The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

March 2002
 

31 March: Andrew Duramani Turay has received the endorsement of the Young People's Party (YPP) to be its presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Turay, an agricultural consultant to the World Bank's International Development Association who sought the presidency in 1996 under the banner of the National People's Party, was nominated on Saturday at a mini-convention in Freetown. Businessman Komba Edward Bartholomew Momoh was selected as the party's vice presidential candidate. In a departure from custom, the YPP's presidential candidate is not the head of his party. Instead, the position of National Party Leader went to activist Sylvia Olayinka Blyden (pictured left). "According to the YPP constitution, the YPP Leader does not have to be the presidential candidate, especially as the age limit for the presidency is 40 years," Blyden told the Sierra Leone Web. The party also announced the launch on Sunday of its internet website: http://www.yppsl.org.

29 March: 19 political parties have received their full registration certificates to participate in May's presidential and parliamentary elections, but it is still too early to say how many presidential candidates might actually contest at the polls, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol told the BBC. "Only 14 (of the parties) are functional at the moment, so it is possible that we might have 14 presidential candidates," he said. He pointed out that some of the political parties were discussing amalgamation and collaboration. "It is possible that it might be far less than that," he added. "We might end up with probably about eight or nine presidential candidates." The deadline for parties to present their presidential candidates to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is Tuesday, April 2nd. Earlier this week, the NEC ruled that former rebel leader Foday Sankoh would not be eligible to stand as the RUF Party's presidential candidate because he is not a registered voter. Nicol told the BBC he didn't himself know whether Sankoh even wanted to be a candidate. "The members of his party claim he is their leader and they would like him to be released to be their candidate, but I don’t know whether he personally would like to stand," he said, adding: "(RUF Party leaders) have been in and out of this office. They received their final registration certificate about two days ago, and I think they’re busy now trying to get a presidential candidate against Tuesday, which is Nomination Day." Nicol insisted that the NEC was prepared to conduct the upcoming elections. "There are difficulties ahead, problems ahead, but they are not insurmountable," he said.

A Sierra Leonean delegation met in Beijing Friday with officials from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, China's official Xinhua news agency reported. The delegation, headed by  Political and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Abu Aiah Koroma, is visiting China at the invitation of NPC Law Committee.

28 March: Imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh is ineligible to stand as presidential candidate for the newly-registered Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) because he is not a registered voter, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured right) told reporters. Under Sierra Leone's electoral laws, a person who cannot vote cannot be voted for. "I believe Mr. Foday Sankoh will find it very difficult to be presented as a candidate," Nicol said. "In the first place, he is not a registered voter. He did not register with the commission and his name is not on our provisional voters registration. That disqualifies him." Sankoh failed to register because for nearly the past two years he was being detained at an undisclosed location under the country's State of Public Emergency regulations. When the State of Emergency was lifted earlier this month to allow political parties to campaign, Sankoh and 49 RUF co-defendants were brought to court on a 70-count indictment of murder, attempted murder, and related charges. In addition, Nicol said, Sankoh would be required to appear in person to present his nomination papers to the Returning Officer on Nomination Day, April 2nd. This would be unlikely: The former rebel leader is currently awaiting trial at the Pademba Road maximum security prison in Freetown. RUFP Secretary-General Pallo Bangura (left) told Radio France International that Sankoh was still the party's candidate. "If there is any change we will notify you, but as far as we are concerned up till now, Foday Saybana Sankoh is still the leader and the prospective presidential candidate," he said. "But what we are busy doing now is making arrangements to convene a convention or a congress so that we will decide the next step forward." Eldred Collins (right), the RUFP's Public Relations Officer, insisted on Wednesday that RUFP members would always regard Sankoh as their leader. "We respect and honour him despite the many lies being said about him," the BBC quoted Collins as saying. "We believe that one day he will get out of prison."

Parliament was dissolved Thursday ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections. In his brief closing message to parliament, President Kabbah appealed for the elections to be free, fair, and without violence. "I would like to reiterate here my plea to the entire nation that we should not allow any form of violence to enter the the coming election campaign," he said. "You have enacted the Electoral Laws Act 2002 to ensure that the upcoming elections will be free and fair, transparent and violence-free. We should endeavour to keep to the letter and spirit of that enactment."

The United Nations Security Council resolved Thursday to extend by six months the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The current mandate was due to expire on March 30.  In a resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member Council, the Security Council urged the Sierra Leone government to step up efforts to restore civilian authority and public services throughout the country, including the deployment of key government personnel and police, and the deployment of the army along the border. The Council welcomed the establishment of UNAMSIL's electoral component and the recruitment of 30 additional civilian police advisors to help the government and the Sierra Leone Police in preparing for the elections. The Council expressed concern at the violence, particularly sexual violence, suffered by women and children during Sierra Leone's just-ended ten year civil war. Council members also expressed "serious concern" over allegations that some U.N. personnel had been involved in the sexual exploitation of refugee women and children, and voiced support for the secretary-general's "zero tolerance" policy for such abuse.

The commander of United Nations peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured left), visited the towns of Koidu, Kailahun and Bonthe on Tuesday to witness military training exercises in the run-up to the May elections, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The purpose of the exercises was to "assess the efficiency of communication and logistic equipment and the capability of the troops to respond to emergencies within a given time period," UNAMSIL said.

27 March: Four more political parties, the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP), the Movement for Progress Party (MOP), the Grand Alliance Party (GAP) and the Young People's Party (YPP) received their final registration certificates this week, according to sources in Freetown, subsequently confirmed by Aiah Mattia of the National Electoral Commission (NEC). A fifth party, Citizens United for Peace and Progress (CUPP) also received its certificate, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) subsequently reported. Meanwhile, the Grand Alliance officials met over the weekend at Pios Foray's Stop Press restaurant on George Street, where UNPP parliamentarian Raymond Kamara emerged the winner in a leadership election contested by six candidates formerly from four different parties. Kamara received 26 votes, defeating NUP leader John Benjamin who had 11. Former APC minister Dr. I.M. Fofanah came third with six votes, while Ibrahim N'jai of the PDP garnered two votes and Dauda Tombo Bangura, also of the PDP, received none.

The World Bank has expressed support for a two-year Transitional Strategy for Sierra Leone, which would make available $85 million in loans in 2003 and $55 million in 2004 to help the war-torn country emerge from conflict. According to a statement released on Wednesday, the money, to be allocated in six IDA (International Development Association) credits, would go to help rebuild Sierra Leone's shattered economy, and would be applied to the areas of economic recovery, education, health, social action, institutional reform and infrastructure. The World Bank also plans to fund economic and public sector research on Sierra Leone by paying for an Income Survey, Poverty Analysis and Public Expenditure Review. It will also make available to Sierra Leone $15 million from the Multi-Sector HIV/AIDS Programme. The funded project will focus on community and civil society-based initiatives to treat and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and will will target both rural and urban communities, displaced persons, and host communities.

26 March: The chief of UNAMSIL's Human Rights Section said Tuesday that while RUF leader Foday Sankoh and other RUF defendants could face the death penalty if convicted of murder and related charges by a Sierra Leonean court, a war crimes tribunal would likely be ready to take over before the trial was complete. "It is true that the Sierra Leonean laws provide for capital punishment, which is not the case for the agreement and the statute of the international tribunal called the Special Court that will be established in Sierra Leone to try these cases," Rodolfo Mattarollo told Radio France International. "The Special Court will supercede to all the domestic courts. And if you think that Sankoh and other RUF members have been charged with 70 counts of criminal offenses. You have a trial of 61 persons charged with 70 counts of similar offenses like murder, conspiracy to murder, etc. It is not likely that this trial can finish before the establishment of the Special Court." Mattarollo played down a suggestion that there could be renewed violence in the war-torn country if a Sierra Leonean court imposed death sentences on the RUF defendants. "I insist that it is not likely that any of these defendants can be sentenced before the establishment of the Special Court," he said. 

25 March: Insurance executive Ernest Bai Koroma emerged victorious in the leadership contest at this weekend's national convention of the All People's Congress (APC), and will lead the former ruling party into May's presidential and parliamentary elections. Koroma had been expected to face opposition from six other presidential hopefuls but, according to PANA correspondent Pasco Temple, five of them failed to show up at Sunday's session. A sixth, M.K. Suma, paid a brief visit to the convention at the Miatta Conference Center, but he quickly departed. "Ernest Koroma went unopposed," Temple told the Sierra Leone Web. "Two ballot boxes were placed in the hall and 370 voted in favour (of Koroma). Twelve voted against him, while the remaining delegates abstained." Temple said that two of the seven candidates, Jengo Stevens and Abdul Karim "AKK" Koroma, failed to pay their candidate fee of one million leones. Party officers elected at the weekend convention, according to Martin A. Bash-Kamara, secretary-treasurer of the APC's North American branch, included Chukuma Johnson, chairman; Muctarr Conteh, deputy chairman; Osman F. Yansanneh, secretary-general; Gibril Koroma, organising secretary; Sanni Sesay, treasurer; and Alhaji M. S. Kargbo, youth leader.

Jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh told Freetown's High Court Monday that he was innocent on charges of murder handed down against him and against 49 other RUF defendants earlier this month, news services reported. "I am saying that I am totally innocent (of) all the charges," Sankoh was quoted as saying, adding: "I am asking the court to get me out of here." It was the rebel leader's third appearance in court since he was charged on March 4 with a 70-count indictment of murder and related offenses. Sankoh's declaration did not count as a formal plea, but came in response to a question posed by the presiding judge, Justice Mange Deen Tarawallie. Court proceedings were then adjourned until April 2 in order to allow time to accredit Sankoh's team of foreign lawyers, the Reuters news agency said. According to the Associated Press, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa requested the adjournment in the trial in part because no Sierra Leonean lawyer would agree to represent the RUF defendants, despite an offer by the government to pay their legal fees. "I have pleaded with members of the Sierra Leone Bar Association to rise up to the occasion fearlessly like lawyers," Berewa said. "They should not be afraid." He said Sankoh's Nigerian attorney, Edo Okanya, had been registered temporarily with the Sierra Leone Bar Association.

