The Sierra Leone Web


March 2001

31 March: Johnny Paul Koroma said Saturday that plans by the National Electoral Commission to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in December was "a recipe for disaster." The former AFRC junta chairman, who now heads the government's Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, told the Reuters news agency that the ceasefire signed last year between the government and RUF rebels was still fragile, and that the factions were still heavily-armed. "What we need now in Sierra Leone is total peace and when we are able to achieve that, then the electoral commission can go ahead with its strategic planning," he said. "I don't see how it is possible for the international community to support the elections financially when disarmament has not been completed. Even if UNAMSIL deployed in all areas of the country, it (holding elections) would not work as long as the guns are with the RUF and Kamajors." Koroma called for a consultative conference made up of political parties and civil society groups to advise on an election timetable.

President Kabbah led high level delegation to Conakry Friday for what a government statement described as a "working and friendly visit" with Guinean President Lansana Conte. According to the statement, discussions focused on the security situation in the sub-region in general, and in particular on the volatile situation along Guinea's borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. The two leaders condemned recent rebel attacks in southern Guinea which have uprooted hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees, and they accused Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, backed by by the government of Liberia, of responsibility. Kabbah and Conte deplored Liberia's decision to expel the Sierra Leonean and Guinean ambassadors, and they called on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions immediately on Charles Taylor's government, alleging that he had failed to live up to demands by the international community. Earlier this month the Security Council adopted sanctions against Liberia, but postponed their taking effect for two months at the request of ECOWAS. The two heads of state demanded that the international community support their fight to safeguard their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to help them strengthen their armies "to enable them to face these serious acts of aggression from the RUF rebels and their allies." Kabbah and Conte also agreed that their two armies should now take control of security along their common border. Kabbah expressed gratitude to Conte for what "the generous hospitality accorded to Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea," which for a decade has hosted hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans forced to flee conflict in their own country. The statement was silent, however, on reports by aid agencies and the refugees themselves of maltreatment by Guinean security forces and civilians, and on recent cross-border attacks by the Guinean military on towns in the rebel-held north of Sierra Leone, which have killed scores of people and forced thousands from their homes. A source subsequently told the Sierra Leone Web that the refugee crisis was discussed "in all its aspects," but noted that the issue was a sensitive one.

Guinean President Lansana Conte was quoted as saying Friday that he would not meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor to discuss rebel attacks on his country which Conte says are orchestrated from Liberia. "I will not negotiate with a man who has backed people who have unnecessarily killed our innocent kith and kin, particularly women and children," state radio quoted him as saying during an address to mark the ninth anniversary of the founding of his Party for Unity and Progress. According to the Reuters news agency, Conte acknowledged efforts by ECOWAS and others to bring the two of them to the negotiating table, but said he would would not cooperate. "I will never sit down to negotiate with such a man," he insisted.

30 March: The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved a British-sponsored resolution increasing the authorised size of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone from 13,000 to 17,500 troops, and extending its mandate for six months, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday. According to the Associated Press, the resolution also refers to a possible further increase in the force's strength to allow peacekeepers to deploy in what are now rebel-held areas, in order to help the government establish its authority throughout the country and to create conditions for free and fair elections. The Council called on all parties to Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict to start dialogue and to resume the peace process, and urged ECOWAS and the U.N. to pressure the RUF to cooperate. The Security Council also demanded that the rebel group take immediate steps to comply with its obligations under last year's Abuja ceasefire agreement, by allowing U.N. troops to deploy in areas under its control, to return arms seized last May from U.N. peacekeepers, and to resume active participation in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. In addition, the Council expressed deep concern at reports of RUF human rights abuses, including the forced recruitment of combatants and labourers, and demanded that the practice stop immediately. The resolution expressed continued concern over the "fragile security situation" in the country and in the border area, and over the "grave humanitarian consequences" for civilians, many of whom had fled the fighting.

Sierra Rutile Limited, which operates Sierra Leone's rutile mine at Mobimbi, may resume operations by July 2002 following twelve months of renovation work due to begin in August, Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen told the Reuters news agency. "If the political and security situation can be managed successfully, rutile mining production, which came to a halt when the RUF rebels attacked the mine site in 1995, will start in July 2002," Deen said. Rutile, or titanium dioxide, was the country's largest source of foreign earnings through 1994. Since the rebel attack on Mobimbi in January 1995, the mine has been kept on a care-and-maintenance basis, protected by private security guards. "Since the political and security situation in Sierra Leone continues to improve, Sierra Rutile has resumed detailed planning for the resumption of the operation," Deen said. Sierra Rutile Limited is 50 percent owned by Australia's Consolidated Rutile Limited, and 50 percent by MIL Investments SA of Luxemburg, which purchased the interest from the financially strapped Nord Resources Corporation in 1999. "Shareholder losses during the past six years have therefore been significant," Deen said. "Fortunately, world class rutile reserves mean the project remains robust and the government of Sierra Leone, the community and shareholders can benefit from mining that we expect to last at least 20 years."

South Africa will likely contribute a contingent of troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota told the Reuters news agency late Thursday during a visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa. 

A company of Nigerian peacekeepers from UNAMSIL's U.S.-trained and equipped NIBATT-8 battalion deployed Wednesday in the rebel-held town of Mange, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 2000 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1700 / 1950. [£] 2430 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1975 / 2100 [£] 2650 / 2875. Continental: [$] 1950 / 2150 [£] 2600 / 3000.

29 March: The RUF Military High Command met in Makeni Thursday to approve the formation of its so-called Political and Peace Council, and to endorse the nomination of six Council members —  two fewer than previously envisaged. According to former RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley, who spoke to the Sierra Leone by satellite telephone shortly after the meeting ended, those named to the Council include Pastor Moses Alpha, an evangelical preacher; Agnes Mannie, the leader of the RUF's civil society group "Organisation for the Survival of Mankind;" Andrew Kanu, a former St. Francis Secondary School teacher and elections specialist who worked in Northern Province with the National Electoral Commission during the 1996 elections; Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, the RUF's Chief of Administration, who last November led the rebel group's delegation to the Abuja ceasefire talks; and Colonel Patrick Beinda, described as a veteran combatant and senior military advisor. Golley himself was confirmed as Council chairman. The Military High Command also reaffirmed on Thursday its commitment to the Lomé Peace Accord as the basis for peace process, Golley said, adding: "The objectives of the Council are to start formal dialogue with the government and with the international community...exploring viable ways forward to start the peace process." He insisted that the Council members "very adequately represent RUF military and civilians behind RUF controlled lines," and were committed to advancing the peace process. "I’m satisfied that they retain the command and admiration of the RUF," he said. Golley related how, in the preceding 24 hours, he had been given a "whirlwind tour" of RUF-controlled areas, from Makeni and Magburaka to Koidu, to Kailahun. "It was a very tiring journey, but very well worth it," he said. "It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things —  mainly the fact that any further military confrontation, either emanating from the RUF or from the government, is absolutely unwinnable. There will be no winners. There would be a lot of unnecessary death and destruction, and that is why we must redouble our efforts to seek a peaceful conclusion to this unfortunate episode in our lives." Golley confirmed that deployment by U.N. peacekeepers in Makeni and Magburaka was "quite imminent," and said there was a commitment by the Military High Command to move rapidly on the issue of deployment in other RUF-held areas to the east "as a first step to show its commitment to the peace process." Pressed on the issue of child soldiers and abductees reportedly still held by the rebels, Golley pledged that if he encountered any he would escort them to Freetown when he returns at the weekend. "I have not actually seen any child combatants —  certainly no combatants that I have seen below the age of 18," he said. "And if I do see any, I will bring them over the Freetown. I’m particularly insistent, and I actually made that point very clear in many of the discussions that I have had and that I continue to have with the RUF here...This is obviously a very important issue." Among those said to have been present for the meeting of the RUF Military High Command were RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay, Brigadier Morris Kallon, Colonel Augustine Gbao, Colonel Komba Bungema, Colonel Bai Bureh, Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, Colonel Patrick Beinda and Colonel Joseph Brown. Absent were Dennis Mingo, for logistical reasons, and RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, who was ill, Golley said.

Britain introduced a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council Thursday which would extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) by six months. The force's current mandate is due to expire on Saturday. The British resolution also calls for an increase in UNAMSIL's authorised strength to 17,500 peacekeepers as an interim measure, in line with current troop commitments from U.N. member states. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended an increase in the force's size to 20,500 troops. Council members also held consultations on Sierra Leone following a briefing by Dmitry Titov, the Director of the Africa Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, on the secretary-general's latest report on the situation in the country, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. The Council is expected to continue its deliberations on Friday.

The Guinean authorities ordered the release Wednesday of all but six of some 500 persons detained on Monday at the Massakoundou refugee camp, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The detainees, mostly Sierra Leonean refugees along with several aid workers, were picked up by Guinean army soldiers on Monday morning, who were allegedly searching for rebels who could be hiding in the camp. They were subsequently taken to Kissidougou for further questioning and detained at the Municipal Youth Centre. The soldiers also seized one GTZ/UNHCR truck to carry out the operation. UNHCR protection staff were denied access to the detainees, the spokesman said. He added that the UNHCR had sent a letter of protest to the Guinean Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express concern over the security of refugees and of staff members. The UNHCR spokesman said security had been stepped up around Kissidougou following persistent rumours of rebel attacks on the region. Additional roadblocks have been set up and the movement of humanitarian workers restricted. On Wednesday, Guinean authorities in Conakry announced that the roadblocks would be removed. Meanwhile, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have continued to transfer refugees from the northern part of the country's "parrot's beak" region to safer areas further from the border, using the formerly ruined Katkama camp north of Gueckedou as a transit point. Since last Sunday, 589 persons who fled the March 9 attack on the town of Nongoa were taken to Katkama pending relocation further north. The UNHCR has also started evacuating refugees from Massakoundou to defuse tension there and to ensure the refugees' safety. A first convoy on Wednesday transported 281 persons to the new Kountaya camp. A recent census of the Massakoundou camp found 14,000 refugees —  far fewer than previously thought. A total of 23,000 refugees have been relocated to Kountaya since the programme began in February, and additional camp sites are being prepared, the spokesman said.

Sorius Samura's 1999 documentary "Cry Freetown" was named Thursday as a winner of the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award. During the January 1999 rebel attack on Freetown Samura, who was at the time working on a film project for UNICEF, took his camera into the streets and, at the risk of his life, filmed atrocities committed by both rebel forces and ECOMOG troops during the battle for the city. Since it was first broadcast last year, Samura's documentary has garnered a string of honours, including the Rory Peck Award, the Mohamed Amin Award, the Free Press-Africa award, the One World Media award for best television documentary, the ICRC Dignity in Conflict Award and, in January 2001, the duPont Award.

The European Commission announced Thursday it would donate €11 million ($10 million) this year to help meet continuing humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone. The European Commission, which is the European Union's executive body, said the funds would be disbursed through the Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) to partner organisations working in the country. The money will be targeted to three main areas: integrated assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs), covering basic needs such as water, sanitation, health care, nutrition and the supply of relief items; special support to children, including young ex-combatants, and women affected by war, and to amputees; and coordination and operational assistance for humanitarian organisations working in the country, to include logistical support for emergency interventions in remote or isolated areas.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Thursday that without intelligence gathered by the U.K. on the flow of arms and diamonds between Sierra Leone and Liberia, a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the Liberian government could never have been secured. According to the PA News, Cook stressed the importance of gathering hard facts. "Getting access to these hard facts is every bit as hard as it ever was to produce intelligence on our old rivals in the Warsaw Pact," he said. "Hard facts secured against the odds have made a real contribution to the progress we've made in foreign policy."

28 March: Illicit diamonds mined by Sierra Leone's RUF rebels are being certified as having been mined legally, and are being exported through legitimate government channels, the Resident Minister of Eastern Province, Sahr Randolph Fillie-Faboe, said on Wednesday. "If the government law enforcement agencies and the people of Sierra Leone do not put strong efforts into combating the continued and increasing trade of conflict diamonds into Kenema town and its environs by RUF rebels, then the certification of origin would be meaningless," Fillie-Faboe told the Reuters news agency in Freetown. "Diamonds are brought to Kenema for sale after the rebels have passed the 'blood diamonds' to either their relatives or friends," he said. "(They) in turn sell to the licensed export companies in the country and then to the government gold and diamond office, who finally certificate the diamonds for overseas sale." Last month, former Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya acknowledged that RUF-mined diamonds were being traded through the Government Diamond Office, but he downplayed its significance. "I am sure that the money from that is not going immediately towards getting arms," he said. "When (the RUF) sent the diamonds through Liberia, they had no control over the proceeds. This time the proceeds are coming right into their pockets, and so I don’t think they are going to cross the border and hand it over to just anybody." Fillie-Faboe, however, remains unconvinced. "The law enforcement (agencies) like the police seem not to be doing much to arrest the RUF rebels or people carrying diamonds without licenses," he said. "What we need now is to cooperate with the external support that we have got from the international community, especially the United Nations, to combat conflict diamonds that continue to fuel our war in Sierra Leone."

