31 March: 21 civilians who served under the AFRC military junta appeared in Magistrates Court No. One on Monday. No charges were read at the hearing, and the proceedings were adjourned until April 6. Among those appearing were Sheku Bayoh, a former secretary to several civilian and military heads of state; Umaru Deen-Sesay, Secretary of State for Sports and one-time captain of the national football squad; Victor Brandon, Secretary of State for Development and Economic Planning; Hassan Barrie, a former engineer with the National Power Authority; Dennis Kamara, who was Deputy Head of Immigration before the coup; Mohammad Bangura, Commissioner for Tourism and later Secretary of State for Information, and former President of the National League for Human Rights and Democracy; Gipu Felix George, head of SLBS under the junta and a former freelance consultant to UNICEF; Dennis Smith, a former SLBS director; Olivia Mensah, an SLBS reporter; Maada Maka Swaray, a former SLBS reporter; William Smith of the newspaper We Yone; Dalinda Lebby; C.P.O. Samuel Sanpha "Major" Sesay, who was head of immigration under the AFRC; Claude Campbell, a lawyer and former attorney-general under the NPRC; Steve Bio, an arms dealer, relative of former NPRC leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, and associate of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh; and Gibril Massaquoi, Sankoh's former spokesman. Bio and Massaquoi were arrested by the military junta in November on charges of plotting to overthrow the AFRC. Broadcaster Hilton Fyle's name was read out in court, but he was not present at the hearing.
Acting Director of Information P.A. Bell has denied a statement attributed to Minister of Information Tourism and Culture nominee Dr. Julius Spencer on March 21 that 11 newspapers which operated during the period of military rule had been ordered to cease publication. Bell's made the denial in an interview with the local newspaper The Reporter on March 26.
A high-level Commonwealth ministerial team met with President Kabbah on Tuesday for talks on how to rebuild Sierra Leone and ensure lasting peace in the country, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa said. "The team is meeting the president on how the Commonwealth can help in national reconstruction and also build peace," he added. The mission was led by Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, and included Ghanaian Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho, Malaysian Prime Ministerial Envoy Tan Sri Datok Musa Hitman, British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd, and Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa David Kilgoup. Mudenge said he would urge Commonwealth member states to contribute to a U.N. trust fund for Sierra Leone. Lloyd said the Commonwealth would work with the international community to meet the country's most urgent needs, including humanitarian and relief aid, disarmament of combatants and reconstruction. President Kabbah appealed to the Commonwealth to provide judges and lawyers to help his government ensure fair trials for junta collaborators. "The detained AFRC and junta members will be given a speedy and fair trial," he said. Kabbah told the delegates that his scaled-down cabinet was designed to foster national reconciliation, cooperation, and unity. "The visit of the Commonwealth team is a symbolic show of support for the return of democracy to Sierra Leone. In the team there is a broad cross-section of the Commonwealth," a western diplomat said.
ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Monday that his troops were advancing in Kailahun and Kono Districts, but that they anticipated logistic problems. Several bridges had been destroyed by fleeing junta soldiers and some of the roads had been mined, he said. Shelpidi also confirmed that ECOMOG is collaborating with the Civil Defence Force. "We control their movements and operations, but it remains a separate force," he said.
A senior police official said Thursday that some 33 police officers had been killed by fleeing junta forces in Bo and Kenema since mid-February. He said he did not know whether the police had been deliberately targeted.
30 March: ECOMOG troops have entered Kono District, the last major stronghold of junta loyalists, and having completed repairs to the Sewa River Bridge, are now poised to attack junta forces at Koidu. Aid agencies described the ECOMOG force as "well-entrenched on the fringes of the district." Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said the battle for Kono will be fought with troops from Daru, Kenema, and Kabala. Rebel commanders have vowed to make their final stand at Koidu, and last week said they intended to fight to the last man. Thousands of Koidu residents have fled into the bush, telling stories of killing, looting, and massive destruction by the AFRC troops and RUF fighters who have reportedly killed more than 300 people since they seized the town in mid-February. Thousands more residents are said to remain in the city. "We are giving civilians in the town the last few days to flee," an ECOMOG commander said. Witnesses said rebel troops had pulled back into Koidu itself with their heavy weapons, leaving the outskirts of the city unguarded. "We have been sending trucks as close to Koidu as possible to get those we can back to Masadu Camp," one aid worker said. "Already we have thousands of refugees in the camp, and they are still pouring in every day." Reporters who reached the outskirts of Koidu on Sunday told of seeing scores of bodies littering the countryside, with dogs and vultures picking at the remains. Some residents have spoken of cholera in the city, with corpses polluting the water supply. Fleeing civilians say rebels and fortune hunters have dug up streets and other plots of land across Koidu in their frantic search for diamonds.
ECOMOG troops in the north are now occupying the border towns of Tambaka, Wahidala, Falaba, and Wara Wara in Bombali and Koinadugu Districts, according to police sources, who said said that junta troops fled in disarray during an attack over the weekend.
Sierra Leone's two largest commercial banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, opened for business in Freetown Monday for the first time since the May 25 coup. Lines formed in front of the banks by 7:00 a.m., with many people carrying plastic bags or briefcases. ECOMOG soldiers stationed outside reportedly allowed customers inside in groups of ten. Depositors have not been able to take money from their accounts in the two banks which between them hold roughly 70 percent of deposits in the country. Only the two state-owned banks, Commercial Bank and the National Development Bank, operated during the nine months of junta rule. "The reopening of the two banks is a major boost to the reactivation of the economy," Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary William Coomber said. Both Barclays and Standard Chartered banks are restricting their operations to Freetown; provincial branches have yet to reopen.
Schools reopened in Sierra Leone Monday for the first time since last May. Attempts by the junta to reopen the schools during military rule were prevented by the deteriorating security situation and a civil disobedience campaign organized in part by the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU). Many schools and colleges were looted by junta supporters. "Teachers will hold classes under trees if need be to compensate for a year of lost schooling caused by military junta disruption," said SLTU Secretary Alpha Timbo. The educational system is further hampered by a lack of resources and logistics, the absence of teachers and students who fled the country after the coup, poor salary conditions, and outstanding back pay. Education Minister Dr. Alpha T. Wurie confirmed last week that the country has no money to pay teachers salaries. The government has sent buses to repatriate teachers and students from Guinea, but many more remain in other West African countries or elsewhere abroad. "We doubt whether teachers that have struck greener pastures will be prepared to return," said one SLTU official. "The same goes for students that have entered other universities and colleges in these countries."
President Kabbah on Sunday nominated Desmond Luke to replace Chief Justice Samuel Beccles-Davies, according to an SLBS (state radio) report broadcast Monday. "The recommendation, which is subject to parliamentary approval, follows the decision of current Chief Justice Samuel Beccles-Davies to proceed on leave prior to retirement," according to a statement issued by State House. The president has decided to recommend veteran politician and renowned barrister Desmond Luke for the post." An Reuters report on Sunday, quoting SLBS, said Kabbah had sacked Beccles-Davies, who had been criticized for his swearing in of Johnny Paul Koroma as head of state last June 17. Luke holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and has served as foreign minister, health minister, and ambassador to the European Union. He was a candidate for president in the 1996 elections, finishing tenth with 1.1 percent of the vote. He has been a strong advocate of democratic government, and during the period of AFRC rule emerged as a leading supporter of the Kabbah government-in-exile. Luke is currently visiting South Africa and Botswana, where he is studying their judiciary systems.
New Vision newspaper editor Sorie Fofanah has been freed after spending 24 hours in detention, the BBC reported Monday. Fofanah was arrested on March 27 after police searched his home and office. He said the authorities had given no explanation of his arrest, but he speculated it could have been connected to a New Vision story which reported that Presidential Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray had refused to be searched by police when stopped at a checkpoint. The article alleged that Mansaray had ordered the arrest and detention of all security personnel who were involved in the matter.
Sierra Leone Brewery, a subsidiary of Heineken, and National Confectioneries plan to reopen in April. Other industries may never resume operations due to widespread looting of their factories during military rule. Junta supporters caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the Chinese-operated Magbass Sugar Factory at Magburaka, which produces some 35 percent of sugar consumed in Sierra Leone.
A delegation from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will meet with President Kabbah in Freetown Tuesday to determine how the Commonwealth can assist with the rehabilitation of restoration of order in Sierra Leone. "We are going to listen...and exchange views with (President Kabbah) and his government, and make recommendations to the rest of the Commonwealth on how best they can help," said Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, who will lead the mission. Also included in the delegation are Ghanaian Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho, Malaysian Prime Ministerial Envoy Tan Sri Datok Musa Hitman, British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd, and Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa David Kilgoup.
29 March: Hong Kong immigration authorities have arrested 11 Chinese immigration consultants in connection with a scam to supply bogus passports to mainland Chinese for travel and to acquire residence in Hong Kong. Most of the passports were Sierra Leonean, but forged passports and travel documents from Vanuatu, Guinea, Dominican Republic, Senegal, Marshall Islands, and China were also recovered. Immigration officials believe that about 2,000 Sierra Leonean passports had already been sold, mainly to businessmen, allowing them to enter Hong Kong and other Asian countries without a visa. Hong Kong allows Sierra Leone passport holders to remain in the country for three months without a visa. "The owner of this consultancy company purported to be a representative of a trade union in Sierra Leone," the immigration department's principal investigator, Leung Ping-Kwan, said. "The group had been advertising their service of helping clients to emigrate to Sierra Leone through buying land in the country so as to obtain passports, identity cards, and naturalisation certificates." Hundreds of fake Sierra Leonean travel documents were seized in a two day operation that ended Saturday. The syndicate charged each client from HK$150,000 (US$19,380) to HK$200,000. Two of the 11 arrested are being detained for questioning. The rest have been released on bail or unconditionally.
28 March: ECOMOG forces comprising troops from Nigeria, Guinea, and Niger, and backed by thousands of Kamajor militiamen, are preparing to launch an attack on junta and RUF forces in Koidu, Reuters news service reported on Saturday. ECOMOG engineers have reportedly completed repairs to the Sewa Bridge, and ECOMOG soldiers said they would capture the city "in a matter of days." A Sierra Leonean doctor who recently fled Koidu said the rebels had brought in thousands of troops from the surrounding district, and that civilians were continuing to flee. "The situation in the town is a disaster. There is no food or medicine and people are dying in the streets of hunger and disease, especially cholera," the doctor said.
16 junta members have been arrested on the Guinea border by Guinean ECOMOG troops, SLBS (state radio) reported Saturday. The 16 include AFRC Secretary of State Southern Region Major Augustine Kamara and two of his deputies, Commander Johnny Moore and Lieutenant-Colonel Amadu Koroma. Two others were reported to be civilians. The date of the arrests was not given. An earlier report on March 19 claimed Kamara had been arrested in Freetown.
Police and Catholic mission officials in Kabala say people have begun returning to their homes in northern villages after fleeing across the Guinea border to escape the fighting. Many residents, especially children, were said to be suffering from malnutrition. About 20 children were reportedly killed by poisonous snakes and scorpions.
