The Sierra Leone Web


March 1996

29 March: The military has handed over power to the civilian government. Outgoing head of state Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, in full military uniform, shook hands with his successor as the army presented a 21-gun salute. At 10:25 GMT he handed the staff of office to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who was then sworn in by acting chief justice Becelles Davies. Thousands of people lined the route to the event. The swearing-in was followed by a public ceremony at Freetown's main stadium, while tens of thousands of supporters celebrated in the streets.

Inauguration speech (excerpts): "The tasks ahead are monumental. Our country stands virtually in ruins with thousands slaughtered, soldiers and civilians alike, tens of thousands maimed and mutilated, and hundreds of thousands displaced, traumatized, living in poverty, diminished in spirit and in body... The restoration of the dignity and worth of every Sierra Leonean will be the guiding principle of my presidency... I have stated elsewhere and on several occasions that the pursuit of lasting peace is my priority and in this regard I emphasize here that I am ready to meet the leader of the RUF, Corporal Foday Sankoh, at the earliest opportunity."

RUF leader Foday Sankoh says he is prepared to travel to Freetown to meet with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "We are ready to go anywhere. The time has come," he said. He stated that he does not trust Tejan Kabbah, whom he called a "rogue" and one of the post-independence politicians who has mismanaged Sierra Leone's resources. However, he said that he would keep his commitment to seek an end to the war. "In fact I have asked them to send us a plane to allow us to send a RUF representative to Freetown if they mean business."

28 March: A senior aide to Foday Sankoh has stated that President-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah will travel to Abidjan shortly after his inauguration in order to pursue peace talks. The entire RUF delegation has remained in Abidjan since ending talks with Brigadier Julius Maada Bio in Yamoussoukro.

The NPRC will turn over power to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah March 29th in a ceremony at the parliament building. The event will be marked by a 21-gun salute.

26 March: Peace talks ended in Yamoussoukro Tuesday without a permanent truce accord, but Foday Sankoh has agreed to meet President-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to continue the peace process, according to an official communiqué. The second day of talks focused on a role for the rebels in the civilian government.

25 March: Talks have begun in Yamoussoukro between Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and RUF leader Foday Sankoh. In his opening statement, Sankoh told Bio, "We are tired of being in the forest. Do you think we are happy?" He questioned whether Bio is really committed to ending the war. "Why did you come in combat uniform? This was supposed to be a peace conference...We are ready for peace. Are you? The RUF is ready for peace, the peace that provides food for the people of Sierra Leone, that provides shelter." Sankoh's 25 minute speech touched on subjects ranging from religion to warfare to Pan-Africanism, and made references to basic needs like clean drinking water, food and shelter, but he did not address specific issues. In response, Bio stated, "After five years of war the people of Sierra Leone crave for peace." Later, Bio and Sankoh negotiated without aides for nearly three hours.

Earlier, Bio and Sankoh shook hands when brought together by Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie. Bedie held private talks with each man prior to the negotiations. Absent from the talks was President-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who was unable to attend for reasons of protocol.

24 March: RUF leader Foday Sankoh was picked up Sunday by a Red Cross helicopter at his headquarters in eastern Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast foreign minister Amara Essy was on board for security. Sankoh and his party of 16 were flown to Guinea, where they transferred to two planes for the flight to Ivory Coast. Sankoh had been opposed to traveling through Guinea, which has troops helping the Sierra Leone army. This is Sankoh's first trip outside of Sierra Leone since the rebels took up arms in 1991.

Brigadier Julius Maada Bio held talks with Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha in Abuja Saturday, prior to traveling to Ivory Coast for scheduled face-to-face talks with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Representatives of the Sierra Leone government have already arrived in Yamoussoukro.

Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service reported that twelve people were killed near Bo on Saturday when three villages were attacked. It is not clear whether this represented a breach of the ceasefire by the RUF, or whether the attacks were carried out by renegade soldiers or bandits.

21 March: The INEC has announced the makeup for parliament, with six of the thirteen parties that contested the election receiving seats. The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) will receive 27 seats, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) 12, the All People's Congress (APC) 5, the National Unity Party (NUP) 4 and the Democratic Centre Party (DCP) 3. The DCP did not meet the required 5% threshold, but its result of 4.8% was rounded up. The final 12 seats will be filled by paramount chiefs, who were chosen in separate elections.

The meeting scheduled between Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and RUF leader Foday Sankoh may not take place next week because his headquarters is too far from transportation. Ivory Coast foreign minister Amara Essy said that the rebel base is about four days' walk from any point accessible to modern transportation, so that bringing Sankoh to Yamoussoukro by Monday would be difficult.

