rebels had attacked Wellington on Wednesday. "The rebels ambushed our patrol. We lost three of our colleagues," one officer said. "But by and large the districts are safer now than over the weekend, when rebels were still slaughtering people in scores." ECOMOG troops were reported to be setting up camps and erecting trenches around Wellington and Calaba Town, Reuters reported on Thursday. A Nigerian journalist has reported that rebels are still active at Calaba Town, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Thursday. The journalist, who along with 50 other people spent three weeks in a house surrounded by the rebels, said the rebels "who numbered several hundred, killed many people, including all the policemen in the town, and left no house intact. ...From time to time, they came to look among the group of prisoners for a woman to rape and they also used other people to help them transport equipment," she added. "Once the work was done, they killed them."

ECOMOG troops have recaptured the towns of Lunsar and Port Loko, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola on Thursday. He said ECOMOG took Lunsar on Wednesday. "We recaptured Lunsar yesterday after two days of heavy fighting with more than 200 rebels killed," Okunlola said. "Our troops, however, also suffered casualties." Okunlola said ECOMOG recaptured Port Loko on Sunday. Credit for the taking of Port Loko was claimed by the Guinean ECOMOG contingent. "We had four tough days of combat against rebels to retake Port Loko," Guinean military communications specialist Mohamed Camara told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). "It was us Guineans who were in charge of the job because we have the know-how and the discipline to carry it out." Police officers who reached Freetown from Port Loko said Lunsar had been virtually destroyed by the rebels, who burned down houses and destroyed houses and equipment belonging to the iron mine there. Of the 170 police officers stationed in Lunsar, only 33 were known to have escaped the rebels. "They executed most of them at the Lunsar football field," one policeman said. Okunlola said ECOMOG troops were now advancing toward Makeni, which government and ECOMOG sources have maintained is in the hands of loyalist forces.

Freetown could face serious food shortages in coming months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday. "If commercial food is not replenished, we could well be faced with a full-blown food crisis in two to three months," said Patrick Buckley, the WFP country representative for Sierra Leone. Many business were destroyed during the fighting and subsequent looting, the WFP said, adding that many merchants may never return, even when the situation stabilises. The WFP said it would work with its partner agencies to supply food to the most vulnerable: the maimed and mutilated, and those who had lost their possessions in the fighting. "It is estimated existing stocks can feed those people for two to three months," the WFP said.

Dozens of British Royal Marine Commando troops were seen lined up in the courtyard of Wilberforce Military Barracks on Thursday, while officers pored over maps, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said the British were "officially in Sierra Leone to protect British interests," but did not know what they were doing at the barracks. A Ministry of Defence spokesman in London, informed of the troops' presence at the ECOMOG base, said "There is certainly no plan for that to happen." He said British involvement was limited to airlifting humanitarian supplies and providing logistical support for ECOMOG with the ship's Lynx helicopter. "Obviously there is an element of the fleet on stand-by for self-protection," he added.

A four-member medical team from the French charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has begun work at Connaught Hospital in Freetown. "It's terrible. Every day we are seeing men, women and children, their limbs amputated. Yesterday, I saved a six-year old little girl whose arm had been severed at the shoulder by a machete," said surgeon Jean-Paul Dixmeras. He said doctors were worried the rebels could launch another attack on Freetown. "We tell ourselves everyday that the prevailing insecurity could further degenerate into another attack by rebels," Dixmeras said. "We don't know whether we will be targeted in the event of a rebel offensive. But we do know that rebels tried to sever the hands of a pediatrician at Netland Hospital." 

The British government updated its travel advisory on Sierra Leone Wednesday, warning: "In view of the security situation we advise against all travel to Sierra Leone." The statement "strongly advised" British nationals still in Sierra Leone "to leave by any commercial means whilst they are able to do so. Those who choose to remain should exercise caution and keep in touch with developments," the statement said, adding: "There are no plans for further military evacuation."