At least 52 Sierra Leonean refugees were still missing Thursday after their overloaded boat capsized and sank off the coast of Guinea on Sunday, IRIN reported on Thursday, quoting news sources in Conakry. Earlier, the Agence France-Presse reported that 28 persons had drowned and many more were missing in the accident, which is said occurred overnight Saturday. 51 persons were reported rescued by a South Korean fishing trawler, which then alerted Guinean authorities. The boat had set sail clandestinely for Freetown from Conakry's Port de Boussoura. About 100 passengers were believed to be on board.

27 March: Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission released a draft timetable Tuesday under which the country's delayed presidential and parliamentary elections would be held by the end of the year, depending on security conditions. According to Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson, the plan calls for candidates to be nominated by the end of October, and that by December 31 "the presidential and parliamentary elections and the presidential run-off will have been conducted." No specific dates were given. The commission warned that the timetable was based on the assumption "that it will be possible to hold the election in a violence-free atmosphere."

The Sierra Leone government has barred fishing trawlers from docking between midnight and daybreak following a series of pirate attacks in Sierra Leonean waters, Reuters reported on Tuesday, quoting a senior fisheries official at the Ministry of Marine Resources. Four South Korean and Taiwanese boats have been attacked in the past week, the news agency said. In one attack, a Sierra Leonean crew member was killed when about 15 pirates attacked a South Korean-owned fishing boat. The pirates escaped with thousands of dollars in cash, radios and other equipment. The official said talks were underway with Britain about providing a naval patrol vessel to help the Sierra Leonean authorities fight the pirates. 

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi was due to brief the Security Council Tuesday on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a spokesman said in New York. Annan called last week for a six-month extension of UNAMSIL's mandate, and an increase in the authorised size of the peacekeeping force from 13,000 to 20,500 troops. He said the U.N. currently had commitments for 17,500 troops, and suggested that the Council raise the ceiling to that number as an interim measure.

Former RUF spokesman Omrie Golley was met by RUF leaders in Makeni, after arriving Tuesday morning in the rebel-held capital of Sierra Leone's Northern Province in the morning aboard a UNAMSIL helicopter. Golley acted as spokesman and legal representative for the RUF during the negotiations which led to the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, but broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh soon afterward. Last month he agreed to chair the rebel group's newly-formed political council which, Golley has said, will oversee the peace process and conduct negotiations with the government. "I was very, very well received by the Military High Command, quite a number of officials from the RUF," Golley told the Sierra Leone Web by satellite telephone. "I’m very happy to be here, and I’m looking forward to a lot of deliberations on the political front." Earlier Tuesday, Golley met with Justice Minister and Information Minister Solomon Berewa and Alan Dross, the Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported, quoting Information Minister Julius Spencer. Spencer said Golley wanted to "get a clear picture on what the RUF leadership's thoughts are" before entering into talks with the government.

26 March: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named a panel of five experts to monitor the implementation of sanctions imposed by the Security Council this month against the Liberian government, which was accused by a U.N. panel of experts last year of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and of involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade. In a resolution adopted on March 7, the Council broadened an existing arms embargo against Liberia effective immediately, and also imposed a number of other measures, including an embargo on the sale of Liberian diamonds, and a ban on international travel by senior Liberian officials which, under a compromise with ECOWAS, will take effect automatically on May 7 should Liberia fail to convince the Council that it has complied with U.N. requirements. The Security Council requested that Annan establish a panel of experts for six months to investigate any violations of the sanctions, and to look into possible links between the exploitation of natural resources in Liberia and the fuelling of conflicts in the sub-region. Heading the panel will be Martin Chungong Ayafor of Cameroon. He is joined by Johan Peleman of Belgium, an expert on arms and transportation; Harjit Singh Sandhu of India, and Interpol expert; Atabou Bodian of Senegal, and expert from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and Alex Vines, a diamond expert from the United Kingdom. All but Vines also served on the earlier panel of experts which investigated violations of sanctions on Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor has written a letter to Annan pledging his country would "do all that is possible to ensure that the concerns of the Security Council are adequately addressed." He said Liberia had expelled RUF members and ordered the freezing of the rebel group's assets, closed its border with Sierra Leone, imposed a four-month ban on the sale of rough diamonds, and grounded and revoked the licenses of Liberian-registered aircraft. Taylor called on the U.N. to send a contingent from UNAMSIL to monitor Liberia's main airport and other ports of entry, and to deploy along its border with Sierra Leone. But even as Taylor sounded a conciliatory note at the United Nations, he insisted Liberia was innocent of the charges. In a March 20 letter to the chairman of the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Africa, Taylor lashed out at his critics, accusing Liberian exiles, the media, the U.N. panel of experts, and the former Clinton administration of conducting what he called a "disinformation campaign," and of spreading lies about his government. "It is a myth of disturbing proportions to continue to portray our nation as a super aggressive war-mongering nation," he wrote. "Even following seven years of a brutal civil war, Liberia today remains among the safest nations in the sub-region."

Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's new political council, told the Sierra Leone Web late Sunday that UNAMSIL had arranged to fly him on Monday to the RUF-held town of Makeni. Golley, who arrived in Freetown earlier in the day, initially said he planned to meet with government and United Nations officials before heading up-country, but now he said that would not happen. "I am more interested at this time in going straight to Makeni to talk to the RUF, because we won’t have anything very much to talk about until I come back from there," he said. "I think the most important thing is to meet the brothers and to listen more than anything else, because I haven’t seen them in quite awhile. I would like to hear their own side of the story as to what is going on." Golley said he felt strongly that both sides should move quickly to restart the peace process. "We all have to come back to the table and start talking," he said. "The stall in the process since May has been too long, and there is now a need to renew direct discussions, not only with the government but with all parties in the sub-region and beyond." The former RUF spokesman pledged that the RUF would come to the negotiating table without preconditions, adding that issues such as the fate of imprisoned RUF leaders would be looked into as part of the peace process. "We have been careful not to make a precondition insofar as any dialogue is concerned, and as far as kick-starting the peace process," he said. "That is not to say that we’re not extremely concerned about their fate and position, and we would expect the government to move very quickly."

25 March: Former RUF spokesman Omrie Golley arrived in Freetown Sunday morning, en route to Makeni on Monday, where he will take up the chairmanship of the RUF's newly-formed political council. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web he was met at the airport by officials from the government and UNAMSIL, adding that he had been provided with "ample security" upon his arrival. "I will be having a few meetings around here with UNAMSIL and the government to assess the situation, and to assess prospects for kick-starting the peace process," Golley said. "And then I’m going to Makeni in the afternoon, and we’ll take it from there."

The Sierra Leone government will not condemn cross-border attacks by the Guinean military on villages and towns in northern Sierra Leone, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer was quoted as saying on Sunday. Since last September, Guinean ground troops and helicopter gunships have carried out a series of cross-border attacks on towns in Kambia, Bombali and Koinadugu Districts in reprisal for alleged RUF involvement in recent fighting in southern Guinea, killing scores of civilians and forcing thousands more to flee their homes. Spencer, who appeared Sunday on the local radio programme "Security Talk," said that condemning Guinea could affect the amicable relationship between the two countries, as well as Guinea's support of Sierra Leone, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. "The information minister also said that the Guinean military action against the RUF is paying off because, according to him, the rebels are now begging for respite," Fofana said.

23 March: The commander of the world's largest United Nations peacekeeping effort appealed for peace in Sierra Leone Friday, in a statement marking the tenth anniversary of Sierra Leone's civil war. "I am appealing to the people of Sierra Leone from all walks of life, including all the combatants, to redouble their efforts and work for peace," said UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured right). "I appeal to all combatants to put down their weapons, and work for peace." On 23 March 1991, former army corporal Foday Sankoh led a small group of Sierra Leonean expatriates and Liberian and Burkinabe irregulars across Sierra Leone's eastern border, seizing the town of Bomaru in Kailahun District and plunging the country into ten years of brutal civil conflict. The decade of civil strife has been particularly hard on Sierra Leone's civilian population. Thousands of people have been mutilated and many thousands more abducted. Over 5,000 children are believed to have fought on all sides, but particularly for the rebel Revolutionary United Front. An estimated 43,000 Sierra Leoneans have been killed, and hundreds of thousands were forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Over two million people —  about half of the country's population —  are thought to have been displaced since 1991. Last November, the Sierra Leone government and the rebels signed a ceasefire agreement in Abuja, and both sides have pledged their commitment to peace. But the conflict has proved a difficult one to resolve. Three successive peace agreements remain unimplemented, and UNAMSIL is still to deploy in most of the country more than a year after their arrival. On Friday, Muslims prayed for an end to the war in Sierra Leone, and religious leaders said Christians would do the same on Sunday. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured left), himself the leader of the Kamajor militia, appealed for peace and national unity. "I will appeal to Sierra Leoneans, let us be Sierra Leoneans. Let us be patriotic. Let us love the only country that God has given to us," he said. "For ten years we have been fighting ourselves, achieving absolutely nothing. We have no reason to continue the war as there would be no winner." Norman urged the RUF fighters to lay down their arms. "I’m appealing to the rebels out there, that they belong to this country," he said. "Whatever they may be, it is not the fault of the man to be deceived to fight. It is the fault of him after he has seen the right not to fight to continue that fighting. It is about time that every RUF member, high or low, educated or not, to see now that there is no necessity for fighting at all."

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers launched an $65 million inter-agency funding appeal Friday to help address the plight of some three million refugees and internally displaced persons in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast, and to assist the impoverished communities which care for the uprooted people. "West Africa today is plagued by one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, which it simply cannot handle without international help," Lubbers said, adding that the international community must also support the restoration of regional stability and good governance. Ross Mountain, the head of the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Programme, said the bulk of the money, about $35 million, would be used in Guinea. "A certain element of this is a much greater focus on Guinea than was the case in any other parts of the appeals precisely because this is a crisis that broke out at the end of last year, and Guinea was hithertofore basically a recipient of refugees and did not have the kind of problems of IDPs (internally displaced persons) that we’re now having to deal with," Mountain told the Voice of America. Guinea has long hosted hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who fled wars in their own countries. Now, fighting in the country's southern border region has displaced tens of thousands of Guineans as well. "The problems in Liberia spread into Sierra Leone, and we’ve had now a decade of internecine fighting in Sierra Leone," Mountain said. Now, as of really the end of last year, this has now spread to Guinea, and our concern now —  and another reason for this regional approach —  is that Côte d'Ivoire may be at risk."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has pre-positioned three days of food rations in the eastern town of Daru for as many as 10,000 people, as Sierra Leonean refugees continue to flee new insecurity in neighbouring Guinea, the agency said on Friday. Last weekend, 900 returnees arrived in Daru on foot, and more are expected —  especially women and children. In the Western Area, the WFP completed the last distribution of Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) rations to displaced persons from safe areas of the country. The resettlement of those from safe areas, believed to be about 65 percent of the total, will begin next week. At Mile 91, 31,412 internally displaced persons in 28 villages were provided with 442 tons of food commodities. Some 28,800 displaced from Kambia District who are sheltering in 16 villages in Loko Mansama Chiefdom will received a single VGF ration this week, for a total 390 tons. The WFP has also completed distribution of 270 tons of food aid to 20,000 displaced persons at the Port Loko camp. In Bo District, 2,836 school children in 28 schools have benefited from 14 tons of food under the Emergency School Feeding Programme. In Freetown, 22 tons of assorted food commodities were distributed under the Food for Work (FFW) programme  to 2,538 persons in Upper Koya Chiefdom who participated in a project to rehabilitate roads in the area.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 2000 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1700 / 1950. [£] 2430 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1950 / 2100 [£] 2650 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1975 / 2100 [£] 2650 / 3000.

