The Sierra Leone Web


March 2003

31 March: The U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) announced Monday it will provide $25 million in loan guarantees to allow Sierra Rutile Limited to restart and expand its mineral sands operation in Mobimbi. When phase one of the project is completed, the mine is expected to produce approximately 110,000 tons of rutile and 20,000 of ilmenite annually. Both rutile and ilmenite are feedstocks of titanium dioxide pigments which are used in the manufacture of paint, paper and plastics. The Mobimbi mine contains the world's largest deposit of rutile. From 1979 to 1995, under the joint ownership of the U.S.-based Nord Resources Corporation and Consolidated Rutile Ltd. of Australia, the mine produced 25 percent of the world's natural rutile supply and was Sierra Leone's leading foreign exchange earner. The mine was mothballed in 1995 after an attack by RUF rebels which left the installation badly damaged. Under financial pressure, Nord Resources sold its 50 percent stake in the company to MIL (Investments) S.A.R.L. in 1999, and Consolidated Rutile followed suit in 2001, selling its interest to U.S. Titanium. In a statement Monday, OPIC president Dr. Peter Watson said Sierra Rutile would employ 900 Sierra Leoneans, generating significant revenues for the government and supporting the local economy. "As Sierra Leone emerges into peace, restoring its primary industries – like rutile mining – will be critical to its economic development. OPIC is pleased to help a U.S. business restart a business that has contributed so importantly to the Sierra Leonean economy," Watson said. Monday's announcement was accompanied by discussions at the Presidential Lodge in Freetown between Sierra Leone government and U.S. officials. Sierra Leone was represented by President Kabbah and Vice President Berewa, along with the Ministers of Justice, Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Finance. On the U.S. side were Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Dr. Walter Kansteiner, OPIC President Dr. Peter Watson, and U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas. 

A new report by the London-based group Global Witness alleges that the MPIGO and MJP rebel groups fighting in Ivory Coast's civil war were recruited in Liberia, armed and trained by the Liberian government, and are being directed from Monrovia by Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured right). According to Global Witness, the two groups consist largely of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries, including former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. Bockarie (left) fled to Liberia in December 1999 after breaking with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Under pressure from the United Nations and ECOWAS to expel him, the Liberian government announced in March 2001 that Bockarie had left the country, but refused to say where he went. He is widely believed to be a close Taylor associate. Global Witness further alleged Monday that Taylor and Bockarie were planning to use mercenaries to destabilise Sierra Leone in order to disrupt the operations of Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, the Special Court. That court indicted Bockarie earlier this month for crimes he and his forces are alleged to have committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The court's chief prosecutor has hinted that Taylor himself could soon face charges for his backing of the RUF. The Global Witness report said it had uncovered evidence that despite a U.N. arms embargo, weapons shipments from Eastern Europe were reaching Liberia every two or three weeks, usually transiting Nigeria and Libya. Most of those shipments, the group said, arrive by sea at the Buchanan and Harper ports, which are controlled by two logging companies with alleged ties to Taylor. "The logging industry and international networks of illegal weapons dealers and mercenaries are currently inseparable in Liberia," the report said. "Unless the Liberian government’s access to these resources is stemmed, the instability caused by arms trafficking and Liberian-backed mercenaries in Cote d’Ivoire will continue and the threat of Liberian mercenary activities in Sierra Leone may soon be realised, bringing into doubt any future peace in the region." 

[Sports Feature by Andrew Masuba in Freetown, for the Sierra Leone Web.] With both teams having six points from an equal number of matches, and Morocco leading by goals aggregate, the Atlas Lions of Morocco came well prepared with a squad comprising seventeen foreign based players and six from Moroccan clubs. The Leone Stars team which played host to their Moroccan counterparts was dominated by home based players, with just six foreign-based players. Right from start of play, the Leone Stars displayed signs of a commitment to their man-on-man marking approach. The 3rd minute saw the first direct kick when Talal El Karkouri's(Sunderland, England) shot was deflected, resulting in a foul on Atlas Lions no.10 Jaoud Zairi (Sochaux, France) by Stars no.15, Ibrahim Kamara (Sweden).

Sierra Leone's press is dangerously split along political lines, and corruption and other unethical practices have undermined its credibility, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Monday in its annual report, "Attacks on the Press in 2002." The report also notes shortcomings in the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the institution which was supposed to regulate Sierra Leone's media. By year's end, the CPJ said, there was increasing tension between the IMC and the press. In August, the IMC rejected an application by civil society groups to operate a radio station capable of broadcasting across West Africa on the grounds that it would have endangered "national security and public safety." The real reason for the rejection, according to backers of the station and an unnamed government official, was an objection by the Liberian government. Also in August, the IMC ordered the African Champion newspaper closed and banned its publisher from any "editorial function" in the local media, citing what it said were ethics problems.

The Sierra Stars will play Under-17 teams from Swaziland, Egypt and Guinea in Group A at this year's African Championship in Swaziland. Meanwhile, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gambia and Ethiopia will battle it out in Group B. The draw took place in Manzini, Swaziland on Sunday, and was presided over by Swazi Minister of Youth and Sports Prince Sabandla and high-ranking officials from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA. The tournament is scheduled to take place from May 25 to June 8. The first day of competition will see host Swaziland take on Egypt in the opening match of Group A, followed by Sierra Leone versus Guinea. The Group B debut will be on May 26, with Nigeria playing Cameroon and Gambia taking on Ethiopia. The top three finishers will represent Africa in the World U-17 Championship in Finland next August.

29 March: The Leone Stars and the Atlas Lions of Morocco battled to a 0-0 draw in Freetown Saturday, leaving the two teams tied for the lead of their African Nations Cup qualifying group. According to the Associated Press, the Leone Stars had better scoring chances, but were hurt by poor finishing. The game was played before a crowd of 40,000, which included Sierra Leone's president, vice president, cabinet ministers, and dignitaries. Both the Sierra Leoneans and the Moroccans came into Saturday's Group 7 match undefeated in their first two games against Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, although the Atlas Lions have the advantage in goals scored. The Sierra Leone News Agency gave the Leone Stars four shots on goal to Morocco's one. The two teams play their return leg in Casablanca on June 7. Other weekend results: (Group One) Malawi 0, Nigeria 1. (Group Two) Ethiopia 1, Liberia 0; Guinea 2, Niger 0. (Group Three) Sudan 3, Benin 0; Tanzania 0, Zambia 1. (Group Four) Mozambique 0, Burkina Faso 0; Congo vs. Central African Republic postponed. (Group Five) Cape Verde 0, Togo 0; Kenya 4, Mauritania 0. (Group Six) Zimbabwe 3, Seychelles 1; Eritrea 0, Mali 2. (Group Seven) Sierra Leone 0, Morocco 0; Gabon 4, Equatorial Guinea 0. (Group Eight) Gambia 0, Senegal 0. (Group Nine) Swaziland 1, DR Congo 1; Libya 0, Botswana 0. (Group Ten) Mauritius 0, Egypt 1. (Group Eleven) Ivory Coast 1, Burundi 0. (Group Twelve) Chad 2, Namibia 0. (Group Thirteen) Rwanda 0, Uganda 0. 

A Sierra Leonean university student in the United States was honoured by the Associated Press Friday for a February 2002 radio report about allegations of racism on his college campus. Michael Davies-Venn, a final-year student at St. Cloud State University in central Minnesota and News Director at KVSC, the student radio station, received the AP's "Lone Ranger Award," which recognizes broadcast journalists who work in one-person newsrooms. Davies-Venn also took first place in the "In-Depth" category for his look at an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into the university's commitment to ethnic and religious diversity. "The university has had several allegations of racism and anti-Semitism brought against it, mostly by faculty and staff as well as some students," Davies-Venn told the Sierra Leone Web. "The university employed the EEOC to conduct an assessment of the campus climate as it relates to diversity at St. Cloud State University." The conclusion of EEOC investigators was that the university "lacked credibility" on diversity issues. In an interview with the university's president, Davies-Venn held his feet to the fire. "I particularly tried to get whether he would be enforcing some of the recommendations that the report came up with, and I tried to get his assessment of what the government did with the study," he said. AP Broadcast Editor Jeff Baenen, who hosted Friday's event, said the awards were first conferred in the early 1990s as a way of recognizing small "Class 1" radio stations which cover a broad spectrum of news and produce high-quality journalism with a minimal staff. Baenen added that while these small stations lacked the resources of the large commercial broadcasters, their standard of journalism was surprisingly good. "It’s remarkable with all the cutbacks, with all the staffing shortages and the problems luring people to small towns, the small stations in Minnesota produce a high quality of work that’s a real valuable service to people in these small towns and these communities," he said. Baenan observed that Davies-Venn was KSVC's third News Editor to receive the award in recent years, which he said underscored the station's commitment to quality journalism. "They really make an effort to cover news in their city and their community," he said. "We can always count on not only the commercial radio stations and the newspapers in St. Cloud...but also the student station. They are a real valuable contributor to AP." Davies-Venn is a graduate of the Prince of Wales Secondary School. He first broke into broadcast journalism in Freetown with the SLBS Breakfast Show, working there from 1991 until he left for the United States in 1995. He interned in 2001 at Minnesota Public Radio in Minneapolis, and also worked as a volunteer news reporter and occasional host at KFAI radio. Davies-Venn is scheduled to graduate from St. Cloud State this May with an honours degree in Broadcast Journalism. After graduation, he says, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in International Journalism.

28 March: The United Nations Security Council agreed Friday to a six-month extension in the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The resolution ensures that U.N. peacekeepers will remain in Sierra Leone through September 30. In addition to the extension, the Security Council called on UNAMSIL to take responsibility for Sierra Leone's internal and external security, and to complete the next two phases of the mission's drawdown plan, which includes a reduction by May 31 of 4,500 troops from the force's peak strength of just under 17,500. The U.N. currently has 15,515 peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone. Council members also expressed concern over continuing shortfall in funding for the reintegration of former combatants, and they called on the Sierra Leone government to seek urgently additional funds from international donors. The resolution stressed that strengthening the administrative capacities of the Sierra Leone government – particularly in the security sector and the judiciary – was essential to long-term peace and stability in the country. It urged the Sierra Leone government to accelerate the consolidation of civil authority and public services throughout the country and to strengthen the operational capacity and effectiveness of its security forces. The Council also urged the government "to consider urgent policy options for more effective regulation and control of diamond-mining activities," and to adopt and implement such a policy as soon as possible. 