Seven U.S. Members of Congress sent a letter to President Bill Clinton on Thursday, expressing their "concern and horror" about events in Sierra Leone. "These atrocities have reached a crisis point and we believe that United States intervention is desperately needed — particularly for humanitarian purposes," the letter said. "While we commend the work of ECOMOG [Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group], the primary force maintaining the legitimate Kabbah government in power, we are puzzled by the limited U.S. support for this peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone." The Members of Congress urged Clinton to "use all the resources at your disposal to bring about a negotiated settlement" in Sierra Leone, as well as authorising emergency assistance, increasing logistical support for ECOMOG, reinstating USAID for fiscal 1999, sending a U.S. representative to participate in any "cease-fire and permanent peace dialogue," and using his influence to encourage the neighbouring countries to temporarily house refugees who had fled to Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. Signing the letter were representatives Alcee L. Hastings, Cynthia A. McKinney, Eva M. Clayton, Amo Houghton, Vernon J. Ehlers, Albert Wynn, and Tom Lantos.

3 February: A boat carrying Sierra Leonean refugees to Guinea sank Monday night near the Scarcies River, killing 50 people, police in Kambia said on Wednesday. The boat reportedly capsized after hitting a rock.

Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe told reporters in Lagos Wednesday that rebels had managed to enter Freetown in January only because they had used civilians as human shields. Khobe said that ECOMOG commanders have issued new "shoot the shields," orders, saying that ECOMOG would kill civilians used as shields in any future rebel attack. "I am sure the boys at the checkpoint in an area called Foamex, they had a problem as to whether they should kill the civilians that were leading the rebels, or to allow the civilians to pass. And they came in very large numbers. But from the hindsight, I believe it would have been better to kill all those that have come, even if they were civilians, in order to save the majority. That was not done. And that was what was responsible for the entire thing that took place in Freetown," Khobe said. "I would have preferred those people that came with the rebels, everybody to have been killed, because the number of the women, the children, and so on, that the rebels have killed inside Freetown — the number of them that have lost their hands, now as I’m talking, some with just five years old, they cut their hands and so on. That would have been prevented. ...If they try it again, we'll kill everything from the opposite direction."

Security forces have arrested several Ministry of Defence officials on suspicion that they had provided AFRC/RUF rebels with inside information, government sources said on Wednesday. "The security forces have arrested several top defence ministry officials... as they investigate collaboration between senior government officials and the rebels," one source said. "Information emerging reveals that there were not enough ECOMOG troops protecting the city, and that the rebels attacked Freetown because of that." The source said the government suspected rebels had launched their January 6 attack after receiving information on the deployment of forces in the capital.

Police in Freetown said Wednesday that at least 200 police officers had been killed since the January 6 rebel attack on Freetown. In one incident, the homes of 30 officers were burned down at Kingtom Police Barracks, and all the occupants killed.

A government statement broadcast on Wednesday urged residents who had buried family members in residential compounds to contact health authorities so that the bodies could be exhumed and re-interred elsewhere. Health workers estimated that more than 1,000 corpses had been reburied in cemeteries. Estimates of the death toll as a result of the battle for Freetown vary from between 2,000 and 3,000 to a January 29 estimate by health workers of over 4,000 killed.

Medical workers report that six persons have died from diarrhoea at Freetown's National Stadium, where some 30,000 people have taken refuge.

2 February: President Kabbah, in an address over state radio on Monday night, said the rebel attack on Freetown was organised from abroad. "The project to capture Freetown was meticulously planned and funded, and its execution directed by a multinational mercenary force," he said. "The aim was to take over the entire country and completely destroy it." Kabbah did not say Monday who he thought was backing the rebels, but government officials and the international community have repeatedly accused Liberia and Burkina Faso of aiding the rebel effort. Kabbah said his government was receiving substantial support from the international community to bolster Sierra Leone's national security. He said the money would enable the country to "support the just-initiated recruitment, training, and equipping of the new army and a national militia which will be ready to complement the efforts of ECOMOG, and eventually take over the defence of the country." He did not indicate the source or amount of the aid. Kabbah also said that Sierra Leone was "upgrading its bi-lateral military cooperation with countries in and out of the sub-region to ensure long-term security guarantees for Sierra Leone." Kabbah also referred Monday to "the alarming level of civilian collaboration with the rebels," adding: "This has made the task of the security forces very difficult. It is extremely disheartening to know that so many people could condone the type of barbarity witnessed in the capital."