22 March: A UNHCR security assessment mission which visited Guinea's "parrot's beak" region on Wednesday found most of the refugee camps in the area had been nearly deserted, UNHCR Public Information Officer Fatoumata Kaba said in a statement issued from Kissidougou on Thursday. The mission went to the area to assess the possibility of resuming aid convoys after a March 9 rebel attack on the town of Nongoa. Earlier this month, the UNHCR estimated that as many as 135,000 refugees, most of them Sierra Leoneans, remained stranded in the "parrot's beak," a strip of Guinean territory which juts into eastern Sierra Leone. Now the agency says it doesn't know what happened to them. "We realised that there are fewer refugees than we thought in the 'parrot's beak'. To see that most of the camps are empty —  that was a discovery," Kaba told the BBC. She speculated that most of the refugees had returned home on their own, although she added it was possible some might be hiding in the bush. In Geneva, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said that while some people may have trickled into Sierra Leone or headed northwards to Conakry, he suggested that the majority were hiding in the bush. "We're concerned because we've had so little access," he said. "It's a top priority to get people out of there." The UNHCR is appealing to the Guinean government to ensure the security of refugees remaining in the volatile border region. The agency's representative in Guinea will take the issue up with local authorities when he visits Kissidougou and Gueckedou on Friday, the statement said. Meanwhile, the UNHCR in Kenema has registered 3,000 returning refugees in the past few days. In Guinea, an average of 1,000 refugees have been arriving daily at the ruined Katkama camp north of Gueckedou, now being refurbished as a transit centre. From there, the UNHCR and its implementing partners transports them to the new Kountaya camp further north, which now houses over 21,000 refugees. 

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations said Wednesday that without Liberian assistance, the RUF would not have been able to sustain its ten-year war against the government. "If Liberia does not support the RUF, they will be finished," Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara told the Pan African News Agency. "This war would have been finished long ago if Liberia and some other countries were not involved." Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the Liberian government, but suspended most of the measures for two months at the request of ECOWAS in order to give Charles Taylor's government a chance to demonstrate it had ceased its involvement arms-for-diamonds trade and its support for the RUF. Kamara said Sierra Leone preferred to see the sanctions in place, and he expressed skepticism about whether the Liberian president would comply with the U.N. demands. He noted that Taylor had already failed to comply with an ECOWAS requirement that he hand over exiled former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie to the regional body. Instead, Taylor claimed that Bockarie had departed Liberia for an unnamed third country. "We wait to see whether Taylor will change," Kamara said. "It has not dawned on him that we can only get progress and development in Liberia when there is peace in Sierra Leone and other neighbouring countries." The ambassador maintained that once Taylor saw the international community was serious about ending the decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone, Taylor would have no choice but to cease his support for the RUF. "If he does not play the game, he will be hammered. I hope those around him will continue to talk to him," Kamara said. He added that RUF leaders had already already begun to sense their isolation, but he stressed that the rebels had so far failed to live up to their commitments under last year's ceasefire agreement, in which they agreed to disarm and to return weapons they seized from U.N. peacekeepers last May. "They have not done any of those things. But we hope these guys will begin to implement the Abuja Accord," he said. Kamara said any future power-sharing arrangement with the RUF was unlikely, insisting that the rebel group had lost that chance when it abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers last year and tried to seize power by force. But he said the RUF was free to contest in the next elections, now due to take place before the end of the year. Kamara said that the proposed Special Court for Sierra Leone should not be an impediment to RUF political participation, as only those guilty of grave crimes would be prosecuted. Others who committed lesser offences would appear before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where they could be forgiven if they accepted responsibility for their actions. But Kamara argued that ensuring judicial accountability was a necessary part of ending the war and returning peace to the country. Without it, he said, the lessons of the war would not be learned, and others might be tempted to take up arms in the future as a way of resolving problems. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Sierra Leone conflict, Kamara said a decade of war had left his country in ruins. "It's been ten years of mayhem, ten years of complete destruction of the country," he said, adding: "If we put this sad history behind us, Sierra Leone will bounce back and be the envy of West Africa once more."

Liberian President Charles Taylor abruptly cancelled a trip to Abuja on Wednesday, where he had been scheduled to hold talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on ways of ending the conflict in the sub-region. Obasanjo has been pressing for a summit to address the insecurity along Guinea's borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberian Information Minister Jonathan Refell told Radio France International Thursday that the cancellation was made for purely logistical reasons. "The plane that was supposed to take the president along to that meeting, there was some problems getting it on time and that sort of thing, so that’s why the president did not go," Refell said. "He really would have loved to be there."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan cited Sierra Leone Thursday as an area where support for U.N. peacekeeping efforts had been disappointing. In announcing that he would seek a second five-year term at the helm of the United Nations, Annan acknowledged that he had hoped to do much better in restoring peace to Sierra Leone. "Of course, that requires will and resources," he added. Annan told reporters that now the U.N. was re-engaging in peacekeeping, it would not be able to afford the failures of the past.

21 March: Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya called Liberia's expulsion of Sierra Leone's ambassador and the closing of the border "an action that we consider hostile," and said his government had taken steps to notify the OAU and the United Nations Security Council "that the situation should be watched." Dumbuya told the BBC that retaliatory measures taken by Sierra Leone, including ordering the expulsion of Liberian Charge d'Affaires Samuel Peters and closing the border from the Sierra Leonean side had been taken "to deter some action that might further complicate our situation in Sierra Leone." Dumbuya noted that in practice, closing the border between the two countries was impracticable. "These borders are in thick jungle area that cannot be effectively patrolled," he said. "So maybe major crossing points might be closed, and we have taken action also to close on our side so that we do not have...armed people crossing over. But as I say, these are thick forested areas and there are lots of pathways. So when we say we are closing our borders, it’s really mostly a question of formality." The minister declined to say whether Sierra Leone had sent additional troops to the border. "If even we did, it wouldn’t be safe to tell you what we are doing," he said. "All I can say is that the government is taking measures, necessary measures, to continue to be in a position to protect the people of Sierra Leone and to prevent any hostile actions from being taken against our territory."

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer has condemned Liberia's decision to expel the Sierra Leonean ambassador from Monrovia and to close the border between the two countries, and in a BBC interview broadcast on Wednesday he accused Liberian President Charles Taylor of seeking to escalate the crisis in the sub-region. "Sierra Leone has virtually been bending over backwards to ensure that we can achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the sub-region, but President Taylor seems to be determined to continue escalate the crisis," Spencer said. "We also believe that he must have some subterfuge going on, and perhaps he doesn’t want the ambassadors to be there to see what he’s doing." Spencer demanded that Liberia provide reasons for the expulsion of the diplomats —  something the Taylor government has so far refused to do. "As far as we know, they have not been engaged in anything that can be considered to be incompatible with their status, so the only explanation we can give for that is that he’s probably trying to hide something," Spencer said, adding: "The president of Liberia has not ceased the activities he’s been engaged in all the time. Even after the adoption of the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Liberia, he has not ceased his activities and we do not believe that he wants to cease those activities." The minister said that Sierra Leone planned to retaliate against the Liberian action. "The matter is going to be taken up with ECOWAS, with the U.N. Security Council, and we are also going to take a position," he said. "Liberia is going to have to withdraw their charge d’affaires here. We are also going to close our borders." But even as the government in Freetown demanded explanations, the Liberian authorities continued to insist that none would be forthcoming. "I’m not in a position to divulge (the reasons for the expulsions) right now," Liberian Information Minister Jonathan Refell told the BBC. "If our government deems it appropriate to take this action at this time to safeguard the interests of the republic and the people of this country, I’m sure that we must have exhausted all other avenues to resolve the matter...If these two diplomats (the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea) are behaving in ways that do not enhance good and positive relationship and not in our interests, we have a right to take the action that we have taken." Refell said his country's borders with Sierra Leone would remain closed until "there are no more incidents of insecurity."  "We are dealing with the situation. We are defending our borders. That’s the action we’ve taken. We’re defending our country," he added. Meanwhile in Conakry, reaction to the expulsion of Guinea's ambassador to Monrovia has been more muted. A Guinean foreign ministry official said his country did not intend to retaliate. "The Embassy of Liberia will continue its normal work," Foreign Ministry Chief of Staff Djibril Moriba told IRIN. Moriba added that Liberia had not informed Guinea of any misconduct by its ambassador.

The Guinean army has declared the country's "parrot's beak" region off limits to humanitarian organisations amid unconfirmed reports of renewed fighting in the area, the Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday. A U.N. mission which had been scheduled to enter the "parrot's beak" on Tuesday to assess the security situation in the border area, where tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees remain stranded, was postponed until Wednesday, a UNHCR spokesperson was quoted as saying in Conakry. Fatoumata Kaba said the security assessment team left Kissidougou for the "parrot's beak" on Wednesday.

UNAMSIL force commander Daniel Opande officially re-opened the Mange Bridge on Wednesday, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. The road linking Port Loko with the rebel-held town of Kambia had been blocked at the bridge by deep defensive trenches dug by the rebels in the course of the country's decade-long civil conflict. The trenches were filled in this month by RUF-supplied labourers, with logistical assistance from the United Nations. The Catholic church supplied food-for-work. After officially commissioning the road, Opande proceeded on to Kambia for talks with RUF leaders there before returning to Freetown Wednesday evening. In a subsequent press release, UNAMSIL said Opande and RUF 3rd Brigade commander Colonel Bai Bureh officiated at Wednesday's ceremony, which was attended by over 400 people. Opande was accompanied by UNAMSIL Chief Military Observer Brigadier-General Isaac Chisuzi, UNDP Resident Representative Kingsley Amaning, and staff officers from UNAMSIL headquarters. Also present for the ceremony were the UNAMSIL Sector 1 commander, the commander of Nigeria's 8th Battalion, Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi, and members of the RUF High Command. After the ceremony, a UNAMSIL patrol led by Opande visited the wharf and other locations in Kambia District which the RUF said had been destroyed by Guinean helicopter gunships. Then, accompanied by RUF 5th Brigade Commander Morris Kallon, UNAMSIL held a town meeting in Kambia, where a local official read a speech requesting that U.N. peacekeepers deploy in the area. Kallon, for his part, assured Opande that the RUF would disarm, the UNAMSIL statement said.

20 March: The Sierra Leone government has reacted to Liberia's expulsion of its ambassador in Monrovia by ordering the expulsion of the Liberian charge d'affaires in Freetown, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. Sierra Leone's foreign ministry also summoned the Liberian charge d'affaires to demand an explanation of his country's action. Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer described as "shocking" the Taylor government's decision to expel the Sierra Leonean envoy and to close Liberia's border with Sierra Leone. He said President Kabbah had ordered security forces to close Sierra Leone's borders with Liberia, adding that the government intended to protest the Liberian action to the United Nations Security Council and to ECOWAS.

A day after Liberia declared the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea persona non grata, Liberia's information minister said his government's action was directed at the two envoys as individuals, not at their countries, but he refused to disclose the grounds for the expulsions. "This has nothing to do with the government or the people of the country of Sierra Leone. It’s against the persons," Information Minister Jonathan Refell told the BBC. "We have not broken relations with these countries, and if these people have done things that are not compatible with what is expected of them as ambassadors." He declined to elaborate. According to the Voice of America, Sierra Leone Embassy officials have been restricted to a 30-mile radius of Monrovia, and the Liberian government has called for the embassy's relocation from the District of Virginia, a few miles west of the capital. Refell was also vague about the reasons for Liberia's decision to close the country's border with Sierra Leone. "The government of Liberia, from experiences of serious incidents of insecurity along that border, decided that it is going to close, and it determined specific measures to ensure the security of the border on our side is closed," he said. The minister denied a suggestion that Liberia's action might have been aimed at preventing RUF rebels from supplying their forces from Liberia. "We have our security situation and we have reasons to take the action that we have taken," he said. "We’re not aware of (rebels crossing into Sierra Leone). We’ve denied very strongly all those kinds of accusations. We have closed the land border of Liberia with the Republic of Sierra Leone, and that is that." Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean Ambassador Kemoh Salia-Bao, who along with his Guinean counterpart has been given a week to leave Liberia, said Tuesday he was awaiting instructions from Freetown. "The moment my government advises me what to do, that’s what I’m going to do immediately," he told BBC correspondent Sam Howard. Asked whether he already had his bags packed, Salia-Bao replied: "Over here you live very simply, so it’s a matter of my government saying ‘come’ —  I’m there. That’s all." The ambassador said the Liberian government's decision to expel him was completely unexpected. "The two years-plus I’ve been here I’ve been doing my work honestly and faithfully, so it is a surprise," he said. Asked why he thought the Liberian government had ordered him to leave, Salia-Bao he didn't know. "I’m not very sure, because the Liberian government has stated it in diplomatic terminology. So I cannot really say anything about that," he said. In a separate interview with Radio France International, Salia-Bao expressed regret over the Liberian government's decision to close the border between the two countries. "Every time I’ve been to that border seeing our grassroot people —  our farmers —  exchanging goods, money, and people coming from Sierra Leone with their vehicles, taking goods to Sierra Leone and the other ones coming to Liberia, so closing the border really will affect a lot of grassroot people in Liberia and also in Sierra Leone, especially when most of them are of the same family, same ethnic origin," he said. "So it’s a bit sad, but that’s an action taken by the Liberian government. I think my government is studying that also, and will react." In Freetown, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said the government had only learned of Liberia's decision to expel the ambassador and to close the border after the news was broadcast on the radio. "President Charles Taylor's decisions have the tendency to escalate uneasiness," Kaikai (pictured left) told the Associated Press. "If President Charles Taylor has any problem with Sierra Leone's ambassador in Monrovia, then he should have called (President Kabbah) up to discuss." 