27 March: More than 2,000 persons have been detained since the ousting of the AFRC military junta last month, the pro-government Daily Mail newspaper reported on Friday. The newspaper said those arrested included lawyers, members of the business community, teachers, students, journalists, soldiers, and police, in addition to hard-core junta supporters. Attorney-General Solomon Berewa and a team of investigators "are now busy putting finishing touches to the case files of the first batch of junta detainees," the newspaper said. Berewa said in parliament Thursday that about 200 junta members and collaborators would face serious charges arising from the May 25 coup, and for atrocities committed during military rule.
Police have arrested New Vision newspaper editor Sorie Fofanah after a search of his office and home, the BBC reported Friday. Correspondents speculated the arrest was connected to a recent story reporting that Presidential Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray refused to be searched by police when he was stopped at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Freetown, the BBC report said.
International staff of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) flew to Bo and Kenema on March 24 to assess the overall situation and meet with Sierra Leonean staff, implementing partners, and technical committees. A WFP report issued on Friday noted that national staff are in place at WFP offices in Kambia, Makeni, Bo, and Kenema, and communications links with the sub-offices have been re-established. A third ship, carrying 1,100 tons of food (600 for WFP and 500 for CARE) is being offloaded in Freetown, the report said. The vessel will then return to Conakry to take on a cargo of 1,100 tons of WFP maize meal. The WFP has now resumed road transport of food to Bo and Kenema, and is conducting cross-border operations into Kambia and Makeni, utilising existing food stocks in Guinea. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has completed food distributions to hospitals, orphanages, and some displaced persons in the Western Area. WFP and implementing partners will resume distribution to most of the ICRC caseload beginning in May. The WFP report noted that many rural areas of Sierra Leone, particularly Kono and Kailahun Districts, remain unsafe. Fighting in the eastern part of the country has resulted in an exodus of refugees to Lofa County, Liberia. As of March 26, about 35,000 people were reported at the town of Vahun, most of them new arrivals. (IRIN reports 24,000 of the 35,000 as recent arrivals.) Aid organisations will meet on March 28 to discuss humanitarian intervention to this group, the WFP report said, adding that local resources are already strained, and the approaching rainy season is expected to make access to the area increasingly difficult.
Sierra Leone will review its mining policy, and limit diamond dealing to nationals and naturalised citizens in order to prevent smuggling, according to a presidential order issued on Friday. "Stringent action will be taken against those found smuggling diamonds," the statement said. Licensed diamond and gold dealers in the country's seven mining areas have two weeks to register in person in Freetown, after which they will be free to conduct business during the mines policy review. "After a short meeting with the dealers in Freetown, only naturalised Sierra Leoneans with valid licenses to mine, apart from indigenous citizens, will be allowed in the mining areas," the statement said, adding that dealers who obtained Sierra Leonean citizenship under the junta face possible action by the government.
Liberia is expecting an influx of Sierra Leonean refugees in the next few days as ECOMOG engages junta troops and RUF fighters in eastern Sierra Leone, Liberian Star Radio reported Friday. "Reports say hundreds of refugees have started moving into Guinea. Some are said to be in a deplorable state," the radio reported.
A member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed March 22 during fighting near Segbwema, according to an ICRC statement issued in Geneva on Friday. Denis Momoh, an Sierra Leonean ICRC staff member was killed in an exchange of fire between ECOMOG and the AFRC/RUF. One of his children was also killed in the shelling. The fate of his wife and two other children is unknown. "The ICRC and its staff deplore this tragedy and extend their heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Momoh's family. Flags at ICRC offices in Sierra Leone and at the organization's Geneva headquarters have been placed at half-mast," the statement said.
26 March: Sierra Leone's parliament convened in Freetown Thursday for the first time since the May 25 coup, and ratified without dissent the State of Emergency declared by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. 52 of 80 members were present, representing five of the six political parties that won representation in the 1996 elections. "Security is our watchword, and we remain united to ensure the requirements of the State of Emergency are followed to the full," said People's Democratic Party member Abdul Kamara. Fillie Faboe called for the families of all army and police personnel to be encamped to prevent them from passing information to their husbands and relatives in the bush. "Sierra Leone is still at war," he said. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported that speakers were united in stressing the need for security, and calling on the government to fully implement the State Emergency Act.
Sierra Leone will ask British judges to try those suspected of collaborating with the AFRC, Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Thursday. "We have formally asked the British to provide judges for the trial which should start tomorrow or at the latest on Monday," Berewa said. "All the indications from the British government show that they will provide the judges." The Sierra Leonean government has requested between three and five judges, he added. Berewa said 1,400 of the 1,600 persons detained after the military junta's ouster could start appearing before the courts as of Thursday. The accused would be formally charged in court, but the trials would have to await the arrival of the judges, he said. Berewa said the accused fell into two groups: soldiers, and civilians who served in the junta government.
The United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, said the United Nations has embarked on several initiatives to help rebuild Sierra Leone's shattered infrastructure and economy. The U.N. has identified various areas for assistance, and has asked donors for "help in urgently tackling the numerous problems facing the West African state," Okelo said. "The immediate concern of the U.N. is to respond to the basic needs of the people, and therefore the organization has pledged $12 million for Sierra Leone to cover a three month period (March to May) this year," he added. The funds will be used for food, shelter and medicines for persons displaced by the civil conflict, and for the repatriation, rehabilitation and resettlement of refugees, Okelo said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also established a voluntary trust fund for Sierra Leone, which will assist the government in purchasing equipment and other essentials for the police, hospitals, and schools.
Some 22 newspapers have been banned by the Sierra Leonean government on the grounds they are not formally registered, according to a statement issued by the London-based group ARTICLE 19 and circulated by the International Freedom Of Expression Exchange (IFEX). The ARTICLE 19 statement said that, as no newspapers are currently registered, the ban appears to be arbitrary. "However, more broadly, ARTICLE 19 considers that any registration process which gives the authorities discretion to refuse a right to publish constitutes prior censorship and is inconsistent with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," the statement said. "While such registration requirements have been in force in Sierra Leone for many years under successive governments, it must be stressed that such a power to ban publications is unacceptable under any regime and is particularly inconsistent with the democratic standards which the current government is pledged to uphold." The affected newspapers reportedly include The Express, The New Pioneer, The Rolyc, The Independent Observer, The New Times, The Morning Post, The Watch, The Triumph, The Financial Times, The Reporter, and The New Nation.
25 March: Aid workers said Wednesday that thousands child soldiers who fought with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are in need of help, and that many are hiding throughout the country in fear of retribution. Some 3,000 to 6,000 children fought with the RUF, according to Albert French, an aid worker who organised a conference to address the problem. The conference is sponsored by UNICEF, the Sierra Leone government and the aid organization Children Associated with the War. Many of the children were kidnapped by the RUF when they were four or five years old.
A Commonwealth ministerial team will pay a one day visit Sierra Leone on March 31 to show support for the country's newly-restored democratic government, Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku said Wednesday. "The Commonwealth's commitment to democracy is a cornerstone of our association," Anyaoku said. "It is for this reason that we condemned the military coup of last year and the terrible suffering it caused, and applaud the return to office of Sierra Leone's properly elected civilian government." The mission will be Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, and will include Ghanaian Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho, Malaysian Prime Ministerial Envoy Tan Sri Datok Musa Hitman, British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd, and Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa David Kilgoup. The decision to send the mission was taken by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) at its meeting in London at the beginning of March.
President Kabbah on Wednesday rejected accusations that his government was conducting a witch hunt of soldiers and civilians linked to the junta. "I have instructed the justice minister to ensure that justice prevails in the trial, and to ensure that, my government has formally requested the British government to provide judges," Kabbah said.
Education Minister Dr. Alpha T. Wurie said Wednesday that the government has no money to pay teachers salaries, even though educational activities are due to resume on March 30. Many of the schools are also without furniture. "School furniture was used as fuel wood by the rebels and structures vandalized," Wurie said.
24 March: ECOMOG troops have captured the rebel military base at Daru, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said at a press conference in Freetown on Wednesday. Khobe said that the barracks fell Tuesday after heavy fighting. "The retreating rebels set on fire all of the villages around the strategically important town," he said. There was no report on casualties, but a source close to ECOMOG spoke of dead on both sides. Khobe had earlier reported the capture of the Daru barracks on March 8, a claim which was denied by RUF deputy commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie in a BBC interview the following day. Khobe said Wednesday that his forces were now heading for Koindu, in Kailahun District, to secure the border and encircle the rebels before the headed for Koidu, in Kono District. ECOMOG sources and civilians fleeing Kono say that ECOMOG troops are already in the area. Junta loyalists have told local chiefs they plan to make a last stand in Kono.
AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma is in Koidu, where his supporters have turned Kono District into a "killing field," fleeing civilians told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday. "Towns in the district, especially Koidu, have become killing grounds for civilians by junta soldiers and their rebel allies," one witness said. "Killing is at its peak, people are fleeing, and many of the towns are now empty. It's a free-for-all." Brigadier Samuel Koroma, the junta's Chief of Defence Staff and the AFRC Chairman's brother, who surrendered last week, confirmed he had seen his brother "a couple of days ago heading for Kono." Witnesses said that more than 200 buildings, including cinemas and night clubs, had been burned down since the weekend. "The junta men took positions for any escapee who could be shot on the spot," one woman said. Junta supporters also killed a militia leader, Alimamy Knonkoro Koroma, and raped young women, she told the AFP. "An 18-year-old girl was raped by 10 junta men," she said, adding that the victim was receiving medical treatment in Makeni. AFRC Chief Secretary Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa is reported to be in Koyima, near Koidu, while RUF deputy leader Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie is said to be in Ngandorhun.
RUF fighters led by RUF deputy commander Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie overran the towns of Bunumbu and Pajewa, in Kailahun District, over the weekend. Kamajor militia leader Kinny Allieu said his men were "regrouping to launch a counter-attack anytime from now."
A parliamentary committee met with Attorney-General Solomon Berewa Tuesday to discuss the state of emergency declared by President Kabbah on March 16. Committee members said they were aware of the public's desire for change, and were determined to avoid the tension which existed between the president and parliament at the beginning of President Kabbah's term.
ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi has begun a five day tour of military installations in Sierra Leone. Shelpidi paid a courtesy call to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
23 March: The Kamajor militia has recaptured Jaiama Sewafe and Sewa Bridge, 30 miles west of Koidu, Kamajor commander Short Kamara told the BBC at Masingbi on Monday. Kamanda said his men and launched several attacks on the town five days before, and had driven the junta forces away after a five hour battle. 19 junta soldiers were killed, he said, including a bodyguard of AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma and one Captain Milton. He said his men were currently conducting mopping-up operations in the town and around the bridge. Kamanda said the Kamajors had rescued 1,500 civilians from the surrounding bush since the capture of the town. The Kamajors have now linked up with the Kapra militia in the north to fight junta troops, the BBC report said.
The bodies of some 36 persons, including that of Kenema Town Council Chairman Bockari S. Massaquoi, were found Monday in a hurriedly-dug mass grave near Kenema.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) flew a team of delegates to Kenema on Monday, where they delivered 700 kg. of medicines to Kenema Government Hospital and to two clinics run by the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society. The ICRC has now been able to assess medical needs, food situation, and availability of clean water for Kenema residents, displaced persons, and detainees. Delegates hope to resume relief operations in the next few weeks where security conditions permit.