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Kadhafi has invited President Kabbah and imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to Libya for talks aimed at ending the fighting in Sierra Leone, Libya's JANA news agency said on Tuesday. "A high-ranking delegation from Nigeria arrived (in Libya) yesterday with the hope that parties in conflict in Sierra Leone would meet under the sponsorship of Libya," Kadhafi said on Monday. "I have sent an invitation to our brothers and friends in conflict — President Tejan Kabbah and the chief of the other party, Sankoh. We hope it will be possible to reach a ceasefire in Sierra Leone and a peaceful settlement." JANA said Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar had sent a leader to Kadhafi saying that Nigeria would "put all its means" at his disposal in his efforts to secure a peace settlement.

A 14-member Sierra Leonean military delegation led by Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, a Nigerian, was due to meet with their counterparts in Nigeria Tuesday. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar told a news conference that Nigeria was urging President Kabbah to negotiate with the rebels. "Nigeria has been talking to Tejan Kabbah about negotiating with the rebel leader if that will be a step to the solution," the spokesman said. "The head of state hopes to pull out the troops before handing over to the civilian administration."

Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku called on the international community on Tuesday to provide assistance to Sierra Leone, saying that while opportunities for negotiation should be explored, the defence of Sierra Leone should not be left to a few of its neighbors. "The entire population of Sierra Leone, without exception, is at the mercy of a murderous rebel war machine which makes no distinction between women and children on the one hand and combatants on the other," Anyaoku said in a statement. "The escalation in the amputation of limbs and other bestialities, to say nothing of the almost random mass killings of defenceless civilians, point to a Dark Age threatening to overtake Sierra Leone."

The National Union of Sierra Leonean Students resolved Tuesday not to return to classes until "security conditions should be such that our safety is guaranteed." Some buildings at Fourah Bay College are reportedly occupied by displaced persons, while ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen are said to be camped in an area of the campus which overlooks the capital.

The ECOMOG force bombed and sank two boats carrying rebels and a large cargo of arms and ammunition on Monday, an ECOMOG source said Tuesday. The boats were discovered by a reconnaissance plane along the Great Scarcies and Little Scarcies rivers.

The Catholic Mission at Madina in Kambia District was attacked and looted by armed men in the early hours of Monday morning, the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported on Tuesday. The "armed incursion" began at about 6:00 a.m. and lasted for about four and a half hours, MISNA said. A young man was killed in the attack. Xaverian missionary priest Father Franco Manganello, who reached Kambia later in the day, said he saw the rebels shooting "at random," terrorising residents who were attempting to escape. Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi, reacting to the attack, said: "I demand a real act of courage — that everyone lay down their arms and talk instead of fighting in order to bring back peace and reconciliation to our nation."

The French aid organisation Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) whose team arrived in Freetown to evaluate the food security situation left Sierra Leone on Tuesday after concluding that it was "impossible to carry out its work." The group had planned to organise the distribution of food aid provided by the international community. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday that the delivery of food and other humanitarian supplies "has been hampered within the last week by a number of irregularities." Intermediaries handing out food aid, which is supposed to be free, have been charging recipients a "tax" for the service. The recipients have been required to purchase a ticket costing from Le 2,500 to Le 3,500 for a bag of food. A similar "tax" is also being charged for medical supplies, the AFP said. 

Health officials have reported an outbreak of diarrhoea among some 30,000 people sheltering at the National Stadium. The extent of the outbreak was not disclosed.

Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, in a radio broadcast, has urged Sierra Leoneans to "stand up against the rebels and not allow them to cut off your hands." Khobe advised residents to "carry stones and sticks and beat to death these rebels armed only with cutlasses." He said some people were allowing their children who had  joined the rebels to stay in their homes, despite the atrocities they had committed.