Representatives of the Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and officials from the United Nations agencies working in West Africa have called on the international community to continue to encourage dialogue between the leaders of three strife-town nations in an effort to restore peace to the sub-region. Following a two-day meeting in Freetown this weekend, participants called for intensified efforts to translate the gains made at last month's Mano River Union summit in Morocco into positive momentum for peace, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The participants recommended several "fast-track" projects, including the revitalization of the Mano River Union Secretariat and a number of projects to support civil society groups in the sub-region, including the Mano River Women Peace Network. U.N. representatives called on the three countries to take steps that would demonstrate their commitment to peace, such as the re-opening of borders to allow the free movement of people. 

Sierra Leone's health care system ranks last among 175 countries surveyed, the London-based World Markets Research Center said on Monday. The center compared health care spending with the return as indicated by factors such as life expectancy and mortality rates. The survey relied on national economic and social statistics, and did not take other factors into account, the Associated Press reported. The world's healthiest country, the survey said, was Belgium, followed by Iceland, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Norway and Australia.

Sierra Leone's Minister of Development and Economic Planning told international donors meeting in Monterrey, Mexico last week that the cost of Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict had been enormous in terms of human lives lost, destruction of property, and lost opportunity. Kadi Sesay told a United Nations aid conference that the war had severely damaged her country's infrastructure, but she insisted that the basic economy remained strong despite fiscal imbalances. Sesay said Sierra Leone understood what was needed to grow a strong economy, but given the many deterrents including a low income level, the country faced an urgent need for external financing. In the short to medium term, she said, the focus would be to seek external support to finance immediate and critical development objectives. Sesay urged donor countries to rethink conditions tied to aid, since those often created burdensome bureaucratic processes. She said the slow and inadequate disbursal of funds should also be examined. "Sierra Leone is not looking for handouts or charity," she said. "We need to put our own house in order, ensure peace is sustained, and equitably distribute the benefits of our natural resources. All we need is support to jump-start the process." According to the Financial Times, Sesay said her government felt the co-ordination it was striving to establish was not reciprocated by international donors. "The issue of mutual accountability comes in," she said. "It's not enough in the developed countries to talk about corruption in the developing world and to talk about the effectiveness of aid and put the blame just on the developing countries." In the face of last September's terrorist attacks in the United States, Sesay said, rich countries should seek to aid poor countries in their own self-interest. "A lot of conflicts around the world now have an underlying cause, which is poverty," she said. "If they want to see global peace and stability, they should see this as something which should concern them very seriously."

501 Sierra Leonean refugees returned home from Guinea over the weekend via the newly-opened land route passing through the border towns of Pamelap and Balamuya, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported on Monday. One of the returnees, Sahr David Bayoh, told Lewis that the 15-vehicle convoy had travelled for five days since leaving the Boreah Camp in Guinea's Kissidougou Prefecture. The UNHCR representative in Guinea, David Kattia, said the refugee agency would now increase the number of convoys. "Until the end of this month we will have one land convoy every week, but we will also continue with the sea operation until the end of the month," he said. "But as of the first of April we will have two convoys a week through Pamelap and Port Loko." Kattia noted that the agency had asked the Guinean government to open the land routes to facilitate the return of the refugees. "We had negotiations with them," he said. "We told them that the refugees were now requesting to go directly to Sierra Leone and to avoid using the sea route because it took almost seven days to get to their home area. So finally the Guinean authorities agreed to open up exit points — not only this one. We have four others, even in the Parrot’s Beak, which we will be able to use depending whether facilities exist on the side in Sierra Leone." Last June, President Kabbah and Guinean President Lansana Conte met amid the rubble of Pamelap and agreed that the road linking the two countries would be opened as soon as conditions permitted. But nearly a year later Justin Bangura (pictured left), the Deputy Commissioner of the National Commission for Social Action (formerly the NCRRR), said the road travelled by the refugees had not yet been formally reopened. "This is not the official opening of the road," he said. "The road is only temporarily open to ensure the movement of refugees from Guinea to Sierra Leone by road."

23 March: President Kabbah has selected Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa to be the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party's (SLPP) vice presidential candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, sources told the Sierra Leone Web. Berewa succeeds Vice President Albert Joe Demby on the SLPP ticket. No decision on a nominee emerged at last weekend's SLPP party convention in Bo, and Kabbah reportedly asked the party for more time to make his choice.

The All People's Congress (APC) national convention got underway in Freetown on Saturday. Seven candidates are expected to compete for the party's presidential nomination.

22 March: The first repatriation convoy to use the newly-opened Guinean border crossings is due to arrive in Sierra Leone on Saturday with 500 returnees, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. The 151 Sierra Leonean families left Boreah Camp near Kissidougou on Thursday morning and are bound for Port Loko. The UNHCR now plans to organise two convoys a week for up to 1,000 returnees. Another 500 per week will continue to arrive from Conakry by sea, in a programme which has been operating since December 2000. The returnees will spend the night at a former camp for internally displaced persons, where they will receive a medical and security screening.

Over 3,000 returned refugees went on a rampage Thursday at the Taiama camp, some 30 miles from Bo, and threatened to burn the camp if they were not sent back to their homes in Kono District, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. The returnees had recently been repatriated from Guinea, and were being housed temporarily in Bo District, in the south of the country. "The people of Taiama were rudely awakened yesterday morning as the refugees sang and marched around the town and set up roadblocks on the street leading to the camp management site," Margao said. "Members of the staff were held as hostages by the refugees, who also threatened to march to Bo to protest about their treatment." When officials of the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, learned of the incident, they contacted the coordinator of the National Commission for Social Action who, along with other officials, left for the area immediately. "By the time I arrived at Taiama yesterday, about 1,000 of the refugees were still adamant that they wanted to go home," Margao said. "Sources close to the UNHCR told me that the main reason for the delay in repatriating the refugees was transportation. Almost all their vehicles and rented trucks are now engaged in the repatriation of the Liberian refugees from the Sierra Leone border."

High Court Judge Bankole Rashid issued an injunction Friday barring dissident parliamentarians of the United National People's Party (UNPP) from holding a rival convention until he rules next month on a related case, UNPP National Public Relations Officer Salami Barrie told the Sierra Leone Web. "Our legal advisor, Fred Carew, took Joe Conteh and others to court in order to stop them from holding a convention, and the judge ruled they could not hold convention," Barrie said. "He gave them an injunction saying that they should wait until he gave his ruling on the case of expelled members in parliament, which he decided to give on the 9th of April." That ruling is expected to address the question of whether the dissident UNPP parliamentarians, who were expelled from the party in early 1997, should have retained their seats in parliament. 

Sierra Leone's finance minister acknowledged this week that his government has virtually no control over illicit diamond mining in the country. "We can't control it, they're mined everywhere," Peter Kuyembeh (pictured left) told the BBC's World Business Report. "I sometimes find myself defeated when I want to find an answer to the diamond problem." A Certificate of Origin scheme was introduced in late 2000 to help control the smuggling of illicit diamonds — especially those mined in rebel-held areas — but Western sources note that the system has failed to meet expectations. "Whereas four stones appear on the market, 25 stones have already escaped and there are hundreds of ways of doing this," Kuyembeh said. "Now that rebels have left some areas, the government is reforming the areas and putting a stop to some of the mining until we know what to do." The minister said Sierra Leone should try to develop other sectors of its economy, which has been battered by more than a decade of civil war. "We should put our minds on certain other areas of the developing the economy of Sierra Leone rather than relying on diamonds," he said. Meanwhile, officials from 37 diamond producing and importing nations and representatives of the diamond industry met for a twelfth time this week in Ottawa to try and reach an agreement on an international certification scheme to curb the illicit trade in "conflict diamonds" — blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The so-called "Kimberly Process" was launched in May 2000, in an effort to break the link between diamonds and war. For the first time in about 18 months, Sierra Leone was not represented. While delegates hailed an agreement on an international certification system, human rights groups and non-governmental organisations expressed concern over its weak monitoring provisions. "I think all in all the agreement and the proposed system are good and workable," said Ian Smillie (left), Research Coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada. "Two years ago, few of us would have thought we could have achieved anything near this much." But Smillie, who served on the United Nations Panel of Experts which investigated the link between illicit diamond sales and arms smuggling in Sierra Leone, said that for non-governmental organisations a key point had always been the need for independent, external and regular monitoring of national control systems in order to ensure the certification system was both effective and credible. "We didn't get it," he said. "Government after government refused point blank to consider it. They cited commercial confidentiality, national sovereignty and cost as reasons for rejecting it. For the NGOs, however, it looks as though they are more interested in protecting their secrets than their diamond industries." Smillie told the Sierra Leone Web that while the agreement did provide for a review mechanism, it was purely voluntary, had to be triggered by credible evidence of major problems in the country, and had to be implemented with the full participation of all the countries in the system. "Which essentially means it won't happen," he said.

Five Bangladeshi peacekeepers died in a road accident at Waterloo on Thursday, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the Sierra Leone Web. The Xinhua news agency, quoting a press release issued in Dhaka, said the soldiers were members of the Bangladesh Artillery Regiment (BANARTY), and were travelling from Freetown to Lunsar when their vehicle apparently experienced brake failure. Novicki said six soldiers were in the vehicle. She added that the cause of the accident was under investigation.