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has confiscated travel documents from Sierra Leone's former Central Bank governor, his deputy, and department heads in connection with an investigation into allegations of impropriety Central Bank officials, Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier said on Friday. "We expect to obtain evidence from all heads of departments in the bank and any other material witness within the same institution," Collier told the Sierra Leone Web. The managers of two companies which had direct dealings with the bank have also been asked to surrender their passports. Collier confirmed that ACC investigators were looking through the records of the architectural firm Realini Badar and an automotive dealership, Dad's Car Centre, but he stressed that the two firms were not the targets of the Commission's probe. "In the course of information collecting we have had to ask for documents relating to transactions done," he said. Collier observed that the investigation was still in the early stages of collecting information, adding it was premature to name names. He dismissed speculation, however, that the investigation was politically motivated. "We are not acting on order from above," he said. "A number of reports have been sent to this Commission, and also based on the large volume of reportage from newspapers – surely these are enough to catch the interest of the Commission to pursue."

Parliament on Thursday adopted by unanimous voice vote an amendment to the 1961 Armed  Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone Act which will extend responsibility to colonels to enforce discipline within the armed forces. Under current law, only brigadiers may enforce discipline, but there were deemed to be too few brigadiers in the army at present for that purpose. The Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone (Amendment) Act, 2003 replaces the word "brigadier" in Section 83(1) of the Act with the word "colonel." The amendment allows colonels to act as appropriate superior authority in matters of military discipline. "Especially after the interventions of the erstwhile military men on both sides of the House, MPs were convinced that the amendment was straightforward and non-controversial," Clerk of Parliament J.A. Carpenter told the Sierra Leone Web. "The details of the bill were discussed in a Committee of the Whole immediately after the second reading. Thereafter, the bill was read the third time and passed into law." The Committee of the Whole also took up Thursday a report by the Legislative Committee entitled "The Road Transport Authority (Amendment) Act, 2003" which would have created a corps of traffic wardens to help regulate the flow of road traffic. "After some probing questions from an opposition MP, the bill was recommitted to the Legislative Committee for further scrutiny," Carpenter said. "The MP had opined that the fines to be levied by traffic wardens should be explicitly incorporated in the bill."

26 March: Morocco's Atlas Lions will send a team of 19 internationals and seven locally-based players to Freetown for this weekend's African Nations Cup qualifying match. Both teams are 2-0 after their games with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, although the Moroccans have a slight advantage in goals scored. According to the Associated Press, Atlas Lions coach Badou Ezaki will be without France-based defender Abdelilah Fahmi, who has been sidelined by an injury. Meanwhile, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported that six of ten foreign-based Leone Stars players had arrived in Freetown in advance of Saturday's game. Alphajor Bah, Mohamed Kallon, Mustapha Sama, John Keister, Kabba Samoura and Ibrahim Kargbo were said to have joined their teammates at the National Stadium Hostel. Chernor Mansaray, Mohamed Dabundeh, Lamin Junior Tumbu Conteh and Kewullay Conteh were expected to arrive in town on Wednesday. The Sierra Leoneans will be without star attacker Paul "Senegal" Kpaka, who was shown a red card in October's match against Gabon. Kallon has been sidelined recently by his Italian league team, Inter-Milan, due to an injury. Only the winner of each of the 13 qualifying groups plus the best second-place finisher from groups 1 through 10 will advance to the finals in Tunisia next January. Last year's winner Cameroon and host nation Tunisia qualify automatically for the finals.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Wednesday he will openly defy a United Nations arms embargo, arguing that the U.N. charter gives his government the right to defend itself against LURD rebels. The government and rebel forces are currently battling on three fronts, and fighting was reported on Wednesday only a few miles outside the capital, Monrovia. The United Nations Security Council imposed the arms embargo in March 2001 on account of the Taylor government's backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its alleged involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade in the sub-region. The embargo was extended after a U.N. Panel of Experts found in April and October 2002 that Liberia was continuing to flout the sanctions, which also include an embargo on the sale of rough diamonds and a ban on international travel by senior officials. Taylor insisted that the LURD threat "is not a possible danger, but it is a clear and...present danger," adding:  "We've ordered arms in this country and we have informed the United Nations that we have ordered arms and what we've ordered them for, and we've provided them the list, which they already have."  The Reuters news agency quoted Taylor of accusing Guinea of backing LURD, and he said the United States was aiding the rebellion by giving Guinea money. "The U.S. will have to put her feet down to stop Guinea from using the money given to her to carry on the insurgency in the country, or her acquiescence and complacency could mean she is involved," he said. "Guinean army regulars are in Liberia and some have been killed." In a separate interview with the BBC, Taylor maintained that the LURD insurgency did not pose a threat to his government. "The issue of any rebel force believing that it can take power in this country – that’s not going to happen," he said. "These advances that we’ve seen have been a matter that we had expected because of our own situation in the field. How does one make a country ungovernable? We are talking about a region of the country. Yes you can make trouble like in life you have gnat flies, you have fleas, you have ticks. They all disturb people, but that doesn’t mean the human doesn’t exist. Anyone can cause disturbance if you want to. But I’m in full control here, I don’t think there’s any question here about governance. I think that matter is out of question."

25 March: G. Melvin Tucker (pictured right) will take over as acting Governor of Sierra Leone's Central Bank from James Sanpha Koroma (below left), whose five-year contract expires on Tuesday, presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy told the Sierra Leone Web. Tucker currently holds the position of Deputy Governor. Koroma is the subject of an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission. "In the meantime the ACC continues with its investigations into a number of allegations made regarding improprieties at the Central Bank during his tenure of office," Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier told the Sierra Leone Web.

Two senior police officers face disciplinary charges for their failure to arrest parliamentarian Johnny Paul Koroma during a raid on the former junta leader's residence in January, Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. Assistant Superintendent A.M. Kamara of the Operational Support Division and Inspector B.P. Lebbie of the Criminal Investigations Division each face three counts under police disciplinary regulations, including neglect of duty and the disobedience of lawful orders. Johnny Paul Koroma, who is wanted in connection with what the authorities now believe was an abortive coup attempt in January, was present when police arrived at his home, but he managed to elude capture. His whereabouts are currently unknown. He is also being sought under an international arrest warrant by the Special Court, which earlier this month indicted him for war crimes. Brima Acha Kamara said the two officers face disciplinary action, but not criminal charges, for what he described as their negligence in allowing Koroma to escape. "They will not have prison terms," he said. "It’s within the police discipline regulations. It’s not strictly criminal."

Most of the 300 or so British Gurkha troops who deployed in Sierra Leone last month for training exercises have now departed, with the remainder set to leave in the next day or so, a spokesman for the British High Commission told the Sierra Leone Web. Officially, the deployment was a demonstration of the U.K.'s "over-the-horizon" reserve capability, underscoring Britain's continued support for the peace process in Sierra Leone. The deployment coincided, however, with increased security concerns in the country, including an alleged coup attempt in January and cross-border incursions by Liberian combatants in the east. A visiting British warship, the HMS Iron Duke, will also likely be gone by the weekend, the spokesman added.

The European Union has welcomed the "prompt and diligent action" of Sierra Leone's Special Court, which earlier this month indicted seven persons on war crimes charges, calling it "an important milestone on the path for peace, justice and reconciliation for the people of Sierra Leone." In a declaration issued on Tuesday by the EU's Greek presidency, the European body reiterated its strong support for the court "in its crucial task to bring the main perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sierra Leone to justice." The statement also expressed support for Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for "its endeavours to contribute to the healing of the Sierra Leone society."

24 March: International donors came up with only 65 percent of the money requested by United Nations agencies last year to fund relief efforts in Sierra Leone, according to a new report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The 2002 Interagency Consolidated Appeal for Sierra Leone originally asked for $88.6 million. The Sierra Leone appeal was later revised downward to $70.9 million, but an additional $29.7 request for food aid was tacked on to the World Food Programme's (WFP) West Africa Appeal, bring the total request to close to $100.7 million. According to OCHA, donors last year funded $31.1 million (44 percent) of non-food items and $29.7 (100 percent) for food aid, for an overall total of $65.2 million (65 percent). This was slightly above the amount received for Sierra Leone in 2001, but it marked a 15 percent decline in the percentage of requirements met. That decline was attributed primarily to shortfalls in the international community's response to the increased needs of tens of thousands of Liberian refugees who have crossed into Sierra Leone to escape fighting in their country. The lack of response, OCHA said, has had major repercussions in the overall humanitarian situation in the country. U.N. agencies have had difficulties meeting minimum levels of services in refugee camps and in relocating refugees away from the volatile border area. Resources were diverted from repatriation and reintegration efforts to meet emergency needs. "The humanitarian community at large was and remains greatly concerned about the condition of the Liberian refugees and the potential for tensions with host communities due to resource constraints," the report said. For 2003, U.N. agencies are looking for $82.9 million to respond to ongoing emergency humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone, and also to support repatriation, reintegration and recovery needs for Sierra Leoneans as their country emerges from a decade of civil war. So far, only minimal contributions have been made in response to this appeal. The U.N. is particularly anxious to begin construction of housing and to address the serious lack of safe drinking water and sanitary facilities before the end of the dry season. An estimated 460,000 displaced Sierra Leoneans are in the process of returning to their home areas. Only about 6.6 percent of the people in rural Sierra Leone have access to clean water, and just 0.7 percent have latrines, OCHA noted. The U.N. also wants to assist Sierra Leonean farmers before the April planting season, and to ensure that relief groups have enough food on hand to meet emergency and relief needs. The WFP is facing "a very serious break in the food pipeline" unless new donations are received now, the OCHA warned. The report also pointed to a need for contingency planning in view of the unsettled situation in neighbouring Liberia. Current refugee camps could accommodate another 7,000 people, but any further influx of people across the border would require the construction of new camps and infrastructure.