The president of Liberia's senate, Sen. Charles Brumskine, called Tuesday for an official enquiry into allegations of Liberian involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war. He said the probe should include hearings from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence, and National Security. "I am deeply concerned about the image of Liberia within the international community," Brumskine told the senate. "The allegations of Liberia’s involvement in the Sierra Leonean war have taken their toll on our country’s image." Brumskine claimed that while there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations against Liberia, the accusations had become so widespread that it was no longer in Liberia's interest to simply declare its innocence or defend its national position. Brumskine proposed enacting legislation that would make it a felony for any Liberian to take part in an armed conflict abroad. He also recommended the senate adopt a resolution sympathising with the Sierra Leonean people and offering to work with Sierra Leone's parliament to bring about a peaceful resolution to the fighting. In his statement, Brumskine called on Liberian President Charles Taylor to name his ambassadors to Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and to redouble his efforts to improve Liberia's relationship with the United States, the European Union, and ECOWAS member states.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Monday issued another denial of Ukrainian involvement in Sierra Leone, saying it had no documentary evidence that Ukrainian nationals were involved in the Sierra Leone conflict. In a statement issued on Monday, the Ministry said it had received no response to its request to "relevant parties" about the participation of its citizens in armed conflicts, particularly in Sierra Leone. It said Ukraine had no evidence that arms of "Ukrainian origin" were being supplied in Sierra Leone in violation of the U.N. arms embargo. "The Ukrainian side views as baseless any reports on this issue that are not accompanied by facts or proof," the statement said. The Ministry rejected allegations by the Sierra Leone government and ECOMOG of involvement of Ukrainian mercenaries with AFRC/RUF rebel forces.

1 February: Mortar fire was heard from Aberdeen on Monday, as ECOMOG officials acknowledged that they had failed to dislodge rebel forces on the outskirts of the city, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. On Sunday, Guinean ECOMOG troops which had been in control of Waterloo reportedly pulled back, abandoning large supplies of arms and ammunition, the AFP said. ECOMOG sources said Monday they needed military equipment "better adapted for the terrain," such as combat helicopters, in order to "finish off the war." An AFP correspondent witnessed ECOMOG soldiers execute a number of men believed to be rebels or collaborators in previously "liberated" areas of Freetown. Residents said ECOMOG was trying to slow down the mass return of residents to their homes, fearing that rebels might "mix into the crowd." The Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) said Monday that there were still units of the RUF spread throughout the capital, adding that the possibility of additional attacks could not be ruled out. A clinic in western Freetown has treated an estimated 8,000 victims of gunshot wounds since the fighting began in the capital on January 6. Most of the victims were said to be residents of Kissy.

The cost of food and essential commodities has soared in Freetown as stocks dwindle, the Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. The price of a cup of rice, which normally sells for U.S. 12¢, now costs more than $2.00. A bag of rice sells for $38 to $40. A diplomatic source, quoting aid sources on Monday, maintained that the prices of rice and bulgur wheat were "down to their pre-invasion level," while Kevin Kennedy of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the price of rice, which had soared 300 percent at the start of the fighting, had fallen to "just above the pre-fighting cost." According to the AFP, a bundle of firewood now costs $5.00, while a bag of charcoal, previously 50¢, has shot up to $10.00. A government official said authorities would "definitely not tolerate any move to bring further hardship on the people by any arbitrary increase consumer goods," adding: "The people have suffered too much through rebel atrocities." Two banks in Freetown, including the Union Trust Bank, have reopened, but Barclays and Standard Chartered Banks, whose premises suffered extensive damage during the fighting, remain closed.

Director of Health Services Sheku Kamara has welcomed the arrival of drugs donated by the British government, WHO, UNICEF, and other aid organisations. The shipments have "helped us cope with what would otherwise have been a calamity," Kamara said.