A series of loud explosions which were heard in Freetown on Wednesday night were gas canisters which exploded on Pepel Island, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said on Friday. She said an investigation was carried out by the Sierra Leone Police, UNAMSIL military observers, and the army.

The United States government announced Friday that it had recently contributed $1.9 million to the World Bank's Multi-Donor Trust Fund to support the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) process in Sierra Leone. In a statement, the U.S. said it was also funding a "reintegration" educational programme for war-impacted youth which had over 30,000 enrollees. The programme, which is implemented through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), complements similar efforts administered by the government's National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). Last year the U.S. contributed some $16 million towards reintegration projects in Sierra Leone and over $75 million in humanitarian assistance. The U.S. statement welcomed success in disarming combatants and the end of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. It also warned the Liberian government to abandon its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council a year ago in Resolution 1343. "In keeping with that resolution, the Liberian Government must expel members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) from Liberia, cease all financial and military support for the RUF, and cease all direct or indirect import of Sierra Leonean rough diamonds," the statement said, adding: "Only when the Government of Liberia ceases its destabilizing activities can the sub-region move towards lasting peace."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2675 / 3200. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3200. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2250 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2250 / 2280 [£] 3000 / 3100.

21 March: The United Nations Security Council has given the go ahead to set up a war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin (pictured left) told reporters in New York. According to the Reuters news agency, Zacklin said the Special Court should be operating by October. "This court will be a functioning court in all respects by the third quarter of this year," Zacklin said. "I would expect that some of the first indictments might be handed down by the prosecutor by the end of the year." The U.N. secretary-general will appoint three of the court's five judges, the prosecutor and the registrar, while the other two judges and the deputy registrar will be selected by the Sierra Leone government. The court is charged with prosecuting those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996 — the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Agreement, which was to have brought Sierra Leone's civil war to an end. Zacklin said the court was expected to operate for three years with a budget of just under $60 million, paid from voluntary contributions from 20 countries. "I think that a lot of states are looking at the special court to see whether this kind of a court can work and whether it can work efficiently and in a lean manner," he said. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's parliament passed enabling legislation on Tuesday to legally establish the court, the Associated Press reported. President Kabbah was expected to sign the bill into law on Thursday. "We are all working together," Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (right) was quoted as saying. "What the Security Council has done is in consonance with what we are doing here."

A High Court ruling read out in Freetown Thursday has reportedly left Dr. John Karefa-Smart and his supporters in sole possession of the opposition United National People's Party (UNPP). The mandamus ruling addressed the National Electoral Commission's contention that it could not deal with the UNPP because there were two separate factions of the party. The judge's ruling is due to be published on Friday.

Seven candidates will vie for the presidential nomination when the All People's Congress opens its national convention this weekend at the Miatta Conference Centre in Freetown. They contestants include insurance executive Ernest Koroma; attorney and 1996 presidential candidate Edward Turay; attorney Serry Kamal; medical doctor Dr. Moses Sesay; former foreign minister Abdul K. "AKK" Koroma; Jengo Stevens, a medical professional and son of former President Siaka P. Stevens; and Musa K. Suma, former director of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board. The APC under Siaka P. Stevens won the 1967 elections, but only took power the following year following a coup and a short-lived military regime. The party remained in power until 1992, when the government of then-President Joseph Saidu Momoh was overthrown by soldiers of the National Provisional Ruling Council. The APC finished fourth in the 1996 parliamentary elections behind the Sierra Leone People's Party, the United National People's Party and the People's Democratic Party, garnering just 5.7 percent of the vote.

A spokesman for the British High Commission in Freetown said Thursday that the British authorities were unaware of allegations that British troops had been involved in the sexual abuse of children in Sierra Leone. The allegations were made earlier this week by the BBC Online, which claimed that several British nationals, including some attached to the U.N. peacekeeping force, had been involved in the sexual exploitation of displaced children in Sierra Leone. "We are in close touch with the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and with the Sierra Leone Police.  Neither are aware of any U.N. or police investigation into the involvement of British personnel in sex for aid allegations," Derek Smith told the Sierra Leone Web. "If anyone has any evidence in their possession which suggests that British personnel have been involved in any illegal activities, it should be given immediately to the appropriate authorities so that a thorough investigation can be carried out."

Members of the United Nations Security Council welcomed the completion of the disarmament process in Sierra Leone and urged that adequate resources be provided to reintegrate more than 47,000 combatants who laid down their weapons over the past year. The appeal came in a press statement issued by the current Council president, Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway (pictured left) following a closed-door briefing by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. Adeniji warned the 15-member Council of the dangers of having so many idle youths in the country. The statement also stressed the importance of the effective extension of state authority throughout Sierra Leone. Members expressed their intention of extending UNAMSIL's mandate by an additional six months, to September 30, and they called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to secure the voluntary repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh was reportedly taken to Choithram's Hospital in western Freetown Thursday, where he was given a series a medical and psychological tests to ascertain the state of his health, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. The former rebel leader appeared weak and frail when he appeared in court earlier this month to face a 70-count indictment for murder, attempted murder, and related charges. A rumour swept the Sierra Leonean capital this week that Sankoh had died, Fofana said, but it was quickly denied by senior RUF officials, Sankoh's lawyer, and by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. Meanwhile, Freetown residents reported hearing a series of unexplained explosions on Tuesday, sending many people into a panic. "The police say they are still investigating the cause of the explosions, since earlier suggestions of military exercises have been ruled out," Fofana said.

20 March: The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have agreed to support a comprehensive debt reduction package for Sierra Leone under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, the two institutions said on Tuesday. Total relief from all of Sierra Leone's creditors is worth about $950 million — equivalent to about $600 million in Net Present Value (NPV) terms, or 80 percent of the country's total debt after the full use of traditional debt relief mechanisms. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the two international financial institutions said that Sierra Leone had made "substantial progress" in implementing economic reforms despite disruptions caused by the country's civil war. With an average per capita GDP of about $134, Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest countries. But since 1999, the statement said, Sierra Leone's government, backed by multilateral donors, had adopted a strong economic rehabilitation and recovery programme aimed at sustaining the peace, promoting macroeconomic stability and implementing key structural reforms. Sierra Leone's economy began to recover in 2000, recording a 3.8 percent growth rate as compared to a 8.1 percent decline the year before. Inflation declined to -0.9 percent in 2000 as compared to 34.1 percent in 1999. In 2001, Sierra Leone's GDP grew by an estimated 5.4 percent — slightly better than expected — while inflation averaged only three percent as compared to the programme target of eight percent. The statement also pointed to strong structural reforms made by Sierra Leone in recent years, including reforms in tax policy and administration, improved public expenditure management and control, exchange and trade liberalization, financial sector modernization and regulatory reforms, improvements in governance and more effective delivery of social services. Under decisions made by the two organisations, assistance committed by the World Bank's International Development Association will reach $122 million over the next 20 years in NPV terms. Debt relief provided by the IMF of $123 million in NPV terms will be delivered over the next ten years. Sierra Leone will qualify for full assistance from the two institutions when a number of conditions have been met. These include support for poverty reduction programmes, and the implementation of poverty reduction measures in the areas of governance, decentralization of government functions, structural measures, education and health.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended that the Security Council extend by six additional months the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The current mandate had been due to expire at the end of this month. In his latest report to the Security Council, Annan said that despite making "encouraging" progress in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL's continued engagement would be necessary to help consolidate the peace following this May's presidential and parliamentary elections. Annan pointed to still-unfinished aspects of the peace process, including the extension of state authority throughout the country, the re-integration of former combatants into society, and the restoration of government control over the diamond-mining sector. He also pointed to the need to reactivate the judicial system, strengthen law enforcement agencies, and restore basic public services in the country.

Representatives from 37 diamond producing and importing nations ended two days of talks in the Canadian capital Ottawa without reaching agreement on ways to curb the international trade in "conflict diamonds" blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa, but claimed they had nevertheless made some progress. The meeting was the twelfth and latest in the "Kimberly Process," begun in South Africa nearly two years ago in an effort to break the link between illicit diamonds and war on the African continent. Abbey Chikane of South Africa, who chaired the negotiations, told news services that the participants had agreed to set up a certificate of origin system for all shipments of rough diamonds. He acknowledged that a number of "technical issues" remained to be resolved, but expressed confidence that a certificate of origin system would be in place by the end of the year. Chikane said the question of whether the proposed scheme would conflict with World Trade Organisation rules had also been resolved. Human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have expressed concern, however, that the proposed monitoring mechanisms were too weak to insure that countries would comply with the new certification system. 

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall has been named to head a new U.N. regional office in Dakar, which is charged with aiding peace efforts in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and other nations in the sub-region, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday. Fall, a Senegalese national, previously held the posts of foreign minister and education minister in that country.

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, met in Freetown Tuesday with the leaders of 15 of Sierra Leone's political parties and officials from the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in advance of the May presidential and parliamentary elections. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Adeniji stated that the meeting was in response to a request by the parties for dialogue with UNAMSIL to seek assurances that the U.N. would play an impartial role in the elections. He noted that UNAMSIL was prepared to provide assistance to the NEC, as mandated by the Security Council, and that the U.N. Mission had deployed peacekeepers throughout the country to provide security. More U.N. civilian police officers had also joined UNAMSIL to assist the Sierra Leone Police, he added. Adeniji urged the political parties to ensure a violence-free election, and called on them to educate their supporters to avoid bitterness and to ensure that the voting was free and fair. He suggested that the NEC increase contacts with the political parties to prevent any surprises and to communicate with them on ways the NEC will address any shortcomings in its work. 