776 peacekeepers from UNAMSIL's U.S.-trained and equipped 7th Nigerian Battalion were set to complete their deployment Tuesday in the RUF-held town of Lunsar, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. On Friday, a UNAMSIL Regional Contact Group met with the RUF at Magburaka. The RUF side, led by Colonel Bainda, agreed that all civilians, NGOs and UNAMSIL personnel would have complete freedom of movement in areas where U.N. peacekeepers deployed, and that a five-kilometre weapons-free zone would be established around all UNAMSIL deployments at Makeni and Magburaka, and that all RUF checkpoints along the road leading to Makeni would be dismantled, subject to the approval of the RUF High Command. "With regard to the weapons-free zone, we are determined to see to it that RUF is not holding any weapons in the towns in which we deploy, and also at the checkpoints leading into those towns," the spokesperson said. "We are well aware of what we are doing. We have a deployment strategy and we are proceeding very carefully so that there won’t be a recurrence of what happened last year."

An estimated 900 refugees arrived in the eastern town of Daru over the weekend, fleeing new instability in southern Guinea, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. More returnees are believed to be in surrounding villages. In Kenema, where the UNHCR has a field office, the agency has recently been registering more than 300 returnees a day. U.N. peacekeepers stationed at Daru are transporting the returnees to Kenema for registration, after which they are being taken to temporary settlement sites at Jembe and Gerihun in Bo District. The UNHCR is in the process of establishing a transit station at Kenema, where those refugees arriving from Daru will be supplied with food and medical assistance. On Wednesday, the UNHCR will begin transferring the returnees to new temporary sites in communities around Potoru in Moyamba District. Over the weekend, an NGO mission to Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" found large areas of the central part of the region deserted, including villages and refugee camps. The mission confirmed the burning of at least six camps around the embattled town of Nongoa, and the looting of 187 tons of WFP food. An estimated 10,000 refugees were believed to be displaced by a March 9 rebel attack on the town. Over a one week period, nearly 10,000 refugees from the Nongoa area arrived in the towns of Mongo, Dandou and Katkama to the north, the spokesman said. The UNHCR was due to send a security team to Nongoa on Tuesday to assess the security situation in the Nongoa area in the aftermath of the attack, and to advise on the possible resumption of aid convoys to the region.

500 refugees returned to Sierra Leone from Conakry Tuesday morning aboard the MV Fanta, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a statement. A second IOM-chartered ship, the MV Overbeck, returned Sunday with 249 persons, but did not sail on Tuesday because of mechanical problems. Since early January, 15,800 refugees have returned home by sea, for a total of more than 44,000 since last September. Among those returning to Freetown on Tuesday were 15 unaccompanied children in the care of the International Rescue Committee. In Conakry, the transit centre continues to be overcrowded with some 3,500 refugees awaiting repatriation. More arrive every day, fleeing camps in Guinea's interior.

19 March: The Liberian Justice Ministry announced the closure of that country's borders with Sierra Leone late Monday, only hours after the Foreign Ministry ordered the expulsion of the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea. No explanation was given in either case. An Information Ministry statement said the border was ordered closed effective midnight Monday because of unspecified security problems in the border area. Earlier, the Liberian government declared Ambassador Kemoh Salia-Bao of Sierra Leone and Ambassador Baba Soare of Guinea persona non grata for what the Foreign Ministry said were "acts incompatible with their diplomatic status." It did not elaborate. The statement said only that the two envoys had been given seven days to leave the country. Also Monday, the Liberian Information Ministry said Liberia had banned the import of rough diamonds unaccompanied by a certificate of origin in the government's latest move to avert the imposition of United Nations sanctions. The sanctions are due to take effect automatically on May 7 unless Liberia can convince the Security Council that it has cut its ties to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and has ceased its involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade. "The government of Liberia has imposed an immediate ban on the entry into the country of all uncertified rough diamonds from countries with existing certification regimes," the Information Ministry said, quoting a Ministry of Mines statement issued over the weekend. "The ban is in furtherance of efforts by the government of the Republic of Liberia to establish an internationally acceptable certificate of origin regime."

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is expected to assess the political situation in Sierra Leone during its two-day meeting Monday and Tuesday at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. CMAG was established in 1995 to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth's fundamental values, such as democracy, good governance, human rights, and the rule of law. The group assesses the nature of the violations and makes recommendations for collective Commonwealth action. Current CMAG members are the foreign ministers of Botswana, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Canada, Nigeria and the U.K., and the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Monday that UNAMSIL's mandate be extended through September, and he repeated his call for the Security Council to increase the peacekeeping force's authorised strength from its current level of 13,000 troops to 20,500, in order to help the Sierra Leone government reassert its authority in key areas of the country. In his latest report to the Security Council, Annan said additional troops would be required for the forward deployment of the U.N. force now that UNAMSIL had succeeded in consolidating its positions in its current areas of responsibility. Currently, UNAMSIL has about 10,000 troops on the ground in Sierra Leone, but Annan told the Council that this would increase to about 17,500 once new contingents that had been offered arrived in the country. The secretary-general noted that the situation in Sierra Leone had remained "relatively stable" since the signing last November of the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement, but he said the RUF's reluctance to disarm and to let government authority to be extended to areas under their control left "serious doubts" about the rebel group's intentions. "In particular, it would appear that so far RUF is ready to implement only those aspects of the Abuja Agreement that pose no threat to its military strength and to its exploitation of the natural resources of the country," Annan said. "Obviously, this position deepens considerably the reluctance on the part of the Government to engage RUF in a political dialogue and to create the confidence that is necessary for such a dialogue to bear fruit." 

Former NUP leader Dr. John Karimu switched allegiance Sunday to the ruling SLPP party in advance of presidential and parliamentary elections now expected later this year, the Sierra Leone News Agency reported. Karimu, who served as finance minister under the NPRC, finished fourth in the 1996 presidential elections with 5.3 percent of the vote. President Kabbah appointed him Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning in November 1996. 

The medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) found no signs of famine during an "exploratory mission" last week to the rebel-held towns of Makeni, Magburaka, Lunsar, Kamabai and Mange, but an MSF spokesman told IRIN on Monday that the medical needs were "quite great." No medical aid has reached the area since the peace process broke down last May. When MSF resumed operations at the Makeni hospital on March 13, some 400 people showed up for treatment, IRIN said. 

Former RUF spokesman Omrie Golley, who last month accepted the position of chairman of the RUF's new political council, insisted Monday that the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord must remain the basis for a political settlement of the conflict in Sierra Leone. "You must remember that this was an agreement that was signed by the government and the RUF. It was ratified by the Sierra Leone Parliament, supported by the international community, and we believe that it does remain the basis of discussions for certainly moving the peace process forward," Golley told Radio France International. "One of the key planks of the peace process is disarmament and demobilisation. The RUF are very keen to move forward, but they’re also extremely concerned as to who and the entity they’re going to give their weapons up to." Golley argued that democracy and development could only be possible in Sierra Leone once peace has been re-established. "What we should be concentrating on at the moment is how we are going to bring lasting and sustainable peace and development in the country," he said. "Because once we get to that stage, then it will be easy for democracy to thrive again in Sierra Leone." In a separate interview Monday with the Sierra Leone Web, Golley said he would be returning to Sierra Leone in a matter of days, and that he intended to travel directly to Makeni to begin interviewing prospective members of the political council. "This council will be the body that would actually not only negotiate with the government, but would also be negotiating with people outside, with institutions outside, with the international community," he said from Banjul. "It has to be composed of people that know what they’re talking about, and most importantly people that have the respect of the combatants —  that when they say something, it’s something that they would listen to. So it’s critical that we have good people." Golley said he had insisted that the council should include members from a broad range of backgrounds, and not be made up solely of RUF combatants. "I wanted people who were respectable: religious people, civil society people, women; civilians as well as combatants —  not just brigadiers and colonels," he said. "We don’t need to have Issa (General Issa Sesay) or Morris Kallon on, but we need to have people who they respect and who they would listen to."

Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a powerful advocate for the rule of law in Sierra Leone, announced Monday she would not seek a second term as High Commissioner, and will step down in September at the end of her four year term. "I will continue to work wholeheartedly for human rights in the way that I know best —  as an advocate. I believe that I can, at this stage, achieve more outside of the constraints that a multilateral organisation inevitably imposes," the former Irish president said in a statement issued after her announcement at the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. During a June 1999 visit to Sierra Leone, Robinson stressed that human rights abuses in the country were among the world's worst. "The grievous violations of human rights that have taken place in Sierra Leone have wrecked the country," Robinson told reporters in Freetown. "The human rights situation and needs of Sierra Leone...exceed those of Kosovo, and yet the international community pays more attention to Kosovo than Sierra Leone...And it’s time that we displayed the commitment to the dignity and worth of all human beings, and did more for Sierra Leone." Even as government and RUF negotiators discussed peace in Lomé, Togo two years ago, Robinson warned that the United Nations would not recognise an amnesty which excused gross violations of human rights, and she pushed for the establishment of both a war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone and a truth and reconciliation commission. Nor did she forget Sierra Leone on Monday, even as she pledged to step down. "There is a burden of listening as High Commissioner to the direct accounts of victims of terrible human rights abuses," she said. "I have many personal memories of sitting, listening to young girls in Sierra Leone who had been raped consistently and who were trying to put their lives together."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sierra Leone is gearing up for an increased number of returnees fleeing new fighting in southern Guinea, UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said on Monday. "We’ve had a sudden influx over the weekend. 300 people arrived on Saturday and on Sunday, and reportedly 600 more arrived today," Marie told the Voice of America. "This number is nearly equal to the total number of arrivals we’ve had since the middle of February, so there is an intensification in the return movement." Marie said the agency had added two temporary resettlement camps near Bo and Kenema where refugees were being taken following registration and medical screening. "We are expecting more returns as apparently a recent mission by some NGOs in the region of the "parrot’s beak" in Guinea has found that some major camps are nearly empty," Marie said. "This is a very recent development over the past few days."

A United Nations inter-agency mission led by Ibrahima Fall, the Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Political Affairs met Sunday with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, and senior U.N. military and civilian staff, UNAMSIL said on Monday. Since arriving in the country on Saturday, the mission met in Kenema with President Kabbah and members of his government, and in Freetown with the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, civil society groups, women's organisations, the U.N. Country Team, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives of the Mano River Union. The mission, which is visiting West Africa this month at the behest of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will take stock of priority needs and challenges in the sub-region and make recommendations on a coordinated U.N. response to the complex problems facing the region. The team is composed of representatives of the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Economic Commission for Africa, OCHA, the UNHCR, UNICEF, the U.N. Development Group, the UNDP, and the WFP. A representative of ECOWAS is also participating in the mission.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is due to visit Guinea on Monday to discuss the conflict along the country's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Nigerian Post Express newspaper reported.

18 March: The Royal Nepal Army will send a 900-strong battalion of Gurkha troops to join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone by May or June, the Nepalese daily newspaper Kantipur reported on Sunday. Defence Ministry Spokesman Bhola Silwal told the Reuters news agency that Nepal had committed to sending troops to Sierra Leone, but said a formal decision had not been reached. This past week, UNAMSIL's 7th Nigerian Battalion began deploying in the rebel-held town of Lunsar, but the U.N. has stressed it lacks sufficient troops to carry out its mandate to deploy around the country. The UNAMSIL force has an authorised strength of 13,000 troops, but with the departure of the Indian and Jordanian contingents it currently has only about 10,000 soldiers. On Friday, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told reporters that prospects for additional troop commitments looked good. "We are in the process of inducting the third Bangladeshi battalion, and we are expecting some substantial commitment of troops in the near future," she said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo called Sunday for an urgent end to the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. These conflicts, they said, had negative consequences for the sub-region's economic growth and development. "(We call for) an end to the violence in the sub-region by armed groups and early restoration of peace," the two leaders said in a communiqué released at the conclusion of their two-day meeting in Abuja.