22 March: Civilians reaching Freetown from Kenema District on Sunday said the RUF's second-in-command, Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, summarily executed ten prominent people in the district. Witnesses named those executed as former cabinet minister and Chairman of the Kenema Town Council Bockari S. Massaquoi, Chief Saffa Mambu, Sheku Kallon, Temne Chief Momoh Tarawali, Temne Speaker Lansana Bangura, Limba Chief Prince Kamara, Pastor Sesay, Momoh Sallu, Paramount Chief Momoh Tarawalie, and Amara Banakoh. They were apparently killed for opposing the junta.
156 pro-junta activists were returned to Freetown from Guinea by boat Saturday, and were taken to Pademba Road Prison. Among them were Sergeant Abu Sankoh, one of the 17 men who masterminded the May 25 coup, Captain Simbo Sankoh, Koroma's aide-de-camp, and Syl Juxton-Smith, a Freetown businessman and advisor to the AFRC's PLO-1 Sergeant Abu Sankoh.
President Kabbah has been working closely with the ECOMOG high command in Sierra Leone on restructuring the Sierra Leone army, according to a presidential aide. The restructuring "will start in the next couple of weeks," the aide added.
ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said ECOMOG is sending reinforcements to the Kenema area before moving further up-country into rebel strongholds. He said AFRC and RUF forces were "continuing to surrender," but could not give an exact count.
AFRC Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Samuel Koroma was reportedly captured by ECOMOG on Saturday, while SLBS (state radio) reported the surrender of 29 senior AFRC officers to ECOMOG forces in Kabala.
Barclays and Standard Chartered Banks, closed since the May 25 coup, will reopen at the end of the month, according to William Coomber, Executive Secretary of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture. "The confidence of the business community is gradually returning to the pre-junta days," Coomber said. "With the main commercial banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank opening at the end of the month, more businesses will spring back to life." The Chamber will give the government an audit of the impact of the coup on businesses across the country by March 31, he said. Coomber added that the Chamber would be looking for tax and customs breaks for business to help speed economic recovery. Work has also begun on the brewery, which is expected to reopen soon. "The factory management has instructed all workers inside and outside the country to report for work in the next two weeks," one manager said.
21 March: ECOMOG has sent reinforcements to Kailahun District with orders to clear RUF fighters and junta supporters as far as the Liberian border, ECOMOG commanders said Friday. The latest fighting broke out Thursday when the Kamajor militia drove RUF/AFRC fighters from the towns of Mobai and Jojoima, killing some 20 of them, but the junta supporters reportedly regrouped as fighting spread to other towns. "At the moment, the junta forces seem to be gaining the upper hand in the fighting and pushing the Kamajors back," one ECOMOG commander said.
A high-level Commonwealth mission will visit Sierra Leone at the end of March to assess needs for assistance, SLBS (state radio) said Saturday. The five-member ministerial action group will be led by Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge, and will include Ghanaian Foreign Minister Victor Gbeho, Malaysian Prime Ministerial Envoy Tanswe Dadwemusa, British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd, and Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa David Gilgo. A two-man advance team, including the Commonwealth's Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Moses Anafo will visit Freetown this week to prepare for the mission.
Finance Minister James Jonah said Saturday that members of the junta and their collaborators should not be eligible for the amnesty provision of the Conakry Peace Accord, and should instead be subject to due process of law. "The recalcitrance of the junta to heed the will of the people and hand over power to the legitimate government disqualified them from any amnesty," Jonah said in a radio interview. "I warned Johnny Paul Koroma and his cohorts that if they allow the people to chase them out of power, they will not enjoy the provisions of an amnesty." Jonah noted that the Koroma "overthrew the democratically elected government of the people" while awaiting a "free and fair trial" for an earlier alleged coup attempt. He said the junta had reneged on its promises made during peace talks to halt their campaign of killing and destruction. "These very people who publicly made the confessions and promises are today doing the same things which they promised not to repeat," he said.
Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer on Saturday ordered eleven newspapers which operated during the nine months of junta rule to cease publication immediately or face disciplinary action.
Sierra Leonean officials say an estimated 1,300 children under the age of five died in Freetown during the past year, mainly due to hunger, disease, and lack of medical facilities. They said the situation worsened considerably after the economic blockade on the country which followed the military coup last May.
Pope John Paul II on Saturday praised Nigeria for its role in helping restore democracy in Sierra Leone. In a speech at Abuja International Airport, the Pope said he deeply concerned for the destiny of Africa as a whole. "My thoughts turn to the people of Sierra Leone...We must all hope that, with the continuing help of those responsible for peace in Africa, the return to constitutional order and democratic freedom will open the way to a new period of reconstruction and development," he said.
20 March: Some 46 malnourished children fleeing junta remnants in Kono District have died in the bush, an eyewitness who reached Freetown said Friday. The witness, a nurse, said the children died between the towns of Njagbwema and Kainkordu, east of Koidu, after eating poisonous leaves. She added that junta troops had embarked on a killing spree, making the district "a hell on earth." More than 200 people reportedly remain trapped in the forest where they fled last week after junta supporters went on a rampage, killing civilians, and burning houses, and looting. Many are said to have died of cholera and malaria.
ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Friday that ECOMOG plans eventually to defeat and arrest all pro-junta forces. "Very soon there will be no junta soldiers or rebels in the bush," Khobe said in a radio interview. Khobe instructed Sierra Leonean soldiers who had registered with ECOMOG to report to their barracks on Monday, and to remain there until the United Nations draws up disarmament plans. "Those soldiers who have committed crimes will be dealt with," he said. "The plan is for all soldiers to report back to their barracks wherever they were before the war." Khobe explained that ECOMOG's powers of arrest derive from the state of emergency announced by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah earlier in the week. On rumours that there are junta informants in the capital, Khobe said: "All those that are keeping the junta remnants informed in the bush are being monitored, and at the appropriate time we shall arrest them."
President Kabbah announced the formation of his scaled-down 15-member cabinet on Friday. A list of appointees was issued by presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai and published by the Government Information Services: 1. FINANCE, DEVELOPMENT & ECONOMIC PLANNING - Dr. James Jonah. 2. FOREIGN AFFAIRS & INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION - Dr. Sama S. Banya. 3. TRADE, INDUSTRY & TRANSPORTATION - Allie Bangura. 4. ENERGY & WORKS - Thaimu Bangura. 5. MINERAL RESOURCES - Mohamed Deen. 6. INFORMATION, TOURISM & CULTURE - Dr. Julius Spencer. 7. EDUCATION, YOUTHS & SPORT - Dr. Alpha T. Wurie. 8. SOCIAL WELFARE, GENDER & CHILDREN'S AFFAIRS - Shirley Y. Gbujama. 9. HEALTH & SANITATION - Dr. Tejan Jalloh. 10. LANDS, HOUSING & COUNTRY PLANNING - A. Kabba. 11. ATTORNEY GENERAL & MINISTER OF JUSTICE - Solomon Berewa. 12. INTERNAL AFFAIRS & LOCAL ADMINISTRATION - Charles Margai. 13. FISHERIES - Lawrence Kamara. 14. POLITICAL & PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS - Abu Koroma. 15. AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY & ENVIRONMENT - Dr. Harry Will. MINISTERS OF STATE: SOUTH: Foday Sesay. NORTH: Dr. Y.M. Koroma. EAST: Mr. Dominic Gombu.
DEPUTY MINISTERS: DEFENCE: Sam Hinga Norman. FINANCE, DEVELOPMENT & ECONOMIC PLANNING: Momoh Pujeh and Nat Wellington. FOREIGN AFFAIRS & INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION - Sahr Matturi. TRADE, INDUSTRY & TRANSPORT - Mohamed Daramy. ENERGY & WORKS - Foday Ngongo. MINERAL RESOURCES - Foday Yumkella. EDUCATION, YOUTHS & SPORT - Abass Collier. HEALTH & SANITATION - Sidique Brima. JUSTICE - Brima S. Kebbie. AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY & ENVIRONMENT - Okere Adams.
19 March: Fighting erupted in Kailahun on Wednesday between remnants of AFRC troops and the Kamajor militia, BBC correspondent Prince Brimah reported Thursday. Brimah said the fighting began when the Kamajors mounted a simultaneous attack against junta troops at Jojoima, Kuiva, Mobai, and Bunumbu. There have been heavy artillery exchanges on both sides in fierce fighting, Brimah said, adding that the junta troops appear to be gaining the upper hand, and now control more than half of Kailahun District. A teacher who arrived in Freetown Wednesday night told the BBC that reinforcements from the defunct Liberian NPFL militia have been arriving at Jojoima, and that junta troops were regrouping, apparently in preparation for an attack against ECOMOG forces at Segbwema.
Junta troops and collaborators who fled from Bo and have been hiding in Freetown are being rounded up by ECOMOG troops and taken to Pademba Road Prison. Those detained include the AFRC's Secretary of State, South, Major Augustine Kamara, and the junta's relief food seller, Ali Pataba.
ECOMOG has finalized plans to move its headquarters from Monrovia, Liberia to Freetown, the Nigerian newspaper The Guardian reported on Thursday. An ECOMOG reconnaissance logistics team has travelled to Sierra Leone to work out details, including a location for the headquarters. No date has been fixed for the final move, but ECOMOG sources pointed to a need to be closer to the force's major operational area in Sierra Leone. The hostile posture of the government of Liberia was also cited as a reason to move the ECOMOG headquarters. The announcement came as ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi accused the Liberian government of "an orchestrated attempt to humiliate the people and government of Nigeria" after the arrest in Monrovia Saturday of three Nigerian journalists and Nigeria's Acting Director of Defence Information, Col. Godwin Ugbo. Liberian security forces said the journalists and Nigerian officials, who were in transit following a ceremony to mark the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, were suspected of spying and carrying hard drugs—a charge denied by Shelpidi. "The bestiality and brutality exhibited by the Liberian national police is a clear manifestation of an orchestrated and calculated attempt to victimize and humiliate the people and government of Nigeria," Shelpidi said Thursday. "Our silence should not be considered as a sign of weakness. We are prepared to use all available means under ECOMOG's mandate to protect our troops in Liberia...Enough is enough. Let no one be in doubt of ECOMOG's capability to defend itself and protect its troops. Let our will never be tested again." Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah fired back that Shelpidi's comments were a "shock" and a "threat" to the Liberian government. As ECOMOG commander, Shelpidi should not be speaking for Nigeria, Mulbah said. "If Nigeria is not satisfied with Liberia, such comment should come from the ambassador or directly from the Nigerian government," he added.
About 40 junta soldiers and a number of AFRC officials were to be extradited from Guinea on Thursday. Among those to be returned to Sierra Leone were AFRC Secretary-General Colonel Abdul K. Sesay, Secretary of State for Transport and Communications Cecil Osho Williams, and Freetown Mayor Wiltshire Johnson.