19 March: Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, has announced his resignation along with the dissolution of the Council. Golley (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web that with the completion of disarmament, the completion of application for final registration of the RUF as a political party, and with the rebel group's transformation from a military movement to a political party, the work of the Council had come to an end. "The activities of the Council, particularly in terms of the political process, would now fall within the purview of the RUF political party," Golley said. The Political and Peace Council was formed a year ago to negotiate with the Sierra Leone government and to help implement the disarmament process in areas under rebel control. Disarmament was completed in January, ending ten years of civil war in Sierra Leone. Golley said he now intended to play a broader role in working to consolidate the peace process, and he stressed that he would not be a candidate for political office for the RUFP or for any other political party. "The decision to leave is amicable, and I stand ready to offer advice to the RUF in any shape or form, particularly insofar as it concerns peaceful change and reconciliation," he said, adding: "I’m resigning formally from the RUF as chairman of the Political and Peace Council. That was a job. I was never a member of the RUF don’t forget, and I don’t have to resign, so it’s not a question of my resigning from the party, from the RUF per se." Golley previously announced his resignation from the Council last November, only to rescind it the following day. This time, he said, his decision to resign was "irrevocable." 

Over the next few days, President Kabbah will hold separate interviews with candidates for the SLPP party's vice presidential nomination before making a decision on his choice of a running mate, a source close to the presidency told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. Kabbah received his party's endorsement for a second five-year term at the SLPP's national convention, held over the weekend in Bo.

Officials from 37 diamond producing and importing nations, together with representatives of the diamond industry, began a twelfth round of talks in Ottawa Monday aimed at curbing the international trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This week's meeting was the latest in a series known as the "Kimberly Process," begun in Kimberly, South Africa in May 2000 in an effort to find a way to break the link between the illicit diamond trade and war in Africa. While some progress has been made toward requiring an international certification of origin system for rough diamonds, key issues still remain to be resolved. In a statement released this week, a coalition of more than 70 non-governmental organisations and human rights groups lamented that apart from a U.N. Security Council ban on diamond exports from Liberia, and certification schemes for Sierra Leone and Angola, the process to date had accomplished little. The groups called for the creation and publication of consistent rough diamond production and trade figures, a credible independent monitoring system, and a resolution of the debate over whether the certification programme envisaged by the Kimberly Process would be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. "This is the twelfth meeting in two years and NGOs want to see real movement at this one," Ian Smillie (pictured left) of Partnership Africa Canada told the Sierra Leone Web. "We are cautiously optimistic, but we know that getting a meaningful regulatory system in place will not be easy." Smillie served on the 2000 U.N. Panel of Experts which investigated the link between diamond smuggling and illegal arms sales in Sierra Leone, and has monitored the Kimberly Process since its inception. The representatives meeting in Ottawa are under increasing pressure to find a solution to the conflict diamond trade, not only from NGOs, but also from the United Nations. Last week the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution urging the participants in the Kimberly Process to resolve quickly the outstanding issues. The resolution, adopted on a voice vote, called for the full implementation of all Security Council measures targeting the trade in conflict diamonds. It also urged the finalization and implementation of the international certification scheme as soon as possible.

Two organisations in the forefront of efforts to curb the international trade in "conflict diamonds" have been nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. Partnership Africa Canada and London-based Global Witness were nominated for the prestigious award by three American lawmakers — Rep. Tony Hall of Ohio and Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. "We are convinced that the goal of ending the scourge of conflict diamonds is achievable primarily because of the lengths to which Partnership Africa Canada and Global Witness have gone," the three said in a letter to the Norwegian Parliament's Nobel Committee. "From the time these small organizations brought this issue to world attention, their work has shone.  The vision of their leaders and staff has inspired the leaders of governments and industry who are capable of ending this trade, and their tireless work has transformed the international community's response to this problem. They epitomize the commitment, creativity and diligence that should be the hallmark of leadership — whether of non-profit organizations, companies, or nations." Reached at his office in Ottawa, Partnership Africa Canada (PAC) Executive Director Bernard Taylor (pictured right) described how his organisation, first begun in the mid 1980s as a mechanism to strengthen civil society groups in Africa, came to focus on the issue of conflict diamonds and the war in Sierra Leone. "The case of Sierra Leone stems from a little after the coup d’etat in May 1997, when Sierra Leoneans in Canada and other Canadians contacted PAC and said the situation in Sierra Leone is going from bad to worse — How can we organize in Canada to try and have an impact on this?," he said. "So PAC agreed to attempt to influence the Canadian government to pay more attention to Sierra Leone." In January 2000, Partnership African Canada published a report which definitively linked the continuing insurgency in Sierra Leone to the sale of illicit diamonds by the RUF rebels. "It was our attempt to influence the war and promote peace by underlining the economic nature of the conflict," Taylor said. "In order to support those recommendations, we realized that we had to continue the work. If it wasn’t a report that would stay on the shelf, we would have to continue pushing for that report to be received at various levels, including the highest levels." The group is continuing the pressure this week at the latest round of talks in the Kimberly Process, taking place this time on its home turf in Ottawa. On Monday, PAC published a new report investigating the extent to which diamonds contribute to development in Southern Africa. Taylor said reports due over the next year would examine the situation in West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa. "Looking beyond that, I think we may well use the lessons from the diamond industry to look at issues affecting other extractive industries in Africa," he said. "I can’t say what they will be, but I think there are some really important lessons to be learned from the collaboration between the industry, between governments and NGOs" on the issue of conflict diamonds. Asked about the mood at PAC following the Nobel Peace Prize nomination, Taylor said staff members and researchers were elated at the news. "It will give a great boost to the work that we’re doing," he said. "And we’ll keep our fingers crossed. You never know."

Guinea has agreed to open several border crossing points to facilitate the return home of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. The decision, which was announced on Friday, will allow a growing number of returnees to take a more direct route home and reduce their travel times from five days to three. Until now, returning refugees had to make their way to the capital, Conakry, and then take a boat to Freetown. The opening of the overland crossings will double the weekly number of returnees from 500 to 1,000, the agency said. The first road convoy is scheduled for Sunday. It will travel from camps in Kissidougou to Port Loko via Kambia. Some 15,000 refugees in Kissidougou area camps have signed up for repatriation. 90 percent of these originate in the east of Sierra Leone. Since December 2000, about 36,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned from Guinea to Sierra Leone with the assistance of the UNHCR and its implementing partners. Since September 2000, an estimated 153,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned home from neighbouring countries. Between 145,000 and 200,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remain in camps in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau and Senegal, according to UNHCR estimates.

18 March: Court proceedings against RUF leader Foday Sankoh were postponed for a third time Monday to allow the rebel leader's legal team time to prepare his defence. Sankoh did not appear in court. According to Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis, RUF Party Secretary-General Pallo Bangura confirmed that Sankoh's Nigerian lead attorney, Edo Okanya, had submitted the necessary papers to the Chief Justice to allow him to practice in Sierra Leone. Lewis added that Sankoh had been examined by a psychiatrist at the request of RUF Party officials. The results of the examination were not disclosed.

Several British nationals, including military observers attached to the United Nations peacekeeping force, are said to be among those implicated in the sexual exploitation of refugee children in Sierra Leone, the BBC reported on Monday. The allegations followed the release earlier this month of excerpts from a report by the UNHCR and the British-based charity Save the Children, which found that local aid workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia had exchanged relief food and essential humanitarian supplies for sex with underage refugee children. The report also implicated a number of U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, as well as local authorities in the three countries. According to the BBC, one of the Britons under police investigation is alleged to have abused children as young as seven years old. The man is accused of targeting local displaced children who live on the beach in Freetown. The BBC also reported that local aid workers were involved in a "thriving black market" in humanitarian aid, selling off essential relief supplies in towns around Sierra Leone. "Food, tarpaulins and registration cards, which are supposed to give refugees access to free U.N. aid, are among the items on sale," the BBC said.

17 March: The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), which held its national convention this weekend at the Bo Teachers College auditorium, has failed to endorse a candidate for vice president, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. "In the past, presidential candidates had always chosen their running mates," Margao said. "This year, however, the SLPP decided to reduce pressure on President Kabbah by letting the party decide." Delegates were reportedly unable to decide between incumbent Vice President Albert Joe Demby and his challenger, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. "A party official told me that it is now likely that President Kabbah will submit nominations for his running mate, and one name will be approved by the party," Margao said. A source close to the presidency, however, told the Sierra Leone Web that the choice of a running mate was the president's decision, and that Kabbah had just asked for more time to think about it. In a subsequent report, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported that the 328 convention delegates chose former Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sama Banya as the party's new National Chairman. Safety and Security Minister Dr. Prince Harding retained his post as SLPP Secretary-General, defeating challenger Michael Abdulai by a wide margin.

16 March: Sierra Leone's ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), which opened its convention Saturday in the southern city of Bo, has re-nominated President Kabbah to lead the party into the May presidential and parliamentary elections. In his acceptance speech, Kabbah called the party's decision to choose him as its presidential candidate for a second time "one giant step forward on the road to political stability and economic recovery of Sierra Leone." Kabbah acknowledged that his first term had been a turbulent one, but he told delegates that with the assistance of most Sierra Leoneans and the backing of the  international community, he had fulfilled his pledge to bring Sierra Leone's civil war to an end. "While vigorously pursuing the search for peace and security, I also embarked on an equally important objective, namely to revitalize the economic and social development of the country," he said.