Three French aid workers attached to the French medical charity Medicins du Monde (Doctors of the World) said they would leave Sierra Leone after being prevented from providing medical assistance. The workers said they had written a letter to the Minister of Health complaining about the way they had been treated. They said they had been told they could not continue working at Connaught Hospital for "administrative reasons," but said given the desperate need for doctors they did not believe this was the real reason they had been excluded. The BBC noted allegations that access to care and medicine in Freetown is currently "the subject of a thriving black market."

A rebel leader accused of mutilating civilians in Freetown, "Bush-Lieutenant" Tafaikoh was captured Thursday by ECOMOG, an ECOMOG source said on Monday. Tafaikoh was reportedly captured in Wellington in a joint ECOMOG-Kamajor operation. "He was responsible for amputating the arms and limbs of civilians as well as killing people after their houses had been set on fire," the ECOMOG source said.

The British government is considering whether to send additional aid to Sierra Leone and to the ECOMOG force, a British Foreign Office spokesman said on Monday. The British government is awaiting the results of an assessment mission in Sierra Leone which is being conducted by officials of London's International Development Department and the British High Commission. "We are looking at possible areas where we can help, both for ECOMOG and more widely in Sierra Leone," the spokesman said. "We have people there at the moment assessing and as soon as they tell us what's needed we will make a decision on any further support." He said the support could take the form of "immediate humanitarian aid," as Sierra Leone was not "in a position to implement its own solutions."

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka said over the weekend that Nigeria is readying measures to "contain" the Liberian government, which has been accused of providing assistance to AFRC/RUF rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. Liberia has continually denied the charges. "We are fashioning a policy to contain (Liberian President Charles Taylor)," Olisemeka said at a reception honouring former Nigerian diplomats. "We are fashioning a policy to contain the countries from where they get arms to kill innocent peace-keeping troops in Sierra Leone." He called it unthinkable that Liberia would be sabotaging peace efforts in Sierra Leone, considering the resources and lives expended by ECOWAS nations in bringing peace to Liberia. "No one had imagined that Liberia will turn round to bite the fingers that fed her," Olisemeka added.

The Sierra Leone Red Cross said Monday that two of its workers had been killed since fighting began in Freetown on January 6. The Red Cross added that its president, Muctarr Jalloh, and one of its agronomists had been admitted to hospital with machete wounds.

The Nigerian newspaper P.M. News reported Monday that the Nigerian army had buried 16 more Nigerian soldiers killed in Sierra Leone. The bodies arrived in two trucks at the Ojo Military Barracks in Lagos before being buried with full military honours, the newspaper said.

Sister Hindu, one of three nuns of the Missionaries of Charity who were freed by rebels on Friday, has undergone surgery in a Conakry hospital for a gunshot wound in the abdomen which she suffered while in captivity. "The doctors have not yet released a prognosis," said Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi. Two other nuns were killed in crossfire during clashes between the rebels and ECOMOG troops, while a third was murdered while in captivity.

A United Nations assessment team has arrived in Freetown from Guinea to evaluate the security situation prior to the expected return of U.N. staff. The team will reportedly spend four days in the capital.

An official with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said approximately 3,000 civilians had died since the rebel offensive in Freetown, and there existed an acute need for medicine, health care, and sanitation. "It is estimated that approximately 3,000 civilians have lost their lives, largely as a result of a deliberate campaign by rebel forces to terrorize the population, through forced amputations, shootings, house burnings and rapes," said Kevin Kennedy, who visited Sierra Leone between January 19 and 28. He said aid workers had been unable to enter eastern Freetown, but flights over the area indicated that 80% of the buildings may have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting, creating an urgent need for shelter. Kennedy said the United Nations was shipping plastic sheeting for 10,000 families. He described the situation in hospitals and clinics in western Freetown as "fairly desperate," saying medical teams in hospitals and 23 clinics opened in the past ten days were unable to handle all the injuries and amputations. After Connaught Hospital reopened it had received 300 cases requiring surgery in five days, mostly people wounded in the fighting or victims of rebel amputations, he said. U.N. World Food Programme warehouses had been looted, losing some 3,300 tons of food, Kennedy added.