A poll released on Monday by the Freetown-based civil society group Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) indicates that a majority of Sierra Leoneans support the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). At the same time, however, the poll suggested that just weeks before their launch, many people still had an imperfect understanding of how the two institutions were supposed to work. The poll was conducted over a period of three weeks in November 2002, with CGG field monitors interviewing about 1,280 people – 100 in each of Sierra Leone's 14 districts, and 200 in the Western Area. In December, TRC statement takers fanned out across the country to record the stories of the victims and perpetrators in Sierra Leone’s civil war. The Special Court handed down its first seven indictments of alleged war criminals in early March. In the poll, 62 percent of the respondents said they believed the Special Court was necessary, and 65 percent said the same of the TRC. But when asked whether they knew the difference between the Special Court – a war crimes tribunal established jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations – and Sierra Leone’s national courts, 76 percent said they didn't know or were unsure. 59 percent of those questioned voiced support for the court's mandate to prosecute only those ‘who bear the greatest responsibility’ for war crimes, but just over a third knew that the court’s jurisdiction covers only crimes committed after 30 November 1996. Confusion was even greater with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Only 17 percent of those surveyed said they fully understood the role of the TRC. 83 percent said they understood it only partially or not at all. The CGG acknowledged some problems with the poll, including the inability to determine what a representative sample in each district should be in the absence of recent census numbers, and sometimes sloppy fieldwork by the group’s interviewers. No margin of error was given for the poll. It was also unclear whether those surveyed were representative of Sierra Leone’s population as a whole. Fully 82 percent reported they had been forced to leave their homes as a result of the war, a much higher proportion than the estimated one third to one half of the population thought to have been displaced during the past decade. 57 percent of those polled said they could read and write – about twice the level of reported literacy in the general population. By a 56 to 44 percent margin, more men were interviewed than women. In the age groups surveyed, however, Sierra Leonean women slightly outnumber their male counterparts.

The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) U.K. and Ireland Branch said Monday it would establish a legal defence fund for jailed Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman, with an immediate £3,000 contribution from the party's branch fund. Norman was indicted earlier this month by the Special Court for war crimes allegedly committed by the pro-government Civil Defence Forces militia which he headed during Sierra Leone's civil war.  

The Leone Stars are due to take on Morocco's Atlas Lions in Freetown Saturday for a African Nations Cup qualifying match which will leave one of the two teams as the undisputed leader in Group Seven. Both teams are undefeated. The Leone Stars defeated Equatorial Guinea 3-1 and Gabon 2-0 in their first two matches, while the Atlas Lions have yet to give up a goal in their 1-0 win over Gabon and their 5-0 rout of Equatorial Guinea.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar, pound sterling and Euro, posted in Freetown on Monday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. € 2100 / 2300. Commercial Bank: [$] 2050 / 2505. [£] 3055 / 3350. Frandia: [$] 2350 / 2500 [£] 3400 / 3800. € 2200 / 2400. Continental: [$] 2400 / 2500 [£] 3500 / 3800. € 2200 / 2450. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2410 / 2430 [£] 3600 / 3700.

22 March: The arrest of former RUF Security Chief Augustine Gbao came at the request of Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane, according to a statement released by the court on Saturday. Gbao appeared in a Bonthe courtroom on Friday, where Special Court Judge Benjamin Itoe explained his rights to him. The one-time RUF colonel is the first person to be detained by the war crimes tribunal as a suspect. Seven other persons were indicted by the court earlier this month. Five are in custody and two others are being sought under international arrest warrants. The prosecutor has 30 days to bring charges against a suspect or request that he be held for an additional 30 days. If the suspect has not been indicted after 90 days of detention, he must be released. Since last year, Gbao has headed a government-backed agricultural project in Kenema District to help reintegrate former combatants.

21 March: After receiving a preliminary psychiatric report on RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Special Court Judge Benjamin Itoe of Cameroon called for further tests Friday to determine whether the former rebel chief is competent to stand trial for war crimes. At his first appearance before the court a week ago, Sankoh was unresponsive and did not answer to his name. During Friday's hearing in Bonthe, Judge Itoe (pictured right) ordered that copies of the report, written by Dutch psychiatrist Dr. Peter Verkaeed, be provided to both prosecution and defence lawyers. He turned down a request by prosecution lawyers, however, that the court enter a 'not guilty' plea on Sankoh's behalf, saying this was a decision for all three Trial Chamber judges. Sankoh's case was adjourned to a date to be fixed by the Registrar. Public hearings were also held Friday for three other indictees – RUF interim leader Issa Sesay, RUF commander Morris Kallon, and AFRC commander Alex Tamba Brima. Their cases were also adjourned. A fifth indictee, former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, has had closed hearings at an undisclosed location. Meanwhile, the judge held a hearing Friday for former RUF Chief of Security Augustine Gbao (lower right), and whom a court statement described Gbao as "the first suspect detained by the Special Court." Suspects can be held for up to 90 days without being charged, subject to the court's consent. Gbao came into the court's custody on Thursday, a spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web.

Members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed that the rate of withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers from Sierra Leone should take into account the security situations in the country and the capacity of the police and army to maintain them, according to a statement issued on Friday by Council President Mamady Traoré of Guinea. The Security Council will consider a resolution next week to extend UNAMSIL's mandate by an additional six months. Meanwhile, Council members expressed concern over the destabilising impact of the war in Liberia on the rest of the sub-region and on Sierra Leone in particular. They urged the warring parties – the Liberian government and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy – to initiate direct dialogue with a view to bringing about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The U.S. Embassy in Freetown has cautioned Americans in Sierra Leone to take increased precautions for their security in the wake of U.S. and British-led military action in Iraq. Thursday's advisory followed a State Department warning that U.S. citizens living abroad could be the target of terrorist attacks. While the embassy statement did not suggest any specific problems in Sierra Leone, Americans were advised to remain aware of their surroundings, to avoid crowds and demonstrations, to vary their times and routes for travel, and to keep their travel documents current. U.S. citizens who had not already registered with the embassy were urged to do so. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the British High Commission said there were no specific updates for U.K. citizens in Sierra Leone. "In the last week or so we have looked closely at the advice and amendments made (which) have now been reflected in the advice on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website," he said.

20 March: Parliament will debate a bill Thursday which would allow colonels to enforce discipline in Sierra Leone's armed forces. Under current law, only brigadiers may administer discipline, but at present there are said to be too few brigadiers for that purpose. Accordingly, the proposed bill would amend the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone Act, 1961, replacing the word "brigadier" in Section 83(1) with the word "colonel." This, according to the bill summary, would allow colonels to act as appropriate superior authority, in addition to the officers above that rank.

The effects of current and former conflicts and drought could result in parts of West Africa facing serious food shortages, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday. As of March, the agency said, 38 countries worldwide were in danger of experiencing food shortfalls, with 25 of those countries in Africa. The FAO pointed to the thousands of displaced Liberian s who are streaming across the border into Sierra Leone and Guinea, which already host significant numbers of refugees. "This mass displacement has disrupted production and marketing activities, adversely impacting the food supply situation in the concerned countries," the group said.

19 March: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Wednesday that the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone be extended for an additional six months. At the same time, he advised that peacekeepers be withdrawn from the country gradually, noting that Sierra Leone is still not able to maintain its security without U.N. help. "Developments over recent months have proved the prudence of pursuing a gradual drawdown of the Mission," Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council. Annan noted that the first serious challenges posted to Sierra Leone's security forces had "exposed the existence of considerable shortcomings." Under a Security Council resolution adopted last September, UNAMSIL was scheduled to reduce its strength in Sierra Leone by 4,500 over eight months, from its peak of nearly 17,500 troops. The U.N. currently has 15,515 soldiers in the West African country. Annan stressed that any slowdown did not mean that the positive security trend in Sierra Leone had suffered a fundamental reversal, but he said much more needed to be done to strengthen the country's security presence in areas being vacated by U.N. peacekeepers. "It is widely acknowledged that the presence of UNAMSIL gave the general public the confidence that prevented a deterioration of the situation," Annan said. The secretary-general expressed concern over the continued existence of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) structure, saying it "may undermine not only the credibility of the demobilisation process, but also the long-term stability of the country." He also observed that the commencement of indictments by the Special Court brought considerable security challenges, requiring a need to ensure that police and prison authorities would have the ability to secure those taken into custody. Annan also pointed to several critical factors in consolidating the peace in Sierra Leone, such as preventing young people from feeling excluded, bringing the diamond mining areas under control, and creating re-integration opportunities for ex-combatants. "Solutions to these issues are complex and will require time, resources and actions ranging from promoting economic revival and education to skills training," he said. Annan warned that "the security of Sierra Leone cannot be fully ensured while the conflict in Liberia persists," and he called for international assistance in bringing the Liberian conflict to an end. With international assistance, Sierra Leone has so far been able to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Liberian refugees, but if the conflict continued "a humanitarian emergency could arise," he said.

18 March: Former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman has made his first appearance before Sierra Leone's Special Court, where he was arraigned on eight counts for war crimes committed during his country's civil war, Chief Prosecutor David Crane told reporters on Tuesday. The charges included allegations of  unlawful killings, the inflicting of physical violence and mental suffering, looting and burning, and recruiting child solders. He pleaded not guilty to his eight-count charges," Crane was quoted as saying. According to the Reuters news agency, the text of the indictments accused the pro-government Kamajor militia which Norman led of having killed scores of civilians suspected of sympathizing with the RUF. It said some were hacked and burned to death, and it alleged the militia had practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism. The indictment also alleged Norman knew of and approved the recruiting of children below the age of 15 as combatants. The court hearing took place in an undisclosed location because court officials were concerned militiamen still loyal to the former minister "might seek to put pressure on the court and disrupt the trial," the Associated Press quoted Crane as saying. Kelvin Lewis, writing for the Voice of America, suggested that Norman's arraignment took place on Monday at the same Bonthe courtroom where four other indictees had already appeared. "(Following the arraignments of Morris Kallon and Alex Tamba Brima), the court went into closed session," Lewis said. "Later, journalists were informed that former Internal Affairs Minister Chief Sam Hinga Norman had faced the court. The chief prosecutor, David Crane, said that this was the judge’s decision. The court’s registrar, Robin Vincent, explained that Chief Norman was a popular man and they could not rule out the fact that some of his Kamajors would have gone to besiege the court and disrupt the trial." In a statement to journalists, Crane denied allegations in the Freetown press that the minister had been mistreated during his arrest, and he suggested that more indictments were in the offing. "(Norman) was treated with respect and arrested in accordance with international standards," he said. "There was no mistreatment or abuse of that gentleman. All of these arrests should demonstrate that no one – no one – is above the law, regardless of their power, stature or wealth. It must be seen that justice is open, impartial and fair. But much work remains to be done, and more indictments will most assuredly follow." Meanwhile, Political and Parliamentary Affairs Minister George Banda-Thomas has been given temporary responsibility for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy told the Sierra Leone Web.