Security forces again searched Pademba Road Prison on Friday, a source told the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday. No details were available. An earlier search of the facility on Wednesday resulted in a near-riot among the inmates, reportedly including RUF detainees. Security forces fired their guns to regain control, causing panic in the area surrounding the prison and resulting in several deaths.

17 March: UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande headed a U.N. delegation which met on Friday with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay and other members of the RUF High Command in the eastern rebel stronghold of Kailahun. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Opande raised several issues relating to the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Kailahun, including the freedom of movement of UNAMSIL patrols and the opening of the Daru - Kailahun road. Sesay said he would do everything in his power to bring peace to Sierra Leone, and pledged to allow unimpeded movement between Daru and Kailahun, the statement said. Sesay also gave assurances that the RUF would facilitate the movement of humanitarian assistance and that security would be assured for aid workers. Opande also pledged U.N. aid for some 2,000 returned refugees who crossed over from Guinea and are sheltering at the town hall in Kailahun. Accompanying Opande to Kailahun were Chief Military Observer Brigadier-General Isaac Chisuzi, Sector 3 commander Brigadier-General Samuel Odotei, Arnold Akodjenou of the UNHCR, and representatives of UNAMSIL civilian staff and the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

16 March: UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured right)  travelled to the rebel stronghold of Kailahun Friday for talks with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Meanwhile, an advance company of Nigerian peacekeepers troops has deployed at Lunsar in preparation for the full deployment early next week of Nigeria's U.S.-trained 7th Battalion, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Friday. Margaret Novicki said military observers based in Port Loko reported having to pass through three armed RUF checkpoints Thursday on their way to Lunsar, and that RUF military police were still conducting armed patrols through the town, contrary to their commitment to dismantle checkpoints along the Rogberi - Lunsar road, and to make Lunsar a weapons-free zone. But UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima said Friday that the U.N. had taken control of the checkpoints. "The troops have taken over all checkpoints and will conduct normal patrols," he told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). Yerima said about 280 troops had arrived in Lunsar, and that the main body of troops from NIBATT-7 was due to move in on Tuesday.

A final group of 193 Zambian officers and soldiers left for Sierra Leone on Friday, completing the troop rotation for Zambia's 811-strong U.N. peacekeeping contingent. Most of the Zambian troops being replaced by the new battalion returned home in late February. The last 381 officers and men are due to arrive in Zambia on Saturday.

Hundreds of Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived in Kenema District after fleeing Guinea's troubled "parrot's beak" region on foot, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva on Friday. In the past month, UNHCR staff in Kenema have registered more than 700 returnees, some of whom took as long as two weeks to make the dangerous trip from the rebel-held border area. On some days, as many as 125 new arrivals have been registered. Others returnees are believed to have avoided registration by going directly to the homes of relatives. The refugees, who fled various camps in insecure parts of Guinea, have been crossing RUF-held territory north of Kenema, the spokesman said. They usually move in small groups during the day, then gather in larger numbers for safety at night. Some have walked 70 miles or more, usually taking between two and fourteen days to complete the journey. Many of the refugees said they came from the Kolomba camp at the tip of the "parrot's beak." Others arrived from camps around Gueckedou, including Katkama, Nyaedou and Sayanin. Some of the returnees said they had been assisted by the Guinean military in finding their way to the border, but others reported harassment and theft by Guinean soldiers. Most of those arriving in Kenema are women and children. Men are reportedly staying behind for fear of being forcibly recruited by rebels. Some of the refugees told aid workers of rebels holding young men, presumably for forced labour. Despite their ordeal, most of the returnees were said to be in good condition. They are being taken to the UNHCR's temporary resettlement site at Jembe, 32 kilometres west of Kenema. Jembe is currently home to some 3,000 refugees, 600 of whom returned on foot. The rest returned to Sierra Leone by boat from Conakry, and were transported from Freetown to Kenema in UNHCR convoys. Another camp site is being developed at Gerihun, which is already home to about 1,000 refugees. Because of the number of people returning, the UNHCR is planning to construct additional temporary resettlement sites, since most of the refugees originate in the RUF-controlled Kono and Kailahun Districts and are unable to return to their homes. While Jembe and Gerihun can accommodate 6,000 and 12,000 returnees respectively, the spokesman said, other sites are being considered in Taiama and Bandajuma in Bo District, for a total capacity of 20,000 people. Meanwhile in Guinea, refugees who fled a rebel attack last Friday on the Guinean town of Nongoa continue to flee northward. As of Thursday night, the UNHCR had registered nearly 4,500 new arrivals at the Katkama camp, north of Gueckedou.

Jo Bonfrere pledged Friday he would resign as coach of Nigeria's national football team if the Super Eagles fail to defeat the Leone Stars next month when the two teams meet in a World Cup qualifying match in Freetown. "My days here are numbered. If we do not beat Sierra Leone, I'll quit," Bonfrere said after meeting with the Nigerian Football Association (NFA). "There are no two ways about it, I'll quit. Nigeria has no business in the World Cup if we cannot beat Sierra Leone next match." After his team managed only a 0 - 0 draw last weekend against a Ghanaian team made up entirely of local players, Nigeria remains in third place in Group B, behind Liberia and Sudan. Ghana trails Nigeria, with Sierra Leone in last place. Only the winner of each group qualifies for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and Korea. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 2000 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1700 / 1950. [£] 2450 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2725. Continental: [$] 1950 / 2150 [£] 2600 / 3000.

15 March: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working to save hundreds of refugees who fled the southern Guinean town of Nongoa following a rebel attack on the town last Friday, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. On Wednesday, UNHCR trucks picked up 200 refugees who were moving northwards from Nongoa, and took them to the ruined Katkama refugee camp north of Gueckedou, which is currently being restored as a transit centre. Many of those rescued appeared exhausted after their near-weeklong ordeal, the spokesman said. On Thursday, more trucks left for the area to search for the most vulnerable refugees. An estimated 9,000 refugees, most of them  Sierra Leoneans, were scattered in several camps around Nongoa at the time of Friday's early morning attack. Many fled into the bush and began trekking northwards, often without the 30-day supply of rations they had received from aid agencies only a few days earlier. A new food distribution has been planned for refugees from Nongoa and surrounding camps. So far, nearly 2,000 refugees have arrived at Mongo, north of Nongoa, and another 1,500 have reached Katkama. 400 more arrived at the Nyaedou camp, only a few miles from Gueckedou, which had to be evacuated last month due to insecurity in the area. There have been reports that part of that camp may recently have been burned. UNHCR staff planned to travel to Nyaedou on Thursday to register the new refugees before transferring them to Katkama. An assessment team which travelled to Mongo and Gueckedou earlier this week was told by refugees that the entire population of Nongoa and the surrounding camps had fled. Many were said to be still on their way to Mongo, while others may have sought safety at the Nongoa hospital, which is now serving as a military base. About 70 of the refugees who arrived earlier in Nyaedou told aid workers they had travelled by truck, using food as payment. They said they were asked for their papers at numerous roadblocks along the way, manned by Guinean soldiers or civilians. In order to pass without identification, they had to pay in cash —  approximately 50 U.S. cents —  or in kind, usually one to two kg. of rice per family. The refugees appeared to be in good condition, the spokesman said. He said the agency expected the number of refugees reaching Katkama to increase to around 500 per day. Regular convoys to relocate refugees to a new site at Kountaya, 275 kilometres north of Gueckedou, will resume on Saturday. This weekend's scheduled convoy will bring to nearly 20,000 the number of refugees relocated to the new camp since early February. Meanwhile, the UNHCR and its implementing partners hope to resume food deliveries on Monday to refugees trapped in Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" region, which has been cut off from assistance since rebel attacks began in September. Since aid convoys resumed in late February, 35,000 refugees and displaced Guineans have received supplies, the spokesman said.

Ed Royce, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, said Wednesday the United States should take a hard line against Charles Taylor, whom he called "a menace to West Africa" for the Liberian president's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and Guinean insurgents, and for flouting U.N. resolutions with his involvement in the illicit arms-for-diamonds trade. "I've said before that Taylor should be made to realise that the U.S. has the ability and will to undermine his rule should his support of the RUF continue. Well, it has, and Taylor's time is up," Royce said in a statement, adding: "For the sake of tens of millions of West Africans, it is time to act forcefully against President Taylor." Royce was also critical of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, which he said appeared "unwilling and incapable" of bringing peace and stability to Sierra Leone, in particular of driving the RUF out of Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas. He accused UNAMSIL of effectively dividing the country so that the RUF could continue mining diamonds with impunity. "This operation's mandate expires at the end of this month," he said. "It needs to be fundamentally reformed by then, or I will no longer be able to support UNAMSIL." Royce said the U.S. needed to consider military assistance for Guinea to help it combat what he called the proxies of President Taylor. "West African states are weak and getting weaker," he said. "If we don't act with vigor now, the region neighbouring Liberia will become an irreversible humanitarian and environmental nightmare. In a few years, our ability to do anything constructive may well be gone. We need to bring a sense of urgency to our West Africa policy. We are not serious about Liberia and Africa if we are not serious about this crisis."

Ghanaian peacekeepers conducted a long-range patrol from their base at Daru to the RUF stronghold of Kailahun on Wednesday, passing through the rebel-held towns of Bombahun, Kuiva, Mobai and Pendembu, UNAMSIL said on Thursday. UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande is due to visit Kailahun on Friday. Wednesday's patrol marked the first U.N. presence in the area since the force launched "Operation Khukrii" last July to free 222 Indian peacekeepers and 11 military observers who had been pinned down by the RUF since the peace process collapsed in May. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the Ghanaian troops were "greeted with joy by civilians in the villages visited, who organised impromptu dancing and singing to welcome the patrol."

14 March: A struggle between prisoners and security forces searching for smuggled arms sparked shooting at Pademba Road Prison early Wednesday, sending Freetown residents into a panic. Witnesses reported hearing intense gunfire coming from the prison for about ten minutes as security forces struggled to bring the situation under control. The shooting caused residents to flee the area, and shops and schools were closed. Police blockaded the area, while U.N. peacekeeping troops equipped with armoured personnel carriers deployed around the prison and at strategic areas in the capital. According to similar accounts by Reuters and the Associated Press, prisoners ambushed police who entered to search the prison after receiving a tip that arms and ammunition had been smuggled to RUF members jailed under the country's emergency regulations. State radio said security forces "had wanted to conduct routine checks at the Pademba Prison, but the detainees put up some resistance, and so they had to fire warning shots." BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana told the BBC Focus on Africa that an imprisoned RUF rebel put up a fight with a police officer during a cordon-and-search operation at the prison. "Suddenly more cells were opened all around," he said. "Soon afterwards, shots were let off by the security personnel, bringing the whole city to a virtual standstill." A different version was advanced by the British High Commission, which said in a statement that guards were moving prisoners away from the facility in case of problems arising during Thursday's planned anti-government demonstrations by the Grassroots Awareness Organisation. "The shots caused widespread panic among the people. School children ran out of classes fearing the worst. Schools closed because of the incident," the statement said. Police told the BBC that the demonstrations had been cancelled. "My best information is that the (government) was conducting a search for weapons, etc. which might have been smuggled into Pademba in advance of the demonstration and the RUF types resisted," a source told the Sierra Leone Web. The AP quoted the prison's deputy director, Moses Showers, as saying the near-riot had not resulted in any casualties in the jail. Several area residents reportedly died, however, in what one witness described as "the absolute panic" which gripped the neighbourhood. One child was crushed while fleeing from school, and another was struck by a car and killed. Fofana reported a heavy security presence in the city immediately after the shooting. "I saw massive deployment of security forces both around the central prison and other strategic locations," he said. "Battle tanks and security patrols were very much in view, and for some time a helicopter gunship hovered around the city as if in combat readiness." Three shots were also fired Wednesday morning at Wilberforce Barracks, causing widespread panic, a source in Freetown told the  Sierra Leone Web. "School children scattered there as well, crying and screaming. Teachers were unable to maintain order so the schools were closed there as well," the source said.

United Nations peacekeeping troops have deployed in the RUF-held town of Lunsar, a senior UNAMSIL commander told the BBC on Wednesday. The deployment, some 50 miles from Freetown, follows Saturday's meeting between peacekeepers and the RUF's 5th Brigade Commander, Colonel Kallon, who promised that Lunsar would be a weapons-free zone after the U.N.'s arrival. It also marks the first deployment by UNAMSIL in a rebel-held area since the peace process broke down last year, resulting in the abduction of more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers by the RUF. "We are moving," UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande told reporters in Freetown. "People in Lunsar were very happy to see us. They turned out in the hundreds to welcome us." A UNAMSIL spokesperson said an advance party of U.N. troops arrived in the town Wednesday morning to prepare for the full deployment of the Nigerian battalion, the U.S.-trained NIBATT-7, early next week. A senior RUF official told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle that the rebel movement welcomed the deployment, and that the U.N. move would soon be followed by a consolidation of the ceasefire throughout the country. The official said the RUF still had political demands, including the formation of an interim government of national unity to replace what he called the corrupt regime in Freetown. He added that the rebel movement was ready to work peacefully with the U.N. to achieve its aims.

