The Sierra Leone Web


March 1999

31 March: United Nations officials who pulled out of Sierra Leone prior to the rebel attack on Freetown in January are expected to return to the country next week, according to a U.N. official who had already returned to Freetown. "The security situation in and around Freetown has improved enough, to the point where the U.N. staff can now work in the capital without much fear or risk to their lives," he said on Wednesday. He added that the United Nations had instructed staff members to return to Sierra Leone by April 6. "U.N. staff who were working in Bo and Kenema and other major towns which were not taken by the rebels and are safe for them to work will be transported back to their posts," he said. The news was welcomed by presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai. "The return of the U.N. staff is excellent news for us, the government, and also for the Sierra Leone people," Kaikai said. "With the evacuation of U.N. humanitarian staff in the first week of January, humanitarian assistance and operations in the country almost collapsed."

About 30 Guinean ECOMOG troops were believed to have been killed or injured in a rebel ambush at Mange, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) said on Wednesday, quoting "independent sources" in Guinea. MISNA gave no details as to when the attack occurred, and there has been no independent confirmation.

President Kabbah told Nigerian journalists that there was ample evidence of a plot to subvert the West African sub-region and bring it under the control of "self-styled revolutionaries" such as Liberian President Charles Taylor, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, and Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi, Lagos NTA Television Network reported on Wednesday. Kabbah was quoted as saying that the "grand plan" has succeeded in Liberia, with the next phase to be Sierra Leone followed by Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, and Nigeria. "Not only for Sierra Leone, from what we understand, the agenda really is for the West African sub-region," Kabbah said. "You know, people have some dreams and ambitions and so on, and they are prepared to do anything they can to achieve that objective. My information is that the plot was, start off with Sierra Leone, go to Guinea, go to Ghana and then, end up in Nigeria. That's our information that we have."

15 persons are reported to have died from cholera in Moneykoi village, Bombali District, health sources said on Wednesday. The outbreak was attributed to contaminated water in wells and a nearby stream. The victims were said to be displaced people who had fled fighting in Makeni. In Kenema District, health authorities have begun an emergency immunisation campaign against measles, which is epidemic among the displaced population there, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea said Tuesday that Liberia wanted peace in West Africa. "We have made clear to our neighbors that Liberia does not want to see the continuation of war in the sub-region. After seven years of war, we cannot see ourselves going back to war. No way," he said. The Liberian government has been accused of supporting Sierra Leone's rebels, a charge it has repeatedly denied. "Our immediate plea is for our neighbors not to use their territory to launch war on us," Chea said. He accused Sierra Leonean Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman of recruiting Liberians as combatants in Sierra Leone's civil conflict. "What happens to those Liberians after the war in Sierra Leone?" he asked.

30 March: RUF legal representative Omrie Golley told the BBC Tuesday that an RUF delegation would travel to Togo to meet RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh next month. He said the size of the delegation was being determined by the RUF high command. "We haven't made up our minds as to exactly the quantity but they would represent, you know, the whole movement," Golley said. He added that the RUF was asking the United Nations, ECOWAS, and the OAU for travel and security guarantees. "We've made it very clear that this is obviously crucial because you are obviously aware that a number of delegates that most probably will be coming to these initial discussions are under a travel ban imposed by the Security Council, and we would expect this ban to be lifted as we would expect also very firm security and transportation guarantees from the international community to help the process," he said. Golley said the object of the meeting would be to allow Sankoh to meet his field commanders, for them to brief him on what had been going on within the movement and on what had been happening in Sierra Leone and throughout the sub-region. "This is a man who has been in detention for over two years," he said. "So, the object of the exercise would be to carry through that process and from there to gradually start to map a way forward." Golley repeated that Sankoh was "the undisputed leader of the RUF." When asked whether RUF leaders would obey an order from Sankoh to stop fighting, he replied: "We all want peace and prosperity, tranquility, reconciliation in our country." He declined to elaborate.

The British government is to spend £4.5 million to help train and equip a new Sierra Leonean military force, according to Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd. Britain will also contribute an additional £5 million to fund the ECOMOG force after receiving matching funds from international donors. Lloyd's announcement was carried on the BBC website Tuesday, but reportedly is part of the £10 million in grants the British government announced in February. The remaining £500,000 will be used to support the peace process. "A small U.K. military advisory team has been deployed to oversee basic training of the new Sierra Leone army and to assess their longer term training requirements," Lloyd said. "As part of this train-and-equip programme, we will be providing boots and uniforms. We will also be providing rifles and ammunition." He said the money would be spent only if President Kabbah continued with a "twin track" military and diplomatic approach to making peace with the rebels. Supplying arms to Sierra Leone would not violate the U.N. arms embargo because it already allowed sales to the Sierra Leone government "through named points of entry," he said. Lloyd said the purposed of the aid was "to help ECOMOG push back the rebels, to encourage the rebels to lay down their arms and return to civilian life, and to create a professional and democratically accountable Sierra Leone army."

Traders from Freetown and Guinea have managed to transport essential commodities to Kenema and Bo, easing the crisis in the two towns, aid workers said on Tuesday. They said traders were carrying food and fuel by sea to the coastal and estuary towns of Shenge and Gbangbatok, bypassing roads which have been cut by rebel forces. During January and February, aid workers had described the humanitarian situation in the two towns as desperate. "The worst is likely over for now," an international aid agency official said in Freetown. "But that does not mean the trouble is over. As long as the highway from Freetown remains cut by the rebels, the trouble is far from over and can get back to the days of people dying again from starvation." Traders have been willing to defy a government ban on boat traffic and to risk rough seas which have claimed over 400 lives since the beginning of March because of the huge profits brought by the trade. A 100 pound bag of rice currently sells for Le 90,000 in Bo and Le 100,000 in Kenema, as opposed to Le 38,000 in Freetown.

The new ECOMOG commander, Major General Felix Mujakperou, took up his post in Freetown Monday at a ceremony attended by his predecessor, Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, who later returned to Nigeria. "I will do everything possible to bring peace in Sierra Leone," Mujakperou said at the handover ceremony.

Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo said he assured President Clinton Tuesday that his country would continue to lead the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. The two held talks on a wide range of issues in Washington, D.C.

The Sierra Leone government officially unveiled its news and information website, Sierra Leone on the Web, in an online ceremony on Tuesday. The site had been operating for some time, but was redesigned and officially launched in a chatroom discussion held on a companion site, Sierra Leone Online. The presentation Tuesday was made by Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer and Sierra Leone Online CEO Ian Noah. Sierra Leone Online will provide internet links and resources, as well as internet services such as e-mail, webspace, and live chat.

29 March: The Kamajor militia has recaptured Mile 91, Reuters reported on Monday, citing security and humanitarian sources. The town has been under rebel control since January, and has been used as a base by the rebels to conduct operations throughout the central part of the country, a Kamajor commander said. "We finally overpowered them yesterday and took over the entire town," he added. An ECOMOG officer confirmed the capture of Mile 91. "More than 100 died in the fighting for the town, most of them rebels but including some Kamajors," he said.

Sierra Leone's appeals court has suspended its hearing of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's appeal due to begin this week as a gesture to the peace process, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Monday. Sankoh is appealing a conviction and death sentence on treason charges handed down by Freetown's High Court last October. "The government cannot hold the peace process in abeyance while awaiting the hearing of the appeal. The president is anxious for the peace process to move forward quickly and without hindrances," Berewa said. "If there are positive signals from the consultations between the rebels and their leader that lasting peace may come then the Sierra Leone government might put the trial of Corporal Sankoh on hold because that might turn out to be in the best interests of the nation. Corporal Sankoh may probably walk free again, but that depends on the outcome of the coming negotiations between us and the rebels." Berewa said that substantive negotiations could result in Sankoh's release. "Foday Sankoh could go abroad and live there, or come back to Sierra Leone from the talks and form a political party and contest the next general elections," he said. He added that court documents had been sent to Sankoh's British lawyers, led by former Conservative cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. "The solicitors...will now meet Sankoh in Lomé, Togo around April 18, in case there is a need for Sankoh to come back to Sierra Leone and face the courts," he said.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley dismissed a statement made Friday by outgoing ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi that either he or others might be the real leader of the RUF. "Foday Saybana Sankoh is the undisputed leader of the RUF and anyone attempting to say otherwise is wasting his or her time," Golley said from Burkina Faso. Referring to President Kabbah's offer Friday to allow Sankoh to travel to Togo to meet with his followers "on or about" April 18, Golley said the RUF cautiously welcomed the statement "bearing in mind the fact that we have heard before statements from the president and the government on the matter of the release" of Sankoh. "We are awaiting further clarification from the government on the statement, particularly that part dealing with the time limit that has been imposed by the president for these internal discussions, especially when he has indicated that Foday Sankoh will only be able to travel to Lomé on or about the 18th of April, some three weeks away," Golley said. "We would also like to hear from the government on the matter of substantive peace talks with the RUF in so far as it relates to the position of Sankoh after these initial talks." Golley said the RUF had received reports that Sankoh would be accompanied to the initial discussions by a number of groups, including Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council. "The military high command has requested me to state that whilst all sincere civil and religious groups have a very important role to play in the peace process, they would welcome the opportunity to meet with their leader alone for these proposed initial discussions with the RUF," Golley said.

President Kabbah's announcement that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh would be allowed to travel to Togo next month to hold direct talks with his commanders has stemmed the exodus of residents from Freetown, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. Ship, plane, and helicopter operators in Freetown said hundreds of people who were planning to leave the country had now changed their minds.

The new ECOMOG commander, Major General Felix Mujakperou, said at the weekend he would impose stringent security measures in Sierra Leone to end the rebel onslaught and hostilities against the ECOMOG force. He blamed rebel infiltration into ECOMOG camps on "security lapses," and promised to instill discipline into the ECOMOG troops to increase their capability to prevent rebel attacks. Mujakperou also declared he would take effective measures to reduce the level of killings of unarmed civilians by the rebels, and he pledged that peace would be restored to Sierra Leone during his tenure as ECOMOG commander. ''We do not want our in-coming civilian administration to continue to spend the country's scare resources on the crisis, while many Nigerians are suffering,'' he said in Ibadan, Nigeria. 

Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo assured United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday that Nigerian troops would remain "as long as necessary" with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. "Africa is slowly bleeding, and the bleeding has to stop. And all efforts have to be made to stop the bleeding," Obasanjo told reporters during a visit to New York.