The indictment of seven people for war crimes, including a government minister and leaders of the former AFRC junta and the Revolutionary United Front, signals "we mean business," the Special Court's Chief Prosecutor told the Reuters news agency. "The fact that victims can see someone humbled before the law, that is justice," David Crane said. He added that the court was still working to identify those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, whether inside or outside the country. "As long as it falls within the mandate of the court...I can go anywhere, reach out and get them," he said. "This case is far bigger than Sierra Leone. There is clear evidence of regional and international involvement – in terms of funding, political backing and military support." While Crane would not comment on individual cases or on future indictments, charges leveled against rebel commanders alleged they acted "in concert with (Liberian President Charles) Taylor at all relevant times," fueling speculation that the Liberian leader could himself be a target of future indictments. Crane wouldn't say. "We haven't closed the book on anyone. We are looking at everything and everyone," he said. Crane suggested that the RUF, the AFRC and their international accomplices had come together in what he called a "joint criminal enterprise" to loot Sierra Leone of its diamond resources. "The whole conflict was about diamonds," he said. "How did the rebels keep the war going for such a long time? They traded guns for diamonds. Without diamonds, they wouldn't have had the guns and there wouldn't have been a decade-long war." The court is expected to prosecute no more than a handful of those it deems to be most responsible for the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law. Others will be asked to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Crane told Reuters that second or third-tier players responsible for atrocities would be turned over to the Sierra Leonean authorities, but he stressed the need to reintegrate ex-combatants back into society. "We have a lost generation in this country," he said. "I don't condone their crimes, but we have to re-integrate them into society. If we keep hounding them, all we will do is get them right back into the bush."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged West African leaders Tuesday to focus on what he called "the very real and very present threat to peace" caused by the proliferation of light arms in the sub-region. In his statement to the Security Council during an open debate on the threats to peace and security in West Africa posed by light arms proliferation and the phenomenon of mercenaries, Annan said the uncontrolled proliferation of such weapons and the use of soldiers of fortune by warring factions sustained conflict, exacerbated violence, fuelled crime and terrorism, promoted violence, violated international humanitarian law and impeded development. Especially in the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, Annan said, wars had been fueled by the unregulated trade in small arms, often paid for with the proceeds from the illicit exploitation of natural resources. He noted that this flood of arms had resulted in a rise in the activities of mercenaries. Unemployed armed men were moving from country to country, willing to fight for whoever would pay them the most. This, Annan said, was closely linked to the failure to adequately fund and implement disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, and the failure to provide enough assistance to countries seeking to restructure their armed forces as part of post-conflict peacebuilding efforts. Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in his statement to the Security Council, acknowledged the critical role that the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme had played in his country's efforts to stamp out the illicit trade in small arms. Ambassador Joe Pemagbi (left) observed that the disarmament of combatants following Sierra Leone's civil war was made possible primarily through international assistance and cooperation. The ambassador warned, however, that unless cooperation was accelerated for the reintegration component of the programme, many ex-combatants could easily be recruited to fight in other conflicts in the sub-region.

17 March: A former RUF leader and a one-time AFRC junta member were arraigned in a Bonthe courtroom on Monday, each accused on 17 counts of having committed war crimes during Sierra Leone's civil war. The two are among seven persons indicted last Monday by the Special Court, which is mandated to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed after 30 November 1996, the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord. The proceedings against Morris Kallon (pictured left) and Alex Tamba Brima (right) began Friday, but were adjourned until Monday so that the charges against them, which include murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, enslavement, looting and burning, sexual slavery, conscription of children into an armed force, and attacks on UNAMSIL peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, could be translated into Krio. A recorded translation of their indictments was provided to each man before Monday's hearing. However, Judge Benjamin M. Itoe of Cameroon asked that the 14-page indictment again be translated for them during Monday's court sessions. According to a court statement, Kallon listened carefully as each count was read to him before answering "not guilty" to each charge. "In the Brima hearing, even before entering his not guilty plea, Brima often shook his head denying the charges being read out against him," the statement said. Brima told the court he did not require legal assistance to mount a defence, as he expected his family to provide him the necessary financial support. Kallon, however, said he would require legal assistance. Meanwhile, the proceedings against RUF leader Foday Sankoh are scheduled to resume on Friday. The hearing was interrupted last Friday after Judge Itoe ordered that the former rebel leader undergo a psychiatric and medical evaluation to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

Sierra Leone's Under-17 football squad played Tunisia to a 1-1 draw in Tunis Saturday, guaranteeing the Sierra Stars a place in the U-17 African Championship Cup finals for the first time since the tournament's inception in 1995. Sierra Leone defeated Tunisia in Freetown earlier this month on a lone goal from Kenneh Abdul in the 15th minute. The draw for the finals will take place in Swaziland on March 30.

The deployment of some 300 visiting British Gurkha soldiers and support troops will begin to draw down this week as the training exercise in Sierra Leone draws to a conclusion, a spokesman for the British High Commission told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday. Officially, the troops were sent to Sierra Leone last month as a demonstration of Britain's commitment to provide an over-the-horizon force capability under a 1999 Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone. The British deployment took place, however, against a background of heightened security concerns after an alleged coup attempt in January and worries about a spillover of the Liberian conflict into eastern Sierra Leone. During their month-long stay, the visiting troops conducted joint exercises with Sierra Leone's military, which is undergoing training by the British-led International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). British support troops from the Joint Task Force also provided non-military assistance as well. Last week, soldiers from the 10 Field Regiment the Royal Engineers repaired four bridges on a main road linking Sierra Leone and Guinea – a project which was underwritten by Britain's Department for International Development (DfID). "Before we started, the bridges weren't very safe," Field Troop Commander Captain Will McDonald was quoted as saying. "They just consist of wooden beams which haven't been secured at all. There are no guide-rails and getting across them is quite risky. We re-decked the bridges with new timber and put in supports so they can take much larger vehicles. Basically, we've ensured the bridges are safe, which is good news for the communities using them."

16 March: Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane said Sunday that the arraignments of Foday Sankoh and Issa Sesay for war crimes "hearings should show the Sierra Leonean people that no one is above the law." According to a court statement, the arraignments of Morris Kallon and Alex Tamba Brima have been postponed until Monday so that the charges against them can be read to them in Krio. Crane again called on fugitive ex-AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie to turn themselves in. "There is nowhere to hide," he said. "Warrants have been put out for their arrests. Koroma and Bockarie should surrender and face the numerous serious charges against them." Crane rejected allegations that Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman had been mistreated during his arrest. "Absolutely not," he said. "Mr. Norman was treated with respect and in complete compliance with international standards."

15 March: Foday Sankoh appeared before a Special Court judge for arraignment on war crimes charges Saturday, but the proceedings were quickly adjourned when it appeared the former rebel leader might not be competent to participate in the hearing, news services reported. Sankoh and three other defendants – interim RUF leader Issa Hassan Sesay or "General Issa," RUF commander Morris Kallon and former AFRC "honourable" Alex Tamba Brima – were all due to make their first court appearances on Saturday to plead to the charges against them. Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who led the pro-government Kamajor militia during the war, is reportedly being held in Bonthe as well, but his court date has not yet been announced. Court officials say they plan to remove Norman to an as-yet-unnamed third country. Sankoh was carried into the courtroom at mid-morning slouched into a wheelchair. The former rebel leader's head was slumped onto his chest, his right leg shook constantly, and his grey dreadlocks fell over his face, according to the reporters present. "He didn’t look very lucid at all," said BBC correspondent Tom McKinley. "When he was put in the dock, the judge asked him to identify himself. He asked again and again, and each time Foday Sankoh failed to respond. The only thing he did was raise a finger at one stage which suggested very little." Sankoh's Gambian defence lawyer asked that the rebel leader be given a full psychiatric and medical examination, and Judge Itoe agreed. "The court is taken aback and wonders whether he is hearing the court at all," Itoe was quoted as saying. It was only as he was being taken out of the court, said Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis, that the former rebel leader raised his head and looked intently at his surroundings.

Following Foday Sankoh's brief appearance in court, RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay (pictured right) was arraigned before Judge Itoe on 17 charges including murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, sexual slavery, conscription of children into an armed force and attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. It took over an hour for the charges to be read out in Krio. On several occasions, Sesay asked for clarifications, but he eventually pleaded not guilty on all counts. "I do understand all the charges read against me," he told the judge. According to the Voice of America, Sesay told the court that Sankoh had ordered the attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, but that he refused. As a result, he said, Sankoh sent him to Kono to oversee diamond mining operations. Sesay said that by the time he returned to Makeni, the fighting had already started. "Sesay said his colleagues told him to take the peacekeepers to the bush, but he declined and took them to Kono," said Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis. "(Liberian President) Charles Taylor sent a helicopter for him in Pendembu and took him to Liberia, where he instructed him to release the peacekeepers. Issa Sesay said he came back and released them." Meanwhile, former RUF "brigadier" Morris Kallon (left), and one-time army staff sergeant and AFRC "honourable" Alex Tamba Brima (right), an alleged leader of the bloody January 1999 attack on Freetown, also made brief appearances before the court. Both asked that their indictments be translated into Krio. Their hearings were adjourned until Monday to allow for the time it would take to read the translations to them. According to a court statement, the hearings will continue at Bonthe while a permanent court building in Freetown is under construction. The court is expected to be ready for trials by September.