A Special Court established to prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war could hold its first trials late 2003, according to a report by a U.N. planning team. The team, led by Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, visited Sierra Leone in January to sign an agreement with the Sierra Leone government for the establishment of the court, and to look into practical arrangements for setting up its operations in the Sierra Leonean capital. According to the report, the start-up phase of the operation, which includes logistical arrangements and the appointment of key officials, should be complete by the end of May. The schedule envisages that by the third quarter of 2002, judges would be appointed, the offices of the prosecutor and registrar would be operating from temporary premises in Freetown, and that the construction of permanent premises would be substantially underway. "The first indictments and trials could be envisaged by the end of the first year of operation, which is well within the parameters of the practice of international criminal tribunals," the report said. Meanwhile, the Freetown civil society group Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) has expressed concern over draft legislation before parliament to ratify the Special Court agreement signed in January by representatives of the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government. In a letter to Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, the CGG expressed concern over a blurring of the roles of the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as well as what it said was a lack of transparency so far in setting up the Court. The letter warned that with regard to the two institutions, "the consensus forged with regards to parity between (the Special Court and the TRC) has not been officially recognized by any of the key decision makers." The CGG urged that the Court not be given primacy over the TRC, particularly with regard to demanding confidential information. "Such a move would decimate any impression of TRC independence and demote it to a mere research arm of the Special Court," the group warned. The CGG also called for assurances that the Court would conduct its business in a way which would foster the long-term strength of Sierra Leone's judiciary, and that the draft legislation set mandatory standards to assure judicial transparency. "Thus far in the process, the key players have already established a poor track record for including and respecting the opinions of local lawyers, academics and civil society leaders," the CGG said. The group urged that Sierra Leone's Executive and Parliament allow sufficient time for "meaningful public deliberation" over the draft bill, and warned that "a continuing disregard for the opinions of our people bodes ill for this process."

15 March: Sierra Leone's ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) is set to open its convention this weekend in the southern city of Bo, where delegates will choose presidential and vice presidential candidates for the country's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. With the High Court's ruling last week that, on technical grounds, former Safety and Security Minister Charles Margai was not a party member, President Kabbah is expected to receive the nomination for a second five-year term without opposition. For the  vice presidential nomination, however, three persons are reportedly pitted against current Vice President Albert Joe Demby. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, Demby will be challenged by presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai, Rural Development and Local Government Minister James B. Dauda, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Solomon Berewa. Meanwhile, seven candidates will vie for the nomination of the former ruling All People's Congress (APC) when that party opens its three-day convention in Freetown next Friday.

Government-employed doctors and nurses in Sierra Leone have decided to end their month-long strike and return to work after the government agreed to meet the majority of their demands, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Friday. "Over 80 percent of our demands have been met for this time," said Sierra Leone Nurses' Association president Francess Komba-Kono. The Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association, Nurses' Association and Pharmaceutical Association had been pressing for improved conditions of service, including better working conditions, the establishment of hospital boards, and allowances for medical professionals.

More than 15,000 of the remaining 50,000 Sierra Leonean refugees at camps in Guinea have registered for voluntary repatriation to Sierra Leone, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. Those who wish to register to vote in next May's presidential and parliamentary elections will have to return before the middle of next month. Many of the refugees have also expressed a desire to return before the onset of the raining season, the UNHCR said. Between December 2000 and June 2001, a total of 35,181 refugees were repatriated to Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the number of spontaneous returns of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia has also increased in recent weeks due to renewed fighting in that country. Since mid-February, more than 6,500 Sierra Leoneans have returned home in organised convoys. The UNHCR estimates that Liberia still houses more than 65,000 refugees from Sierra Leone.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2320. [£] 2675 / 3200. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3200. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2350 [£] 2700 / 2900. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2800 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2250 / 2280 [£] 3000 / 3100.

13 March: Sierra Leone's Movement for Progressive Change (MOP) party issued its 26-page manifesto late Tuesday with a heavy emphasis on issues of governance, public sector reform, and civil society. MOP party leader Zainab Bangura, who formerly headed the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, told the Sierra Leone Web that the MOP had issued its manifesto early in an effort to direct the campaign toward issues rather than the recriminations currently taking place. "By coming out with a manifesto so early, pressure will be put on the other parties to talk about issues and get their acts together," she said. She added that the manifesto was a consensus document, and that the party would not hold a convention prior to the elections in May. "We are building our party and do not want to embark on a fake convention," she said. "We will go into the elections more with a consensus and then start building the party at a grass roots level immediately after the elections."

A United Nations team will return to West Africa this week to continue its investigation into allegations that refugee children in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were sexually exploited by aid workers and U.N. peacekeepers. In a statement released on Wednesday, the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) noted that the team had been briefly recalled to U.N. headquarters in New York for consultations. The four-member team includes a pediatrician who is an expert on child abuse, a staff member from the UNHCR Inspector-General's office, and two OIOS officers. The OIOS statement said that the results of the investigation would be made public in a report to the U.N. General Assembly, but added that any conclusions could be some time in coming. Meanwhile, the OIOS said, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima was developing with the assistance of relevant agencies "measures and policies to protect transgressions and children (the aid workers) are serving."

An Italian freelance photojournalist who worked in Sierra Leone who worked in Sierra Leone during the country's civil war and posted his photographs on the internet (photo of Kamajor militiaman at left) was killed by Israeli gunfire early Wednesday in the West Bank town of Ramallah. A. Raffaele Ciriello, 42, had been on assignment for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. The Associated Press quoted fellow journalist Amedeo Ricucci as saying that he and Ciriello were following Palestinian gunmen through the centre of Ramallah at about 9:30 a.m. when they encountered an Israeli tank. Ricucci said soldiers on the tank opened fire with a machine gun from about 150 yards away without warning, striking Ciriello in the stomach. "Suddenly a tank appeared from a corner and it opened fire," he said. "There was no fighting in the area." Ciriello had worked in many of the world's war zones, and he had posted conflict photographs from Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Afghanistan on his website, "Postcards From Hell." 

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has urged member states to pay $54.6 million in arrears and unfulfilled pledges — an amount double the OAU's annual $26.8 million budget — in order to help transform the organisation into the African Union later this year, the Reuters news agency reported. Of the total owed, $34.6 consists of arrears from eleven countries, while the balance is unfilled pledges by some states to support a special OAU fund. Member states in arrears include Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, the Seychelles, Gambia and Somalia. 

12 March: Sierra Leone will be able to draw immediately on up to $12 million in low-interest loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) following an IMF performance review which determined that the country's economic performance "remains broadly on track." The three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement approved last September made available a total of about $164 million to help Sierra Leone restore its war-torn economy. So far, the country has drawn down about $59 million under the programme. In a statement released on Tuesday, Acting IMF Chairman Edurado Aninat noted Sierra Leone's progress in advancing the peace process, which has resulted in an improvement in the security situation, increased confidence, and a resurgence in economic activity. Real GDP is estimated to have risen last year by 5.4 percent, while the average annual inflation rate in 2001 was sharply reduced to about 3 percent. Aninat said that all the required quantitative and structural performance criteria had been observed, except for the one relating the the limit on net bank credit to the government, for which a waiver was granted. Failure to meet that goal, Aninat said, was due to a delay in the disbursement of foreign aid, which caused the government to resort to increased domestic financing. But in looking at Sierra Leone's progress in implementing structural reforms, he said, the record was mixed. "Some measures were only partially carried out, while implementation of some key reforms, notably in the civil service, experienced significant delays," he wrote. For 2002, the PRGF programme aims for a growth rate of 6 to 7 percent and an average inflation rate of under 5 percent, while the Bank of Sierra Leone's gross external reserves should be equivalent to about 1.9 months of imports. Aninat said that the government's 2002 budget projected satisfactory growth in domestic revenue together with a significant increase in expenditures. He warned that fiscal discipline would need to be strengthened in view of strong pressures on the government to increase spending as it began to resume services in former rebel-held areas, along with the potential demands for extra-budgetary expenditures in the run-up to May's presidential and parliamentary elections. A final decision on Sierra Leone's debt relief will be taken later this month by the executive boards of the IMF and the World Bank's International Development Association.

Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) will display copies of the Provisional Voters Register at voter registration centres around the country beginning on Saturday, the NEC said in a statement signed by Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured left). The registers will remain on display through next Wednesday to give those who registered to vote last month a chance to ensure that their names appear, and to allow underage and multiple registrations to be challenged. Some changes to the numbers of registered voters were made in the latest version of the register since the first draft was published last week. Nationwide, the names of 2,320,379 voters are listed in the Provisional Voters Register: 404,726 in the Western Area; 596,502 in the Southern Province; 801,114 in the Northern Province; and 518,037 in the Eastern Province.

The head of RUF leader Foday Sankoh's legal defence team said he has received assurances for his security from the Sierra Leonean authorities, and he insisted he was not worried about his safety. "I believe the international community is also around, and then I believe people are watching," Edo Okanya told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. "But I don’t think the government is going to do anything funny." The Nigerian lawyer said he would be joined by five other Commonwealth lawyers — one from Ghana, two from South Africa and two from Britain — before Sunday evening. In the meantime, he said, he believed he had nothing to fear in preparing Sankoh's defence. Okanya dismissed as "mere accusations which have not been sustained by any court" the 70 charges of murder and attempted murder against his client. "Until when the thing is put before the court and we [argue] on it, then I’ll be able to know actually whether this thing’s done or not," he said. "It is only the court that can determine the extent, the guilt or otherwise, of Mr. Foday Sankoh. But from what I’m seeing now I’ve not heard anything guilty about him, anyway. That’s what I could say." Okanya said he was concerned about whether Sankoh, who appeared to be in a frail state of health, would be able to bear up under a trial. "Today what I saw is quite pathetic, and then I feel I have to talk to that gentleman about (his health), and I did talk to him about that," he said. "He made a representation in respect (of that) and they were making every effort to get his personal physician to examine him and know condition of his health, because I do believe that if he’s left in that position he will not be able to withstand the trial." In a separate Voice of America story, Okanya said he had been recruited to defend Sankoh and the other defendants by RUF leaders, and that he had also received a telephone call from Fatou Mbaye Sankoh, Foday Sankoh's Senegalese-American wife. "In that regard I held discussions with the interim leader of the RUFP, General Issa Sesay," he said. "I also held discussions with the secretary-general, Dr. Pallo Bangura, and then the public relations officer, Mr. Eldred Collins."