The Liberian government has requested that Sierra Leone arrest and extradite any Liberian nationals caught fighting in Sierra Leone's civil war, a Liberian foreign ministry source said on Monday. They indicated that the request was made in a diplomatic note sent Monday to the Sierra Leone government. "The government considers the continued use of Liberians in fighting in Sierra Leone undermines efforts of demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants,'' the source quoted the note as saying. The Liberian government offered an amnesty to Liberian combatants in Sierra Leone if they returned home within 45 days. That time period has not yet expired. The foreign ministry source said the note related to Liberians arrested with weapons in Freetown this month. 

28 March: The United States Special Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, said that the U.S. should apply the same effort to resolving conflicts in Africa as it has in attempting to end ethnic killings in Kosovo, Yugoslavia. "It makes sense to me to help bail out people in Kosovo who are being killed by Milosevic," Jackson said. "But if you do that, then you must include Ethiopia and Eritrea and Sierra Leone and the Congo — one set of rules, just doing God's will. Our foreign policy must be driven by one common set of shared values. We've lost more lives in Sierra Leone than we've lost in Kosovo. We must use our leverage to end wars in Africa."

Abass Bundu has rejected as "patently defamatory" a statement made Friday by outgoing ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, who alleged that Bundu might be the real leader of the RUF. In an SLBS radio and television interview Friday night, Shelpidi expressed the belief that Corporal Foday Sankoh could not be considered the true leader of the RUF. He suggested that RUF commander Sam "Maskita: Bockari, RUF legal representative Omrie Golley, Liberian President Charles Taylor, or former ECOWAS Executive Secretary, NPRC foreign minister and PPP presidential candidate Abass Bundu might in fact be leading the movement. "I believe I owe fellow Sierra Leoneans a duty to make it abundantly clear that I am not a member of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), nor have I ever been a member nor do I intend to become a member of that organisation," Bundu said in a statement issued on Sunday. He recalled that as ECOWAS Executive Secretary he had promoted the idea for the formation of ECOMOG in 1990 and had enjoyed a close relationship with former Nigerian leader General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. "It is impossible for me not to see in (Shelpidi's statement) symptoms of a deepening sense of frustration and disappointment following the abysmal failure of ECOMOG under his command to protect the lives and properties of ordinary citizens of Freetown against the recent rebel invasion of that city as well as the provincial towns and villages which also came under rebel attack during his tenure," Bundu said. "Nevertheless, this cannot give him a licence to make false and malicious statements about me. He has left me with no choice but to take appropriate legal action to vindicate my name and reputation."

27 March: President Kabbah, in an address to the nation delivered on Saturday, said his government was proposing that imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh meet with his RUF membership in Togo "on or about" the 18th of April. "However, and I must emphasise this, it is our expectation that the RUF consultations should not last for more than six to seven days," he added. Kabbah expressed the hope that on April 27, the 38th anniversary of Sierra Leone's independence, that peace could be restored to Sierra Leone. "I don’t think it would be unrealistic to achieve that objective by that date, if indeed the rebels are ready to accept, without conditions our latest initiative for peace," he said. "It is not unrealistic to hope and pray that on that day, April 27, 1999, we can all celebrate freedom and peace."

ECOMOG troops in Freetown were on red alert Saturday following rumours that the rebels might launch a new attack on the capital to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. ECOMOG sources said reinforcements armed with tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles had been sent to Waterloo. "We hear that the rebels plan to attack Waterloo and the peninsular highway and in the thick mountain forest towards Freetown,'' one source said. "That is why we are on red alert since yesterday." Freetown was reported calm Saturday, but ECOMOG soldiers conducted checks of civilians and vehicles in and around the city. Local newspapers said letters purporting to come from the RUF had been found in the city during the past week announcing the rebels would attack on Saturday and that this time they intended to stay. RUF legal representative Omrie Golley dismissed the reports on Wednesday. "We are still committed to the peace process," he said. "I do not have any word from my military commanders of any planned action around that time." 

200 soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army came out of the bush and surrendered to ECOMOG at Magbuntoso on Friday, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said on Saturday. According to Reuters, Olukulade said ECOMOG was in contact with other former soldiers and rebels. "We are assuring them of their security and safety once they surrender," he said.

Outgoing ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said late Friday that Corporal Foday Sankoh could not be considered the true leader of the RUF. "The true leaders of the rebellion need to be identified to bring peace to Sierra Leone," Shelpidi said late Friday night in an SLBS radio and television interview. Among those he suspected of leading rebel movement were RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, RUF legal representative Omrie Golley, Liberian President Charles Taylor, and former ECOWAS executive secretary, NPRC foreign minister, and PPP presidential candidate Abass Bundu. "It appears they are just using Foday Sankoh," Shelpidi said. "Who do you take as the leader? Is it Sam Bockari, Omrie Golley, Abass Bundu? Each of them have their own agenda. Or is it Charles Taylor as he sometimes seemed to be the spokesman for the rebels?...If these people sit together today, they would not mind putting Sankoh aside," said Shelpidi, who described Sankoh as "aging and not at all that literate." He repeated charges that Sierra Leone's civil war was fuelled by mercenaries from Charles Taylor's disbanded NPFL militia, the rival Liberian ULIMO-K militia, and mercenaries from Burkina Faso. He also pointed to soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army. On Friday, Shelpidi said that even some members of the Kamajor militia had defected to the RUF.

Sierra Leone has received an Organization of African Unity (OAU) grant of $300,000, to be used for water and sanitation projects in rural areas of the country. The award was received by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ibrahim Kamara. According to an OAU communiqué issued on Saturday, the money was taken from the OAU's Special Emergency Aid Fund.

26 March: The Central Bank has warned foreign exchange bureau operators that they risk fines or imprisonment if they disregard regulations on transferring money abroad. A Central Bank statement issued on Friday reminded the bureaus that they were not allowed to open foreign exchange accounts outside of Sierra Leone. They were also barred from accepting leones "with the intent of supplying the foreign exchange equivalent thereof either wholly or in part at a future date.'' A Central Bank official said the purpose of the warning was to deter capital flight from the country.

Security forces in Freetown were on high alert Friday amid rumours that the rebels were preparing to launch an attack on the capital Saturday during the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. Officials downplayed the stepping-up of patrols and declined to comment on reports of rebel activity on the outskirts of the capital. "We are always on alert and taking no chances to ensure the safety and security of all residents," a security official said. "We don't want people to panic but to enjoy the holiday in the best Muslim tradition." Security officials declined to comment on media reports that 50 suspected rebels were arrested Thursday on the outskirts of Freetown and that another 10 were picked up in Tengbeh Town earlier in the week. "I won't talk about that," an official said.

Outgoing ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi blasted the press Friday while urging Sierra Leoneans to do more to defend their country. 99 percent of what is published in Freetown is rubbish, Shelpidi told Sierra Leonean and Nigerian journalists gathered at a press conference at ECOMOG headquarters in Freetown. ECOMOG troops are not mercenaries are are not paid by the Sierra Leone government to operate in Sierra Leone, Shelpidi said. Rather, ECOMOG was in Sierra Leone to provide peace-keeping, peace enforcement, and counter-insurgency. Responding to criticism that ECOMOG had not done enough to provide security for Freetown residents, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay quoted Shelpidi as saying that "you must first protect yourself before expecting ECOMOG to protect you," adding that "if you create an avenue to expose yourself, ECOMOG cannot protect you." Shelpidi expressed his view that Sierra Leoneans do not love their country, and that while other countries were aspiring to enter the twenty-first century "with zeal and enthusiasm," Sierra Leoneans would rather see their country destroyed. The Lagos Vanguard newspaper quoted Shelpidi as expressing frustration with the leaders of Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Libya for their support of the rebels. Taylor and other rebel collaborators should themselves be treated as rebels, Shelpidi said, adding that if ECOMOG had the means and the opportunity it would treat them as such. He said international sanctions were ineffective in discouraging rebel collaborators. Shelpidi said it was a source of major regret that the international community had not provided enough support for ECOMOG in terms of logistics and manpower, and that this had partly enabled the rebel attack on Freetown in January.

Prime Minister Kadre Desire Ouedraogo of Burkina Faso dismissed charges by outgoing ECOMOG force commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi of Burkinabe support for AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. "I must say that that position does not correspond to the position of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a country that we respect and like very much," Ouedraogo told reporters in Ouagadougou. "I must state that only last weekend President Abdulsalami Abubakar had a telephone conversation with President Blaise Compaore, and I know that neither the issue of destabilization of Nigeria by Burkina Faso nor support for one side in the Sierra Leonean fratricidal conflict featured. Consequently, the person who made that statement is solely responsible for it. As far as we are concerned, there are other channels and means of responding to such situations."

An ECOMOG official confirmed Friday that a "small group" of rebels had attacked Benguema, the site of a major military barracks, over the weekend. He said the rebels had fired volleys of shots to terrorize residents, but were repelled after meeting stiff resistance.

Canada's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, David Pratt, ended to two-day visit to Freetown on Friday after holding talks with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "Canada is greatly concerned about the security and humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone, Pratt said. He added that Canada was committed to helping the country "ensure stability and protect and preserve democracy." Pratt visited a number of displaced camps in Freetown, including a shelter for 200 amputees, where he presented a cheque for $US 30,000.  In January, Canada pledged to contribute one million Canadian dollars to the ECOMOG force.

25 March: At least 150 people drowned Monday when the motorized canoe in which they were travelling capsized at sea. The latest disaster, the third this month, took place about five miles off Tasso as the boat was heading for the fishing port of Tombo, survivors and a Sierra Leone Boatmens Union official said on Thursday. Many of the passengers were returning home after fighting between rebels and pro-government forces at Tombo forced them to flee their homes last week. "The boat sank because it was overloaded with more than 200 people and was carrying 300 bags of sugar," a union official said. "At least 150 bodies have so far been found and buried not far from the sinking. The passengers were returning home to Tombo after they fled fighting there last week." ECOMOG officials serving at Tasso said the boat's crew had been warned not to leave port there because the vessel was overloaded. A government ban on boat travel imposed in January for security reasons remains in effect, but because roads up-country have been cut by rebel activity, the ban is frequently ignored.