ECOMOG is moving towards rebel-held territory in eastern Sierra Leone in a bid to quash the remnants of the rebel militias, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Thursday. He would not elaborate on ECOMOG troop movements. Shelpidi said Guinea and Ghana had promised to contribute troops to the ECOMOG force, and confirmed reports that the RUF has taken hostages along the Sierra Leone-Liberia border to carry ammunition and to undertake other tasks.
Sierra Leonean authorities are holding some 1,500 persons in detention, accused of collaborating with the ousted military junta. Indictments will reportedly be handed down in about two weeks. Civilians charged with collaboration will face treason trials, while military collaborators will face court martials. Other detainees will be treated as prisoners of war. Prison sources said former President Joseph Momoh is claiming that his detention violates his constitutional rights, and has insisted that he be held under house arrest like former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. United Nations Ambassador James Jonah has visited those in detention "to ensure that their human rights are respected," he said. He told prisoners that the allegations against them would come under "thorough investigation," after which "those who must be tried would be tried, and those with no case to answer would be immediately released."
The British frigate HMS Cornwall left Sierra Leone Thursday after completing its three week humanitarian mission. Since arriving on March 1, the ship's Sea King helicopter ferried food and medical supplies to Bo, Kenema, and Makeni, while medical teams staffed hospitals and operated child health clinics. Engineers from the warship repaired essential port equipment in Freetown and helped to reopen hospital wards and restore the city's water supply. The ship was originally requested by British High Commissioner Peter Penfold to support British humanitarian efforts in Freetown; a Sea King helicopter brought Penfold back to Freetown from Conakry after the overthrow of the junta. In one mission, the helicopter flew two persons with gunshot wounds from Makeni to a hospital in Freetown.
18 March: The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Wednesday made an urgent appeal for $2.5 million to cover the critical 90 day period prior to the onset of the rainy season. "The next 90 days are critical to ensure a good planting season, establish minimal health services, and make preparations for cholera prevention before the rainy season and hungry months start in June," UNICEF representative for Sierra Leone Anthony Bloomberg said. He said priorities include delivering food and increasing people's access to food, combating infection and infectious diseases, restoring the collapsed educational system, and demobilising child combatants. UNICEF, working with other NGO's such as Medicines Sans Frontieres, ActionAid, Red Cross, and the World Food Programme, has so far been able to deliver humanitarian aid to women and children. Although the situation has improved in Freetown, Bloomberg said, insecurity still prevails in the countryside where RUF fighters and army renegades are still at large. "There is plenty of relief food in Freetown, but it is a problem delivering the food to other towns because of unsafe roads. What is happening in the countryside, we don't know because it is not safe," Bloomberg said.
Junta officials arrested by ECOMOG in Liberia on February have been turned over to the Sierra Leone government, ECOMOG Chief of Staff General Abdul-One Mohammed said Tuesday. Mohammed said junta remnants were entering Liberia as refugees, which was posing a security threat on the Liberia-Sierra Leone border. He said about 20 junta officers were arrested on Sunday at displaced camps in Vahun, in Lofa County. He said those detained were in ECOMOG custody, and would be sent back to Sierra Leone by boat.
More than 350,000 Sierra Leoneans are living as refugees in West Africa, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Director for West, East and Central Africa Albert-Alain Peters said Wednesday. Since ECOMOG troops captured Freetown in early February, the UNHCR has registered 26,000 new Sierra Leonean refugees in the Liberian town of Vahun and 50,000 more in Gueckedou, Guinea. In Ivory Coast, 1,067 Sierra Leoneans, mostly women and children, have taken refuge at Danane, 320 miles northeast of Abidjan. "They say they are not ready to return home now," Peters said at a press conference in Abidjan. "These women said men had been abducted by members of the Revolutionary United Front."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Wednesday it believes junta troops are holding hostage a large number of civilians who were trying to flee fighting in the east of the country. A UNHCR spokesman said the rebels might be planning to force the hostages to fight for them, or to carry their supplies.
ECOMOG has begun a march on northeastern Sierra Leone, "where the leader of the dislodged military junta and remnants of his loyalists" are believed to be hiding, the Nigerian newspaper Daily Times reported on Wednesday.
Former Liberian faction leader Alhaji Kromah was criticized Tuesday for an interview with the Voice of America on Sunday in which he said that the Liberian government is harboring remnants of the deposed junta in northern Liberia, allowing them to launch attacks into Sierra Leone. The Liberia Coalition Party's Lofa County representative, David Kortie, said Kromah's remarks endanger the status of the party and undermines reconciliation. Kromah, who earlier was appointed by President Charles Taylor to lead the country's reconciliation commission, told the Voice of America that he was not prepared to return to Liberia for fear he would be killed.
17 March: The decomposing bodies of 102 people have been exhumed from a mass grave at Bo and cremated. The dead, mostly men and boys, were killed by retreating junta soldiers last month, a doctor at Bo Government Hospital said. Military personnel from the British frigate HMS Cornwall helped to cremate the bodies, the British High Commission in Sierra Leone said. SLBS (state radio) originally reported 500 bodies were contained in the grave, but only 102 were recovered, a High Commission press release said. A medical team from the group Medecins Sans Frontieres warned that the shallow grave posed a health risk to Bo residents, saying that the partially exposed bodies could have triggered a cholera outbreak.
Security officials have questioned five prominent civilians about their alleged links with the AFRC, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday. The five were identified as AFRC Secretary of State for Sports Umaru Deen Sesay, State Broadcasting Director General Gipu Felix George, radio producer Dennis Smith, broadcaster Hilton Fyle, and customs comptroller Aloysius Fofannah. They were reportedly the second group of alleged junta supporters to be questioned by security officials within the past three days. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said he had found those in detention "reasonably happy" to talk. "They praised ECOMOG's effort, they said ECOMOG saved them. I did not meet anyone who complained about the conditions they were living in," Kaikai said. "Some of them feel generally unhappy that they participated in the coup. (They felt) they had let the society down, that they had let their families down, and what they had done, they are ashamed of that. They wished they had a second chance."
ECOMOG needs contributions of troops from other ECOWAS countries to reinforce its final push to dislodge remnants of Sierra Leone's military junta holding out in the east of the country, a senior ECOMOG officer said on Tuesday. At present, the ECOMOG is comprised mainly of Nigerian soldiers. "Troops from other ECOWAS countries and logistics from certain Western countries would give the right signal as they advance to capture the remaining towns not necessarily under the control of the junta," the officer said. Other West African countries, including Guinea and Niger, have yet to contribute troops to ECOMOG as promised.
Sierra Leonean soldiers serving in the ECOMOG force in Liberia are returning home at the request of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, ECOMOG Chief of Staff Brigadier General Abdul-One Mohammed said Tuesday. "The government of President Kabbah decided they come back, so they are going back," he said. "What is left is to get a ship big enough to take with them their families and their belongings." Mohammed said the Sierra Leonean contingent was leaving "in line with previous ECOMOG arrangement that that at a certain time on assignment, troops return home." The battalion-sized Sierra Leonean contingent — several hundred soldiers — would "voluntarily hand in their weapons before leaving for Freetown," Mohammed said.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Tuesday that four of its trucks had delivered 65 tons of food to Bo and Kenema — enough to feed 30,000 people for a week. "This is the first time in the last six months that we have managed to bring by road food aid to tens of thousands of hungry people in Bo and Kenema without placing the lives of our relief workers at risk," WFP regional manager Paul Ares said in a statement issued in Abidjan. The WFP has delivered 1,800 tons of food to Sierra Leone by land and sea since February 19.
16 March: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has assumed sweeping powers to detain suspects, to restrict the movement of Sierra Leoneans, and to requisition goods, the BBC reported on Monday. A spokesman for Kabbah said the powers were needed for use against remnants of the country's military junta. "We may control 80% of Sierra Leone, but we have to deal with the rest, and these powers will help us," the spokesman said. One presidential aide said Kabbah is expected to announce his new 15-member cabinet by March 25. "Since his return, President Kabbah has been working day and night at his Cape Sierra Hotel residence to form a new government to get the country moving again," the aide said. "People think that he has turned into a recluse since he has been in exile, but that is not so. He has been busy meeting foreign government officials and international monetary houses." On February 13, President Kabbah asked that his cabinet members tender their resignations so that he could form a slimmed down cabinet. "Some of us have already handed in our resignation letters according to President Kabbah's instructions for us to resign from his government no later than two weeks after he was reinstalled," Minister of Mines Prince Harding said on Monday.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah made his first post-exile appointment over the weekend by naming Septimus Kaikai to be his official spokesman. The appointment was initially made last May, just prior to the military coup. Kaikai, an academic who has spent more than two decades in the United States, replaces human rights lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, who acted as spokesman during Kabbah's exile in Guinea.
The United Nations Security Council on Monday voted unanimously for a British-sponsored resolution "to terminate, with immediate effect, the prohibition on the sale or supply to Sierra Leone of petroleum and petroleum products." The embargo on weapons and ammunition, along with the travel ban on junta officials, still remains in place. The Security Council also welcomed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's intention to make proposals concerning the role of the United Nations and its future presence in Sierra Leone.
Junta forces and RUF fighters have executed more than 50 civilians in Kono District, and are holding over 200 hostages, Reuters reported on Monday, quoting local chiefs. Thousands of residents have fled Koidu since rebels tightened their grip on the district a week ago. The hostages are said to include Lebanese, Nigerians, and other West African nationals. The rebels have gone to Koidu to recuperate and mine diamonds and come back to fight," ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said. "Either they surrender or we attack very soon." Khobe said ECOMOG was giving rebels in Koidu and Kailahun time to surrender, and wanted to allow civilians a chance to flee in order to avoid high civilian casualties.
RUF rebels attacked Segbwema over the weekend, forcing residents to flee and looting the hospital and clinics in six nearby villages. People are languishing in the bush with very little to eat, and we fear for their safety," a radio operator reported from the town. The hospital at Segbwema was completely looted and vandalised, according to Methodist Pastor Albert Bear, who said the rebels stole drugs worth millions of dollars, two vehicles, and a communications set.
The ECOMOG force took more than 4,000 prisoners during an offensive against junta forces and RUF fighters in the north, ECOMOG spokesman Colonel Ade Sinah said on Monday. Sinah said the prisoners of war were taken in the towns of Port Loko, Lunsar, Makeni, Kabala, and Kamakwie. A support company of Guinean troops has been deployed in Kambia to conduct "mopping up operations," Sinnah added.
A World Food Programme (WFP) report released on Monday said the food situation in Freetown is slowly improving. The WFP-chartered vessel Sea Maid carrying 1,700 tons of food arrived in Freetown on 9 March, and was offloaded on 12 March following national holidays marking the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Over the weekend of 14-15 March, the WFP loaded another vessel in Conakry with 1,300 tons of food. A commercial vessel carrying 6,000 tons of rice has arrived in the capital, and fresh vegetables and other commodities are widely available as roads leading up-country become more accessible. Given the improvement in the security situation, the WFP was exploring the possibility of moving food from Freetown to Bo and Kenema, the report said. The WFP has four international staff in Freetown. There is a total of 15 United Nations staff in the country at all times.