The Guinean government has announced that it will conduct an inquiry into allegations that some of its nationals were involved in the exploitation of refugee children by demanding sex in exchange for food and essential humanitarian supplies, the Inter-Press Service reported on Tuesday. "It seems that U.N. staff as well as certain Guinean officials — notably gendarmes and the local police —  have been mixed up in the scandal," said Alhousseine Thiam, the National Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs. "We are going to verify all this with a team of people from the Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory and officials from the Ministry of the Administration of the Territory, which will go to the scene and investigate. The Guinean government will then make a statement based on the mission's conclusions." Tens of thousands of refugees, most of them Sierra Leoneans, still reside in camps in Guinea. Thiam insisted that his agency had never received any complaints from the refugees, and he complained that the authors of a report alleging widespread sexual abuse by aid workers in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — the UNHCR and the British-based charity Save the Children —  had kept the Guinean authorities in the dark about the allegations. "During Save the Children's first trip to Guinea in October and November 2001, we only heard hints of such allegations in the refugee camps. The report was kept secret in Geneva," he said. "During the second mission, which included the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees inspector general, Save the Children only visited camps in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The mission did not come to Guinea."

A total of 6,437 Sierra Leonean returnees have crossed into Sierra Leone with assistance from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, since renewed fighting broke out in Liberia in mid-February, a UNHCR spokesman said on Tuesday. Convoys are transporting about 2,400 persons weekly from the Sinje and Monrovia refugee camps to the border, while on the Sierra Leonean side the UNHCR is providing transportation to refugees and returnees arriving in the border town of Jendema. An estimated 2,000 Liberians and 800 Sierra Leonean returnees are currently awaiting relocation from Jendema, the spokesman said. In addition, the agency has helped 2,023 Sierra Leoneans with transportation who were otherwise returning home on their own.

UNAMSIL civilian police officers (CIVPOL) launched a course on Monday designed to train police trainers who will in turn train the Sierra Leone Police force in preparation for next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. In a statement on Tuesday, UNAMSIL said the course, which is being conducted at the Police Training School in Hastings, covers the electoral process set out under new laws passed by parliament. It will include training on human rights violations, election-related offenses, the role of the police during the electoral period, and other issues related to the maintaining of law and order. The initial group of 26 police trainers will train 300 field training officers and field unit commanders, who will train police officers in the field. By the first week in May, CIVPOL officers are expected to have completed training of all police officers who will be assigned roles in the election, the UNAMSIL statement said.

11 March: RUF leader Foday Sankoh (pictured right) and 49 other RUF detainees appeared briefly in court on Monday, but after a 35-minute hearing the case was adjourned until March 18 to allow time for one of the defence lawyers to secure a license from the Chief Justice to practice law in Sierra Leone, news services reported. "In order that Sankoh and other accused persons can have legal representation, the prosecution...is asking for an adjournment to enable them to seek legal representation," Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (left) told the court. The RUF defendants first appeared in court a week ago and were charged with 70 counts of murder and attempted murder in connection with a May 2000 incident where Sankoh's bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside his Freetown residence. The defendants had been held for nearly two years under the country's State of Public Emergency, but were charged in court last week after the emergency regulations were lifted to allow political parties to campaign. Nigerian lawyer Edo Okanya said he and five other foreign lawyers had been retained by RUF interim leader Issa Sesay to represent Sankoh and his fellow defendants, the Reuters news agency reported. "I will do everything for the license to be given to me quickly to practice at the Sierra Leone bar," Okanya was quoted as saying. According to the BBC, Okanya will lead a defence team which includes one Ghanaian, two British and two South African lawyers. Berewa said that Sankoh, who appeared frail after two years in detention, would be allowed to consult a private physician. So far, he has been attended by government medical personnel. The handcuffed rebel leader did not address the court during Monday's hearing but, as he left the court, he told a reporter who asked him to comment on his trial: "Look, my only concern is that Freetown is not safe." 34 members of the West Side Boys militia, including their leader, former AFRC Sergeant Foday Kallay, also made brief court appearances Monday on charges of murder, rape and robbery. That case, too, was adjourned until next Monday.

9 March: The UNHCR's third-ranking official, Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane, has called for a global approach to address the problems of sexual exploitation in refugee camps, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. Morjane, who visited Guinea and Sierra Leone this week following allegations that local aid workers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea had traded relief food to underage refugee children in exchange for sex, said that the abuses were not confined to West Africa, or even to refugee camps. "This is something which is always linked with poverty and misery. Unfortunately, there are people who have no moral values and try to take advantage of human misery," he said. "We can only condemn whatever harassment that may come from humanitarian agents." Morjane travelled to the eastern border towns of Jendema and Zimmi on Saturday, where thousands of Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean returnees have been crossing in recent days to escape renewed fighting in Liberia.

8 March: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah announced Friday that he would seek a second five-year term as president, as his ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) prepared to open its convention next weekend in Bo. "I believe it is an opportunity for me to continue with the agenda of peace, national reconstruction and development that we have been trying to accomplish, in spite of the interruptions and distractions of a bitter armed conflict," Kabbah told reporters gathered at the presidential lodge in Freetown. Kabbah said that "Sierra Leoneans of all political persuasions" had urged him to stand for a second term. "I have heard the call," he said. "I agree that at this critical stage in our history, experience must be the deciding factor in the forthcoming electoral process." Kabbah pointed to his experience as a consideration in deciding to stand again. "If I should leave now and we’re just halfway through this process, and if there should be some hiccups on the way, what will happen?," he said. "To really to be able to address those hiccups, there must be someone who’s been intimately involved in the whole process, and who has been able to establish some credibility and confidence amongst the major players in the process before you can really do anything meaningful." Meanwhile Charles Margai, who had been expected to oppose Kabbah for the SLPP nomination after resigning in January as Safety and Security (Internal Affairs) Minister, received a setback to his presidential hopes on Friday when the High Court ruled he was not a party member, the Freetown newspaper Concord Times reported. After failing to secure the party's presidential nomination in 1996, Margai left the SLPP to contest the the parliamentary elections under the banner of the National Unity Party (NUP). He returned to the SLPP fold soon afterward but, according to a source close to the presidency, he evidently failed to re-register. 

Parliament will be dissolved on March 29 ahead of Sierra Leone's forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14, the Freetown newspaper Concord Times reported on Friday, quoting Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. The dissolution of parliament will also end the tenure of the current government. 

The United Nations refugee agency's third-ranking official arrived in Sierra Leone Friday as part of a four-day trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone. The tour was sparked by allegations last week that local aid workers have forced refugee children in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to provide sex in exchange for relief food and other essential humanitarian supplies. In Freetown, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Kamel Morjane met with President Kabbah and with the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji. He is due to travel to the eastern border of Jendema on Saturday, where thousands of Sierra Leonean returnees and Liberian refugees are crossing from Liberia to flee renewed fighting in that country. In Guinea, Morjane visited the Kountaya camp north of Kissidougou where 15,000 of the the camp's 27,000 refugees have registered to return to Sierra Leone when conditions allow, a UNHCR spokesman said. Morjane said he asked Guinean President Lansana Conte to open two border crossings to speed up the process. On Thursday, at a press conference in Guinea, the UNHCR official acknowledged that sexual exploitation in the camps was a fact, and he pledged that those guilty would be punished. A study, based largely on testimonies gathered late last year by the UNHCR and the charity Save the Children, alleged that 67 aid workers attached to 40 agencies — including the UNHCR —  were involved in sexually exploiting the very people they were pledged to protect, including children as young as thirteen. The UNHCR has received a wave of criticism over the past week from governments and agencies over its refusal to act against those named in the report, or to inform the agencies as to which of their workers were implicated. But speaking to reporters on Thursday, Morjane urged caution. "What we don't have is proof UNHCR personnel or those at other NGOs working with us are implicated," he said, adding that the UNHCR-Save the Children report was "a study, not an investigation." A more thorough inquiry would have to be carried out into the allegations, Morjane said, before a verdict could be reached. "What was described to us during our visit was more linked to prostitution than rape," he said. "The most important thing mentioned by the women was that they recognised that they did this kind of thing because of need —  that often they were obliged to turn to prostitution because they were given so little aid." Morjane blamed many of the problems faced by the refugees on a shortfall in funding from donor countries. "We are aware that when an organisation like ours sees its budget cut by 20 percent, these kinds of consequences are to be expected," he said. "Whatever the case, our  investigation team has to check and will give its conclusions about what exactly happened next week...As far as we're concerned, all those who sexually exploited refugees will be severely punished, and we even envisage prosecutions." An independent investigative team is due to arrive in the region next week. "While a thorough investigation into the report is absolutely necessary, we in the humanitarian community at large will at the same time have to focus on strengthening the protection of refugees from these criminal acts," Morjane said in a statement read by the UNHCR spokesman. "The best protection of the refugees is through presence. Without strong presence, effective monitoring and control is simply not possible. In today's world, we all have to ask ourselves how much humanitarian assistance we are willing to give. A price tag is attached to everything." Meanwhile, the acting UNAMSIL force commander, Major-General Martin Luther Agwai (pictured left), has ordered contingent commanders to caution their troops against misconduct which could undermine the work of the mission, a United Nations spokesman said in New York. Agwai's warning follows allegations in the UNHCR-Save the Children Report that U.N. peacekeepers from several countries were also involved in the sexual exploitation of refugee girls. Agwai has been travelling around Sierra Leone, reminding peacekeepers that when such offences are discovered and documented, very serious disciplinary action has been taken, the spokesman said.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women said Friday that thousands of women and girls were raped during Sierra Leone's civil war, and she urged that the perpetrators to be prosecuted for war crimes, the Reuters news agency reported. Radhika Coomaraswamy, who visited Sierra Leone last August to investigate crimes committed against women during the country's ten years of conflict, also called for the release of women and girls who were forced into becoming the "wives" of rebel combatants. In her report, Coomaraswamy said U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone should be mandated to protect women and girls against abduction, rape and other violence amid what she said was a climate of impunity. "Systematic and widespread rape and other sexual violence has been a hallmark of the conflict in Sierra Leone," she wrote. "Thousands of cases have been reported, including individual gang rape, sexual assault with objects and sexual slavery...The failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for rape and other forms of gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that perpetuates violence against women in Sierra Leone, including rape and domestic violence." Coomaraswamy noted that under international law, rape "constitutes a war crime and may constitute a crime against humanity under defined circumstances." 