Some 3,000 metric tons of relief food shipped by the U.S.-based aid organisation CARE has has docked at the Queen Elizabeth Pier in Freetown, the organisation said in a press release on Thursday. The shipment, which includes lentils, wheat, vegetable oil, and corn, is destined for thousands of people who have been forced to rely on food subsidies since fighting in January. There are estimated to be some 150,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on the Freetown peninsula alone. In Guinea, 4,700 metric tons of food was delivered to CARE aboard the ship Challenger IV where it will be stockpiled for delivery to Bo and Kenema where there are an estimated 75,000 IDPs. "CARE hopes to deliver 100 metric tons of food weekly to displaced placed people in Bo and Kenema," the statement quoted CARE Country Director Nick Webber as saying. "While logistically difficult, we are rapidly moving forward with the distribution of the much needed food, before the summer rains begin making some of the roads impassable." CARE is also distributing food to nearly 300,000 Sierra Leonean refugees living in 60 camps in Guinea, an undertaking it began in November 1998 at the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  CARE is financed by the U.S. government's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Local journalists said Thursday that 14 people died when rebels attacked five villages in Tonkolili and Moyamba Districts on Monday, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. Several houses were also said to have been burned. Kamajor militiamen chased the rebels from the villages to Mile 91 where, the journalists said, a major battle erupted. Local journalists have also reported that the rebels have planted landmines in the area to prevent ECOMOG troops and the Kamajors from advancing.

A local helicopter service, West Coast, has agreed to transport students in Bo and Kenema to Freetown free of charge. The students were caught up-country when rebels attacked the capital in January. Since that time, the highway between Freetown and Kenema has remained closed. Colleges and the university reopened in Freetown recently, but were forced to close again because of low attendance.

Liberian Defence Minister alleged Thursday that a large cache of arms and ammunition discovered in Freetown on Wednesday was destined for operations aimed at destabilising the Liberian government. "We have reports here with us indicating that those arms were meant for Liberia," he said. "These people, according to our reports, are getting prepared to try and come in here and destabilise our government...We have every reason to be concerned because all indications are that there are Liberians that were recruited in Liberia to fight on all sides in Sierra Leone and now what happens next? They are being armed to come back here, and this country is not going to stand idly by." Chea accused Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman of recruiting Liberians "with the acquiescence and notion of ECOMOG" for the conflict in Sierra Leone. "The deal was that after whatever operation they had to carry out in Sierra Leone, they will come here to fight on the side of whichever group...We have indisputable facts that these people and the arms that were discovered yesterday in Sierra Leone, the Kamajors with hard Liberian accents are fighters that were recruited by ECOMOG and Hinga Norman who are getting ready to come back into Liberia to try and destabilise the government."

ECOWAS foreign ministers meeting in Bamako, Mali have adopted a moratorium on the use of light arms, and have spoken out strongly against the recruitment of children to fight in armed conflicts. "We strongly condemn any recruitment of children among groups of combatants, the foreign ministers said in a statement issued late on Wednesday. They called on armed groups to "demobilise (child combatants) immediately and provide them with appropriate structures for their reintegration" into society. In Sierra Leone, both the AFRC/RUF rebels and the pro-government Civil Defence Forces have made use of child soldiers. On the arms moratorium, the ministers recommended "the training of armed forces for a culture of peace, stricter controls at border posts (and) the rounding up and destruction of illegally held arms." ECOWAS estimates there are some 15 million light arms circulating in West Africa.

Liberian Deputy Information Minister Milton Teahjay has rejected charges made last week by outgoing ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi that Liberia has expansionist plans in the sub-region, Liberian Star Radio reported on Thursday. Teahjay said Monday the Liberian government had nothing to do with the crisis in Sierra Leone and had no intention of becoming militarily involved in the country. He added that the Liberian government would not be provoked by distractions.

24 March: Imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has ordered his field commanders not to launch a new attack on Freetown amid fears that an attack has been planned for Saturday, diplomats said on Wednesday. ECOMOG has stepped up patrols in the capital and ECOMOG officers have confirmed that clashes have taken place on the edge of the city, Reuters reported. The diplomats said RUF commanders agreed not to attack after Sankoh issued orders to them during radio linkups on Monday and Tuesday. "Corporal Foday Sankoh in the past two days has ordered his rebel commanders not to attack Freetown again," one diplomat said. "He told them peace was on the way. He said negotiations with the government would begin soon and there was no more need to enter the city violently." ECOMOG officers confirmed that rebels attacked the Benguema Military Barracks over the weekend, resulting in many casualties on both sides in fighting between the rebels and pro-government forces. Fears of a new rebel offensive offensive increased this week when residents who fled the latest fighting said the rebels told them they would attack Freetown on Saturday. ECOMOG officers gave assurances that they were far better prepared for a rebel attack now than they were in January when rebel forces reached the city centre. "We have far more troops and are far better armed," one officer said. "We are sure of crushing the rebels on the outskirts without giving them a chance to enter Freetown."

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley said Wednesday the RUF had been warned that pro-government troops were planning an offensive against rebel positions in Kono for April 6. Golley said the RUF had "detailed intelligence reports" indicating that a military build-up was underway and that the government was recruiting mercenaries. He added that the government had already purchased two helicopter gunships with an option to purchase four more. "We view these developments very ominously," Golley said. He alleged that 180 mercenaries associated with the (defunct) mercenary firm Executive Outcomes had arrived in Freetown to help ECOMOG launch the offensive. The suspected build-up, Golley said, was being funded in part by Britain "under the guise of logistical support" such as military tents and equipment. "Contrary to promises made to the Sierra Leonean people, to countries in the subregion, and to the international community, Mr. Kabbah appears to have no intention of pursuing the peace process," he said. He added the RUF would "not allow its positions to be attacked by mercenaries and by ECOMOG, who are being funded by Britain and the international community. Said Golley: "It is clear that Kabbah has no intention of releasing Foday Sankoh or engaging in peaceful dialogue. The government is continuously trying to dupe the international community into believing it is committed to peace." Golley dismissed reports that the RUF had planned a new attack on Freetown for Saturday, the Muslim feast day Eid al-Adha. "We are still committed to the peace process," he said. "I do not have any word from my military commanders of any planned action around that time." 

ECOMOG troops have unearthed a large cache of arms and ammunition in Freetown, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Wednesday. He said the weapons were discovered at a home which had belonged to former AFRC Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Hassan Conteh, who was executed last October. Ojukutu-Macaulay said the cache consisted of "Over 200 AK-47's and other assorted rifles, rocket-propelled grenade, anti-aircraft gun, and some other ammunition and arms, some in plastic containers, some in garden pots, and all being carried from this building into this huge truck being used by ECOMOG." ECOMOG officers declined comment, but Deputy Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Momoh Pujeh told reporters that the cache of arms belonged to the Kamajor militia. "From our investigation, what is significant is that these Kamajors, the Deputy Minister of Finance Mr. Momoh Pujeh is referring to, are Kamajors with heavy Liberian accent," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "I went back into the building after ECOMOG had actually left the building with my colleagues, and we spoke to several of these Kamajors, all carrying ID cards with the Kamajors marked on it and the Civil Defense Forces marked on it, and they all had Liberian accent, and that has not gone down well in Freetown, particularly so, when the government has been accusing Liberia of actually contributing immensely to the AFRC-RUF rebel activities in this country." Ojukutu-Macaulay said Pujeh told reporters the Kamajors were cleaning the guns. "In fact, we were threatened by the minister that if we do report this particular report, we will be considered as saboteurs," he added.

British Foreign Office whip Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale told the House of Lords Wednesday that Britain had "clear and specific" intelligence and "compelling evidence" that Liberia has provided arms and personnel to AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone from Liberian territory. Her statement was made in response to a suggestion by Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury, who suggested the claims of Liberian involvement were based solely on U.S. aerial photographs of lorries crossing the frontier. He said the only road crossing the border passed over a river bridge policed by the ECOMOG force. Ramsay replied that the border was "long, heavily forested, and extremely porous, in the sense of anything being able to cross at any point," adding: "There is some kind of evidence which governments have that they cannot, in fact, publish."

89 refugees who landed by boat in Cyprus last week are to be returned to Lebanon, Cypriot government spokesman Costas Serezis on Wednesday. According to Cypriot authorities, five of the 89 refugees who set out from the Lebanese port of Tripoli were identified as Sierra Leoneans.  Lebanon's decision to take the immigrants back "is one more practical proof of the close and friendly ties between the two countries," Serezis said. "Cyprus as well as the European Union (EU) are particularly sensitive to the issue of illegal immigrants and the EU believes non-member states should help safeguard its borders from illegal immigrants."

Guinean President Lansana Conte, acting Tuesday by presidential decree, appointed Mohamed Lamine Sompare as Ambassador to Sierra Leone. Conte also made three additional ambassadorial appointments: Souare Baba to Liberia, El Hadj John Aboubakar to Libya, and Soumah Foday Lamine Joe to Mali.

23 March: The timing of talks between imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and his commanders on the ground should be Sankoh's decision, President Kabbah told Tuesday's edition of the Awoko newspaper, quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). "I don't want to push him," Kabbah said. "We have made available a radio system for him to talk to his membership in the bush, and he has been talking to them and they are trying to see how best they can put their acts together. So we will be waiting for them to tell us when and how they want to go." Kabbah said that under the constitution he cannot pardon Sankoh before the judicial appeals process is complete. "I am head of the executive; I do not have authority over the judiciary," he said. He noted that if Sankoh is unsuccessful in appealing against his death sentence on treason charges, he might be persuaded to exercise his Prerogative of Mercy. "Firstly I have to see that there is some remorse on his part for what he has done that is wrong. I can sense that the people of Sierra Leone have gone through a lot since 1991, and they are yearning and praying for peace, so I have to take into consideration their own wish as well. Then there will be my own assessment of the overall situation as to whether my allowing him free movement will best lead to sustainable peace. If the answers to those questions are positive, then I think I will have to go along."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in its Emergency Report issued Tuesday for the period through March 19, said the situation in Kambia remains unclear. Guinean authorities have declared the Kambia area a military zone, thus restricting the activities of humanitarian agencies. The WFP expressed concern at lack of access to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Gbalamuya, near Kambia, adding that most of the displaced persons who had remained behind at the border are now arriving at Formariah, Guinea and at other border villages. In Kenema, WFP staff reported that the food situation is becoming critical, and has requested that ECOMOG provide security for its warehouses. Shops have reopened, the report said, but prices are high because goods must be brought in by air. Access to locally produced food remains difficult because of the security situation in some areas. The Regional Technical Committee in Kenema has estimated that 88,000 IDPs are in need of food assistance. The WFP still has 480 tons of assorted food stocks at the Kenema warehouse. The WFP said reports indicated recent military activity between pro-government forces and the rebels along the Kenema-Segbwema highway in around Tongofield. In Bo, WFP staff and relief agencies reported that the situation was calm. The WFP has begun distributing food to over 1,400 IDPs who arrived in Bo during the recent crisis in Freetown, most of them from Kono or rebel-held districts in the north who are unable to return home because of the insecurity. As of March 18, 7,838 persons were receiving WFP assistance in Bo. The road between Bo and Nitti Port is being rehabilitated jointly by the communities in Bo, the local government, and the Drivers' Union, the WFP report said, adding: "This port and road are expected to be a vital corridor of supply for the region in view of the continued closure of the Bo-Freetown highway." Some economic activities have resumed in Bo and fuel is now available, but the price of rice in remains high.