A joint police and ECOMOG unit in Makeni has recovered looted goods abandoned by fleeing junta troops, including office equipment, television sets, generators, and solar panels.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed serious concern about the plight of some 26,000 newly-arrived Sierra Leonean refugees at the Liberian border town of Folima, and has appealed for urgent international aid. The agency is "worried that the fast-approaching rainy season could make the delivery of food to the refugees more difficult due to bad road conditions." UNHCR Regional Director for Africa Albert-Alain Peters said Sunday. "It is most unlikely the refugees will be going back before the end of the rainy season, because the war is still continuing in Sierra Leone," he added. Peters said the UNHCR had helped to rebuild the road between Gbarnga and Voinjama, but that the stretch between Voinjama and Vahun, where the refugees were arriving, was in extremely bad condition. "The road is still very bad, and soon with the rainy season the road may be impassible," Peters said. "We cannot imagine thousands of people being left without food and medical supplies for too long." Bridges built of sticks or palm logs could not accommodate trucks and could easily be washed away, Peters said. Refugees complained of insufficient food, and most of the new arrivals had not received rations in several days. Peters confirmed that the food rations of bulgur wheat, beans, and cooking oil were "not enough to feed anyone," adding, "We are studying this to see what we can do."
15 March: Security officials have begun an enquiry into the roles of top AFRC aides to assess their level of involvement with the "illegal regime," officials said on Sunday. The state-owned Daily Mail newspaper said those being questioned were Deputy Director of Prisons Moses Showers, Assistant Police Commissioner Valisius Bangura, the AFRC's Secretary of State for Development Victor Brandon, opposition member of parliament Victor Foh, and three others. Three Lebanese merchants, Toufic Huballah, Faiz Antar, and Elias Zacharia, and a Chief Imam, Alhaji Ibrahim Sesay, were also arrested on allegations that they had collaborated with the military junta, the newspaper reported. Attorney-General Solomon Berewa has said that investigations of suspected collaborators with the junta will be speedy but very thorough.
The provision of the Conakry Peace Accord which granted amnesty to junta members will not be recognized because the junta refused to hand over power peacefully to the civilian government, Vice President Albert Demby said, quoted Sunday by Inter-Press Service (IPS). Demby called on the international community to return junta members to Sierra Leone. "We call on all neighboring countries and the international community to arrest and extradite any junta official who surfaces in their territories," Demby said. During the March 10 celebrations to mark the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Demby called on Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha to extradite RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to Sierra Leone "to stand trial for the atrocities his rebels committed against the people of this country," according to the IPS report.
Sierra Leonean refugees in Nigeria called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sunday to repatriate them to Sierra Leone. Paul Minah, a counselor in Sierra Leone's High Commission, was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria as saying that Sierra Leonean refugees had expressed a willingness to return home. "We are waiting for a feedback on the issue from the UNHCR," Minah said.
14 March: The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) will hold a summit in Ouagadougu in early June to discuss the formation of African-operated peacekeeping forces, OAU Council of Ministers Chairman and Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Jakaya Kikwete said Friday. Kilkwete said the Council, which met in Addis Ababa last month, had revised an earlier report by OAU Chiefs of Defence forces who met in Harare in October. That report suggested that African peacekeeping forces should be organised in regional groupings, instead of by individual countries. "The Council resolved that the African Crisis Response Initiative should look African instead of being foreign oriented and should be under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council and the OAU," said Kilkwete.
Liberian Deputy Minister of Information Arthur Massaquoi said Saturday that the poor reception accorded to a Liberian delegation in Freetown was due to the work of detractors who had succeeded in misrepresenting Liberia's position in the Sierra Leone crisis. A low-ranking Liberian delegation made up of Deputy Speaker of the House Patrick Williams and officials of the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Internal Affairs were jeered at the reinstatement ceremony for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on Tuesday. Massaquoi told Liberian Star Radio Tuesday that relations between the two countries remain cordial, and suggested that it was time for the two countries to work to revitalize the Mano River Union, which also includes Guinea.
An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said Saturday that Egypt was following events in Sierra Leone with concern, and welcomed the return of "the legitimate and democratically-elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, to Sierra Leone." Egypt called on the international community, governmental and non-governmental organisations to assist victims and support the legitimate government, the spokesman said, adding that Egypt "will participate in easing the suffering of the Sierra Leonean people."
13 March: A powerful explosion ripped through the engineering section of Wilberforce Barracks just after 9:00 a.m. on Friday, damaging the military school and killing three persons. The blast occurred while ECOMOG troops were packing arms and ammunition surrendered by remnants of AFRC forces as they retreated from Freetown last month. One of the soldiers dropped a missile, igniting the explosion. Three Nigerian soldiers were killed, and three persons, including a civilian were wounded. An initial report by the BBC said at least seven persons had been seriously wounded. An ECOMOG spokesman later said five people had been killed, two of them civilians, but ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe told SLBS (state radio) that the death toll stood at three. The Freetown fire force was able to control the resulting blaze before it spread to other sections of the barracks.
British United Nations Ambassador Sir John Weston on Friday introduced a Security Council resolution to lift the fuel sanctions on Sierra Leone, now that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had been restored to office. "I have introduced a draft technical resolution that will lift the embargo on petrol and petroleum products and this, it is our hope, will be adopted without controversy on Monday," Weston said. Britain will donate an initial £2 million ($3 million) to help rehabilitate Sierra Leone, Weston added. British spokesman Andrew Lloyd said the arms embargo will remain in place for the time being.
ECOWAS ministers meeting in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast have agreed that ECOMOG will form the basis of future peacekeeping efforts in the subregion. Under pressure from a group of Francophone states, concerned about Nigerian domination of ECOMOG, the final communiqué called for a thorough review of the ground rules under which the force operates. "With the aim of preventing, managing, resolving conflicts and maintaining peace in the sub-region, the ministers agreed to refer to the experiences on the ground of ECOMOG in establishing a peacekeeping mechanism," the final communiqué said. The delegates, which included Army Chiefs and the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Security, mandated that ECOWAS experts and secretariat propose a peacekeeping mechanism under the ECOMOG framework. The Communiqué called for a redefinition of ECOMOG's legal status, composition, and decision-making, including "the relations between the soldiers and political authorities, conditions governing their use, their deployment, the politico-diplomatic management of crises, methods of command, training, and funding." Delegates said Nigeria was pressing to maintain ECOMOG as presently constituted. "We have an effective mechanism which has proved itself," Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi told delegates. "We need to review how we can reinforce its capacity to carry out any new mandate that will be conferred on it in the future." Francophone countries such as Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Senegal, however, prefer a system of pre-positioned and specially trained troops stationed in various countries, which would be brought together as needed—a proposal backed by France and the United States. Senegalese Foreign Minister Moustapha Niasse highlighted the Francophone countries' concerns. "We are all sovereign states, and we do not accept that a third country, whatever it may be, dictates its will to us," he said.
United Nations Ambassador James Jonah said Friday that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is watching events in Liberia with great interest. "Johnny Paul Koroma, Eldred Collins, and others are doing their best to get to Liberia," Jonah said. "We are watching how (Liberian President Charles) Taylor would react." Jonah said Taylor is violating United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132, which forbids junta officials from travelling outside Sierra Leone or being given sanctuary by any country.
12 March: RUF rebels in control of Koidu have publicly executed 32 youths at Konomanyi Lorry Park, Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reporter Samuel Foyoh said Thursday. Foyoh, who reached Makeni after a four day journey on foot, said the RUF accused the youths of supporting the brief occupation of the city by the Kamajors a week earlier. RUF rebels under the command of Colonel Dennis Mingo and Colonel Isaac recaptured Koidu from the Kamajors two weeks ago, Foyoh said, adding that when he left the town four days before, RUF fighters were carrying out a systematic burning and looting of Lebanese shops and homes. "They unleashed a reign of terror and mayhem on defenceless civilians. Houses were stripped bare and then set alight. Teenage girls were gang raped and boys between the ages of 10 and 15 were conscripted to join their ranks," he said. Mary Lebbie, who reached Makeni with her two grandsons, told the BBC that the RUF had conscripted hundreds of Koidu youths, who are now engaged in massive diamond mining operations on Blocks 5, 6, 7, and 13 in Kamara and Gbense Chiefdoms. Lebbie said the RUF conscripted the boys' father, and that five rebels had raped and killed her 15-year-old granddaughter as they tried to make their way to Makeni. Many people had taken to the bush and were surviving on roots and leaves, praying that ECOMOG would arrive in Kono District and liberate them, she said.
Kissy Street, one of the busiest streets in Freetown, will be renamed Sani Abacha Street in honour of the Nigerian leader.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a statement Thursday urging that all newspapers registered by the military junta should "cease publication immediately." Seven newspapers renewed their registration under the military government, but the order would affect five: the Daily Mail, the Expo Times, the Pool, We Yone, and Torchlight, all of which had links to the AFRC. The statement also demanded that all editors comply with SLAJ's guidelines of five years post-qualification experience in journalism, or cease publication.
The West African Journalists Association (WAJA) has called on the "government of Nigeria and the authorities in Sierra Leone" to release unconditionally all journalists being held without trial or charge. The WAJA communiqué, which was released at the end of the association's meeting in Dakar last week, called on "all parties exercising authority in Sierra Leone to create a favourable climate for the operation of the media and freedom of expression and the press in that country."
A British cargo plane flew in some 600 tons of hardware, vehicles, and office equipment for Sierra Leone's newly-restored government on Wednesday. Keith Martin, operations chief from the British Department of International Development, said the consignment was "part of a package from London to help re-establish the machinery of the Sierra Leone government." He said another consignment valued at £400,000 ($656,000), will arrive in Freetown on Sunday.
United Nations Ambassador James Jonah told the Voice of America Thursday that his government saw no inconsistency in Nigeria's authoritarian regime taking a leadership role in restoring Sierra Leone's civilian government, because Nigerian leader General Sani Abach was acting in his capacity as Chairman of Economic Community of West African States. "Who was the Chairman of ECOWAS? General Abacha. And therefore he has a mandate. And as the person responsible, he had to execute that mandate. He just happens to be the President of Nigeria. So we didn't see any contradiction with him pursuing that mandate in Sierra Leone, and whatever may be his attitude toward democracy in Nigeria was for us a separate issue," Jonah said.
Reaction: Gennadiy Tarasov, Director of the Press and Information Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry: "Russia welcomes the news about the restoration of constitutional order in Sierra Leone, which has been brought about by the international community and, first of all, the Economic Community of West African States. We believe that as the legal government has come back to power, one should discuss lifting economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council against Sierra Leone when a military junta was in power."
11 March: Two Sierra Leoneans detained at Monrovia Central Prison since September on charges of being Kamajor militiamen, have been freed. Ahmed Tarawally and Joshua Kohan had denied all charges, maintaining that they were students seeking refuge in Liberia. The White and Associates Law Firm said the Liberian government had presented no evidence against the two, and stated that the prolonged detentions were a violation of their rights. Preliminary hearings into the charges were conducted by the Monrovia City Court. The case was later forwarded to the Circuit Court.