Liberian President Charles Taylor has called on U.N. peacekeeping troops to patrol his country's borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea to support a new peace initiative between the Mano River Union countries, the Reuters news agency reported, citing the government newspaper New Liberia. "I want to take this time to call on the U.N. Security Council to deploy U.N. peacekeepers along the borders of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to boost the achievement made at the...Rabat summit that called for the reinforcement of the (Mano River Union) protocols," Taylor was quoted as telling the outgoing U.N. Special Representative, Felix Downes-Thomas. "Everyone is important in the process of peace-building in order to have a place where we all can live in peace and contribute to the reconstruction of our countries," Taylor added.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2320. [£] 2671 / 3195. Commercial Bank: [$] 1900 / 2200. [£] 2650 / 3150. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2350 [£] 2700 / 2900. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2800 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2270 / 2310 [£] 3150 / 3200.

7 March: A total of 2,276,518 persons registered to vote in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections during last month's voter registration exercise, Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) said on Thursday. In a statement, the NEC said voter registration forms had been scanned and a Provisional Voters Register prepared. According to the provisional figures, 371,004 persons registered in the Western Area; 586,583 in the Southern Province; 800,816 in the Northern Province; and 518,115 in the Eastern Province. Meanwhile, the Associated Press quoted Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured left) as saying that 17 out of 24 political parties have met the requirements to contest in the elections, including the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), the United National People's Party (UNPP), which finished second to the SLPP in the 1996 elections, and the former ruling All People's Congress (APC). "Six parties, including the Revolutionary United Front Party, are yet to meet the requirements for the issuance of their final certificates," Nicol said, adding that the NEC "will be issuing a deadline to these political parties that have received the provisional certificate." 

The Mano River Union's Joint Security Committee ended a two-day meeting in Freetown Thursday with ministers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia pledging to deploy a joint border security force along their troubled frontiers, news services reported. The area has for years been haven to armed insurgencies, with each government blaming the others for allowing rebels to use its territory to launch cross-border attacks. The Committee, made up of the ministers of foreign affairs, internal affairs, security, defence and justice, also agreed to prepare a list of alleged dissidents in the three countries, and to establish a committee of legal experts to determine how to handle dissidents within internationally-accepted norms. They also called for the repatriation of refugees and assistance for displaced persons. The ministers, who met to follow up on decisions made last week at a Mano River Union summit in Morocco, resolved to meet again in the Guinean capital Conakry before March 25. The Committee is chaired by Liberian Justice Minister Eddington Varmah. Safety and Security Minister Prince Harding led Sierra Leone's delegation, while the Guinean delegation was headed by Justice Minister Abou Camara. 

6 March: Government ministers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia began talks in Freetown Wednesday aimed at implementing a decision taken at last week's Mano River Union summit in Morocco to increase security along their common borders, the Associated Press reported. 

Foday Sankoh will be the RUF Party's presidential nominee despite his evident poor health and the charges against him, RUFP Interim Secretary-General Pallo Bangura (pictured left) said on Wednesday. "We are going to nominate Sankoh to contest the presidential election. What we need now is legal advice as to how we can file Sankoh's nomination," Bangura told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson. Sankoh, who appeared in public for the first time in nearly two years Monday when he was charged in court with 70 counts of murder and attempted murder, looked weak and frail, and was unable to walk without assistance. "We are calling on the government to urgently provide medical checks for Corporal Foday Sankoh, whose health condition has seriously deteriorated," Bangura said. Meanwhile, in a separate interview with the Voice of America, RUF Party Public Relations Officer Eldred Collins (lower left) said that Sankoh and the other RUF detainees should have been released last week with the lifting of the country's State of Public Emergency. Since Sankoh had been charged, however, the RUF would seek to present a formidable defence on his behalf. "We are now a political party," Collins told VOA correspondent Kelvin Lewis. "The government should have assessed what after-effect that will take. But we want to inform the world that we are no more an armed group, and we will never use violence in this country. If (the RUF detainees) have been [taken] to court, it is our duty to present a very solid legal defence that will defend them. And we believe that is our position. But we are still asking them, the government of Sierra Leone and international community, to see need for them to be released in the interests of peace and prosperity in our country." Collins said that given Sankoh's evident frail state of health, he should be seen by a physician. "I felt very, very bad (about Sankoh's condition), but don’t forget that I too was in prison, and I know the conditions of prison," he said. "What we are asking now, being that he has already been charged, for him to have access to a physician, according to the law, so that things will come out better and he will be of good health." Collins said that charging the former rebel leader would not prevent the RUF Party from holding a political convention. "It is the people’s right," he said. "We believe in pure and true democracy. It is in the convention (that) the endorsement of the presidential candidate has to be. So let us wait after the convention. [If the party nominates] Sankoh, so let it be."

5 March: The United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Kamel Morjane, left for West Africa Tuesday on a four-day mission to get a firsthand view of efforts planned or already underway to strengthen protection for children in refugee camps, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. Morjane's visit follows allegations last week that some local aid workers in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have demanded sex from children as young as thirteen in exchange for relief food and other essential humanitarian supplies. Morjane, the UNHCR's third-highest ranking official, will visit Sierra Leone and Guinea, but not Liberia, due to renewed fighting in that country. He is scheduled to arrive in Conakry on Tuesday evening and to travel to Freetown on Friday.

4 March: RUF leader Foday Saybana Sankoh (pictured left) and 49 other RUF officials appeared in a Freetown Magistrate's Court on Monday to face a 70-count indictment on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and related offenses, news services reported. Armed riot police and U.N. peacekeepers maintained tight security around the courthouse, as thousands of onlookers attempted to catch a glimpse of the RUF leader. It was Sankoh's first public appearance since his arrest in May 2000, when the rebel group abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers and resumed hostilities with an attempted advance on Freetown. Since then, Sankoh has been detained under the country's emergency relations at an undisclosed location, reportedly outside of Freetown. According to accounts by the BBC, Reuters and the Associated Press, the handcuffed rebel leader wore a full length faded yellow African gown, and his hair was twisted into dreadlocks. He appeared to be thin and weak, and needed assistance to walk as he was brought into the courthouse to hear the charges against him. "Na Foday Sankoh so-o, ol tem Foday," (This is Foday Sankoh, always Foday), he told reporters who had gathered at the court. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana described Sankoh as looking very subdued. "He wasn’t the same Foday Sankoh we knew very much — very robust, very, very chatty," Fofana said. "He came there and he appeared as if he didn’t quite recognize people around him, nor was he very strong enough to be able to talk to people." Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis said the most striking thing about Sankoh was that "his eyes had a faraway look."  "Some of his boys sitting next to him in court attempted to say hello to him, but he just started past them," Lewis said. "In court, Sankoh stood silently playing with his dirty strands of hair, or rubbing his face, or simply staring absent-mindedly." Sankoh and the other RUF members were charged  with 16 counts of murder and 54 counts of shooting with intent to commit murder in connection with an 8 May 2000 incident where the RUF leader's bodyguards were alleged to have opened fire on demonstrators outside his Spur Road residence (pictured right, scarred with bullet holes), resulting in the deaths of some twenty persons. Before the reading of the charges, the RUF detainees sang and prayed, reciting the 23rd Psalm and chanting "Have faith in God," the BBC reported. The RUF accused were not represented by counsel and did not enter a plea. Following a two-hour hearing the defendants were ordered held without bail and were remanded to Pademba Road Prison. They are due to appear again in court on March 11. With the lifting of the State of Public Emergency last Friday, Sierra Leone's constitution requires that charges be brought against detainees within 24 hours, and that they be brought before a court within 72 hours —  ten days for capital cases —  or else released. It is widely presumed that Sankoh will be tried before the Special Court, which is charged with prosecuting those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes in Sierra Leone. The court is not yet operational, however, and a prosecutor has still not been chosen. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said the charges, which carry the death penalty, would not affect any case brought against Sankoh by the Special Court. 31 members of the notorious West Side Boys militia were also charged on Monday with 11 counts of murder and 11 counts of robbery with aggravation in connection with incidents which took place in Port Loko District between July 1999 and September 2000. The West Side Boys, members of a renegade AFRC faction, abducted eleven British soldiers in August 2000. Both the hostage crisis and the militia's existence  were ended in a raid by British paratroopers the following month. "During the weekend, the police issued a charge against (the defendants) and ordered them to appear in court," Berewa told the Reuters news agency prior to the hearing. "Since the Special Court has not started yet and government has lifted the State of Emergency, government has no alternative but to charge them." In a separate interview with the Voice of America, Berewa said that if the Special Court were sitting, there would have been no need for the government to bring charges. "With the lifting of the State of Emergency, there will be a gap," he said. "What do we do? How do we keep them in custody? The only way to make sure is to charge them and bring them to court." Berewa said that if the trials and appeals process were concluded before the Special Court begins its work, then the decisions of the Sierra Leonean courts would stand.