13 March: A new rebel attack Friday on the southern Guinean town of Nongoa has forced aid agencies to suspend delivery of food to tens of thousands of  stranded Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Guineans in the country's "parrot's beak" region, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva. Nongoa is located 27 kilometres west of the beleaguered town of Gueckedou. The attack forced an estimated 1,500 refugees to flee to the ruined Katkama Camp, north of Gueckedou, and an estimated 1,000 more fled to the town of Mongo, north of Nongoa. More refugees were said to be on their way to Katkama, or hiding in the bush, the spokesman said. There were believed to be about 9,000 refugees residing at Nongoa at the time of the attack. The fighting has also put on hold plans to deliver food to an estimated 30,000 refugees at Kolomba, which lies at the tip of the "parrot's beak," as food convoys must pass through Nongoa to reach the area. On Monday the road remained closed and local authorities advised humanitarian agencies to avoid the area. Since the convoys resumed in late January, more than 35,000 persons —  both refugees and displaced Guineans scattered in 13 different locations —  have received a 30-day WFP food ration, the spokesman said. The convoys will resume as soon as the security situation improves. Meanwhile, a total of 26,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned to Freetown since September aboard two boats chartered by the International Organisation for Migration. During the same period, 14,000 more returned by to Sierra Leone by foot from Guinea's Forecariah Prefecture. Another group of 900 refugees returned to Kabala from Faranah Prefecture, the spokesman said. The refugees told aid workers of being harassed by armed groups they encountered along the say, both on Guinean and Sierra Leonean territory.

The UNAMSIL Regional Contact Group met with RUF officials at Mange on Monday to discuss a timetable for the repair of trenches at Mange Bridge and the setting up of a UNAMSIL checkpoint at Masaimbo while the work is in progress, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Tuesday. The two sides agreed that U.N. military observers would patrol Kambia once work on the road is complete. UNAMSIL's Civil Affairs Unit also participated Monday in the rehabilitation of the road near Mange Bridge. About 1,000 civilian labourers from Mange and Kambia were present, while a 16-member team from the Sierra Leone Roads Authority provided machinery, including a loader, two tippers and a driving roller. The U.N. World Food Programme is providing funds for the first phase of the project to rehabilitate the Mange - Port Loko road. Two of the three trenches have already been filled in, while work continues on a third at the south end of the bridge, the spokesperson said. Meanwhile, U.N. military observers from Port Loko and Nigerian peacekeepers (NIBATT-8) conducted a joint patrol Friday to Petifu Malal for a low-level contact group meeting with the RUF commander from Batkanu. The RUF members told UNAMSIL they wanted to comply with the ceasefire, and apologised for "recent incidents," adding that the battalion commander responsible had been dismissed and replaced. They insisted UNAMSIL was free to patrol in and around Batkanu, and said the trenches in the Rogberi - Lunsar road had been filled in. On Saturday, Port Loko military observers and Nigerian peacekeepers (NIBATT-7) conducted a joint patrol to Lunsar to assess the security situation there and the possibility for a future deployment of UNAMSIL. Colonel Morris Kallon, commander of the RUF's 5th Brigade, said that rebel checkpoints along the Rogberi - Lunsar road would be withdrawn after UNAMSIL's deployment, and that Lunsar would be a weapons-free zone.

The Sierra Leone Football Association has sacked the national team's technical staff following the Leone Stars' 2-0 loss Saturday to Sudan in a World Cup Qualifying Match, Chernor Ojuku-Sesay reported for the BBC. Gone as of Monday were team manager Nahim Khadi, head coach Christian Cole and assistant coach Daniel Koroma. The three had only been appointed in January. Taking over as head coach is Obi Metzger, while Under-17 coach John Jebbor Sherrington replaces Koroma. Ibrahim Mansaray is the new team manager. The Leone Stars have yet to score a goal through four World Cup qualifying matches, and are in last place in Group B, behind Liberia, Sudan, Nigeria and Ghana. On April 21 they face off against Nigeria's Super Eagles at Freetown's National Stadium.

Parliament on Monday unanimously approved five new cabinet members nominated by President Kabbah last week, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported. Approved were Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Peter Jiwa Kuyembeh as Minister of Finance, Osman Kamara as Minister of Trade and Industry, Chernor Jalloh as Minister of Energy and Power, and Dr. A. Bobson Sesay as Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning. President Kabbah has since sworn in his new cabinet, PANA said.

UNAMSIL's Russian aviation unit will conduct live firing exercises at Kortimaw Island on March 20, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Tuesday. Four Mi-24 helicopter gunships will strike a target with rockets and guns, in order to check the condition and accuracy of the unit's equipment, and to give the pilots and crew a chance to train. In preparation for the exercise, an Mi-8 helicopter will drop information leaflets on the island and at villages on the Lungi Peninsula on Wednesday.

12 March: Deployment of an ECOWAS peacekeeping force in southern Guinea will be delayed for lack of funds, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate was quoted as saying in Nigeria. The force was originally scheduled to arrive in the border region in late January. According to local press accounts, Kouyate complained that some member states had failed to pay their dues, and said the regional body would soon institute a community-wide levy in order to finance its day-to-day affairs. 

10 March: The Leone Stars lost to Sudan Saturday by 2 goals to 0 before a home crowd of 30,000 at National Stadium, effectively ending any slim hope the team had of advancing through the World Cup qualifying matches. The win put Sudan in possession of second place in Group B, behind first place Liberia and ahead of Nigeria and Ghana. Sierra Leone has now lost four straight qualifying games —  to Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sudan —  and has yet to score its first goal in the series. The Leone Stars came out aggressively, but missed several good chances, including a shot that bounced off the right pipe. Then James Moja Joseph of Sudan hit an empty net in the 43rd minute, and his teammate Khaled El Bakhit added a second goal one minute later, and the Sudanese never looked back. Frustrated Sierra Leonean fans reacted to the two scores by throwing bottles and trash onto the field and the track, with one bottle hitting the cover over the substitutes' seats. The disturbance prompted President Kabbah, Vice President Demby and a number of other officials to leave the stadium before the half. More than a wheelbarrow full of bottles was eventually collected from the field. Sudan protected its lead throughout the second half against an apparently tired Sierra Leonean side. "(The Leone Stars) seemed to be playing a 4-4-2 most of the game, with (Mohammed) Kallon running around a lot and not playing his position," an observer reported. "Sudan generally played a 3-4-3." Earlier on, play was held up for some five minutes when Sudan's Said Gned collapsed from an apparent seizure and had to be taken to hospital. There was no word on his condition. Sierra Leone had been the heavy favourite to win over what was generally believed to be a dispirited and under-funded Sudanese national team. The Leone Stars even recalled seven of their internationals for the match, and on Friday a confident team manager, Nahim Khadi, told a radio audience that "Sierra Leoneans should expect nothing but victory." But it was not to be. The Leone Stars next face off against Nigeria's Super Eagles on April 21 in Freetown. According to the Concord Times, Mohamed Kallon, Kewullay Conteh, Mustapha Sama, Francis Koroma, Chernor Mansaray, Abu Gbanaloko Kanu and Amidu Karim joined local players Abdulai Decox Sesay, Ahmed Polo Sesay, Ernest Kamara, Ibrahim Bobson Kamara, Hassan Sesay, Sidique Mansaray and Ajami Jamiru for Saturday's match. Other weekend results: Zambia 2, Libya 0; Senegal 4, Namibia 0; Democratic Republic of Congo 1, Ivory Coast 2. Ghana 0, Nigeria 0; Togo 1, Angola 1; Egypt 5, Algeria 2; Zimbabwe 2, Malawi 0. South Africa vs. Guinea was cancelled. FIFA suspended Guinea last week because of government interference with the country's football association.

A Sierra Leonean researcher for the Ottawa-based advocacy group Partnership Canada Africa (PAC) was expelled from Burkina Faso this week while investigating the illicit "conflict diamond" trade in the West African sub-region. Lansana Gberie was co-author last year of PAC's report, "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone Diamonds and Human Security," which documented the role of conflict diamonds in fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone. A spokesman for PAC told the Sierra Leone Web on Saturday that Gberie had applied for a visa in Abidjan, concerned over new travel restrictions to Burkina Faso for Sierra Leoneans imposed after the government in Ouagadougou was stung by accusations it had allowed the RUF free access to their country. According to the spokesman, Gberie was told that as an ECOWAS citizen he didn’t need a visa. When he arrived at the airport on Thursday, he was questioned and a French version of the PAC report was seized from his luggage. "They took that away and they sent him packing," the spokesman said. Gberie had planned to meet with government officials and others to discuss charges of Burkinabe involvement in the conflict diamond trade. "It’s really an ongoing part of what PAC was doing before to look at conflict diamonds, but it’s been expanded to look at other countries beyond Sierra Leone. Last time we looked only at Sierra Leone. Now we’re looking a little bit further afield," the spokesman said. "This is an opportune moment to visit the region, because of the U.N. Security Council resolution (on Liberian sanctions) and changing policies among governments in the region."

Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen said Saturday that the diamond certification regime introduced last year had boosted the value of gems exported through official channels, and had increased the value of the leone. "The total value of diamonds exported in the year 2000 was over $10 million compared to $1.5 million in 1999," Deen told Reuters. "The leone has appreciated over the U.S. dollar from 2,500 in May 2000 to 1,700 in January 2001." Deen acknowledged that legitimate exports still accounted for only a small part of the country's diamond production, with the RUF still in control of most of Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas. "The fact remains that the bulk of production of Sierra Leone diamonds is still going through other routes," he said. "This is the reason why the government welcomes measures taken by the U.N. Security Council against Liberia recently."

Relief efforts on behalf of tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees stranded in Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" region will not resume until Monday at the earliest, a UNHCR official said Saturday in Conakry. A rebel attack early Friday on the southeastern town of Nongoa forced aid agencies to suspend food distributions to the refugees, most of whom have been cut off from assistance since late last year. "One of our implementing partners operating in the area, Premier Urgence, will make a tour of the area on Monday to assess the feasibility or otherwise of restarting food distribution, now that the Guinean army is back in control of the area," the UNHCR official told Reuters. The news agency quoted Guinean military sources as saying there had been casualties on both sides during a six-hour long battle on Friday, and that many homes and buildings had been destroyed.

A contingent of 226 Zambian soldiers left Ndola for Sierra Leone Friday as part of a troop rotation to replace the country's 811-man U.N. peacekeeping battalion, an army spokesman said. The Times of Zambia quoted Zambian Army spokesman Dan Chambaila as saying two additional contingents of 206 and 193 troops would be sent to complete the rotation.