Sierra Leonean officials on Tuesday released 46 foreign crew members of a Korean fishing trawler, after holding them for four days for questioning, a military spokesman said. The crew, which included 17 Chinese, 4 South Koreans, and 25 Ghanaians, was arrested by a Civil Defence Forces unit on suspicion that the  trawler, the Dae Sung 51, had been fishing illegally in Sierra Leonean waters, according to Reuters. The Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting the Democrat newspaper, said the Kamajors suspected the crew members of being mercenaries, and cited unconfirmed reports that the boat had drifted into Sierra Leonean waters. Liberian defence officials last week accused Kamajor militiamen of commandeering the trawler in Liberian territory and taking it into Sierra Leonean waters, where they looted the vessel and abducted the crew. On Sunday, the BBC reported that 4 Koreans and 19 Chinese had been turned over to ECOMOG. Reuters said Tuesday that ECOMOG airlifted the 46 to Freetown where investigation established that there was no case against them. Dickson Doug Dabe, the general manager of Tikonko Trading Company which owns the trawler, said crew members had been well treated and had not been locked up. Liberian defence officials quoted by Star News said last week that nine members of the crew had escaped with the boat and returned to Monrovia. Reuters reported, however, that the boat and its crew were due to sail for Guinea.

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim in his report to the 69th session of the OAU Council of Ministers and the Fourth Ordinary Session of the African Economic Community (AEC) has deplored the loss of lives and destruction of property in Sierra Leone as a result of the war waged by the RUF and its allies. He appealed to OAU states and the international community to "do all they can" to help ease the suffering of the Sierra Leonean people.

Health authorities in Freetown have noticed an increase in tuberculosis, malaria, dysentery, and hypertension, the Director of Management at Connaught Hospital, Saidu Kamara, said on Tuesday. "It is astonishing how tuberculosis has suddenly increased, overtaking malaria which in the past was the leading disease," Kamara said.

Japan has announced $1.1 million in contributions to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to help with refugee programmes in Sierra Leone. The money is part of a package of $21.37 million for refugee programmes in Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Rwanda, Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said on Tuesday.

Liberian President Charles Taylor warned neighbouring countries Tuesday that he would carry out pursuit operations inside their countries if they allowed their territory to be used as a springboard for military action against Liberia. "Anybody that comes from any country to attack Liberia, we are going to step inside that country so help me God,'' Taylor said. "It's not going to be a day's job to remove me." Taylor has accused rival former militia leader Alhaji Kromah of plotting to overthrow his government. Kromah, in a radio interview earlier this month, accused Taylor's security forces of arresting some of his former bodyguards. He warned they should be released or he would ensure that they were freed.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan E. Rice, briefed the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Africa Tuesday on prospects for peace in Sierra Leone, and called for greater U.S. involvement is aiding the Sierra Leone government. "This is a critical time in our relations with Africa," Rice told the Subcommittee. "Throughout history, we have learned that problems abroad, left unattended, will come back to haunt our people and stall our progress. Still, there are those who may question our interest in a far-off civil war in a corner of Africa. But this is a new moment in history, and a new, fragile democracy in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is surrounded by nascent and would-be democracies and free-market economies. We should not turn our backs on America's interests in our fundamental principles of freedom, tolerance, and the rights of all people to pursue their individual and collective security and welfare. We should defend our interest in democracy worldwide, by not bowing to a brutal insurgent group intent on overthrowing a democratically elected government. We should help protect thousands of innocent victims from heinous atrocities. Finally, we should protect our interest in building and sustaining Africa's peacekeeping capacities, which are key to security throughout the continent, by ensuring that ECOMOG has the tools necessary to complete its important mission in Sierra Leone. If we succeed, we will help bolster West Africa with another democratic government, strong regional conflict resolution capabilities, greater regional integration and a confident Nigeria departing Sierra Leone on high ground and ready to redirect energy and resources toward forging its own new destiny."

22 March: Rebels seized all eleven towns and villages of Koya Chiefdom in Port Loko District, 50 miles north of Freetown, amid signs of increasing rebel activity north of the capital, Reuters said on Monday. The report quoted a local minister, Pastor David Koroma, who said thousands of residents had fled across the Mabang River after the rebels ordered them to abandon their homes and foodstuffs. "From what I heard from the rebels, they want to build up military strength in the area between Koya and Newton," he said, adding that the rebels' aim was to prepare news attacks on Freetown if the government refused to negotiate with them.

Health authorities estimate that 6,350 corpses have been buried in mass graves in Freetown following the rebel attack on the capital in January. Previous estimates by the United Nations had put the number of casualties at around 5,000. An undisclosed number of bodies had to be exhumed and reinterred, according to Arthur Williams, Directory of Laboratory Services at the Ministry of Health. "The corpses had to be exhumed, as they were initially and hurriedly buried in shallow graves near streams, back yards, and on the grounds of some schools," Williams said on state radio. He said authorities "wanted to avoid any outbreak of diseases with the rainy season due about May." Some 200,000 residents of Freetown and its suburbs were left homeless by the fighting between the rebels and the ECOMOG force.

Rebel forces have cut all access to the cities of Kenema and Bo, preventing food and medicine from reaching residents since January, Reuters reported on Monday. On March 6, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported severe shortages of food and medicine, and said aid agencies had been forced to suspend operations because their stores had been looted or burned. According to World Food Programme (WFP) reports in February and March, the agency has continued to distribute food in Bo and Kenema, but added on March 19 that food stores in the two cities were dwindling, even as needs continued to rise.

Standard Chartered Bank reopened in Freetown Monday for the first time since the rebel attack on January 6. Barclays Bank reopened its Siaka Stevens Street location last week, while two locally owned banks, Sierra Leone Commercial Bank and Union Trust Bank, reopened at the end of January. Long lines formed outside the bank as private security guards allowed customers inside in small groups. Central Bank officials said they were worried about the scale of withdrawals from the two banks. "Since Barclays reopened last week, depositors have withdrawn thousands of millions of leones. It's panic. They're afraid that the rebels might attack Freetown again and they would not be able to get at their money again," one official said. "We are afraid that if the depositors continue to withdraw like this, an acute scarcity of cash will hit the commercial banks and even the Central Bank, seriously hampering the cash flow in the banking system." He said the Central Bank was exploring ways to increase confidence in the commercial banks.

Sierra Leone's football team has been formally disqualified from the African Nations Cup qualifiers after forfeiting its game against Guinea in Conakry last month, the Confederation of African Football announced on Monday.

20 March: ECOMOG freed 77 civilians Wednesday who had been detained on suspicion of being rebels or rebel collaborators. "We have not found sufficient evidence to classify them as rebels so we cannot keep them in," an ECOMOG official said. He added that other detainees were being screened as well and "if nothing is found against them, they too will be released."

Three persons who reached Freetown on Friday night after escaping from rebel-held Makeni have told journalists that a lack of food, fuel, medicine, and other essential commodities in the city and surrounding towns is causing serious hardships for residents. According to BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, "A farmer told me that civilians are living like hostages with the junta, because they’re calling the AFRC/RUF movement up in Makeni "junta." For instance, they say whenever the Alpha jet flew past Makeni the rebels tend to use them as human shields. There is a curfew in Makeni which starts at about 15:00 hours (3:00 p.m.). And at the sound of every Alpha jet, civilians are just removed from their houses and used, as I said earlier on, as human shields." The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted one witness as saying electricity had been cut off since the rebels entered the city on December 23. He added that corpses lay strewn on many main roads. Another witness said: "The rebels are everywhere, moving around with curved Chinese daggers. They are holding the residents hostage...the rebels have even set their own curfew hours from 3:00 p.m. till daybreak and people found in the streets are summarily executed. They also drag people, particularly girls as young as seven, from their homes at night to gang rape them." According to the AFP,  the three related that rebel forces were conducting large-scale military training of conscripted teenagers at Magburaka and Mile 91. As reported by Ojukutu-Macaulay: "What they’re saying is that the rebels, when they took over Makeni back in December, they took over Teko (barracks) as well. And Teko is the second largest military barracks in the country. And as a result they’ve been using that particular barracks to train captured civilians and also some of the rebels they came with when they came to Freetown in January." Ojukutu-Macaulay acknowledged he had no independent confirmation of the scale of atrocities at Makeni, but he said the witnesses' story was consistent with reports by others who had reached Freetown from Makeni since the end of February.

The Belgian government has suspended the deportation of Sierra Leonean nationals to Guinea following criticism two weeks ago by human rights groups. The Belgian foreign ministry said refugees who had arrived directly from Sierra Leone had already benefited from a special measure. "We are now extending the measure to persons who arrived in Belgium via Guinea. As a result, these people can expect their departure to be postponed," a foreign ministry statement said. Applicants must be genuine Sierra Leoneans, and have to sign a statement of voluntary departure. The measure is for a limited period, and will end when the situation in Sierra Leone improves, or when conditions for Sierra Leonean refugees improve in Guinea.

19 March: 70 people died Wednesday when their boat, bound for eastern Sierra Leone, capsized in a storm. The accident took place near the village of Kega, according to Patrick Kamokai, who heads the port agency. The boat was loaded with passengers attempting to reach Bo, which has been cut off from Freetown by the fighting. "I believe our boat would have resisted the storm, but because the boat was overloaded it capsized and sank," said crew member Alimamy Sumba, one of the three survivors.

A cargo ship chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP) and loaded with 1,100 metric tons of food docked in Freetown on Friday, the first time since fighting broke out in January that the WFP has been able to make use of the port in Freetown. The vessel is carrying 500 tons of WFP food destined for tens of thousands of persons affected by the fighting, and 600 tons of rice donated by Italy to the government of Sierra Leone. "This shipment will enable us replenish our food stocks and respond to the needs of the displaced people living in makeshift camps all over the capital," said Paul Arès, WFP Regional Manager for coastal West Africa. "We are very anxious to see if relief food can also be moved up-country." WFP warehouses in Freetown were looted of 2,300 tons of food in January. Stores at up-country locations such as Bo and Kenema are dwindling as needs continue to rise. "Despite the looting of our food aid, WFP and other aid agencies managed to feed thousands of needy people using existing relief supplies stocks," Arès said.