RUF spokesman Eldred Collins (pictured left) told the BBC Monday that with the lifting of the country's State of Public Emergency, the rebel group had expected that Foday Sankoh would be freed. Instead, Sankoh and 49 other RUF detainees were charged in Magistrate's Court with a 70-counts indictment for murder and related offenses. "We were expecting that the day of the lifting of the State of Emergency he was supposed to be released," Collins said. "And if he was going to be charged he will be re-arrested again and charged." Collins said the RUF was concerned about "the quality of the judiciary to judge" the rebel leader. "That is the reason why we are asking for international lawyers and also the international community to send observers and to see that he has a free and fair trial," he said. "What we are worried about is that the trial is done correctly so that we will have real transparency in the trial so that the world will know definitely whether he committed any crime or not." He insisted the charges against Sankoh would have no effect on the RUF Party's participation in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for mid-May. "The RUFP is transforming now into a political party and almost coming to a transformation process," he said. "And we believe in pure and true democracy. And we believe in the ballot box, and that will not stop the election to go on." Collins said the question of whether Sankoh would be the party's presidential candidate would be taken up by its membership. "As you know we are going to have a convention," he said. "We are a political party. We believe in true democracy. In the convention, then that is where we’re going to select our presidential candidate." Meanwhile, other RUF leaders have also expressed unhappiness over the charges against Sankoh. Pallo Bangura (left), the RUF's acting secretary-general claimed that the charges were meant to discredit the rebel group's political party ahead of next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. "We are very unhappy. He was held for a long time without charges," Bangura told the Reuters news agency. "If they had a case against him they should have brought the charges much earlier." Issa Sesay (right), the RUF's interim leader, told the Agence France Presse that the charges came as "a very big surprise to the RUF and the entire people of Sierra Leone."   "People in Sierra Leone and even in Freetown will not be happy," he said. "Mr. Sankoh has a lot of support, and thousands of Sierra Leoneans want to see him take part in the political process." Sesay said Sankoh was innocent of the charges in connection with the May 2000 shooting at his residence in Freetown. "Mr. Sankoh never went into anyone's house, he never attacked anyone," he said. "It was other people who came and attacked him." Sesay said Sankoh's trial should be handled by the Special Court, being set up jointly by the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government to try those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. "Why couldn't the government wait until the elections are over?," he asked, adding: "However, despite this, we remain committed to the peace process."

Norway's United Nations ambassador proposed Monday that future U.N. peacekeeping missions should include ways for children and adults to complain about sexual abuse by U.N. staff without fear of retribution. According to the Associated press, Ambassador Ole Peter Korby told a news conference that refugees should have a secure channel to report sexual abuses. Norway holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of March. Meanwhile, InterAction, a coalition of some 160 U.S.-based international humanitarian non-governmental organisations, announced on Monday that it would set up a task force to issue a set of recommendations on how to protect displaced children from sexual exploitation. The announcement comes a week after a study by the United Nations refugee agency and the charity Save the Children uncovered allegations that underage refugee girls in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia had been forced to exchange sex for relief food and other essential humanitarian supplies. In a statement released in Washington, D.C., InterAction President Mary McClymont condemned these "horrible acts" if proven true, but called on the international community to reserve judgment until a thorough investigation is conducted into the charges. The task force, to be drawn from InterAction's membership, will examine these issues in a "meaningful, systematic way" which could lead to reforms in how assistance programmes for children are managed and funded. 

Members of the United Nations Security Council were briefed Monday on the lifting of the State of Public Emergency in Sierra Leone, a spokesman said in New York. The briefing was given by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi.

3 March: Panic broke out in Bo Friday evening after residents heard a series of unexplained explosions and concluded that the town was under attack, BBC correspondent Richard Margo reported on Sunday. "Eleven people were wounded in the panic," he said. "Some people fled into the bush, leaving their children behind. Traders in the three main markets abandoned their stores as they rushed home to join their families." Margao said hundreds of youths armed with clubs and machetes took to the streets. The explosions turned out to be from a UNAMSIL arms destruction exercise some three miles outside of town. A spokesman for UNAMSIL's Guinean battalion later apologised for not having given advance warning of the arms destruction. He said that the current operation would take about two weeks.

2 March: The U.S. Ambassador to Liberia has publicly called on President Charles Taylor to end his support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and to stop violating United Nations sanctions. “In order to secure lasting peace in West Africa, the United States reiterates its call for President Taylor to cease supporting, arming or harbouring members and former members of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, and others who seek to undermine the governments of neighbouring states through violence," Ambassador Bismarck told reporters in Monrovia. He also called on the Liberian government to "stop violating sanction imposed by the United Nations Security Council on travel and trade in arms and diamonds," and to "ooperate with the Sierra Leone Special Court to bring those who bear the greatest responsibility for international humanitarian law to justice." The ambassador's call came as the United Nations Security Council was preparing to send a reconstituted Panel of Experts to Liberia to determine whether the country was adhering to U.N. sanctions imposed a year ago because of that government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. Myrick urged Taylor to stop supporting, arming, or sheltering the former rebels, but he gave no details of the alleged violations. "The fact that the restrictions have not been lifted makes me think that the United Nations believes the conditions have not been met," he said.

1 March: President Kabbah announced the end of Sierra Leone's four year old State of Public Emergency Friday in advance of next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. In an address on state radio and television, Kabbah said the conditions for maintaining extraordinary security and public order no longer existed. But he warned that the lifting of the emergency regulations, which have been in effect since the restoration of civilian rule in 1998, should not be construed as a license for groups to take the law into their own hands. "Law and order will be maintained vigorously," Kabbah said. "The armed forces, the police and other state security institutions will remain vigilant. We shall not tolerate any attempt to disrupt the peace, security and safety of the State of Sierra Leone and its peoples." 

Sierra Leone's government-employed medical doctors joined the country's nurses on strike Thursday as health care services continue to deteriorate, Radio France International correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. The doctors had been pursuing a go-slow action since the beginning of February, reducing their working hours from eight per day to just four.

Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission has acknowledged problems with the recently-concluded voter registration, including incidents of underage and multiple registration. But in an undated statement, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured left) insisted that these cases "were neither massive, nor restricted to any one particular region, district or chiefdom and they cannot be said to have any serious impact on the overall outcome of the register." Nicol particularly took issue with a claim by civil society groups that, using its own numbers, between 500,000 and one million eligible voters had been overlooked in the voter registration exercise. "The NEC’s projection of 2,700,000 voters was only to provide a basis for planning and logistics purposes in the absence of any reliable data about the population of the country and its distribution," Nicol wrote. "This figure of 2,700,000 cannot therefore be held as scientific against which the success of the registration ought to be evaluated." In an accompanying letter to the Sierra Leone Web, Nicol called the voter registration drive "fairly successful."  "There were logistics and other problems in the initial stages, but these did not prove to be insurmountable," he said. "We are now at the stage of computerizing the electoral lists by words/registration centre for exhibition, which we hope will start within the next ten days."

Aid workers alleged to have sexually exploited refugee children in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are still working in the camps because the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says there is not enough evidence to suspend them, a spokesman said on Friday. Allegations that  67 local aid workers, U.N. peacekeepers and local authorities had exchanged relief food and other essential supplies for sex were uncovered late last year by a mission conducted by the UNHCR and the British-based charity Save the Children. The allegations were based primarily on testimony from refugee children, their families and neighbours. "They are in place. We cannot do much without firm proof to suspend them," the BBC quoted UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski as saying. "For the moment the proof is simply too weak to do so." The report said aid workers for 40 agencies, including the two which conducted the study, were involved in the abuse. Janowski said there might be some confusion about which agencies the accused employees worked for. "We have absolutely no idea whether all of these agencies or some of these agencies have been involved," he said. He added that most of the organisations were only told of the allegations on Wednesday.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will run out of food for war-affected persons in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea by June unless pledges of aid are received immediately from international donors, outgoing WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini said on Friday. To support emergency programmes in the three countries, the WFP requires 105,000 tons of food, valued at $56 million in 2002. So far, only 17 percent of that amount has been received. "The very survival of hundreds of thousands of victims of war in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone depends on international assistance," Bertini said in a statement released in the Senegalese capital Dakar. "Letting their plight slide to the bottom of international political priorities is a mistake." She warned that in Sierra Leone, food aid was essential to preserving the fragile peace after ten years of civil war. "If people returning to their war-ravaged villages are not assisted to start a normal life, communities may soon fall back into chaos," she said. "So many things have to be built or rebuilt in this region in a short time, for the hope of peace to be fulfilled."

More than 10,000 Liberian refugees have entered Sierra Leone since February 8, fleeing renewed fighting in their country, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. Kris Janowski said that the agency had been moving the arriving refugees from the border town of Jendema to camps further inside Sierra Leone. So far, he said, 2,029 refugees have been relocated and convoys continue daily. Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean refugees have been returning home on their own or aboard UNHCR convoys from refugee camps in Liberia. Over 3,200 have returned with UNHCR assistance, while another 1,000 have returned on their own. "In all, more than 6,300 refugees and returnees have been relocated from the border area to camps, settlement sites or their home areas inside Sierra Leone,"  Janowski said. "To help ease the pressures on Jendema town, we are stepping up relocation convoys from Jendema, alternating between return convoys from Monrovia and relocation movements due to the limited trucking capacity available on the ground."