14 March: Sierra Leone's Special Court unveiled its official website Friday, where it will post official documents, press releases, photos and basic facts relating to its work. The court is mandated to prosecute a handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. "As the work of the court continues, the site will grow considerably," the court's spokesman said in a brief statement which accompanied the launch.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) received $3.7 million in cash and pledges at a meeting this month with international donors in Geneva, TRC Executive-Secretary Franklyn Bai Kargbo was quoted as saying on Wednesday. According to the official Sierra Leone News Agency, the commission was represented by a delegation led by TRC chairman Bishop Joseph Humper. The meeting was held at the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and was attended by donors representing the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands.

Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier confirmed Friday that his agency is conducting an investigation involving Sierra Leone's Central Bank, but gave no details. "It is early days yet," he told the Sierra Leone Web, adding: "The business of the ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission) is to act dispassionately and ensure that justice will be done."

The U.S. State Department announced Thursday is had provided an additional $10 million to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and planned to donate $5 million more to help meet critical funding shortfalls to feed about 1.5 million refugees in Africa. The move follows an urgent appeal by U.N. agencies in February for 112,000 metric tons of food worth an estimated $84 million to feed refugees in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and eight other African countries. The bulk of U.S. aid for drought and conflict victims is provided through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has pledged over $280 million in food commodities to the WFP this year. The additional $10 million was provided by the the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. 

Members of the United Nations Security Council welcomed the first seven indictments this week Sierra Leone's Special Court as "the start of a judicial process bringing to justice those individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the people of Sierra Leone." In a statement read out by Security Council President Mamady Traoré of Guinea, Council members congratulated the people and government of Sierra Leone for "their commitment to achieving justice and national reconciliation" through the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and for their support of the court since its establishment. "In holding individuals accountable through a full, fair and transparent judicial process, the Special Court will strengthen national reconciliation and contribute to the Security Council’s goal of lasting peace in Sierra Leone," the statement said.

The Sierra Leone Action Movement (SLAM) announced Friday it had established a legal defence fund in the United States for Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who was indicted for war crimes on Monday. According to SLAM Secretary-General Alfred SamForay, the fund was established with an initial capital of $1,800, and the group hopes to raise at least $10,000 for Norman's defence. SLAM, a "virtual" organization of perhaps a dozen members who meet mostly over the internet, describes itself as a sister organization to the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF), which Norman led during Sierra Leone's civil war. Between its founding in 1997 and the signing of the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement in November 2000, the group issued press releases in support of the CDF and raised thousands of dollars in humanitarian assistance for militia members. SamForay told the Sierra Leone Web that Norman had expected he might be called before the Special Court – Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal – but he said SLAM members were upset about the minister's public arrest. The group's role now, he said, would be to ensure that Norman had adequate legal representation. "Obviously we cannot make a legal determination" on the charges, he said. "We’re trying to do what we can on the personal front. The legal thing, somebody else will deal with it when the time comes."

United Nations agencies will try to repatriate 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea by June, bringing the total remaining to 10,000, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. For U.N. agencies and implementing partners have formed three working groups to transfer refugees before the beginning of the rainy season, the WFP said. In Sierra Leone, the WFP said it had suspended most Food-for-Work programmes in order to reserve resources to feed vulnerable persons. If the resource situation does not improve soon, the group warned, some components of Emergency School Feeding and Food-For-Training programmes may also have to be suspended. Between February 24 and March 9, the WFP distributed 612 tons of food to 66,684 in Sierra Leone. On March 1 the agency took over responsibility for providing food to all refugee camps in the country. There are currently about 47,000 refugees in the camps. Meanwhile, the WFP reported an outbreak of lassa fever at the refugee camps in Jimmi Bagbo and Gerihun. This was the first reported outbreak of the deadly disease in Jimmi, which is outside the area where it is known to be endemic.

13 March: Four of five persons arrested this week for war crimes will make their first appearances before a Special Court judge on Saturday. According to a court press statement, RUF defendants Foday Sankoh, Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon and  Alex Tamba Brima of the former AFRC junta will be arraigned at separate hearings before Judge Benjamin M. Itoe. No date was announced for the arraignment of Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who will be detained in a so-far undisclosed country outside of Sierra Leone. Two others indicted on Monday, former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, are being sought under international arrest warrants. The court hearings will be held in accordance with Rule 61 of the Special Court's Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which provides that an accused shall be brought before a judge and charged as quickly as possible, that he be given the right to counsel, and that he be called upon to enter a plea. Meanwhile, the Associated Press quoted spokesman David Hecht as saying that Sankoh, whose RUF rebel group as was notorious for atrocities such as hacking the limbs off civilians, will answer charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. For security reasons the court appearances will be held at an undisclosed location outside the capital, Hecht was quoted as saying. 

Civil society observers who monitored 36 of the 61 chieftaincy elections held in Sierra Leone since last December said they found few signs of overt political interference with the process according to a new report by the Freetown-based Campaign for Good Governance (CGG). While the observers said that in several chiefdoms they uncovered evidence of political interference, bribery, or the illegal practice of "camping" councillors before the vote, they found that the abuses "were not enough to cloud the overall conduct of the elections." The CGG said more problems were encountered in the Northern Province than in the Southern and Eastern Provinces, and that most of these problems hinged on pre-independence amalgamation agreements. 

A spokesman for Sierra Leone's fractured former RUF rebel movement said Thursday the group had no official statement on the indictment this week of four of its senior members for war crimes because its leaders had not yet met. RUF leader Foday Sankoh and interim leader Issa Sesay, together with ex-military commander Morris Kallon, were taken into custody by the Special Court on Monday. Former battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie fled the country in December 1999 and is being sought under an international arrest warrant. "I have not seen the others as yet," RUF Party Public Relations Officer Eldred Collins told the Sierra Leone Web. "The arrests was surprising to everybody. (The leaders) are not together as yet. I’ve not seen them as yet for them to know what they would like to say." The RUF Party has been without a leader since the resignation of Pallo Bangura as secretary-general last July. Collins said that even before the May 2002 elections there had been leadership problems. "Before the election there was no convention where these executive positions are supposed to be voted in by delegates," he said. "This was just an interim leadership that was there. From that time we have not had any convention." Among the rank-and-file, too, the former rebel movement had begun to dissolve, with many of the group's combatants supporting other political parties in the election. "Before the elections, some of the RUF combatants went to different political parties. That is for sure," Collins said. "They left the party. They went to other political parties because of dissatisfaction with the leadership. They were always crying about the leadership. They said their lack of encouragement and what they expected from the leadership (was) not met." But that, Collins said, is democracy. "I believe in a pure democracy," he said. "Anyone who feels he (wants to) leave his party for the other party, it is his right. It is his intimate right to go and join any party of his choice."

12 March: The Sierra Leone government has urged Sierra Leoneans to support the Special Court in the wake of the tribunal's indictments this week of Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman and six other persons for war crimes. In a statement released on Wednesday, the government said the court had to be seen as impartial, and it recalled that the war crimes tribunal had been established to eradicate a culture of impunity and to implant the supremacy of the rule of law in the country. "The Special Court as established by law is required to act independently of Government or of any person or authority and it is not subject to the direction or control of Government or any person or authority. It acts on its own deliberate judgment," the statement said, adding that the court must not be seen to be administering selective justice. "Although Government is not aware of the factual basis for the arrests of the individuals in question, however, the public is entreated to have confidence in the Special Court and in its ability to dispense justice in a fair and objective manner," the statement said. 

Former RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi has denied reports by the Reuters news agency that he and RUF Chief of Security Augustine Gbao were arrested by Special Court investigators on Tuesday. A similar report appeared in the Awoko newspaper. Reuters quoted court investigators as saying they had apprehended the two former rebel officials in northern Sierra Leone. But in a brief telephone interview, Massaquoi told the Sierra Leone Web there was no truth to the story. He added that he was still in the Sierra Leonean capital. "I'm speaking to you from Freetown," he said. Meanwhile, Special Court spokesman David Hecht told the Sierra Leone Web he had no knowledge of any such arrests.

Two former RUF commanders indicted this week by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal were about to launch projects to be funded by the government's National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), the agency's director confirmed on Wednesday. Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon were among five former rebel commanders working on community development initiatives. "We actually had already approved four fisheries projects for Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, Gibril Massaquoi and Eldred Collins," NCDDR Executive-Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai (pictured right) told the Sierra Leone Web. "Each was supposed to have 25 other ex-combatant beneficiaries and an equal number of community members. We were on the verge of transferring the first tranche of the money to their respective accounts for project start-up when the Special Court arrests commenced on Monday. Prior to this, they had had meetings in the various communities with NCDDR field staff to discuss modalities for implementation and the need for reconciliation." Kai-Kai said former RUF Chief of Security Augustine Gbao was already at "an advanced stage" in implementing an agricultural project in his home village in Kenema District. He added that the community had been involved in Gbao's project and that so far it was being well-managed. Kai-Kai said his agency was currently working to process proposals for agricultural projects for senior CDF members before the onset of the planting season. "The arrest of the (RUF) leaders notwithstanding, NCDDR is still committed to supporting the remaining ex-combatants within the support framework established by government," he said. "Their effective reintegration into post-conflict Sierra Leonean society remains a top priority for the consolidation of our hard won peace."

Peace and Liberation Party leader Johnny Paul Koroma could soon lose his seat in parliament under a rule which allows for the expulsion of members who miss more than 30 parliamentary sittings, the Clerk of Parliament told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. "With regard to the expulsion of the PLP Leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, Standing Order (S.O.) 77(2)(a) says that ‘any member who, without good cause during any session, is absent from the sittings of parliament on a number of days amounting to an aggregate period of thirty days shall vacate his seat'," J. A Carpenter said. "So pursuant to the above order, parliament can indeed act to expel the PLP Leader if he absents himself from parliamentary sittings for 30 days." The fugitive former AFRC junta leader has been on the run since January 18, when police raided his west Freetown residence in connection with what they now allege was a plot to overthrow the government. On Monday, Koroma was indicted for war crimes by Sierra Leone's Special Court. 