9 March: Humanitarian agencies have been forced to postpone plans to send aid workers back into Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" region following reports of new fighting Thursday night and Friday near the town of Nongoa, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday. On Thursday, a multi-agency U.N. security assessment mission had found the are stable enough for U.N. staff to return. "But again on Friday morning, that is 24 hours later, we hear of new attacks and new problems," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski in Geneva. "This is unfortunately the feature of southern Guinea, that things are calm for awhile —  sometimes for quite awhile —  and then all of a sudden you’ve got resumption of fighting or resumption of attacks, and you’re back to square one in terms of security. So we’ll have to look at the situation again and then the U.N. security people will decide whether we can go back in or not." The security assessment team, which returned from the area before the fighting began on Thursday, reported that refugee camps near Nongoa were only one-third occupied and that several camps nearer the embattled town of Gueckedou had been completely abandoned by the Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who had sheltered there. Janowski said most of the infrastructure in the empty camps was still intact. The team, which travelled from Gueckedou to Kolomba at the furthest tip of the "parrot's beak," said the refugees told them their greatest problem was the lack of food and supplies over the past several months. In Kolomba, where there are now more than 30,000 refugees, people expressed their resentment at months of isolation. Refugees told the aid workers they were aware that food distributions had resumed late last month, and were anxious to receive shipments in their own camps. Because of limited logistical capacity and security considerations, Janowski said, food distribution is gradually working its way down the "parrot's beak" toward Kolomba. Many refugees, particularly those at Kolomba and Fangamadou, had been forced to sell most of their belongings in order to survive. Refugees said they had tried to hold on to their beds and UNHCR plastic sheeting as long as possible, but the team saw many of these in the markets at the camps they visited. The mission also saw a number of malnourished children. Meanwhile, the UNHCR's implementing partner, Première Urgence, has continued to distribute food to the estimated 135,000 refugees and displaced Guineans who have been stranded in the "parrot's beak" without aid for several months. As of Thursday, 29,567 refugees and 5,704 displaced Guineans had received food, Janowski said.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi called Friday for an interim government of national unity in which the rebel group would take part. Under the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, the RUF received three cabinet portfolios and four deputy ministerial posts. The RUF ministers and deputy ministers were arrested in May 2000 after the RUF abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers and resumed hostilities, and last week President Kabbah announced a new cabinet which did not include the RUF. "The RUF never wanted to be part of a Tejan Kabbah-led ineptitude and corruptive regime of recycled politicians," Massaquoi told Radio France International. "Even at Lomé it was international community who prevailed on the both parties to come to that agreement. So we still stand by our words of interim government of national unity and reconciliation, because we want a fair and level political dispensation without political manipulation, and secondly a proper implementation of the agreement without further impediments. And lastly for the international community to investigate human rights abuses and war crimes known detected to [as heard] by any party."  Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer rejected Massaquoi's claims. "That is a load of rubbish," he said. "The RUF by their actions negated that right to be in government. They violated the Lomé Agreement. They resumed hostilities, and the government has made its position clear: We still regard Lomé as viable, but even the Abuja Agreement that was signed made it quite clear that when the RUF fulfills its obligations under that agreement —  that is, the Abuja Agreement —  then the political issues can be revisited. Then it will be decided whether it is time to bring Lomé back into force. They have nothing to stand on. They are just finding excuses."

The Resident Minister of Southern Province, Foday Sesay, expressed concern over tension between two factions of the CDF in southern Sierra Leone during a meeting in Bo Wednesday with the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said. Adeniji provided assurances that he could be called upon if UNAMSIL's assistance was required, but added that the U.N. mandate was one of peacekeeping, not peace enforcement. Novicki said there had been a split in the CDF over "a question of different leadership within the CDF," but that she had no details as to the composition of the two factions. Adeniji stressed that the Lomé Peace Accord and the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement both provided for the simultaneous disarmament of all armed factions. Novicki said UNAMSIL was "moving forward" with plans to deploy peacekeepers in Kambia District. "Our deployment plans are underway, hopefully within the next few weeks," she told reporters, adding: "We have been having discussions with the RUF about moving into RUF-held territories." Meanwhile, U.N. military observers from Mile 91 and Bangladeshi peacekeepers conducted a joint patrol to the village of Tendokom to attend a meeting with the RUF. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the CDF, the army, the police, and local community leaders. The two sides discussed the deployment of UNAMSIL into RUF-held areas of northern Sierra Leone, the establishment of local authority within the northern sector, humanitarian assistance needs, and the establishment of a Northern Sector Contact Group. At Mange, a UNAMSIL patrol on Tuesday established that repair work is underway to repair two craters at the Mange Bridge. Work on the crater north of the bridge had been completed, and about 50 civilians under RUF supervision were were continuing to work on the crater at the south end, Novicki said. 

8 March: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers appealed to the Security Council on Thursday to increase the strength of the United Nations force in Sierra Leone, arguing that a strong U.N. presence was "key for the stability and future" of the country and for refugees in the region. Lubbers urged the Council to support a comprehensive solution for the refugee crisis in Guinea, and to explore establishing a safe humanitarian corridor from Guinea to Sierra Leone for those refugees who wished to return home. The High Commissioner said relations between UNAMSIL and the RUF had improved recently due to the rebel group's acceptance of an Action Plan for the refugees, which was presented at Contact Group meetings with the U.N. over the past several weeks. The plan, which was endorsed by the presidents of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, would guarantee safe access to the refugees by humanitarian workers, and safe passage to evacuate the refugees from dangerous areas. "As soon as UNHCR has received a public statement of confirmation by RUF, it will use its good offices to invite the government of Guinea to refrain from all military actions in the area of Kambia, so that the road from Forecariah to Kambia could become a 'safe passage' for the return of refugees from Guinea to Sierra Leone," Lubbers told the Council. The next step, he said, would be to strengthen UNAMSIL's capacity so that it could provide security in Kambia District. "I have indications that the government of Guinea, with its army, is prepared to ensure security along that road up to the border, while at the same time refraining from all military activity," he said. "I have also received indications that the RUF is prepared to leave Kambia in order that it becomes territory under the control of UNAMSIL." Lubbers noted, however, that UNAMSIL was "still too weak" to take control of Kambia District. "It has to be strengthened," he said. He later said several thousand additional peacekeepers would be needed in order to ensure the humanitarian corridor's safety. Lubbers acknowledged that a proposed ECOWAS initiative to send two battalions of peacekeepers to police the border region appeared to have fallen through. "The ECOWAS initiative has not materialized," he said.

Women in Sierra Leone run a much higher risk of dying in childbirth than their counterparts in the world's richest nations, according to a study released on Wednesday by Population Action International, an independent research and advocacy group for population programmes based on individual rights. The study, which was timed to coincide with Thursday's International Women's Day, listed the ten highest risk countries for pregnant women as Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Mali, Niger, Congo and Lesotho. Sierra Leone also had one of the highest teenage birth rates in the world, with one in five girls between the ages of 15 and 19 giving birth each year, the organisation said. In Freetown, the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance stressed that Sierra Leonean women and girls "have borne the brunt of the atrocities committed by the fighting forces" during the country's decade-long civil conflict. "Thousands have been abducted, terrorized and brutally raped," the group said in a statement, concluding: "The war in Sierra Leone has been a war of terror against women and girls." The group also deplored the inequality of Sierra Leonean women under the law, noting their limited access to education and their under-representation in all sectors of Sierra Leonean society. "The plight of the Sierra Leonean woman is appalling and the future for the girl is horrendous," the group said in calling for the repeal of discriminatory legislation, and for a national action plan aimed at guaranteeing the equality of women. "The future of Sierra Leone depends on the way it continues to treat its women and girls," the group said.

The mayor of the British town of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and a member of the Warwick District's One World Link (OWL) travelled to Bo this week to renew a community friendship relationship between Warwick District and Bo District which dates back to 1981. Mayor Bill Evans and OWL member Jane Knight handed over financial donations to Bo OWL and to the St. Mary's Children's Centre, and presented sports trophies to the director of the Bo Koloseum Sports for Youth Project. The two sought to explore with their Sierra Leonean counterparts ways to re-establish links and and support community projects, and to restore personal and groups friendships which were interrupted by years of civil strife.

7 March: The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to impose a variety of sanctions on Liberia, accused of involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade and of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The sanctions resolution broadens an existing arms embargo in force since November 1992 but, in deference to a request by ECOWAS, delays for two months an embargo on rough Liberian diamonds and a ban on international travel by senior Liberian political and military officials, giving President Charles Taylor's government a chance to show that it complying with United Nations sanctions. To avoid sanctions, Liberia would need to ground all Liberian-registered aircraft until the government showed it was in compliance with international civil aviation regulations, cease all support for the RUF and other armed groups, expel RUF rebels from its territory and freeze their assets, and stop dealing in diamonds, except for those accompanied by a certificate of origin from the Sierra Leone government. A proposal to ban the export of Liberian timber, which a U.N. panel of experts alleged was being used to pay for "extra-budgetary activities, including the acquisition of weapons" was dropped from the final draft, reportedly at the insistence of France, which is a major customer for Liberian timber, and Singapore, which has commercial interests in Liberia. Liberia will "have to make some fairly dramatic moves by May 7," said British Permanent Representative Sir Jeremy Greenstock, one of the resolution's sponsors. The arms ban is set to run for fourteen months, while the diamond embargo and travel ban expire after a year, but the Council has the option of renewing the sanctions if Liberia fails to comply with the resolution's requirements. Meanwhile, the Liberian government announced late Tuesday that it was imposing a 120-day ban on diamond exports and revoking the operating licenses of  all Liberian-registered aircraft. Liberia's Ministry of Mines issued a statement late Tuesday saying that the four-month ban on diamond exports would allow the government to put in place a certificate of origin regime similar to Sierra Leone's "which is internationally verifiable and transparent." Lewis Brown, President Charles Taylor's Advisor on Political Affairs, told Reuters that Liberia was also prepared to allow UNAMSIL to monitor its borders for evidence of the arms or diamond trade. "We are proposing to the Secretary General Kofi Annan to extend UNAMSIL's mandate in Sierra Leone to Liberia," Brown said. The Liberian government has steadfastly denied involvement in the illicit diamond trade, and on Wednesday Foreign Minister Monie Captan said the government was taking the measures to put an end to the perception of Liberian wrongdoing. "We are doing it because we want to ensure that there isn’t any more speculation whether there are Sierra Leonean diamonds filtering through Liberia, or whether the Liberian government is involved," he said. "We believe that the putting into place of a certificate of origin regime would put a final end to the speculations of Liberia exporting Sierra Leonean diamonds." Captan said Liberia would ask the United Nations to help set up a certificate of origin regime before the resumption of diamond exports from Liberia. In a separate statement Tuesday, the Transport Ministry said it had revoked the registration of all EL-registered aircraft "due to the failure of the operators of these aircraft to comply with the requirements of a review order issued by the ministry." Last year the U.N. panel of experts alleged that Liberian-registered aircraft were "clearly connected to illegal activities," including the international illicit arms trade. In January, Liberia announced it would ground the planes until the owners could document that they were in compliance with Liberian civil aviation laws and ICAO regulations. But the Liberian authorities have acknowledged that they have no information on who owns the planes, or even how many there are. Brown also admitted Tuesday that the earlier review order had not been carried out, and said a senior aviation official had been sacked for failing to implement it. Tracking down the planes may not be easy. The panel of experts noted that some of the planes involved in the illicit arms trade used multiple registrations, "shifting rapidly from one to another in order to avoid detection." The EL-registered planes may thus simply switch to another "flag of convenience" and continue flying.

REACTION to the U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Liberia. ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR JAMES CUNNINGHAM: "We hope that the message...will be heard and respected and acted upon by the Liberian authorities, and by President Taylor, and that we can move forward with the project of finally bringing more durable peace to that region." BRITISH AMBASSADOR SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: "President Taylor has said that he wishes to, as it were, turn over a new leaf —  to act differently in the future, so the Security Council is prepared wait for two months to see action on that front." JUSTICE MINISTER AND ATTORNEY-GENERAL SOLOMON BEREWA: "Anything like the resolution which has just been adopted which can help pressure to be removed from our back we welcome. This is something we had advocated." LIBERIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MONIE CAPTAN: "Liberia, to the best of its ability, will comply with all of the demands within the 60 days period. We certainly intend to go an extra mile in meeting U.N. demands...This will show to the international community that Liberia has nothing to hide, that we are not a rogue state...The premise on which the Security Council has imposed this resolution on Liberia —  that the country is guilty of causing problems in the sub-region —  is one that continues to be rejected by the Liberian government. Nevertheless, as a responsible government we have an obligation, whether the Security Council is accurate or wrong in the assertion that they have made, to comply with their demands. It would be unfair to the Liberian government and people, if at the end of the 60 days, someone will sit in New York and say, `You haven't complied'." GUINEAN U.N. MISSION: "The resolution has been adopted thanks to the determination of the United States and Britain, backed by the determination of the Guinean government despite the manoeuvres of some states members of ECOWAS." FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTRY: "The goals of the sanctions are clear and their accomplishments are verifiable by the U.N. Security Council. The length is limited, they target directly at (Liberian) leaders and they are adjustable."

6 March: The United Nations Security Council has postponed a vote on a resolution to impose sanctions on Liberia after China said it first needed to consult with Beijing. Under Council rules, any member may request a 24-hour postponement. The vote is now expected to take place on Wednesday morning, a U.N. spokesman said. Liberia has been accused, most recently by a U.N. panel of experts, of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and of involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The Liberian government denies the charges. Earlier, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who chairs the Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, said ECOWAS had voiced its support for the U.S. and U.K.-sponsored compromise resolution, which would immediately broaden an existing arms embargo on Liberia, but would delay by two months the imposition of a ban on the sale of Liberian diamonds and a prohibition of international travel by senior Liberian officials. Last month an ECOWAS ministerial delegation asked that the Council postpone consideration of the resolution for two months while they sought to pressure Liberia into complying with U.N. sanctions.