ECOMOG has captured a former Ghanaian army officer, James Owoo, accused of plotting to overthrow President Jerry Rawlings in 1994, Ghanaian officials said on Friday. They suspect that Owoo was working as a mercenary for Sierra Leone's rebels. Owoo is being flown back to Ghana for trial, where he is expected to face the death penalty, the BBC reported. Last month, four civilians accused of conspiring with him were sentenced to death for treason.

Outgoing ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi has accused Liberia, Burkina Faso, and Libya of supporting Sierra Leone's rebels, and of attempting to destabilise the region. "As long as President Charles Taylor is in power in neighbouring Liberia the Sierra Leone crisis will never come to an end,'' SLBS (state radio) quoted him as saying in farewell comments to President Kabbah on Thursday. "Sierra Leone is just the starting point. They have their plan to destabilise the entire region from Sierra Leone, then neighbouring Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria,'' Shelpidi said. He added that although he was encouraged by regional mediation efforts, he doubted whether involving RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh or RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie in the talks would guarantee peace. "The problem with Sierra Leone is not Foday Sankoh or Sam Bockarie but the link from Libya, Burkina Faso, to Liberia,'' he said.

Five Sierra Leoneans are among 89 illegal immigrants detained by Cypriot authorities when their boat was found adrift late Thursday. "We have them on a vessel in the port. They have been fed and now we are waiting to see what happens," a police spokesman said. The immigrants are being held at a detention center in Cyprus. The boat set out from the Lebanese port of Tripoli, according to the passengers, and the Cypriot government has contacted the Lebanese Embassy in Nicosia about repatriating the group. Authorities said they wanted to prevent the boat from landing on Cyprus, but were forced to lead it to a port when it got caught up in rough seas.

The Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) said Friday it as yet had no independent confirmation of ECOMOG claims to have recaptured Kambia, but did confirm the capture of Lunsar. The Guinean government has reinforced its troop strength along the Sierra Leone border, officially as a precautionary measure to prevent armed incursions into Guinea, MISNA said. The news agency added that there had been many arbitrary arrests of Sierra Leonean refugees by the soldiers, often with the intent of extorting money.

18 March: Guinean ECOMOG troops repelled a rebel attack on Kambia earlier this week, ECOMOG officials said on Thursday. The officials said rebels entered the nearby Guinean border town of Pamalap on Monday and fired a volley of shots, causing residents to flee. The Guineans "opened up with heavy bombardment, scattering the rebels," one official said. ECOMOG said its troops were now "firmly" in control of Kambia, countering a claim by RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, who said earlier in the week his rebel forces controlled the town.

Port operations in Freetown have resumed, Port Director Abdul Barri told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said two container vessels, the CMBT Echo and the Tomson Guard, were berthed at the main port on Thursday with cargoes of food and textiles. Another container ship, the Steven Sea, arrived earlier this week with 3,000 tons of flour.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, said Thursday there "may be a glimmer of hope" for Sierra Leone. She said her optimism was based on the apparently growing number of abducted children who had been released by the rebels. Bellamy called for the release of more children, and expressed the hope that more areas of Sierra Leone would be made accessible so that humanitarian aid could be delivered. "It may be a pipe dream to believe that peace could be a reality in Sierra Leone, after the unspeakable violence we have seen there," Bellamy said. "But the alternative would be a further descent into anarchy and the worst forms of violence and terror. The children and women of the country deserve an end to the carnage."

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Thursday that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's appeal against his death sentence on treason charges is expected to be heard in two weeks time. He said the appeals process should not interfere with initiatives aimed at bringing about peace talks between the government and the RUF. Berewa said the appeals of former President Joseph Saidu Momoh and former BBC Network Africa presenter Hilton Fyle were  also scheduled to begin shortly. In an interview broadcast over the BBC on Tuesday, Fyle said that he, Momoh, and others were with RUF forces "somewhere in the center of the country." Speaking by satellite telephone, Fyle protested his innocence of treason, but stated he would not give himself up unless he were assured of a fair hearing before an international panel.

Liberia has accused "suspected Kamajor militias" of looting a Korean-owned fishing vessel, the De Sung, on March 12 while it was fishing in Liberian territorial waters in Grand Cape Mount County. According to Liberia's Star News, Liberian defence authorities said two canoe-loads of militiamen commandeered the vessel and took it into Sierra Leonean waters, where they looted the boat and abducted 21 members of the primarily Chinese and Korean crew. Nine members of the crew, mostly Ghanaians and Guineans, later managed to retrieve the vessel and escape to Monrovia, Star News said.

17 March: Talks between the government and the RUF are set to take place in April and will most likely be hosted by Togo, a senior aide to President Kabbah said on Wednesday. The negotiations are to begin after RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has a chance to meet with his battlefield commanders, either in Togo or in Ivory Coast. "The jailed RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh over the weekend instructed his military commander Sam Bockarie to set up a team which will leave Sierra Leone for a third country in a week or two, where they will meet him to discuss and harmonise their position for forthcoming negotiations with the government," the aide said. "We are likely to begin meeting the rebels for peace talks in the first week of April or in the second week. The venue is almost settled now. It will most probably be Lomé, the Togolese capital...One of the main problems left is for the RUF delegation to meet with their leader and sort out their act to be able to negotiate realistically. The rebels will be meeting either in Lomé or in Abidjan before the negotiations start."

OAU Chairman and President of Burkina Faso Blaise Compaore announced Wednesday that he has called off a proposed extraordinary summit on African conflicts scheduled for March 30-31 because he was unable to obtain a quorum. "Consultations undertaken thus far have not resulted in the quorum necessary for the holding of an emergency summit," he said in a brief statement broadcast over Burkinabe state radio. He urged parties to conflicts in Africa to settle their differences through dialogue. "In spite of numerous African mediation initiatives and the initiatives of the international community, the results obtained have been limited," he said. Also Wednesday, the Angolan government called on OAU member states to boycott the proposed summit because UNITA rebel leader Jonas Savimbi has been invited. "It is more than a little ridiculous to pretend that such a figure should participate in an OAU summit," the government said. "(We) call on OAU member states to oppose the holding of the summit, which...will only heighten the difficulty of reaching a peace in Angola." Compaore had indicated last week that rebel movements would be invited to attend the summit which was intended deal with conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, as well as the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army are calling for a general amnesty and reinstatement of the army as price of ending their armed struggle against the government, a "high-level security source" told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday. "They want the government to give them back their quarters in the various barracks they had occupied before the May 25, 1997 coup and for government to declare a blanket amnesty that will prevent any future legal prosecution against them," the source said. He added the fighters also expressed their "willingness to stop fighting in the interest of peace and stability in the country." 

The Minister of Mineral Resources, Mohamed Swarray Deen, issued a press statement Tuesday clarifying "certain issues related to Kimberlite mining in the Tongo Fields," quoted by a government news release issued on Wednesday. A concession was granted to Rex Diamond Mining Company in 1994 to mine diamonds at Tongofield, and the company's lease is still current, the statement said, adding that it was therefore not true Branch Energy had been granted a license to mine in the same area. Reuters reported Monday that Branch Energy had been issued concessions to conduct underground mining operations in Kono District and at Tongofield. Branch Energy, the statement said, is expected to start diamond mining operations in Koidu "when security is fully restored to the country." Both Kono District and the Tongo area remain areas of substantial rebel activity.

16 March: Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Tuesday that RUF leader Foday Sankoh's appeal against his death sentence for treason would go ahead despite indications that he might be released. "We have put all the legal records in place for Corporal Foday Sankoh's appeal to start within two weeks," Berewa said. "When and after the process of law has prevailed, then any further action to pardon Sankoh can take place." The Sierra Leone government has maintained that Sierra Leone's constitution prevents President Kabbah from granting clemency to any person until the appeals process has been exhausted and the case has been examined by a Prerogative of Mercy Committee.

Fighting continued around the town of Kambia on Tuesday, according to military sources and travellers from the area. ECOMOG said Guinean troops were in control of Kambia, but witnesses reported that rebel forces held large parts of the town. "The rebels attacked Kambia yesterday and Guinean ECOMOG troops holding the town engaged them in heavy fighting yesterday and today," an ECOMOG officer told reporters. Travellers and aid workers said Guinean troops had engaged rebels who attacked the town of Pamalap, just inside the Guinea border, and pushed them back toward Kambia. Aid workers said the rebels had suffered heavy losses at Kambia, and that many bodies lay on the outskirts of the town.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Tuesday that he had ordered his men to cease all communication with the Sierra Leone government. He said the measure was aimed at pressuring President Kabbah to keep his promise to allow RUF officials to meet with their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh. "I have given orders to cease all communication with the enemy," Bockarie said. "I am not going to encourage them to play games with us." Bockarie said concrete measures should be taken immediately to allow Sankoh to hold a face-to-face meeting with his followers, adding that for the meeting to take place the United Nations Security Council would have to lift the international travel ban imposed on former junta members. Bockarie said he had twice been in contact with Sankoh by field radio, and said he told the RUF leader that he would not agree to a cease-fire until a meeting was arranged between the two of them. He said the RUF wanted to verify that Sankoh had not been under physical and psychological duress while in prison.

Former BBC Network Africa presenter Hilton Fyle, who was sentenced to death last year on treason charges for operating a pro-junta radio station during the period of AFRC/RUF rule, told the BBC Monday that he had escaped "into the hinterlands" of Sierra Leone after being freed from prison by the RUF in January. "I saw the soldiers were trying to move away from my area so I just followed the soldiers because I was really afraid to go into anybody else’s hands," he said. "I didn’t want to go into the hands of the Kamajors, or ECOMOG, or the government, because they had put me in jail and condemned me to death. I didn’t think that was a wise thing to do." Fyle said he was in the care of the RUF  "somewhere in the center of the country, far away from Freetown," along with former President Joseph Momoh, the AFRC's Secretary of State for Development and Economic Planning, Victor Brandon; former APC parliamentarian Victor Foh; the AFRC's Secretary of State for Transport and Communications, Osho Williams, and others. He denied that he or "most of the people I'm with" had committed treason or had been involved in overthrowing the government, but maintained he would not give himself up unless he were granted a fair hearing by an international panel. "Otherwise, I would ask the government of President Tejan Kabbah, in this climate where peace is I believe genuinely being pursued by himself, his government and, as I believe, the RUF and the People’s Army, to really sit down and think again about these treason trials, about these detentions, and say that this is not the time for this climate of things to happen," he said. "Revenge, which is what I believe we’ve been subjected to, is not the medicine that will solve the crisis in Sierra Leone."