A Human Rights Watch spokesman told Radio France International Wednesday that the New York-based human rights group welcomed this week's indictments of seven persons for war crimes. "First, the fact that indictments have been issued is, after such a brief operational phase of the court, a major achievement, but also crucial," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division. "Secondly is the broad-based and inclusive approach which the court has undertaken. It is critical if the court is going to be credible and be perceived as balanced that it should focus on responsibility by all sides." Takirambudde suggested that Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman had been indicted because of his leadership of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces, "an organisation which was also responsible for human rights violations." He called the prosecutor's decision to indict Norman a sign that "the court is committed to even-handed dispensation of justice irrespective of those who are responsible for these violations."  "He stood up to the rebels but committed human rights violations," Takirambudde said. "Our concern is the fact that human rights of quite a large number of people were violated by individuals who served with Civil Defence Forces. I don’t think it’s a consolation for those whose rights were so seriously violated."

Reaction to the Special Court Indictments: U.S. Congressman and Africa Subcommittee Chairman Ed Royce: "Led by prosecutor David M. Crane, the Special Court for Sierra Leone took a step to end the culture of impunity and violence that plagues West Africa. This is a much-needed move to find and punish those guilty of the heinous atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's ten-year civil war. I call upon the Special Court to continue its investigation and follow the evidence where it leads. They should indict those most responsible, whether it is to a statehouse in the region or to Europe and beyond." ...U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf: "The indictment is for crimes of murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, enslavement, and attacks on humanitarian workers; and all, if not most of these crimes, are directly related to atrocities committed to gain control of and profit from conflict diamonds. These indictments are an important and necessary milestone in the long road to securing justice and restoring the human rights of the people in that part of Africa" 

Deputy Finance Minister James D. Rogers introduced a bill in parliament Wednesday which would ratify the statutes and provisions of a two-year old proposed West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) agreement. The agreement, which was aimed at bringing about a convergence of West African currencies and financial institutions by 2004, was signed by West African leaders at a summit in Bamako, Mali in December 2000. Clerk of Parliament J.A. Carpenter said members voted to defer debate on the bill because they said they needed an in-depth explanation of its provisions before moving to ratify it. "Some members were displeased that the agreements were signed in 2000 and brought to parliament only in 2003, and this period of time was not used to explain these very important policy developments to the people," Carpenter said. Meanwhile, legislators heard a second reading of a bill that would amend the 1996 Road Transport Authority Act so that the Road Transport Authority could create a corps of traffic wardens in connection with its powers under the 1964 Road traffic Act and the 1960 Road Traffic Regulations. The new traffic wardens would be complementary to the police in control and regulation of road traffic, but would have the additional responsibility for maintaining road safety and educating the public about road safety rules. They would also be empowered to issue tickets to enforce traffic laws. The wardens would enjoy the same powers and protections as police in the control and regulation of traffic, but would only be able to exercise their functions when in uniform. Another motion before parliament, which was reported from the Public Accounts Committee, would deal with remuneration for parliamentarians and the holders of certain other high offices. Existing legislation deals specifically with parliamentarians. The proposed State Salaries, Pensions, Gratuities and other Benefits Act, 2003 would treat other high offices as well. Parliamentarians also adopted a private member's motion proposed by Alex Koroma to investigate Celtel, a mobile telephone company operating in Freetown. A 15-member ad hoc committee will look into allegations that the company failed to pay taxes, customs duties and other official levies, and will investigate what the bill said was the "questionable short duration" of the company's prepaid "to-up" telephone cards. Carpenter noted that parliament recently set up a Human Rights Committee consisting of ten SLPP members, three APC members, one member from the PLP, and one paramount chief parliamentarian. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Alusine A. Fofana, an SLPP representative from Kambia District.

A Freetown Magistrate turned down an application by counsel Monday asking that a 15-year boy facing treason charges be transferred from an adult prison to a juvenile detention centre. Alusine Kamara is one of seventeen persons charged last week with treason and related offences in connection with what authorities allege was a plot to overthrow the government. Attorney Melron Nicol-Wilson (pictured left) of the Freetown-based Lawyers Centre for Legal Assistance told the Sierra Leone Web Wednesday that Kamara was currently being detained together with adult prisoners at the Pademba Road Prison, contrary to the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act, Chapter 44 of the Laws of Sierra Leone 1960, which requires that defendants under the age of 18 to be detained at the Juvenile Remand Home in Kingtom. Sierra Leone is also a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that "every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child's best interest not to do so."   "On Monday I applied in Court No. 1 presided over by Magistrate Claudia Taylor for the accused to be transferred to the juvenile remand home in view of his age," Nicol-Wilson said. "His age is written on his statements to the police and his relatives have his birth certificate, which is conclusive evidence of his age. She refused my application and commented that the matter is a serious one." Nicol-Wilson said he would represent Kamara again on March 17th when the accused are due back in court, and throughout the youth's trial. 

11 March: For di People newspaper editor Paul Kamara was released from Pademba Road Prison Tuesday, after serving four months of a six-month jail sentence for criminal libel. Kamara was convicted in November on 18 counts of libeling Appeals Court Justice M.E. Tolla Thompson. Judge Tolla Thompson had taken over the reins of the Sierra Leone Football Association after Kamara was ousted from that post. The journalist was originally ordered to pay a fine of 4.5 million leones (about $2,100), later reduced to Le 4,500 The sentence, which also included a recommendation that the president order Kamara's newspaper closed for six months, drew immediate fire from international journalists' organisations and from the Freetown-based Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), which called for his release and for the repeal of the section of Sierra Leone's Public Order Act which makes libel a criminal offence. Peep editor Olu Awoonor-Gordon, who headed a five-member SLAJ "Free Press Committee" set up to work for Kamara's release, told the Sierra Leone Web that the For di People editor's sentence was shortened by a third, a typical remission for prisoners who sentences are less than one year. He was released from prison at about 10:00 a.m. Awoonor-Gordon said Kamara was met by a crowd of some 200 persons, including about 80 journalists, members of his Wellington People football team, family members, well-wishers and supporters. "He was carried shoulder-high from the prison, carried right down Pademba Road past Law Courts, and we took him to Stop Press (a restaurant and hang-out for journalists in central Freetown)," he said. "We had a rally there, and then he had a press conference." Awoonor-Gordon quoted Kamara as telling his colleagues he had undergone a "spiritual renaissance" while in jail, and that the fight for press freedom would go on. "He said basically he’s committed himself to continuing the struggle, but he said it’s not just a struggle for him, it’s a struggle for Sierra Leoneans in bringing about press freedom," Awoonor-Gordon said. "His time in jail was a kind of 'spiritual retreat,' and he’s returned with his batteries recharged. I don’t think he’s about to change." Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed news of Kamara's release, but said he should have never been jailed in the first place. Kamara told the CPJ that he intended to appeal to the Supreme Court to have his conviction overturned, and he asserted that he would challenge the constitutionality of the laws under which he was charged. He also claimed he was not given a fair trial. "Right now in Sierra Leone we only have a facade of democracy," Kamara said. "But these laws must be expunged from the books."

Seven persons indicted by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal on Monday "clearly bear the greatest responsibility" for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. "Evidence clearly shows that," Chief Prosecutor David Crane told the BBC. Four former RUF rebels, two members of the former AFRC junta, and a senior government minister were among those indicted. Five were taken into the court's custody on Monday, and warrants were issued for the arrest of two others – parliamentarian and former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, and former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie. Crane acknowledged there was the potential for unrest by supporters of some of those charged, and he stressed that there would be "a little bit of pain."   "It’s like a bandage," he said. "You peel it off quickly, it stings, but the healing starts. And so it’s one of those things where you have to do what you have to do to move forward and start a just, sustainable peace here in Sierra Leone." Crane said international warrants had been issued for the arrest of Koroma and Bockarie, and that under international law all countries were obligated to either prosecute indicted war criminals themselves or to hand them over to the court. "The world knows that those who are still not arrested with this wave of indictments – Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie – are still indictees, they are war criminals, and that the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa need to turn them over, because we want to incarcerate them as well."

The indictment and arrest of Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman for war crimes shows that no one in Sierra Leone is above the law, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Eke Halloway said on Tuesday. "The government's message to the people of our country is that, be it high or low, the law is duty bound to bring about justice and punish impunity," Halloway told the Reuters news agency. "The non-interference of the government in the decisions of the special court is clearly reflected in the indictment against prominent members of the government." Norman (pictured right) led the pro-government Kamajor militia during the country's decade-long civil war. He was arrested at his office on Monday and, according to Chief Prosecutor David Crane, will be held in a country outside of Sierra Leone. The court is expected to name that country on Wednesday.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh "has been examined and is in good health," Special Court spokesman David Hecht told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. Sankoh reportedly suffered a minor stroke last year, and some journalists who observed the former rebel leader in court have wondered aloud in recent months whether his apparently fragile physical and mental condition might ultimately prevent him from facing trial. Meanwhile, the seven persons indicted by the Special Court on Monday have not yet been formally charged. "The exact charges have not yet been made public," Hecht said. "A Special Court judge will decide when that is to happen." 

Monday's demonstration of firepower by British troops was "pure coincidence" and not related to the indictments by the Special Court, a British spokesman told the Sierra Leone Web. "The reason for the exercise was the demonstration of our over-the-horizon force capability," he said. "Many recent events here and in the region were also taken into account, and I think that the Wellington incident, the recent raids into Sierra Leone from Liberia, and the influx of Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone had potential to cause instability in the region. The exercise underlined our continued support for the process here in Sierra Leone." The spokesman added that while Britain supports the Special Court, no British troops played a role in supporting court activities. The arrest of suspected war criminals, he said, was a matter for the Sierra Leonean authorities and the court. Britain's show of force, with the arrival last month of some 300 Gurkha soldiers and the expected visit of a British naval warship, is not a sign of increased instability in the country, the spokesman insisted. "I do not think that the there has been an increase in the threat here, but recent events as would suggest that a reminder of the U.K.'s ongoing commitment was timely," he said.

Italy has written off a debt of 15.41 million euros ($17 million) owed by Sierra Leone, the Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday. The Italian government also wrote off 11.85 million euros ($13.07 million) owed by Burkina Faso. The agreements, which were signed by Italian Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Alfredo Mantica, bring to 1.1 billion euros ($1.21 billion) the total amount of cancelled debt owed to Italy by 20 of the world's poorest countries.