Food convoys have to date reached some 29,000 persons stranded in Guinea's volatile "parrot's beak" region, as a relief operation to assist tens of thousands of stranded Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees has gained momentum in recent days, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva. By the end of the week, aid agencies hope to reach the town of Kolomba at the tip of the "parrot's beak," where an estimated 30,000 people have gone without aid for months. Once food has reached all areas in the "parrot's beak," the UNHCR will start transferring refugees to safer areas of Guinea, the spokesman said, adding that the evacuation could start by the end of the month. Meanwhile, the UNHCR has stopped the daily transfer of refugees from the destroyed Katkama camp north of Gueckedou, since all those who were present at the site have been transferred to a safer camp further north. Further evacuations will take place when necessary, as new refugees continue to trickle in from the "parrot's beak." So far, 17,479 refugees have been moved to safer camps within Guinea. At least one third of them are believed to be willing to return to Sierra Leone or Liberia.

Last week's High Court decision in favour of fourteen UNPP parliamentary representatives is not the final word in a bitter four-year battle for control of Sierra Leone's largest opposition party, exiled UNPP leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart said on Tuesday. "What the judge has decided is that he‘s not going to exercise his discretion in granting an injunction to expel those members from attending Parliament until the real case is judged," Karefa-Smart told the Sierra Leone Web. "The real case is whether or not we were right in interpreting the constitution, which provides that when a person has left the party from which he was elected, he has lost his seat in parliament." In January 1997, a UNPP convention expelled fourteen members of its seventeen-member delegation from the party after of a series of disputes, including an argument over who should hold the post of executive secretary. Karefa-Smart, citing Article 77(k) of the constitution, which provides that a member must vacate his seat if he leaves the party he belonged to at the time of the election, called on the Speaker, the late Justice Sheku Kutubu, to dismiss the fourteen UNPP members from Parliament. Kutubu declined to act, and the matter landed in court. In the intervening four years, two of the original fourteen parliamentarians have died, and one has left Parliament to join the cabinet. Karefa-Smart said he now expects a final decision in the case to be handed down within three months, and he insisted that the ongoing dispute had not weakened the party. "In actual fact the party’s growing numerically," he said. "The party’s as strong as it ever was, so that the notion that the party is weak is a completely false version...Come elections, we will show the world that our party is still very important." Five years ago, Karefa-Smart finished second to President Kabbah in Sierra Leone's presidential election. Today, the 85-year old former foreign minister says he has no plans to try again. "If it’s the wish of my people I will certainly agree. If it is not their wish, I have no ambition of being president of Sierra Leone," he said. "I’ve done enough for my country. Being president is not that important."

5 March: The United Nations Security Council is expected to consider a draft resolution Tuesday which would impose a range of sanctions on the Liberian government, accused of supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and of involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The U.S. and British-backed resolution, which reached its ninth draft over the weekend, would immediately broaden an arms embargo on Liberia which has been in effect since 1992. It would also impose an embargo on the "direct or indirect" import of all rough Liberian diamonds by U.N. member states, and an international travel ban on senior Liberian government officials. The latest draft contains compromise language designed to placate ECOWAS, which last month asked the Council to delay any action for 60 days while it sought a regional solution to pressure the Liberian government into living up to its commitments. Under the compromise, the sanctions would automatically take effect after two months if Liberia failed to live up to a number of requirements. These would include the grounding of all Liberian-registered aircraft until Liberia complies with international aviation standards and provides a list of its registry to the Council. A U.N. panel of experts last year implicated Liberian "EL"-registered aircraft as frequently being used in the illegal arms trade. Liberia would also be required to stop funding the RUF and other rebel groups, to freeze RUF assets, and to expel RUF members from its territory. The Liberian government would also have to stop selling diamonds unless they were accompanied by a certificate of origin. The arms ban would expire after 14 months, and the diamond embargo and travel restrictions after 12 months, but the Council would have the option of renewing them if Liberia failed to take action. The latest draft resolution drops a proposed embargo on the sale of Liberian timber, which the panel of experts alleged was being used "to pay for extra-budgetary activities, including the acquisition of weapons."

3 March: Veteran diplomat Peter Jiawa Kuyembeh takes over as Finance Minister from the departing Dr. James Jonah, and National Unity Party chairman Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya replaces Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya in a cabinet reshuffle announced by President Kabbah on Saturday. Kuyembeh was previously accredited as Sierra Leone's Ambassador to France, Belgium, the European Union and UNESCO, while Dumbuya held the post of foreign minister in former President Momoh's cabinet, and again under the NPRC military junta. Dr. Banya will leave the cabinet to become a Senior Advisor to the President. Kabbah also replaced RUF ministers Mike Lamin, Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy, who were dropped from the cabinet and detained last May after the rebel group resumed hostilities. According to the official Sierra Leone News Agency, People's Democratic Party parliamentary leader Osman Kamara takes over from Lamin as Minister of Trade and Industry, while UNPP parliamentarian Dr. Chernor Jalloh replaces Bangura as Minister of Energy and Power. Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay succeeds Vandy as Minister of Lands, Housing, Country Planning and the Environment. J. D. Rogers, formerly with the United Nations Development Programme, has been appointed Deputy Minister of Development and Economic Planning. 

2 March: The security situation in southern Guinea appears to have deteriorated again, with fighting reported on the western edge of the so-called "parrot's beak" region where an estimated 135,000 Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees remain stranded, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva on Friday. Earlier this week the first humanitarian convoy to reach the "parrot's beak" in months delivered food to Temessadou, Kamayan and Mongo. Now a reported attack on the town of Konin, allegedly by Sierra Leonean RUF rebels, has forced as many as 1,500 people to flee their homes. Most have sought refuge at the town of Koundou Lengo Bengo and at Fangamadou, a refugee camp housing an estimated 13,500 persons. Friday's convoy of trucks carrying food for Koundou Lengo Bengo was re-routed to Owet-Djiba because of security risks. In Kissidougou, UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie said the agency would send a convoy to the "parrot's beak" on Saturday with food for refugees at Owet-Djiba, Gbeckadou and Dokoma. Under an agreement with the local civilian and military authorities, she said, the convoy will be able to drive through Gueckedou town, saving an estimated six hours travel time. The food delivered Friday and Saturday will be distributed over the weekend, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to about 18,000. Marie acknowledged that the number of refugees remaining in the region was difficult to determine, but said the UNHCR's implementing partner, Premiere Urgence, was working to establish more accurate lists of the beneficiaries at each location. For planning purposes, the UNHCR estimates there to be about 135,000 refugees and tens of thousands of displaced Guineans in the "parrot's beak." The Guinean army announced Friday it recaptured Gueckedou town from rebel forces on Thursday, paving the way for the town's 97,000 residents to return. Gueckedou has changed hands several times in recent weeks, and the precarious security situation there had forced aid agencies to repair bridges on alternate routes into the "parrot's beak" in order to avoid the town. The UNHCR has also undertaken to evacuate refugees from camps near Gueckedou to safer sites further north. Marie said Friday that fewer than 2,000 persons remain at the destroyed Katkama camp 30 kilometres north of Gueckedou following a successful relocation operation to transport the mostly Sierra Leonean refugees to safer sites further north. In the past month, 16,379 refugees have been taken to the new site of Kountaya in Albadaria Prefecture. Marie noted that the Nyaedou camp had been virtually emptied since the last convoy left there on February 24. The UNHCR will continue to assist the few hundred refugees who arrive each day at Katkama, sometimes after transiting Nyaedou. The agency is also discussing with local authorities ways to authorise large numbers of refugees to walk northwards from camps in the "parrots beak," while the most vulnerable would be picked up with UNHCR trucks. The agency is proposing to set up way stations along the road to supply the refugees with high-protein biscuits, water, and basic medical care, Marie said, adding that the UNHCR was hoping to establish a protection and field staff presence in the "parrot's beak" soon, in order to assist the refugees at checkpoints. 

Security forces in Turkey this week detained 53 persons trying to cross that country's borders illegally into Greece and Bulgaria, the Anatolian News Agency said on Friday. The detainees were said to come from Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Sri Lanka. There was no confirmation of the nationalities of those arrested. Many Africans attempting illegal immigration into Europe discard their documents and claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of receiving more favourable consideration of their requests for asylum from countries which take into account the decade-long civil conflict in Sierra Leone.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to dispatch an inter-agency mission to West Africa this month to take stock of priority needs and challenges in the sub-region, and to make recommendations on a coordinated U.N. response to the complex problems facing the region. The mission, to be led by Ibrahima Fall, Assistant Secretary-General, Department of Political Affairs, will include ten U.N. departments, agencies and programmes. Between March 6 and 16, the mission will visit Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo. An ECOWAS representative is also expected to participate in the mission.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1650 / 1950 [£] 2300 / 2700. Commercial Bank: [$] 1675 / 1950. [£] 2430 / 2700. Frandia: [$] 1800 / 2050 [£] 2400 / 2850. Continental: [$] 1900 / 2100 [£] 2550 / 2900.

1 March: The first regional contact group meeting between UNAMSIL officials and the RUF took place Wednesday at Mange, the U.N. said on Thursday. The UNAMSIL delegation was led by the force commander, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, and included military observers and Nigerian peacekeepers from Port Loko, UNAMSIL engineers, and representatives from the civil affairs section. Colonel Bai Bureh, the RUF's 3rd Brigade commander at Kambia, along with Colonel Emmanuel and Lieutenant-Colonel Vandu represented the rebels. Bishop George Biguzzi of the Makeni Diocese was also present. The main topic of discussion was the repair of craters at the Mange Bridge, the UNAMSIL statement said. The two sides agreed that work would begin on March 12. The RUF pledged to supply 100 workers, while the Catholic Mission will supply food for the workers for five days. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL's Deputy Force Commander, Major-General Martin Agwai, accompanied by the Sector 1 MILOB (Military Observers) team, met in Lunsar with RUF Brigadier Morris Kallon and RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi to discuss UNAMSIL deployment in Lunsar. The RUF indicated that non-governmental organisations and humanitarian agencies were also welcome. Agwai informed the RUF that the RUF would have to dismantle its two checkpoints along the Rogberi Junction - Lunsar stretch of highway once UNAMSIL was deployed, and that craters in the road would have to be repaired. The RUF offered to supply the labour, but asked UNAMSIL to provide food for workers and the necessary equipment.

Sierra Leone may soon receive debt relief under the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's Highly-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, a World Bank official said on Tuesday. Axel van Trotsenburg, manager of the World Bank's HIPC unit, said the two financial institutions hoped to begin debt analyses soon aimed at bringing Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast into the programme at a subsequent phase. "The next group ahead of us include many countries which are conflict-affected. That is a difficult challenge," van Trotsenburg told reporters in Geneva. "We are currently working on countries like Chad and Ethiopia. Depending on progress in the next few months, we would like to maybe start working on countries like Ivory Coast or Sierra circumstances permitting."

Security was tightened in Freetown Thursday as security forces moved to head off planned anti-government demonstrations. Assistant Police Commissioner Christopher Coker told journalists that the police force was not prepared to manage a protest which could have numbered 25,000 people, according to the Pan African News Agency (PANA). On Tuesday, police raided the offices of the rally organiser, a group called the Grassroots Awareness Movement, after receiving what Assistant Police Commissioner Christopher Coker called reports of "subversive tendencies relating to the demonstration." He said police found a letter of invitation and a reply from the RUF in Makeni for their representatives to observe the demonstration. The letter reportedly asked for the RUF's support to make the demonstration a success. By various accounts, as many as a dozen of the Movement's members were arrested, but according to the BBC only one remained in custody on Thursday, while the others were required to report to the police on a daily basis. The group had reportedly planned to demonstrate against the six-month delay in presidential and parliamentary elections requested by President Kabbah and approved by Parliament last month. The leader of the Grassroots Awareness Movement, Lansana Conteh, told journalists that the demonstration had originally been planned for February 27, but was rescheduled for March 1 to coincide with the expiration of the government's term in office. He said the Movement had been established in October 1997, during AFRC junta rule, with a membership of 3,300, PANA reported. Conteh denied any links with the RUF.

Sierra Leone is one of 16 sub-Saharan African countries suffering from exceptional food emergencies, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says in its latest report. The FAO pointed to civil strife and population displacement as contributory causes to Sierra Leone's food shortfalls. Also making the list were Guinea, also as a result of civil strife and population displacement, and Liberia, due to past civil strife and a shortage of inputs.

A contingent of 776 Zambian troops was set to leave for Sierra Leone on Thursday, Defence Minister Chitalu Sampa was said on Wednesday. The Xinhua news service, quoting Zambian newspapers, said soldiers in the contingent were drawn from various barracks around the country.