British High Commissioner Peter Penfold told the BBC on Wednesday that his government has made no demands on President Kabbah in exchange for British assistance in restoring the civilian government. "We are now here to help him and his government with the humanitarian and emergency assistance. I think it's the first need, and we re very much in the forefront of doing that," he said. Penfold denied suggestions that he had put Kabbah in touch with mercenaries, or had helped to train mercenaries, to overthrow the junta. "I never put President Kabbah in touch with any people like that," Penfold said. "Obviously, in my workings, I had a wide range of contacts in order to keep myself abreast with the security situation in Sierra Leone, particularly as it affected any British interests and British nationals, but it was not for me to sort of put President Kabbah in touch with people."
Commonwealth Secretary-General General Chief Emeka Anyaoku said Wednesday that the Commonwealth has discussed a number of important projects with the government of Sierra Leone, and is in the process of helping to formulate a new mining policy for the country. "Sierra Leone is very rich in mines, in minerals, and up to now those minerals have not been harnessed properly," Anyaoku said. "I think that (Kabbah's) desire to have a sound mining policy which would enable the country to have the full benefit of the minerals is something that we are working on. Anyaoku said the Commonwealth had also agreed to help with the reorganisation and re-establishment of the Sierra Leone police force. Anyaoku said Commonwealth countries have begun to contribute to a United Nations Trust Fund for the rehabilitation of Sierra Leone. "I know that the British government, for example, has contributed two million pounds to that," he added.
10 March: Thousands of jubilant Sierra Leoneans turned out at Lungi International Airport Tuesday morning to celebrate President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's return to Sierra Leone. "We are going to make this a new beginning for Sierra Leone," Kabbah told the crowd. Muslim, Christian, and traditional leaders offered blessings for his return. Speaking in Krio, Kabbah urged national reconciliation. "Let us unite and be honest with ourselves and our nation if we want our nation Sierra Leone to progress," he said. In Freetown, residents began lining the streets at dawn to catch a glimpse of the president's motorcade as it made its way to a welcoming ceremony at the national stadium. Flags, bunting, and banners decorated the city. Thousands of residents cheered and waved flags as traditional drummers and dancers performed at packed 40,000 seat stadium. Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, Guinean President Lansana Conte, and Nigerien President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara joined Kabbah in the celebrations. The Organisation of African Unity was represented by Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, the United Nations by Special Envoy for Sierra Leone Francis Okelo and Assistant Secretary General for Africa Ibrahim Fall, ECOWAS by Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, and Liberia by Acting Speaker of the House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Patrick Williams. Outside the stadium, ECOMOG troops with tanks and armoured personnel carriers stood guard, insuring tight security for the homecoming. After the welcoming ceremony ended, around 5:00 p.m., the heads of state left for a summit meeting at Cape Sierra.
President Kabbah said he will reduce the size of his cabinet to fifteen but promised to "continue to ensure that it will be a broadly-based Government." Kabbah said he would also appoint a Policy Advisory Committee to evaluate and advise him on policy matters, and to monitor the performance of public officers, parastatals, and public corporations.
A summary of President Kabbah's speech by BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay: "He said the fact that we are here today we share the joy of a new beginning is a manifestation of God's love for his people, for Sierra Leoneans, and because of that, Sierra Leoneans should pause for a moment and thank God for what God has done and also to thank ECOMOG for all of those who have actually lost their lives to see this day...He went on to talk again about reconciliation, and he said the treachery and betrayal of those men (the AFRC and their collaborators) brought out of Sierra Leone the quality than can be found in any people in the world, namely, the courage to fight and die, if necessary, for the freedom to choose the people they want to govern them." A summary of remarks by Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha's remarks: "He went on to congratulate members of the ECOWAS Committee of Five and then he said the world is today focused on Sierra Leone to mark the return of President Tejan Kabbah. He said for the first time in political history, a government that came to power violently has been overthrown through the articulate effort of the sub-region, indicating that what ECOMOG has shown is that the problems of Africa can be solved and should be solved by Africans."
Thousands of Sierra Leonean civilians have crossed into Guinea and Liberia since the weekend to escape fighting in Kono and Kailahun Districts, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman said Monday in Conakry.
Reaction: U.S. Department of State Deputy Spokesman James B. Foley: "The United States welcomes the return of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to Freetown and the restoration of the democratically elected constitutional government. We commend the Sierra Leonean people for their commitment to the principles of democracy and freedom. The United States lauds the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — including Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia — in bringing a peaceful solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone. The United States looks forward to working with the government of President Kabbah and the international community to address the pressing needs of Sierra Leone and its people as they begin to rebuild their country."
9 March: Celebrations began in Freetown amid tight security Monday on the eve of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's return from exile in Guinea. Traditional drummers and horn blowers performed in the East End Monday afternoon, and residents began dancing in the streets. A lantern parade was scheduled for Monday night. The ECOMOG force has drawn a tight security cordon around the capital. "Freetown is now impregnable against any rebel attack tomorrow when President Kabbah returns, accompanied by other African heads of state," one ECOMOG commander said, adding that the force would crack down on anyone trying to disrupt welcoming ceremonies. "We will crush it with full force, and those responsible will not live to tell the tale," he said.
The BBC reported Monday that President Kabbah will be accompanied by Nigerian military leader General Sani Abacha, Guinean President Lansana Conte, and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. The Xinhua news agency, apparently misquoting the BBC, reported that Liberian President Charles Taylor would also be present. ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Lansana Kouyate and a United Nations delegation are also expected to attend, Xinhua said.
Medical officials in Bo are preparing to exhume the bodies of more than 500 people—many of them children—massacred by junta troops and RUF rebels and buried in a shallow grave. SLBS (state radio) reported that the decomposing bodies will be cleared to protect the underground water supply and to prevent the spread of disease. Workers have also found more than 1,000 human skulls in a separate mass grave outside the town, the report said.
Thousands of civil servants gathered outside government offices on Monday for promised pay checks.
A senior member of Sierra Leone's military junta, Police Sergeant Mohammed Kallon, was arrested Sunday by Guinean security forces in Conakry after a tip-off from Sierra Leonean vigilantes, BBC correspondent Alhassan Sillah reported on Monday. Kallon, who prior to the coup was Chief of Security at the Office of the Vice President, "at the outbreak of the coup led what was evidently a hit squad, so he was moving from place to place, vandalising people's homes, and in some cases it is reported that he shot those who tried to resist him," Sillah said. "He was kind of out of his mind, because what he told me to tell the president was that he should be used now to go and flush out the rest of the AFRC/RUF folks who are still trying to put up a fight. So I am told that President Kabbah himself took the uncharacteristic step of coming to have a glimpse of this notorious chap this afternoon."
ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said late Sunday that ECOMOG troops had captured the military base at Daru. Independent sources said many of the troops there had surrendered. Some sources quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that about 40 soldiers had been executed by the RUF, commanded by RUF Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie who insisted that they hold out, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim.
RUF Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie Monday denied ECOMOG claims to have captured the military barracks at Daru. "The allegation of the Nigerians taking Daru is completely a lie," Bockarie told the BBC. He also dismissed reports of divisions between the AFRC troops and the RUF over whether to surrender to ECOMOG. "I see no reason for us to have any infighting...I don't see any reason why the army should surrender, as we are together fighting. Every day, I give instructions and they go by them." Bockarie said that the soldiers who were surrendering were those loyal to President Kabbah. "As you know, when Kabbah took over he had some soldiers who were loyal to him. But that does not mean that is the end of the game," Bockarie said. "We will renew the struggle. As long as the international community has supported the Nigerians to invade Sierra Leone to kill innocent people for the sake of democracy which they don't have in their own country, then know that we are fresh enough to resist against any invasion against our sovereignty." Bockarie claimed to command 15,000 RUF fighters, along with more than 15,000 army troops, and said that he was heading for Freetown with his men. "I'm in a jungle, moving. You know I'm a trained guerrilla. I can move to Freetown as I want to move anywhere.
Junta soldiers and RUF fighters in Kailahun are calling for a cessation of hostilities in order to seek a peaceful resolution of the Sierra Leone crisis, BBC correspondent Sam Howard said Monday. He said a number of soldiers indicated their willingness to surrender to ECOMOG "in a dignified and arranged procedure," but that they would never surrender to the Kamajors "because they will kill us." The apparent leader of the group of soldiers, Corporal Kamara, confirmed that their commanders were holding a major strategy meeting at Daru. A junior soldier told Howard that the divisions between the AFRC and the RUF seem to be deepening. "Some members of the AFRC want to surrender, but their RUF allies are saying that unless Corporal Foday Sankoh is released to give them the last order, no one is allowed to do so," Howard said.
ECOMOG Chief of Staff General Abdul One-Mohamed said Monday that ECOMOG will need more soldiers in order to pacify the whole country. "We have about 10 or 11 battalions, and we believe we need more if we are to dominate the whole countryside," he said. One-Mohamed said that many junta troops were continuing to surrender to the ECOMOG force. "Many of the rebels come out and surrender their arms," he said. "In Makeni I saw many soldiers hand over their weapons on their own." One-Mohamed said ECOMOG was providing food and, in some cases, was arranging for payment of money to help the soldiers to readjust. "While fighting this war we are very conscious that these people are not enemies as such. We realise that many of them were misguided," he said.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi has urged the United Nations to adopt a resolution formally endorsing the ousting of Sierra Leone's military junta and the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the Lagos Voice of Nigeria reported on Monday. The Nigerian Daily Times newspaper quoted Ikimi, who heads the ECOWAS Committee of Five foreign ministers on Sierra Leone, as saying that provisions of the Conakry Peace Accord which offered amnesty to junta leaders have been invalidated.
8 March: Fuel stations in Freetown began selling petrol again over the weekend, after an agreement between the state oil company and the owners of a Guinea-Bissau registered boat which brought 700 metric tons of fuel into the capital. Oil industry officials said diesel was selling near its pre-coup price. A ship loaded with gasoline has anchored off the coast, and negotiations are taking place on a price for the fuel. Bus fares have reportedly dropped by half.
ECOMOG reopened the Freetown-Makeni highway on Saturday, allowing civilian traffic to reach the city for the first time since the ouster of the Sierra Leone's military junta. The BBC correspondent who travelled the highway on Saturday said it was "still littered with reminders of war, burnt out vehicles with bullet holes in the windows, and the occasional blasted building at the roadside." Only a handful of vehicles ventured along the highway on Saturday, but by Sunday civilian traffic was increasing, the correspondent said. Makeni "is a shadow of its former self, having been thoroughly looted by retreating soldiers of the military government," according to the report.
More than 300 orphaned children have been found in the bush, two weeks after they fled fighting between junta forces and ECOMOG. The director of the orphanage in Makeni said the children, some as young as five, were malnourished but had survived on roots.
Nigerian military leader General Sani Abacha, Guinean President Lansana Conte, and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh will accompany President Kabbah to Freetown on Tuesday, SLPP parliamentarian Ansu Kaikai said on Sunday. Kaikai said the four heads of state would arrive at Lungi International Airport on Tuesday morning, then fly to Hastings Airfield on the outskirts of Freetown. The four will drive by motorcade through the city to a welcome at the national stadium, Kaikai said.