10 March: Sierra Leone's Special Court handed down its first indictments Monday, accusing seven persons, including former RUF and AFRC junta leaders and one current government minister, of responsibility for war crimes committed during the country's decade-long civil conflict. Indicted were RUF leader Foday Saybana Sankoh, PLP parliamentarian and former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay, former AFRC "honourable" Alex Tamba Brima alias "Gullit", former RUF commander Morris Kallon alias "Bilai Karim," and Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman. As Deputy Defence Minister, Norman headed the pro-government Kamajor militia and the Civil Defence Forces. The Special Court, a mixed tribunal comprising both Sierra Leonean and international judges and staff, is mandated to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed since 30 November 1996 – the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord. "Specifically the crimes alleged within the indictments include murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, enslavement, looting and burning, sexual slavery, conscription of children into an armed force, and attacks on UNAMSIL peacekeepers and humanitarian assistance workers, among others," Chief Prosecutor David Crane said in a statement. "Indictees Sankoh, Sesay, Brima, Kallon, and Norman currently are in our custody. I call upon the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa to turn over indictees Koroma and Bockarie. They are indicted war criminals with outstanding warrants for their arrest." Johnny Paul Koroma is also being sought by the Sierra Leonean authorities in connection with an alleged coup attempt in January. He escaped capture during a police raid on his west Freetown residence and his whereabouts are unknown. Sam Bockarie fled to Liberia after breaking with Foday Sankoh in December 1999. Under the threat of United Nations sanctions in February 2001, the Liberian authorities claimed to have expelled him from their country, but they declined to provide evidence that he had left. Pictured left to right, below: Foday Saybana Sankoh, Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie, Sam Hinga Norman and Issa Hassan Sesay.

Meanwhile, Special Court Registrar Robin Vincent disclosed Monday that Sam Hinga Norman would be held in a country outside of Sierra Leone. The other four defendants in custody will be detained within Sierra Leone, he said, but at a location outside of Freetown. All of the defendants will be brought before a Special Court judge as soon as is practical, and in any event within seven days. "In accordance with their rights, each accused person will have a Duty Counsel assigned to them by the Special Court, should they so require it, to represent their interests at this initial hearing," Vincent said.

Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon were taken into custody at midday Monday when they and four other former RUF members went to police headquarters on "a personal matter," one of those present told the Sierra Leone Web late in the day. The RUF officials reportedly wanted police to pursue a person whom they claimed owed their organization money, and who was "making some comments trying to implicate" one member of the group. The other four – Edwin Bockarie, Samuel Kanu, Gibril Massaquoi and Jonathan Kposowa – were not detained. The Awoko newspaper, however, reported that the two RUF officials were arrested at their political party office in central Freetown. "The Lightfoot Boston street offices of the RUF were stormed and Issa Sesay, the youthful RUF Interim Leader, along with Morris Kallon were arrested," the newspaper said. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman, was taken into custody at his office, news agencies reported. "I was in the office when a team of Special Court investigators came in and requested to see the minister. The investigators...disclosed a warrant which enabled them to arrest him," an unnamed official told the Reuters news agency. BBC correspondent Tom McKinley said all five suspects were picked up by the Sierra Leone Police, but he observed that British troops were also patrolling at the time. "All five arrested were taken away by helicopter to a secure but undisclosed prison outside the capital," he said.

Human Rights Watch has welcomed the announcement by Sierra Leone's Special Court of its first seven indictments, calling it "tremendous step forward for the cause of justice in Sierra Leone."  "This is a key step towards accountability for the horrific crimes of the civil war in Sierra Leone," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of the New York-based human rights organization. "We applaud the court for having the courage to indict persons who were on all sides of the conflict." Takirambudde added, however, that Monday's indictments "are only one step on the long road to a full accounting of crimes committed in Sierra Leone."

9 March: Liberian military sources said Sunday that government troops were fighting to retake the strategic town of Bo Waterside from LURD rebels, Radio France International reported. The town is located on the Liberian side of the Mano River Bridge, which links Sierra Leone and Liberia. LURD captured Bo Waterside about two weeks ago.

8 March: A three-member Liberian government delegation visited the Liberia - Sierra Leone border at the Mano River Bridge this week to verify for themselves that LURD rebels were not being resupplied from inside Sierra Leone, news services reported. Reporters who accompanied the delegation said the bridge, which links the Sierra Leonean village of Jendema with the Liberian town of Bo Waterside, was blocked. "The bridge is closed, barricaded with large pieces of scrapped vehicle parts and strings of rusty barbed wire dividing it into three portions," reporter Kelvin Lewis told the Voice of America. "The area looks very calm and serene, with hardly any movement on the Liberian side." The Liberian delegation was led by Defence Minister Victor Doule, and included Senator Robert Bera and Director of Security Services Senator John Gray. According to the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), the Liberians told President Kabbah they found the situation at the bridge to be "calm and normal," allaying their suspicions that the rebels were being supported from Sierra Leonean territory.

7 March: Liberian helicopter gunships attacked LURD rebels positions along the Sierra Leone border for two days this week, journalist Kelvin Lewis reported. Lewis was among a group of journalists who accompanied a visiting Liberian government delegation to the border area this week. He filed stories with Radio France International and the Voice of America. "There have been some helicopter bombs released," Joint Forces Commander Brigadier Edwin Sam-M’Boma told reporters. "The aircraft came around the third of this month. They came and fired where the present LURD position is on the other side of (the Liberian border). This caused some panic on the other side (of the border) because all the civilians were fleeing for their lives for safety." A LURD commander met journalists on the Mano River Bridge which links the two countries, and told them that the helicopter gunship had injured eight civilians. "The LURD commander for Bo Waterside, the self-styled "Captain Jungle Justice," and his colleagues left their weapons on their side of the bridge and moved into the buffer zone," Lewis said. "Speaking just behind the barbed wire marking Sierra Leonean territory, "Jungle Justice" said the gunship injured several people." Lewis said the local UNHCR representative urged LURD to hand over the injured civilians for medical treatment, but that "Jungle Justice" insisted that the rebels should be given the medicines instead. The commander told reporters his troops were "fighting for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast," and that they expected to march into Monrovia. "The LURD commander says they are short of food, and appealed to the Sierra Leonean authorities to open the bridge," Lewis said.

Sierra Leone's Special Court will bring to book those who committed crimes against women during the country's decade of civil war, the court's chief prosecutor said in a statement Friday on the eve of International Woman's Day. David Crane observed that women and girls bore a significant brunt of the conflict, with many suffering rape, sexual enslavement, forced impregnation and sterilization. "Gender crimes are woven into the fabric of the conflict and thus, from the start, they were included in the prosecutorial strategy," Crane said. "These crimes are being actively and thoroughly investigated and our indictments will include them as core charges. Together with our international and Sierra Leonean colleagues, we will send a message to the world that impunity for gender crimes will not stand."

More women and girls die in developing countries from complications of childbirth than from any other single cause, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement issued for International Women's Day. According to UNICEF, some 1,400 women and girls die each day from causes related to childbirth, and 99 percent of those deaths are in the world's poorest countries. "The same number died yesterday, and the same number will die tomorrow – most of them in silence," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy (pictured left). "On this International Women's Day, we're speaking for the girls and women who aren't alive to tell their stories, and for their orphaned children. We're speaking for the girls and women who are fighting for their lives right now, for those shut out from education, and for the millions who are exploited or discriminated against." In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman stands a 1 in 13 chance of dying during childbirth. In industrialized countries, the number drops to 1 in 4,085. The risk is particularly acute in Sierra Leone where, according to figures obtained from national authorities and published by UNICEF, 1,800 women in 10,000 died from childbirth-related causes between 1985 and 2001 – the world's highest rate. In distant second place were Central African Republic, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda, which each reported a rate of 1,100 in 10,000.

The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, has warned that wars in Liberia and Ivory Coast could draw Sierra Leonean children back into conflict. Otunnu, who visited Sierra Leone last week, spoke to reporters at the United Nations in New York. "Already we have reports of what could be a phenomenon of recycling of child soldiers within the neighbourhood, of possible ex-child soldiers from Sierra Leone fighting in Liberia with Liberian factions," he said. "We have reports of English-speaking children fighting in western Ivory Coast, which means these could be children from either Liberia or Sierra Leone."

6 March: The return of Peace Corps Volunteers to Sierra Leone has been pushed back due to a delay by the U.S. Congress in passing the organization's 2003 budget, an official said on Thursday. Following a mission to Sierra Leone last August to assess the security situation in the country, Peace Corps officials said they expected that a small group of Crisis Corps volunteers would arrive in Sierra Leone early this year, while arrangements were made to re-establish a full Peace Corps programme. The Crisis Corps consists of former Peace Corps Volunteers now advanced in their careers who volunteer for short-term assignments, generally from three to six months. U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Peter Chaveas, himself a former Peace Corps Volunteer, said this week that the decision to send in volunteers had been taken some time ago. "We had anticipated a mission from Washington to start doing things like identify office space and developing program priorities in early February, but the Congress's delay in passing a budget caused that to be delayed," he said. "The budget is now passed, and we are now anticipating a rescheduling of that mission very shortly." Crisis Corps Director Daniel Sullivan told the Sierra Leone Web Thursday that the budget had been received by Peace Corps and that officials were now looking it over. "Hopefully soon we’ll know how much money we have to work with, and then based upon that we’ll make our decisions and go forth," he said. Sullivan said part of the work of the new assessment team would be to update the security assessment made last August. No timeline has yet been established, but Sullivan said the programme would be set in motion "as soon as I get the green light."

1,160 Sierra Leoneans sought asylum in the United Kingdom during 2002, according to statistics released by the British Home Office on Friday. The number, which is rounded to the nearest five and does not include dependants, was down from 1,930 applications in 2001 and 1,330 in 2000. According to a Home Office statement, this decline reflected an overall drop in asylum requests in Britain as the impact of new reforms and border security measures began to be felt. Of 1,475 initial decisions made in 2002 by British immigration officials, only 50 Sierra Leonean applicants were recognized as refugees and granted asylum. 180 others did not receive refugee status, but were granted exceptional leave to remain in the country. The other 1,245 applicants, or nearly 85 percent, had their applications rejected. 880 were refused asylum and exceptional leave, and 10 were turned down on the grounds that they had passed through a safe third country before reaching Britain. 335 others were refused on non-compliance grounds. Meanwhile, the Home Office said, 20 Sierra Leonean asylum seekers were being held in detention at year's end under Britain's Immigration Act powers. 