19 March: Outgoing head of state Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and RUF leader Foday Sankoh will meet face to face in Abidjan next week to try to end Sierra Leone's civil war, Bio stated Tuesday. He also said that Ahmad Tejan Kabbah will be inaugurated as president on March 29th.

The United Nations is asking donor countries to contribute $57 million through February 1977 for humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone. The aid will encourage resettlement of people forced to leave their homes, and will help in buying food, medicine and other relief goods. The appeal reads in part, "The total number of internally displaced and refugee Sierra Leoneans represents 47 per cent of the country's pre-war population of 4.47 million persons." Freetown's prewar population has grown from 731,000 to 1.2 million, with 20,000 persons living in camps. The situation in Bo is even worse, with 100,000 of the 230,000 displaced living in camps. "The remainder have been absorbed by extended families. This extraordinary absorptive capacity cannot be sustained...Overcrowding of this nature puts populations at tremendous risk of epidemics and communicable diseases."

18 March: President-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has told a crowd of supporters that the military will hand over power in two weeks time. The military government has made no statement yet, and the electoral law states only that the civilian government will take over when the term of current government ends.

Tejan Kabbah has stated that he will pursue negotiations with the Revolutionary United Front, despite the RUF's refusal to accept a civilian government. "As leader of the country, my position will have to be that I will not take 'No' for an answer. I will keep on pressing, keep on pursuing. And if necessary, get the assistance of friends and others to help us get to the bottom of this problem," he stated. Meanwhile, Ivorian mediators are trying to arrange a meeting between RUF leader Foday Sankoh and outgoing head of state Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio to explore the possibility of including the RUF in the political process.

In an interview with Voice of America, Tejan Kabbah said, "I can see Sierra Leone as being the Singapore of Africa. Because unlike Singapore — they do not have many natural resources — we have them. And Sierra leone is therefore potentially a very rich country. And once we have solved our problems, I believe Sierra Leone will have no business being called a least developed country. Sierra Leone will have no business depending on handouts from other states and international organizations."

RUF spokesman Fayia Musa said that the Revolutionary United Front is willing to talk to president-elect Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, but only as leader of his party, not as president of Sierra Leone. "We look at Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as leader of the 60,000 Sierra Leoneans who voted for him and as such we are prepared to talk to him,'' Musa said.

The National Provisional Ruling Council issued a decree Monday which set a two week deadline (31 March) for the new president to assume office. A second decree granted indemnity to the NPRC and to anyone who acted on its behalf for staging the 1992 coup, and for any acts committed by the military or its agents since then.

17 March: Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) has been declared the winner in Sierra Leone's presidential runoff election. He won over John Karefa-Smart by 59.49% to 40.49%. With just over one million votes cast, Tejan Kabbah received votes 608,419 and John Karefa-Smart received 414,335. Following a complaint by Karefa-Smart, the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) carried out a recount of the votes in Bo and Kenema Sunday, and deducted about 70,000 votes from Tejan Kabbah's total.

An RUF spokesman in Abidjan has said that the Revolutionary United Front will observe a two-month ceasefire. "The RUF central high command, the war council, and the civilians have all decided to observe a two-month truce in profit of peace,'' spokesman Fayia Musa told the BBC. However, the RUF stated it would continue fighting if a civilian government emerged from the elections.

16 March: Preliminary election results show the two presidential candidates running very close. In Freetown, where counting is nearly complete, the vote was nearly evenly divided. In the provinces, Tejan Kabbah leads in the south and east, while Karefa-Smart is ahead in Makeni and Port Loko.

15 March: Votes are being counted in Sierra Leone's runoff election, and the results are expected Saturday. Voter turnout was lower than that for the first round of elections, in part because 92,000 persons who registered at the last minute could not vote, as they were listed on a supplementary register completed too late for presentation to the government. Voting was reported to be peaceful. Approximately 40 foreign observers are monitoring the election.

14 March: Sierra Leoneans are preparing to elect a president in the March 15th runoff election between Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP). Despite continuing violence against civilians aimed at intimidating people from voting, most Sierra Leoneans appear determined to take part. In the initial round of voting on 26-27 February, turnout was about 60% of the 1.6 million electorate.

13 March: Rhetoric has heated up between the two candidates in Friday's election, with the SLPP claiming that John Karefa-Smart is too old to be president. "He is nearly 84 years old and dozes off during meetings," a campaign ad said, adding that all he had to offer the nation is a state funeral. Karefa-Smart, who claims to be 81, told the Vision Midweek Storm newspaper, "My grandfather was 104 years of age before he died, so if you elect me president you are not going to elect someone who will die tomorrow, unless you kill me." Meanwhile, new violence has been reported in Bo District. Civilians with hands or noses cut off, eyes gouged, or with anti-election messages burned or slashed into their skin, have been arriving at the hospital in a steady stream. 15 charred bodies were found after a vehicle, which had been collecting produce, was burned six miles from town.