U.S. President Bill Clinton met with 46 African ministers and ambassadors on Tuesday and promised his administration would work with African nations to end armed conflicts on the continent. "In Sierra Leone we're doing what we can to reduce suffering and forge a lasting peace," he said. "We have provided $75 million in humanitarian assistance over the last 18 months. And with the approval of Congress we will triple our longstanding commitment of support for ECOMOG to conduct regional peacekeeping."

Two of the girls released from rebel captivity last week were raped by their captors and are now pregnant, according to the head of the Child Rights Violation Monitoring Network for the Sierra Leone Council of Churches, Helen Bash-Taqi. Bash-Taqi told the Voice of America that she had interviewed and counseled 40 or so of the children who were freed in the past two weeks. She said getting information about the children's ordeal was difficult because of the social stigma attached to subjects of rape and abuse. "It is difficult for them to talk about this experience, because this is something that is not accepted in our society," she said. "There is so much nightmare attached to rape that people don't want to talk about it, especially with the stigma attached. People don't want to talk about it." Bash-Taqi said that in addition to helping rape victims, counselors will look into allegations that some of the older boys may have been used as fighters.

15 March: Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo said Monday that Nigerian ECOMOG troops would remain in Sierra Leone until peace was restored, but he warned that they could not stay there indefinitely. "We will not abandon Sierra Leone without ensuring there is peace and stability there," he said during a trip to Kenya. "We in Nigeria accept that no matter how we got there, we are in Sierra Leone and we will not abandon Sierra Leone without ensuring that there is peace and security," he said. "So if the rebels think that once there is no more military regime in Nigeria, Nigeria will withdraw Nigerian troops and they can overrun, they are making a big mistake. I made that point very clear to them but I also made it very clear that we will not allow any intransigence on any part. Of course, Nigerian troops cannot remain indefinitely in Sierra Leone. We must work out ways in which Nigerian troops can be brought home and peace and security can reign supreme in Sierra Leone." Obasanjo said he was already engaged in talks with leaders of other ECOWAS states on ways to end Sierra Leone's civil war, but added that any military solution must be accompanied by political reconciliation. ECOMOG's task had been complicated by divisions within ECOWAS between Anglophone and Francophone states, Obasanjo said. "The problem now is that ECOMOG — good as it may look and sound — is seen particularly by our Francophone brothers as a Nigeria creation, a Nigerian oppression, a Nigerian manipulation, a Nigerian issue with a sprinkle of Ghanaian effort. If ECOMOG will really be effective, it must be ECOMOG in name, in character, in operation, and in perception — and I believe It can be done."

Barclays Bank reopened in Freetown Monday, but bank managers said access to funds would be limited to enable as many depositors as possible to make withdrawals. "The reopening of Barclays is a major boost to the economy as many of the companies in Freetown and the rest of the country deposit there," a Central Bank official said. "They have been unable to rebuild shops and businesses the rebels burnt down because the bank was shut." Hundreds of customers stood in line in waiting for the bank to open for the first time since rebels attacked Freetown on January 6. Only the bank's headquarters on Siaka Stevens Street has reopened; the other branch operating in Freetown until January suffered extensive damage during the fighting. Standard Chartered bank has not yet announced when it might reopen, but the Central Bank official said they had received assurances the bank will likely open next week.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh called himself Monday "a prisoner of peace", and said that since he signed the Abidjan Accord in November 1996 he no longer saw himself as a rebel leader. "I have no alternative but to continue my struggle, but not militarily, it is politically, (the) political option now," he said in a BBC Network Africa interview. "I have decided since '96 that I am going to drop the arms and going with the political. I am going to struggle politically. In fact, I am no more a rebel leader since '96, (I am) recognised as a political leader because I signed a peace accord with President Kabbah, and the people of Sierra Leone were happy. Something went wrong because people outside try to interfere, don't want Sankoh to transform his movement into a political movement." Sankoh also stressed his religious convictions: "I have been a man of God since before the war, during the war, and even now. ...Mind you, I spent almost five, six years in Pademba Road, early '70, '71 to '76. Look, the war in Sierra Leone is not Sankoh's war. It's God's war, it is a holy war. People don't know. That is why you can fight. I don't believe in the gun, I believe in God. My men know that. Even when I was in my forest headquarters, I think, I did a lot of praying. So, I am a man of God, not because I am in prison, mind you." In response to a question on atrocities committed by his RUF followers, Sankoh expressed regret, but added: "These atrocities, there is no war that you cannot get atrocities...People have to think about it and although I am not happy, I can say I am sorry about the way people are suffering. I am a human being, and I think...But you people are making things to be big and people say, 'oh, so, so.' The only thing, that is all, we have to prevent war. Prevention, I think, is the first weapon in any country."

The ECOMOG force has recaptured Lunsar and is continuing to advance east along the Freetown-Makeni highway, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Monday. The rural areas surrounding Lunsar are said to remain under rebel control.

ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade, in a BBC Network Africa interview Monday, downplayed reports of fighting between ECOMOG and rebel forces at Kambia. "At about 10:00 a.m. this morning, some civilian collaborators with the rebels entered the town, and since then they have been engaging the ECOMOG soldiers there in some fighting," he said. "We know they are not many. They are in groups of about ten with a few weapons, and the ECOMOG soldiers are trying to contain them in Kambia." Olukulade said the military action was being carried out by Guinean ECOMOG troops, but he declined to confirm reports that Guinea was sending reinforcements to the area. "I know that all along we have ECOMOG Guinean soldiers who have always operated with ECOMOG," he said. "So, if there is a new development from the Guinean end, I think the appropriate place you consult is the Guinean defense authority...Of course, they have the right to protect their territorial integrity; and like I said, the right place for you to confirm that story would be with the Guinean defense authorities."

80 officer cadets recruited for Sierra Leone's new military left Freetown for Nigeria on Monday for basic infantry training, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). A total of 500 officer cadets are to be trained in Nigeria for Sierra Leone's planned 5,000-strong military force. Some 200 soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army have been absorbed into the new military, defence sources said.

John L Siaffa has been named to supervise operations of the Immigration Department, replacing former Principal Immigration Officer Solomon Dominic Musa. Musa was arrested in Hong Kong earlier this month and charged with selling three Sierra Leonean diplomatic passports for $540,000. Siaffa currently holds the position of Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Administration.

The Sierra Leone government has granted concessions to Branch Energy to mine diamonds underground in Kono District and at Tongofield, Reuters reported on Monday. Both areas remain under substantial rebel control. Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen said on Sunday that this would mark the first time diamonds had been mined underground since diamond mining began in Sierra Leone in 1931. "Experts from the Branch Energy head office in London are very satisfied with the results of the laboratory tests from samples of the Kimberlite deposits in the Kono and Tongofield fields," Deen said. "Very soon Kono and Tongofield will resume production of diamonds." He declined to give details of the contract. Branch Energy signed a prospecting agreement with the former NPRC military government in 1995. As part of the deal, the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes provided training and military assistance to the Sierra Leone Army in helping to fight the RUF.

14 March: President Kabbah said Sunday he had received assurances of support for his government during his visits last week to Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. "While recognizing political realities and financial constraints in dealing with the conflict in Sierra Leone, they will not prematurely withdraw their support for the survival of this nation, and for the stability of the West African sub-region," Kabbah said in a nationwide broadcast. He added that since he last addressed the nation two weeks ago, he had received additional commitments of bilateral assistance "which will greatly enhance our capacity to implement our Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, and our effort to build a new national army." Kabbah noted increasing international support for his government’s "two-track approach" of military force and dialogue in attempting to resolve the Sierra Leone conflict, but warned: "Those who continue to frustrate our efforts as well as our commitment to dialogue, by attacking our towns and villages, and by creating new stumbling blocks in the way of peace, should never underestimate our determination to vigorously maintain this two-track approach." Kabbah took note of the decision by "the rebels and their allies" to respond to his appeal to release thousands of abducted children. "Since they have only released a small number, I would like to renew my appeal for the release of all them to us through UNICEF and other agencies that care for children," he said.

13 March: Guinea has launched a major counter-attack, including air strikes, against rebel forces in Kambia District, fleeing residents said on Saturday. Diplomats in Conakry said Guinea had sent thousands of soldiers to the area to drive the rebels back from the border. According to Reuters, rebel forces seized Mambolo on Thursday and Kasirie on Friday from Guinean ECOMOG troops, after having captured Rokupr earlier in the week. [The NINJAS Sierra Leone News Copy reported that the towns fell to the rebels during the first week in March.] One witness told Reuters the rebels captured the town of Gbalamuya, "the last trading and customs post in Sierra Leone," from the Guineans on Friday. Aid workers reported that thousands of Sierra Leoneans had fled across the border to escape the fighting. West African diplomats in Conakry said Guinea was concerned about cross-border raids into its territory, while Guinean state radio said Friday that security forces found it hard to tell rebels from the refugees. "Yesterday, shells from the fighting just inside Sierra Leone were landing in Pamalap," one aid worker said, adding that the fighting, while not as heavy as on Friday, was continuing earlier on Saturday. "Thousands of Guineans and Sierra Leonean refugees who fled to Pamalap to escape earlier fighting have fled further into Guinea," the aid worker said. The fighting has forced aid agencies to withdraw from Pamalap. ECOMOG commanders in Freetown said the Guineans had recaptured Kambia, but travellers reaching Freetown on Saturday reported that fighting for Kambia and surrounding villages was continuing.

President Kabbah repeated on Saturday that he would free RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh if doing so would bring peace to Sierra Leone. "If the release of Foday Sankoh has to be the price that Sierra Leoneans will have to pay to bring about sustainable peace to our country, then clearly I'll have to use my authority in the constitution to bring about peace and stability to our country," Kabbah told Radio France International. Kabbah said Sankoh was in the process of communicating with RUF commanders. "They're going through preliminary processes of discussion as I shall wait for his advice as to when he is ready to go and meet his people," Kabbah said. "I expect that will happen soon. But I do not want to decide for him. My own rule will be to facilitate the process. I have not been present in Mr. Sankoh's contacts with the RUF, so it would be difficult for me to say, to name the people that he has been talking to. I was told yesterday that (RUF commander) Sam Bockarie is having problems contacting Sankoh, and I yesterday gave instructions that they should try and make available a satellite telephone to him so that he can contact Sam Bockarie and others. If he has not done so yet, maybe it's a problem of difficulty of getting Sam Bockarie's satellite number, it's not because of the denial of access. No no, we are ready to let him have access to them, no problem."