Full repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees could take a year, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Spokesman Khassim Diagne said Sunday. "There will be a lot going home, around 100,000, as the country becomes more secure," Diagne said. The process is being complicated by the arrival of new refugees in Guinea, fleeing fighting in Kabala and Kono District. "There are some 205,000 Sierra Leone refugees in Guinea. The bulk of them came after 1991. Since the coup there have been about 80,000," Diagne said. "The influx is still coming in, but slowing a little." Five buses filled with Sierra Leonean refugees left Conakry Saturday, and staff at the Sierra Leonean consulate in Conakry say that more and more people are arriving to claim tickets home. United Nations groups have put aside $120,000 to help others return by boat. Aid groups say about 20,000 mainly urban refugees from Freetown had some money and were beginning to leave. Others who wish to return have no money to do so.
UNHCR Africa Director Albert-Alain Peters visited Guinea over the weekend to assess conditions in the refugee camps and repatriation efforts. The largest refugee camp, at Gueckedou on Guinea's border with Sierra Leone and Liberia, 112,148 refugees live in the forest in tents and mud huts. At Forecariah, south of Conakry, a further 64,625 live in conditions which aid groups have described as satisfactory, with no outbreaks of disease.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) will distribute food to those most in need, but has no plans for a general distribution, WFP spokesman Patrick Buckley said in Guinea on Sunday. "We expect commercial supplies to resume. We are avoiding the concept of general distribution," he said. Buckley said 5,000 to 6,000 people had been targeted as the most needy, but that the situation around the cities of Bo and Kenema remained unclear. "Security is still the main problem," he said. U.N. teams will travel to Bo on Monday to make security assessments. He said the WFP would set up "soup kitchens" in Freetown over the next few weeks, and would also institute some food-for-work schemes. "The focus will soon shift to Bo and Kenema. It's just a question of security," he added. WFP Regional Logistics Officer Mamadou Mbaye said the WFP would carry on until the situation improves, but at least for the next three months. "The idea is to avoid stockpiling, by taking shuttles of small parcels. We are still exploring access routes by air, sea and land," Mbaye said. Relief agencies are basing their Sierra Leone policy on their experience in Liberia and Ivory Coast, where some stockpiled food was looted or diverted and sold by corrupt officials. Mbaye said the WFP plans to airlift 40 tons of food a day for Bo and Kenema from Liberia on a C-130 Hercules transport plane belonging to the South African firm SAF Air.
The Danish-registered cargo ship Sea Maid, loaded with 1,700 tons of food U.S. and European donated food, was scheduled to leave Conakry for Freetown late Sunday. The Sea Maid will make a second trip on March 14, after which the Panama-flagged Secil Dambe will take over with 1,000 to 1,200-ton loads.
7 March: ECOMOG troops captured the town of Daru on Friday, the site of the junta's largest barracks and supply center, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe told Radio 98.1 on Saturday. Khobe said junta forces and their RUF allies had now been dislodged from every major town except Kailahun. "The whole country will very soon be without a rebel," he said. ECOMOG now plans to advance to Kailahun District, where the RUF has its primary base, Camp Burkina, at Giema.
A ship carrying refugees from Gambia and Conakry docked in Freetown Saturday at about 11:00 local time, even as Freetown residents worked to clean the city in preparation for President Kabbah's return to Sierra Leone on Tuesday. The government has reportedly sent five buses to Conakry to assist refugees in returning to Sierra Leone.
A helicopter from the British frigate HMS Cornwall ferried medical supplies to Makeni on Saturday, after returning to Queen Elizabeth II Quay earlier in the day. The Cornwall reportedly left for Niti Harbour on Tuesday, from where Sea King helicopters of the 810 Naval Air Squadron airlifted emergency food and medical supplies to Bo and Kenema. ECOMOG took control of Makeni on Wednesday, but the roads around the city are still subject to ambush by troops loyal to the ousted military junta. The Cornwall was sent to the region to replace the HMS Monmouth, called in after British High Commissioner Peter Penfold asked for assistance. The Cornwall is expected to remain in the area until March 20.
Air Afrique will reportedly resume flights into Lungi International Airport, beginning on Saturday.
Interim Task Force member Dr. Julius Spencer said President Kabbah will disband and disarm the military. "The army had an opportunity to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the political crisis which they themselves created in the May 25 1997 coup. Instead they refused," he said. ECOMOG troops have begun demobilising and disarming the military, and will assist the country in building a new army, Spencer added.
6 March: An ECOMOG official in Freetown said Friday that the ECOMOG force captured Kabala on Thursday. Father Michael Conteh of the Catholic Mission in Freetown, who contacted the mission in Kabala by radio, said junta forces fired indiscriminately at fleeing residents early Thursday, killing about 50 people. ECOMOG troops entered the town later in the day, meeting little resistance, Conteh added. He said several girls aged between 15 and 17 were raped during the chaos. The fleeing junta soldiers burned about 40 homes, and looted a Catholic Church, two Catholic schools, and a school for the blind, Conteh said.
ECOMOG has captured the RUF's Camp Charlie, located at Mile 91, an ECOMOG official said on Friday.
Junta troops attacked Magburaka before dawn on Friday, killing eight people, looting, destroying vehicles, and burning at least 19 homes. The ECOMOG force had left the town unprotected for the night. Several of the victims, including a police officer, were burned to death. The others, all civilians, were shot.
Civil Defence Force leader Sam Hinga Norman arrived in Bo Friday to meet with his frontline militiamen who, along with ECOMOG, are restoring order to the city. Norman said his men were giving their unflinching support to ECOMOG, because the force had come to restore a properly elected president. Norman said the army had put the entire nation to shame by being disloyal and unfaithful to the people and the president of Sierra Leone. Norman then visited Bo Government Hospital, where he sympathised with hundreds of persons injured in the fighting.
There are reports of an outbreak of fighting at Daru Barracks in Kailahun District between the army and the RUF, BBC correspondent Prince Brimah reported on Friday. "It's believed that the regular army troops in Daru want to surrender but the RUF doesn't, and this has led to a fight between the two groups," Brimah said. Junta forces attacked Dodo village in Bo District Thursday evening, killing six people and burning down several houses, Brimah reported.
British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold returned to Freetown Wednesday for the first time since shortly after last year's military coup. He was flown to his official residence in the capital from Conakry, where he had been staying since last June. Penfold was accompanied by Anthony Dymock, captain of the British frigate HMS Cornwall. "We brought the British High Commissioner back to Freetown two days ago, along with Sierra Leone's foreign minister," Dymock said on Friday. They are now having meetings to start up international aid. He has gone back to his official residence. Thanks to his very loyal staff who have protected the building, it only has one gun shot bullet hole in a window."
5 March: Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, John Leigh, told the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Thursday that President Kabbah will be accompanied on his return to Sierra Leone March 10 by his wife, Patricia Kabbah, and a number of African heads of state, including President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe in his capacity as OAU chairman, Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha as president of ECOWAS, President Konan Bide of Ivory Coast, Guinean President Lansana Conte, and Gambian President Yayah Jammeh. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa may also be present, Leigh said. The News Agency of Nigeria reported that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to attend. If conflicts prevent his being present, he will send a high level delegation, the News Agency reported.
The ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone briefed the United Nations Security Council Wednesday on the current situation in Sierra Leone. Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi, who headed the delegation, said ECOMOG's future role in Sierra Leone would depend upon the assignment given to the force by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Ikimi noted that Kabbah wanted the force to provide security throughout the country in the near term. The duration of ECOMOG's mission, Ikimi said, depended upon how fast it was able to re-establish security, especially the disarmament and rehabilitation of combatants, and the reorganisation of the army. For ECOMOG to disarm the fighters quickly, the international community would have to act to provide logistical support, Ikimi said. He added that other countries in the sub-region, notably Guinea, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Mali, had indicated willingness to reinforce ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone, but that they would need financial assistance from the international community. ECOWAS also wanted the U.N. to deploy military observers in Sierra Leone to work with ECOMOG in the disarmament process, Ikimi said. ECOWAS would like to see the United Nations maintain the embargo on weapons shipments to Sierra Leone even after other sanctions have been lifted, Ikimi noted, explaining that the retention of the arms embargo would be necessary until disarmament was complete, and a reasonable level of security had been re-established. Ikimi was accompanied at the briefing by the foreign ministers of Ghana, Guinea, and Liberia.
Massive preparations are underway in Freetown to receive President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah when he returns to Sierra Leone Tuesday to resume his duties as president. An official from the Ministry of Tourism met with cultural groups in the city on Wednesday to discuss what role each of the various groups would play at the reception, Liberian Star Radio reported on Thursday. Local press reports say a citywide clean-up campaign began last Saturday and will continue this weekend. One newspaper quoted SLPP Secretary-General Prince Harding as saying that Freetown's streets should be washed of the blood spilled by the military junta. "Calendars displaying Mr. Kabbah's picture as father of Sierra Leone's democracy are being widely circulated in Freetown," Star Radio said.
4 March: The ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone is expected to brief the United Nations Security Council on the latest developments in Sierra Leone, including detailed arrangements for the return of President Kabbah on March 10, the Nigerian newspaper Daily Champion reported on Wednesday. The Committee will reportedly stress the need for an early deployment of a U.N. observer mission in Sierra Leone, and will emphasize the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the country. The Committee, led by Nigerian foreign minister Tom Ikimi, left for New York on Tuesday, the newspaper said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday it had delivered the first consignment of food aid to more than 100,000 needy people in Bo and Kenema. The food, which consisted of 2.5 tons of corn and soya blended flour and oil, were airlifted to the two cities from Conakry. "Along with the delivery of food, we also sent staff members who will assess the food shortage and the security situation," WFP Regional Manager for West Africa Paul Ares said in a statement issued in Abidjan.
Dutch freelance journalist Teun Voeten, missing since February 14 and feared to have been abducted by junta forces, has telephoned relatives in the Netherlands to say that he is well. "He had to flee in the bush for two weeks around Makeni," his brother Jaap Voeten said Wednesday.
ECOMOG troops consolidated their hold on Makeni on Wednesday, driving out junta forces and taking more than 100 prisoners. Three junta soldiers were reported killed and one wounded when they tried to cross an ECOMOG roadblock. Fighter jets overflew junta positions in support of advancing ECOMOG troops, who fired AK-47 rifles and artillery at the retreating junta forces. Junta soldiers reportedly looted the city of food and medical supplies, and burned cars and shops as they retreated. After ECOMOG captured the Makeni on Tuesday, groups of civilians carried out revenge attacks on suspected junta collaborators. A crowd severely beat two women after stripping them naked on a main street. "Belongings allegedly looted by the rebels lay in large piles on the roads as civilians danced and celebrated with the Nigerian troops," the Associated Press reported. ECOMOG officers were quoted as saying that fleeing junta soldiers regrouped further north, looting villages along the way.