10 March: Talks between Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and John Karefa-Smart which were aimed at avoiding a runoff election have apparently fallen through. On Friday, Karefa-Smart agreed to withdraw from the race in return for a job as head of a specially created autonomous national body. However, on Sunday it was reported that he has changed his mind, making a March 18th runoff likely.

7 March: Rebels amputated the hands of at least 50 villagers who voted in the election, and the RUF has threatened more amputations on those who vote in the coming runoff election. Reports from Bo and from the north told of voters having eyes poked out, legs, arms, or noses severed, or being killed outright in retaliation for voting. In Bo District, rebels used hot irons to brand the words, "no election" on some villagers' backs as a warning to boycott the runoff scheduled for March 18th. 15 people were reported to have died at the government hospital in Bo, and 26 may have died nationwide.

The SLPP and UNPP are considering a coalition government which would make a runoff unnecessary. Both parties are worried that a contest between the SLPP, which is strong in the south and the east, and the UNPP, which has its base in the north, could rekindle traditional ethnic rivalries. According to Ahmed Tejan Kabbah ( SLPP), "We are working with them (the UNPP) in a kind of coalition...INEC is grumbling about finance, the security situation is deteriorating, and the violence we experienced during the elections is still fresh in our minds...We hope this thing will come through and I expect it would. A committee, set up by the leadership of both parties, is now working on modalities for such a coalition."

Election observers pronounced the elections "fair," and praised "the resilience and courage of Sierra Leoneans to challenge the insecurity in their country, the threat to their lives, to come openly in their hundreds of thousands to vote." About 60% of the 1.6 million registered voters cast ballots.

6 March: Sierra Leone radio reported Wednesday that at least 40 people were killed in a number of rebel attacks. The killings were carried out by three splinter groups of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) following Sunday's attacks on several towns in the Port Loko district.

4 March: The second round of elections will be held before March 15th, in accordance with Section 16 of the Presidential Elections Decree of 1995, which sets a 14 day limit. The 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew which was imposed after attacks on polling places has been lifted.

2 March: No presidential candidate received the necessary 55% of the vote to win outright, so a runoff election will be held within two weeks. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) received 35.8% of the vote, and John Karefa-Smart of the United National People's Party (UNPP) received 22.6%. Five of the thirteen parties that contested the election reached the 5% threshold to be represented in the 80-member assembly on a proportional basis: SLPP - 36.1%; UNPP - 21.6%; People's Democratic Party (PDP) - 15.3%; All People's Congress (APC) - 5.7% and the National Unity Party (NUP) 5.3%.

Talks between the NPRC and the RUF broke off inconclusively on Saturday. The two sides, meeting face to face in Abidjan, have asked Ivory Coast's foreign Minister Amara Essy to draw up a neutral agenda which could form the basis for future negotiations. The two sides agreed that there should be a meeting between their leaders, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and Foday Sankoh of the RUF. Meanwhile, Bio said on Friday that the army would relinquish power in any event. "It is now left to the incoming civilian elected government to take off from where we left," he said. "It is up to my successor to decide on whether to include the RUF in any plans they may have.

NPRC Chairman Julius Maada Bio's residence was attacked during the voting Monday, according to military spokesman Capt. Ken Josiah. "While voting was going on in Freetown Monday, men in white t-shirts used mountain paths to reach Bio's residence which is on a hill," he said. "Mortar bombs, among other heavy weapons used in the 5 p.m. attack, did not hit their target." The military also announced the dismissal from the army of four officers accused of involvement in last October's alleged coup: Maj. Matthew Kamara, Capt. Abubakar Kamara, Lt. Patrick Samura and Lt. Ibrahim Sanu. Six other army officers remain in detention.

Military sources said that the RUF attacked 21 villages on Friday. Many of the villages were in the Tonko Limba chiefdom, including the headquarters of Madina, which were looted and set on fire.

1 March: Envoys of the NPRC and the RUF remained far apart Friday after five hours of negotiations in Abidjan. The RUF has rejected the military-supervised elections and refuses to cooperate with civilian politicians who, it says, are mostly remnants of the former discredited civilian government. Said RUF chief negotiator Mohammed Barrie, "It's up to them to decide what they want. Whether they want peace or elections." Mediators are hoping to break the deadlock by putting some new options on the table, including one which would focus the talks on the future government. This would imply that the winner of the election would form an interim government with RUF participation. Many delegates from both sides said that head of state Julius Maada Bio and RUF leader Foday Sankoh would have to meet before any progress could be made.