12 March: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh spoke to the BBC Friday for the first time since shortly after his detention in Nigeria in March 1997, and quickly denied reports that he had ordered RUF commanders to observe a cease-fire. "I have not declared any ceasefire. No, no, no. That is wrong," he said. "We are working out modalities for us to declare a cease-fire." Sankoh said he had discussed the (Abidjan) peace accord with his supporters. "We have to talk with President Kabbah’s government. We just have to negotiate. That is the only way. A military option will never succeed in Sierra Leone," he said. "Presently I’m talking with President Kabbah. There’s nothing wrong about that. President Kabbah is not the problem. President Kabbah is not the problem. People around him (are) trying to destroy the RUF." Responding to a question on how far away the two were to concluding an agreement, he replied: "Very soon you will hear something." Sankoh described his health as "all right," adding: "You know, when you’re under confinement you don’t expect to be all, all right, because you’re always under lockup." He denied rumours that he was being given drugs for the treatment of depression. "Oh no, no, the only thing when I’m treated by my doctor because of my — I have high blood pressure and I always take some tabs. I think that is all." Sankoh said he was anxious to meet with his followers, but insisted the meeting should take place outside of Sierra Leone in a neutral West African country, "minus Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea, because they are totally involved." He argued that such a meeting was necessary before any peace agreement could be concluded. "When the leader is not there in any organisation you have a problem. So the men they are right — they have to see me and — there is nobody to stop me not to see my men, not to have access to my movement! No! I have to go home and meet them! And then we can work out things." Sankoh said that as long as he was in detention, RUF commanders would reject any order for a cease-fire. "No, no, no — As long as I’m in prison, no, they will never obey any ceasefire. I’ve told the president about that. Not even face to face. If today they heard that I’m released, I’m free, I’m a free man, I can go anywhere and declare a cease-fire. They will answer, they will stop fighting."

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said a meeting between Corporal Foday Sankoh and RUF commanders should take place "in the jungle." In an interview with Radio France International, he dismissed Sankoh's reported call for a cease-fire earlier in the week. "We need to meet Foday Sankoh on neutral ground, to talk with him, to see him physically and to make sure he is in good health," Bockarie said. "He needs to be given the possibility to see his troops in the jungle where he left them ... if President Kabbah wants peace, this is the only solution."

RUF representatives held talks with Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema Friday on ways to move the peace process forward, according to RUF legal representative Omrie Golley. He said the talks would continue on Saturday. He said the purpose of the talks was "to reaffirm our commitment to the peace process and to try to formulate a strategy on how best to move forward" and would cover "the conditions and the terms under which Sankoh would come and how we would move forward from there." Both the government and the RUF have named Togo as a country acceptable as a venue for imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to hold preliminary talks with his followers. On Monday, President Kabbah visited Togo and asked Eyadema to mediate in Sierra Leone's civil war. Eyadema is the current chairman of ECOWAS.

President Kabbah repeated Friday that he was prepared to pardon RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh if doing so would advance the peace process in Sierra Leone. "If his release is the price to pay for peace and stability in our country then I am ready to do it," Kabbah said following a one day trip to Abidjan for talks with Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedie. Kabbah confirmed that Sankoh would be allowed to meet with his followers in the near future. "They are going to meet soon and I'll do everything possible to facilitate that meeting," he said. Ivorian officials said Kabbah's visit was an attempt to revive the Abidjan Peace Accord, signed in November 1996. Ivorian Foreign Minister Amara Essy said Ivory Coast supported regional efforts to hold new talks between Kabbah and Sankoh, possibly in Togo.

Several thousands Sierra Leonean refugees have moved into refugee camps in Forecariah, Guinea after rebels attacked the Guinean town of Pamalap on Monday, killing several people including a refugee, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman said on Friday. The cross-border attack has raised UNHCR concerns that many more refugees might flee to Guinea, a UNHCR briefing statement said. The UNHCR has registered nearly 4,000 new Sierra Leonean refugees since Monday, and Guineans forced to flee their homes have also moved into the camps. The camps at Forecariah sheltered some 51,000 persons before the latest attack. An equal number of people are reportedly living in extremely difficult conditions in Kambia, the statement said.

The Sierra Leone government on Friday handed over twenty bags of rice and two of salt to rebel forces, along with other food products and medicine, as a gesture of good will, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Friday. In return, the rebels freed 21 more children they had abducted and, according to Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi, "also promised that they will soon liberate the three missionaries still held hostage." The meeting between rebel leaders and a delegation which included representatives from the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), ECOMOG, and the Inter-Religious Council took place Friday on the main highway to Newton (MISNA described the venue as "near Waterloo.") "The rebel commanders ran up white flags on each side of the road as they accompanied the abductees," a UNOMSIL official said. UNOMSIL observers said 23 hostages had been released in all, including 20 children aged 5 to 17 and a woman with a month-old baby. UNOMSIL Chief Military Observer Brigadier-General Subash Joshi told the rebels: "We are all working for peace in Sierra Leone. I urge you to come forward and take advantage of the amnesty already granted you by President Kabbah." In response, rebel commanders were quoted as saying: "We are totally for peace. We will report the development to Colonel Sam Bockarie and other commanders that we have reached understanding in the confidence-building process between our parties." [Bockarie, who is reportedly third in the RUF hierarchy, now holds the RUF rank of brigadier.] Inter-Religious Council head Alimamy Koroma subsequently told Reuters: "We all sat on the ground and discussed the way forward for an everlasting peace in Sierra Leone." The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the two sides held "informal discussions" while other rebels watched from a distance. Following talks, rebel leaders were interviewed by MISNA Director Father Giulio Albanese and an Italian television crew. "The rebels asked us to pass in their territory," Albanese said. "The meeting lasted about 15 minutes, during which we were able to get a fairly good idea of their living conditions... Among other declarations the rebels made a commitment not to mutilate any more civilians — acts that they said now belong to the past."

11 March: Nigeria has replaced Major-General Timothy Shelpidi as commander of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, according to Nigeria's Acting Director of Defence Information, Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella. Major-General Felix Mujakperuo will assume the position of ECOMOG commander, Tella said Thursday, while Shelpidi will return to Defence Headquarters. Mujakperuo previously commanded Nigeria's 2nd Mechanised Division, based in the Nigerian city of Ibadan. Also being recalled are former ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abubakar Ahmadu, who was named ECOMOG Chief of Staff in February, and Brigadier-General Gabriel Kpamba, who currently commands the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG troops. Ahmadu will be replaced by Brigadier-General John Onu. Tella described the changes as routine military redeployments. "It's a normal military posting," he said.

RUF legal advisor Omrie Golley said Thursday rebel commanders feared RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh may have been given drugs. "There are persistent rumours that he has been given anti-depressant drugs. The commanders are extremely concerned," he said. "If these allegations are true, then the government is playing a very, very dangerous game and it can only jeopardise the peace process." In a separate interview, Golley said the RUF saw this "as an attempt to destabilise (Sankoh) and the RUF." He told the AFP that the reports alleging Sankoh was being given anti-depressants came from the NINJAS, a clandestine group of Sierra Leoneans journalists. "We are trying to confirm these reports," he said. Golley again expressed reservations about efforts by the Inter-Religious Council to broker a peace agreement in Sierra Leone. "We are very skeptical about the attention being given to these meetings with religious leaders and journalists because some of the information being released is false," he said.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to extend the term of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) for an additional three month period. The Security Council resolution called on U.N. member states to provide financial and logistical support, both to the ECOMOG force and for the creation of a new army to defend Sierra Leone once stability has been achieved and the ECOMOG force withdraws. The Council welcomed a report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday which said UNOMSIL members would be returning to Sierra Leone in the near future. United Nations personnel were withdrawn to Guinea in January following the rebel attack on Freetown. Council members also expressed "grave concern" at continued reports accusing Liberia of providing arms and mercenaries to support rebel forces, but noted that the Liberian government had promised to try to prevent its nationals from intervening in the Sierra Leone conflict. The Council condemned continued rebel atrocities, and called on both sides to respect human rights norms and humanitarian law.

President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, the current OAU chairman, said Thursday that rebel groups will be invited to attend an extraordinary OAU summit meeting on African conflicts to be in Ouagadougou March 30-31. "All the interested parties in these conflicts, including rebels, will be represented at the summit," he told journalists during a two day visit to Denmark. "I am hopeful progress will be made. If we can stop the fighting in African nations and engage in dialogue over basic problems, we can find solutions...It is becoming increasingly clear, notably in the Congo, that there is no military solution, the only option is dialogue." Compaore ruled out interference by external powers, and said the integrity of post-colonial borders must be respected.

Barclays Bank will reopen in Freetown on March 15, a senior Barclays manager and Central Bank officials said on Thursday. The bank, which accounts for about 50 percent of all deposits in Sierra Leone, has been closed since the January 6 rebel attack on Freetown. "The management of Barclays bank yesterday officially instructed Barclays Bank Sierra Leone from the head office in London to reopen to the public next week, Monday, March 15," the bank manager said. "It was not easy for Barclays head office to reopen their bank here," a Central Bank official noted. "The Sierra Leone government has been pleading with them to reopen since the end of February, but they refused, saying the rebels were still around the Freetown area." Standard Chartered bank, which holds about 25 percent of Sierra Leonean deposits, is engaged in talks with the Finance Ministry and Central Bank, but has thus far given no indication as to when it will reopen, a Central Bank official said.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine met in Abidjan Thursday and pledged that the two countries would cooperate in Africa, ending three centuries of rivalry on the continent. "Let us be frank. Britain and France have not always been the closest of partners in Africa. In the last century, we regarded each other as rivals," said Cook. "It is on the foundation of our past history that we can build a future partnership in Africa...It must be an open partnership. We need to be transparent with our friends in Africa. That can be the only basis for a partnership of trust." "That this event takes place in Africa is symbolic," Vedrine said, adding that the idea of carving the world up into spheres of influence had lasted longer in Africa than elsewhere. "All that is now well and truly finished," he said. "We are at the start of something that could be exemplary." Cook told journalists the British government believed a combination of military pressure on the rebels and peace talks held out the best hope for ending the Sierra Leone conflict. "I am clear that what is required for success in Sierra Leone is the dual strategy of maintaining firm military pressure on the rebels but at the same time offering negotiations for reconciliation," Cook told reporters. "Those two tracks working together give us the best prospect of trying to achieve at an early date what the people of Sierra Leone desperately need, which is an end to violence, an end to the conflict and an opportunity to rebuild their shattered country." Cook said he and Vedrine had held "a very full discussion" on Sierra Leone during their flight to Abidjan from Accra. "We have agreed that our officials should follow up and see how we can work together," he said.