SLPP leader Prince Harding said Wednesday that Sierra Leone's newly restored civilian government will punish elements of the ousted military junta according to three levels of complicity. "In the first category are those who did all in their power to let the AFRC remain in power against the will of the people," Harding said. Such people spent their money, used their education and influence in assisting the junta. These people have to go through the due process of law." The second category comprises "those clerks, messengers, cleaners, and junior officers in the police and prison forces who had no option to obey the orders of their bosses," Harding said, adding that "such people would only be cautioned." The third category consists of "those retreating junta forces and their agents and sponsors who are still causing mayhem" in the interior. "For such people, the modalities are being worked out for the United Nations Security Council to set up a war crimes tribunal to try them for crimes against humanity," Harding said. More than 1,300 people, including prisoners of war and civilians, are currently being detained by ECOMOG.
Sierra Leone's ambassador to the United States, John Leigh, will address the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 5 on the topic, "The Sierra Leone coup d'etat and the future of democracy in Africa."
Five medical missionaries abducted at Lunsar and released on Friday have arrived in Monrovia. A spokesman, Brother Fernanado Aguilo, said they were held for two weeks at various locations before being turned over to ECOMOG. Aguilo said their captors said they were being held hostage to draw international attention to halt ECOMOG advances.
3 March: ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Max Khobe said Tuesday that ECOMOG'S seizure of Makeni is "a fatal blow" to the remnants of Sierra Leone's military junta. "After the capture of Makeni, we are moving on to Kabala in the north where we know that the rebels have the strongest resistance left in any town in the country as of now," he said. Aid workers in contact with Makeni said junta troops and RUF fighters killed dozens of people and burned down houses as they retreated from the city. They also looted food and medicine from aid agency stocks. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported that ECOMOG troops moved into Makeni from Masiaka and Lunsar on Monday evening. The troops entered the town without meeting any resistance because junta soldiers fled into the bush, Fofanah said, quoting Catholic Mission sources. He cited reports of divisions among the junta forces and RUF fighters, with some Second Battalion soldiers not wanting to put up resistance. "So, with all those divisions and the fact also that the soldiers at the barracks were willing to surrender, there was no problem for ECOMOG to enter there," Fofanah said. Father Michael Conteh of the Catholic Mission in Freetown said 50 church workers who had been trapped by the fighting were safe. "The brothers and sisters in the pastoral home came out to meet ECOMOG. The only disappointment was that they saw some ten decomposing bodies lying outside," he said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is bringing 380 tons of food by road from Conakry, WFP Regional Director Paul Ares said. The food, carried in two convoys of trucks, was the first to reach Sierra Leone by road since the May 25 coup. The bulk of the food, which was donated by the WFP and other relief agencies, will be distributed to malnourished children in centres run by Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNICEF in and around Kambia, Port Loko, and Makeni. "Our next targets are the areas around the towns of Bo and Kenema, where there are more than 100,000 people at risk," Ares said.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs appealed Tuesday for $11.2 million to meet priority humanitarian needs in Sierra Leone over the next three months. The flash appeal was prepared in response to calls from the Government of Sierra Leone, the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the international community to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the country. The appeal seeks funds for priority intervention to support agriculture, to resume the distribution of food aid, and to provide protection and assistance to the most vulnerable groups. The appeal also addresses aspects of the Conakry Accord which still need to be implemented, such as disarmament and demobilization. Medium-term tasks, such as the assisted repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees and the reintegration of former combatants, are not covered by the appeal.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) said Tuesday it will send a ministerial mission to Sierra Leone as soon as possible after the return of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on March 10. CMAG said the mission would "explore ways in which the Commonwealth could implement its resolve to assist Sierra Leone in the task of national reconstruction and peace-building." Diplomats said Kabbah wanted help in setting up a police force loyal to the government, and to establish financial controls over the diamond trade to ensure that revenues were not misappropriated. CMAG also made an urgent appeal for humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone, and to neighbouring countries housing large numbers of Sierra Leonean refugees.
Reaction: Deputy OAU Secretary-General Pascal Gayama: "Since the beginning of the crisis, the OAU has always condemned the putsch. We have given diplomatic and political support to all the efforts made by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with the military backing of ECOMOG, to force the coup plotters out and restore the democratically elected government. One cannot but regret profoundly all the loss of human lives and property noted so far. The situation cannot be more encouraging than it stands now, and that is why there is the need to do something. We hope that the international community, humanitarian organisations, and the African continent will continue to assist Sierra Leoneans, the new government, and all the organisations helping to resuscitate the economy and restore normal activities in this country to which we attach great importance."
2 March: Xaverian mission sources reported Monday evening that ECOMOG has taken control of Makeni. Earlier in the day, ECOMOG said it had captured the town of Lunsar after two fierce fire fights with junta forces and house-to-house fighting. One Nigerian soldier was killed on the ECOMOG side, Nigerian Colonel Rasiu Adeshina reported. Villagers said junta soldiers and RUF fighters had looted the town of food and essential supplies. "We had to hide our daughters to protect them," said a villager quoted by the Associated Press. "The rebels went into a mad rage." ECOMOG said its forces were now headed towards Makeni. The BBC cited unconfirmed reports that large numbers of civilians are fleeing the city.
A British Sea King navy helicopter from the H.M.S. Cornwall flew food to Bo Monday, in response to an appeal for urgent humanitarian assistance. A consignment of drugs donated by the Department for International Development was accompanied by a 10-member British medical team, which will work at Bo Government Hospital. The Cornwall's crew has also helped to repair equipment at Freetown's port, and worked to restore power and water supplies to hospitals, its captain, Anthony Dymock, said.
Julius Spencer, a member of the Interim Task Force, told the BBC Monday that ECOMOG is holding some 600 prisoners of war, along with about 145 civilians. The prisoners of war, Spencer said, would generally be released when hostilities end. "That is what ECOMOG has said, and we believe that when the president comes, that is what will happen." He said the civilians were being held in "protective custody", but that they were being investigated to determine their degree of collaboration with the military junta. "The attorney-general is currently investigating to find out those who are culpable for some offenses against the state, who will be brought to trial, and the others, I guess, will be released," Spencer said. "Several of the senior officers who were active collaborators, in fact, members of the Supreme Council, are currently under detention and I guess the attorney-general will eventually decide what sort of trial they will go through." Spencer said that he and other members of the Interim Task Force had visited Pademba Road Prison on Monday to ensure that the detainees were being treated humanely.
Liberian President Charles Taylor has accused dissident groups based in Sierra Leone of plotting to overthrow his government. In a nationwide address, Taylor said security reports indicated some dissidents were planning to take advantage of the volatile situation in Sierra Leone to launch a rebellion in Liberia, supported by the Kamajor militia. He warned that any attack would be crushed, and said Liberia had 60,000 well-trained guerillas standing by.
The Commonwealth is likely to send a fact-finding mission to assess the situation in Sierra Leone following the ouster of the military junta, diplomats said in London Monday at the start of a two day meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). "The Commonwealth will probably send a ministerial mission to Sierra Leone to assess what their needs are," a diplomat said. "Kabbah wants Commonwealth help in setting up a police force loyal to the government," he added.
The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) on Monday expressed concern about a number of journalists being detained by ECOMOG. Those named were Bakra Shaw and Conrad Roy of the Expo Times, Gipu Felix-George, managing director of SLBS and Denis Smith, an SLBS journalist; Hilton Fyle, owner of the radio station WBIG 103-FM; and I.B. Kargbo, editor of the New Citizen. IFEX also expressed concern about journalists it said were in hiding and being sought by ECOMOG, including Chernor Ojuku Sesay, editor of The Pool, Ibrahim Seaga Shaw and Charles Roberts of the Expo Times, and BBC correspondent Gibril Koroma.
1 March: More than 400 junta soldiers and RUF fighters have surrendered to Guinean ECOMOG troops at Masiaka, ECOMOG Major M.B. Massaquoi said on Sunday. Massaquoi said the troops handed over their weapons, and called on ECOMOG to grant them a general truce. More junta troops would be willing to surrender if their safety were guaranteed, Massaquoi said.
Warships from Britain and Nigeria docked at Queen Elizabeth II Quay in Freetown on Sunday, aiming to increase security and assist with humanitarian programs. The British frigate H.M.S. Cornwall arrived from Guinea, and will provide technical assistance, logistical aid, and supplies following the ouster of the Sierra Leone's military junta. Momodu Koroma, a member of the Interim Task Force, said the frigate's helicopters will conduct airlifts to Bo and Kenema. A British government statement expressed hope that the aid would help efforts to rebuild the country. The Nigerian gunboat N.N.S. Egbe will escort incoming commercial vessels, according to Captain Ayodele Adebayo. "Our presence here is to tell shipping companies that Sierra Leone's territorial waters are free of mines and explosives. In short, the port is free and open," Adebayo said. Also docking in Freetown Sunday was a passenger liner, the Galway Bay, carrying Sierra Leonean refugees who had fled to Gambia. An oil tanker anchored off the coast on Sunday, and was expected to berth at Kissy Oil Terminal shortly, easing the severe fuel shortages which resulted from the embargo against the military junta.
ECOMOG troops have begun retrieving unexploded bombs, anti-personnel mines, and anti-tank mines in and around Freetown. One woman was killed earlier in the week when she stepped on a landmine near the parliament building.
Guinean journalist Youssouf Bah told the BBC Sunday that he had interviewed AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma in Kono District, near the Guinea border, on February 23. "I met the refugees who were fleeing to Guinea. They told me that Johnny Paul Koroma and his bodyguards were chasing them," Bah said. "It was from that point I tried to enter into Sierra Leone. I met with Johnny Paul Koroma and his family, including some top AFRC officials like Colonel Collins, and 60 bodyguards." Bah said Koroma was disguised with a false beard, mask, and Arabic gown "as if he were an old man." The man was identified as Koroma by Captain Akeem, an AFRC officer, Bah said. Bah said Koroma told him he was in ?Port Loko when ECOMOG began its offensive against the AFRC, and from there he made his way to Kabala. He said Koroma's chief security officer, Staff Sergeant "Rambo" Marah, had crossed into Guinea to see if they could get safe passage, where he was arrested by Guinean security officers, who identified him from a calendar photo, and taken to the military barracks at Farana. "He was having about $120,000 and one AK-47 magazine and one grenade bomb in his possession," Bah said. Another source on Saturday, quoting witnesses and local news reports in Freetown, said Koroma had spent three days at Masiaka, and from there travelled by way of Rokupr, Kambia, Lunsar, and Makeni to the village of Mabonkani. A third source suggested that Koroma was in Kabala. None of the reports had been independently substantiated. ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, speaking Saturday in Nigeria said Koroma has been declared "wanted" by ECOMOG. "As far as I am concerned, Koroma is a wanted man and I am looking for him," Shelpidi said.
Fernanado Aguilo, one of five medical missionaries abducted at Lunsar last week by junta troops, described their ideal on Sunday. "We were forcibly kidnapped and taken into the bush," Aguilo said. "Even though we were fully aware that there was war in the country, we did not imagine we would be held hostage after fifteen years of dedicated medical service to the local community." Aguilo said the missionaries were never told of the reason for their abduction. They were ultimately taken to Mile 91, and later to Masiaka where they were released, he said. "We hold no grudge against those who held us," Aguilo said. "We see the need to forgive and reconcile with one another."