5 March: Indictments by Sierra Leone's Special Court may come sooner rather than later, and will include international indictees, Chief Prosecutor David Crane told Newsweek Magazine. The Special Court is a hybrid war-crimes tribunal which includes both Sierra Leonean and international judges, and is mandated to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996 – the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord. Crane said it was evident as prosecutors followed the evidence that Sierra Leone's civil war was regional and international, and that it boiled down to diamonds. And, he added, prosecutors intended to follow the evidence wherever, and to whomever, it led. "We are not just going after military commanders," he said. "We’re going after the politicians. We’re going after those who financed and supported this conflict through a plan or scheme that was very specific. At any one time in the beginning of December, I had investigators in North America, Europe, West Africa and Sierra Leone. We are dealing with some very, very dangerous people who are involved in this. We are moving witnesses in some instances in life and death situations." Crane acknowledged that endemic corruption in Sierra Leone had provided "a seedbed for discontent," but he insisted that the conflict in Sierra Leone was not started for ethnic, political, cultural or religious reasons. "This is the most black-and-white, good-versus-evil situation that I have ever seen in 30 years of public service," he said. "This was a cynical attempt to take over a country to control diamonds to make money to buy guns and weaponry to keep them in power so they could influence others in the region. The bottom line is, it boils down to the diamonds in eastern Sierra Leone." Crane declined to say how many people might ultimately be indicted, but when asked whether he had the authority to indict the leader of a neighbouring nation – a veiled reference to Liberian President Charles Taylor – he responded: "I have the appropriate legal power to indict those who I think bear the greatest responsibility. You can logically follow that through to wherever you’d like to go." When the indictments are issued, Crane said, they will be executed by the Sierra Leone Police or by others, and the court is already making arrangements for arrests to be effected abroad. Crane stressed that as prosecutor it was his job to represent the Sierra Leonean people. "My clients are the people of Sierra Leone, the victims both gone and current," he said. "Everybody in this country right now is a victim, a witness or a perpetrator, or a combination really. These are survivors. There isn’t one human being who lives in Sierra Leone who wasn’t affected by this conflict."

Sierra Leone's new permanent representative to the United Nations, Joe Robert Pemagbi, presented his credentials to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday. Pemagbi replaces Ambassador Ibrahim M. Kamara, who moves on to the ambassadorial post in Washington, D.C. Prior to his appointment, Pemagbi served since 1999 as Chairman of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights in Sierra Leone. He was Volunteer Project Manager for the Campaign for Good Governance in Guinea from 1997 to 1998. Pemagbi was educated at the Government Secondary School in Kenema and the University of Sierra Leone. He received a master's degree in linguistics from the University of Leeds in 1976. He joined the faculty of Njala University College as a lecturer in 1972, and held various positions at the university during the 1980s and 1990s. He headed the Department of Language Education from 1986 to 1995, and was named an Associate Professor in 1991. He served as Dean of Njala University College from 1992 to 1998. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's new Ambassador to Liberia, Patrick Foyah, presented his credentials to President Charles Taylor on Wednesday. Foyah was recalled last November after he sent a "note verbal" to a United Nations sanctions committee which was construed as supporting a bid by the Liberian government to have U.N. sanctions lifted. Foyah is a graduate of the West African Methodist Collegiate School and holds an M.A. in Public Administration. 

Manso Yembeh Mansaray is the new chief in Koinadugu District's Wara-Wara Yagala Chiefdom. He received 370 votes in Friday's chieftaincy election to give him a clear first-round victory over four rivals. Thomas Kondowullay Mansaray polled 99 votes, Kondowullay Yabah Mansaray received 11, Dominic Songbo Mansaray got 8 and Kondowullay Raygay Mansaray received 5. The election had originally been scheduled for January 6, but was postponed by Sierra Leone's High Court.

Liberian refugees who fled to Sierra Leone between July and October of last year have provided eyewitness accounts of abductions, "disappearances" and forced recruitment of civilians by LURD rebel forces fighting the government of President Charles Taylor, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday. The New York-based human rights group also documented what it described as massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law by pro-government forces, including summary executions, indiscriminate killing of civilians, the intentional targeting of civilian areas, widespread rape and sexual violence, abduction and "disappearances" of adults and children, illegal detention, torture, forced recruitment, and forced labour. "The members of government and rebel forces responsible for this pattern of ongoing violations continue to operate with total impunity, devastating the Liberian civilian population and challenging the fragile peace of Liberia's neighbors – Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Sierra Leone and Guinea," the group said. Human Rights Watch observed that both the Liberian government and LURD forces had continued to systemically violate their obligations under international law. "Both have been repeatedly called upon to protect civilians and cease any and all violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and both have consistently failed to do so," the group said.

4 March: Those charged Monday in connection with January's armed attack on a Wellington military supply warehouse, according to Acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police Brima Acha Kamara, include Lance Corporal Daniel Sandi, Issa Kanu, Captain Hindolo Trye, Alhaji Kamanda alias "Gunboat," Abdulai Tarwallie, Richard Bockarie, Alhaji Mohamed Kanda, Santigie Kanu alias "Brigadier 55", Lamin Kamara, Mohamed Jabbie, Alusine Kamara, Alhaji Kargbo, Ibrahim Koroma, Kai Mattia, Abdul Sesay, Mohamed Kamara and Rev. Elizabeth Bai-Marrow. 15 of the defendants face treason charges for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, while Kamara and Bai-Marrow are accused of misprision of treason for failing to report the alleged conspiracy to the authorities. Radio France International reported Tuesday that the defendants are alleged to have taken part in four secret meetings in January at which they planned to take over the government and suspend the constitution. Meanwhile, Brima Acha Kamara (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web that police still had no leads on the whereabouts of fugitive former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. The Voice of America quoted unnamed officials Tuesday as saying that Koroma would also likely face treason charges. According to the Sierra Leone News Agency, five of those charged Monday were currently serving soldiers and four were former RUF combatants. Others were members of a former AFRC remnant, the West Side Boys militia.

Sierra Leone's first local government elections in some three decades are expected to take place next November, National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers said on Tuesday. Nominations of candidates for the District Councils, Municipal Councils and Town Councils would take place in October. Kai-Rogers told the Sierra Leone Web that Vice President Solomon Berewa launched a programme for Local Government Reform and Decentralisation in Bo on Monday, designed to solicit the opinion of Sierra Leoneans on how the new councils should be structured, and how the elections themselves should be conducted. "We’re going to have teams going around the country, consulting with the people to know what type of elections they will like to have – whether it will be partisan or non-partisan (and) whether the mayor should be elected or appointed by the councillors and aldermen," he said. "(We will also) look at the structures themselves: the term of office for the councillors, and what the composition of the District Councils and the Town Councils should be like." Kai-Rogers said there would be no changes in the electoral wards, as a census is not due to be completed before the end of the year. The distribution of the councils will also remain the same, he said, with Town Councils to be re-established in the cities of Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Makeni, Bonthe and Koidu-New Sembehun.

3 March: 15 persons including three active-duty soldiers and several members of the former West Side Boys militia were charged in Magistrate's Court Monday with attempting to "overthrow and take over the government of Sierra Leone by unlawful means; to suspend the constitution of Sierra Leone or portions of it by means other than that provided by law," the Associated Press reported. The 15 face a three-count charge of treason and related offences in connection with a January 13 armed attack on a military warehouse in the Freetown suburb of Wellington. If convicted of treason, they could face the death penalty. In addition, two other persons, including a woman, were charged with failing to notify the authorities about the plot. The 17 defendants appeared in court without counsel Monday morning to hear the charges read against them. They were denied bail and were not asked to enter a plea. The case has been adjourned to March 10. Of 77 suspects arrested in police raids following the January attack, 22 have since been released. The rest have yet to be charged. Police are still searching for nine other suspects, including former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, for what the authorities describe as "a conspiracy to destabilize the security situation of the country." Koroma escaped a police sweep on his west Freetown residence in mid-January. Despite a ten million leones reward on his head, he has so far eluded capture. 

The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sierra Leone said Monday that a worsening security situation in the country meant that plans to downsize the nearly 17,000-strong peacekeeping force would present "an unacceptable level of risk," the Associated Press reported. Last September, the Security Council called for UNAMSIL to be scaled down by 4,500 soldiers by May 31. About 600 soldiers departed late last year. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji told reporters that the security situation in Sierra Leone has "undoubtedly worsened recently," and he suggested that in the wake of January's armed raid on a military warehouse in Freetown, and the upsurge of refugees entering Sierra Leone from war-torn Liberia, the Security Council would likely need to re-examine the timetable for withdrawal.

2 March: Sierra Leone's Under-17 football team defeated Tunisia 1-0 Saturday on their second-round, first-leg match played in Freetown. With the win, the Sierra Stars move a step closer to an appearance in the African Under-17 Championship in Swaziland this May.

Continued international funding and support is vital if Sierra Leone is to consolidate its hard-won peace, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Children and Armed Conflict said on Sunday. "My appeal to the international community is to please stay the course," Olara Otunnu told the Associated Press during a stopover in London. "They have already invested a great deal. It would be tragic if they didn't allow for consolidation of peace. They have come so far." Otunnu, who visited Sierra Leone last week, said condition's for the nation's children had improved markedly since his last visit, in 1999. "For the children specifically it is just incredible because the last time I was there, kids were coming out of the bush, barely clothed, almost naked," he said. During his most recent visit, he said he observed "kids in freshly minted smart uniforms, the boys and girls attending school, playing in the school yard and singing and dancing." Otunnu warned, however, that conflict in the sub-region threatened to disrupt Sierra Leone's progress towards peace, and could entice children back into conflict. "With the drums of war beating nearby, there is real anxiety that this will destabilize the newfound peace," he said. "We are already beginning to see the recycling of child soldiers...we could end up with roving mercenaries of children."