10 March: RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie told the Associated Press Wednesday he will ignore RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's call for a cease-fire, saying he believed Sankoh's statement was coerced. Bockarie instead threatened to launch an all-out offensive against government forces. "We are ready to fight," he declared.

President Kabbah has returned to Freetown after a three day trip to Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana, SLBS (state radio) reported on Wednesday. In Accra, Kabbah told journalists Wednesday that he would be willing to release RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh in order to advance the peace process in Sierra Leone. "If I have to use my clemency to release Sankoh in order to bring a lasting solution to my country, I will do that," he said, adding that since Sankoh had appealed his death sentence on treason charges the process should be left in the hands of the courts. Kabbah said there were hopeful signs for the peace process in Sierra Leone. "I have had assurances from rebel leader Sankoh and his members that they are prepared for serious dialog," he said. The Accra Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Ghana's state radio, quoted Kabbah as saying there was some measure of trust between himself and Sankoh which needed to be nurtured. "He said he is returning home to share with Foday Sankoh discussions held so far with the sub-regional presidents, and find out how best they can implement some of the proposals," the radio reported.

Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo said Wednesday Nigerian troops would not be immediately pulled out of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone after he takes office on May 29. "Nobody should be under any illusion that if the administration goes, then automatically Nigerian troops would be withdrawn from Sierra Leone," Obasanjo said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. "I have assured President Kabbah and also assured the British Foreign Secretary that we will remain loyal and credible in support of Sierra Leone."

Guinean military authorities have decided to move Sierra Leonean refugees away from the Guinea-Sierra Leone border, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. The decision was taken due to the growing insecurity cased by the escalation of rebel attacks in Kambia District, MISNA said. Military authorities called the move precautionary, and said the refugees will continue to benefit from Guinean hospitality.

Standard Times Managing Editor Phillip Neville, who was arrested in Freetown on February 24, was released from detention on Monday, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Neville's arrest followed   publication of an article entitled "Jo Demby's Partner to Kill Kabbah and Jonah," in which he alleged business ties between Demby and an Israeli national, Ya'ir Klein, alias Galklein, who has been detained in Freetown since late January or early February on espionage charges. The newspaper alleged that Klein planned to assassinate President Kabbah and Finance Minister Dr. James O.C. Jonah.

More than 50,000 displaced persons who fled rebel attacks in Kambia District are facing desperate conditions, witnesses told the Agence France-Presse on Wednesday. After fleeing violence in Makeni, Magburaka, Binkolo, Kamakwie, and Kono District, the people have set up makeshift camps along the Guinea border where they are suffering from rampant malnutrition, dysentery, and malaria, a local radio journalist reported. Five to ten people are said to be dying every day and a cholera outbreak is feared. "The condition of the displaced is appalling and no shelter has been provided," said the journalist, who described the area as a "no-man's land." Camp leaders Steven Koroma and Tamba Musa said the displaced were living on wild fruits gathered in the bush. Guinea has increased its military presence along the border, but is allowing refugees to cross to refugee camps near Forecariah.

A cargo ship loaded with 1,790 tons of rice donated by Italy is due to dock in Freetown on Saturday. The Italian Ambassador to Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, Luigi Costa Sanseverino, will travel to Freetown in the next few days to take care of the necessary procedures for consignment of the cargo, the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. The arrival of the food aid was delayed by a month due to the security situation in Freetown. During that period, the rice was temporarily deposited with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Guinea.

The government warned Wednesday that a ban on internal boat trips, imposed during the battle for Freetown, is still in force. "The ban on boat travel in the country is still in place and has not been lifted," state radio announced. The statement followed the capsizing of a pam-pam (motorised canoe) off the coast of the Freetown peninsula near Banana Island on Saturday, in which as many as 200 people drowned. The boat was said to be heading for Gbangbantoke.

More than 50 suspected rebels have been rounded up at various locations in Freetown, including two displaced camps, security officials said on Wednesday. The arrests came during a cordon-and-search operation conducted on Sunday by police and ECOMOG troops. 10 rebel suspects were at the Bailor Barrie displacement camp in eastern Freetown, while 19 were arrested in the central part of the capital. 32 rebel suspects were also detained at the National Stadium, home to some 35,000 displaced persons who lost their homes during fighting in Freetown in January and February. Large areas of Freetown were destroyed by rebel-set fires or ECOMOG bombing raids. Director of Housing Willie Momoh said a total of 2,066 homes were destroyed or burned down by rebels during the fighting. He said the worst-hit areas were Calaba Town, Wellington, and Kissy.

An estimated 300 Liberian refugees in Freetown are being repatriated to Monrovia, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official said. Voluntary repatriation began on Tuesday. The last batch of refugees is expected to leave Freetown aboard a U.N.-chartered vessel on Saturday.

The BBC World Service said Wednesday it is launching a series of programmes on the plight of children killed, maimed, or displaced by wars. The series, produced in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), will include accounts by Sierra Leonean boys who were abducted and branded by the rebels, the announcement said. "The programmes will let children caught up in conflict speak for themselves," British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in a statement. "They will appeal to governments, non-governmental organisations and individuals to look urgently at what must be done to help."

9 March: President Kabbah met Tuesday with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar in Abuja, Nigeria. Cook told journalists Kabbah assured him that his government had started the process of dialogue with rebel fighters in an attempt to bring Sierra Leone's civil conflict to an end. A Foreign Office spokesman said one of Cook's goals had been to persuade the Sierra Leone government to begin a dialogue with the rebels, and noted Britain's assessment that international aid for Sierra Leone could not be open-ended at current levels. Cook also received assurances from Abubakar that Nigeria had not set a date for the withdrawal of its troops from Sierra Leone, and would not pull them out suddenly. Any reduction in troop strength would be a gradual process, tied to the establishment of stability in Sierra Leone. "We do want to see a dual track policy,'' Cook told reporters after his meeting with Abubakar and Kabbah. "We want to see a strong ECOMOG, able to achieve stability in Sierra Leone, but also negotiations and reconciliation with those rebels willing to lay down their arms and reintegrate into society.'' Abubakar said there would be no sudden Nigerian pullout from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. "Nigeria will not wake up on the 30th of May and say 'OK Nigerians will come back home.' There will be a gradual understanding," he said. Earlier, Abubakar's spokesman Mohammed Haruna said Cook had asked Nigeria to keep its troops in Sierra Leone, and pledged financial support. "The British made a plea that we should not pull out our troops from Sierra Leone, and offered financial assistance," Haruna said. "The British want any withdrawal of Nigerian troops to be linked with peace in Sierra Leone, and not to a change of Nigeria's government." President Kabbah also met with Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo. Cook is due to meet Obasanjo on Wednesday.

Cook's statement: "One of the areas in which we do work closely together is on Sierra Leone. I want to salute the immense effort that Nigeria has made to try and restore stability in Sierra Leone and to defeat the rebels. I would pay particular tribute to the casualties that Nigerian troops have suffered during the fighting. It is in both our interests to work for stability in Sierra Leone and no country outside this region has done more on that than Britain. We have already invested 20 million pounds in Sierra Leone, both to help ECOMOG and to help reconstruction, and last week I announced an additional 10 million pounds: half of that will go to support for ECOMOG with trucks, with communication equipment, with tents, to help them succeed in their job of defeating those who would defeat stability in Sierra Leone; and most of the other half will be used to recreate an army for the government of Sierra Leone under civilian control - democratically accountable, a force for stability and security within Sierra Leone. We are strongly committed to doing all we can as a nation, but we are also committed to trying to work throughout the international community, encouraging other countries to follow our lead, and I therefore have been in close discussion with my colleague, (U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright. I am very pleased that the United States administration is now considering similar financial support for ECOMOG. That kind of international effort might match the scale of the problem. We do want to see a dual track approach, we want to see a strong ECOMOG able to achieve stability within Sierra Leone, but also negotiations of a reconciliation with those rebels who are willing to lay down their arms and to be reintegrated into society. We will give our full backing to President Kabbah, and work with President Kabbah in order to achieve those twin goals. Stability in Sierra Leone is a very important goal for us."

President Kabbah flew from Abuja to Accra, Ghana on Tuesday to hold talks with President Jerry Rawlings on Ghanaian efforts to help restore peace in Sierra Leone. Kabbah was met at the airport by Rawlings, some ministers of state, service commanders, and African diplomats, according to Accra Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (state radio). Kabbah told reporters he was on a tour in search of sustainable peace in Sierra Leone. He commended Ghana for its efforts to ensure peace in Sierra Leone, and thanked the Ghanaian government for contributing troops to the ECOMOG force.

Rebel forces attacked the town of Mambolo in Kambia District at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA), which quoted the local paramount chief who escaped to Freetown. No details were available. The attack came only hours after RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh instructed his followers to observe "an immediate cease-fire within 72 hours."

Rebels attacked villages between Kambia and the Guinea border on Monday night, killing a number of civilians and four Guinean ECOMOG soldiers, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Tuesday. The close proximity of the fighting terrified residents and Sierra Leonean refugees in the Guinean town of Panlap, causing a massive exodus from the area, MISNA said.

Rebels holding the town Kambia have burned down city buildings, the town hospital, the Poliomyelitis Rehabilitation Centre, Kolenten Secondary School, and the Xaverian missionary sisters' residence, the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Tuesday. The News Agency quoted residents who had fled the town in the past few days.

At least 100 persons drowned and as many more are missing after an overloaded boat sank Saturday in rough seas off the Freetown peninsula. "We have confirmed more than 100 dead from body counts," an official of the Sierra Leone Boatmen's Association said on Tuesday. "We have rescued about 50 people. Close to another 100 are still missing and now feared dead, as during our search yesterday we only found six passengers alive, but in bad medical condition." The boat was carrying traders to Banana Island, which has become a busy trade center since rebels cut access roads to Freetown. The traders transport drums of petrol to inland towns along the coast, and return with loads of food, primarily palm oil, garri and cassava, to sell in the capital.

The government will soon arm the police force for the first time since independence, Minister of Internal Affairs and Local Administration Charles Margai told senior police officers Tuesday. "You will soon be armed with firearms to protect yourselves from rebels and to help protect the civilian population from rebels," Margai said. His announcement followed a call by police officers meeting at their burned-out barracks on Sunday that the force be armed to enable police to defend themselves and the population. Justice Ministry officials said the government would invoke a provision of the constitution which deals with states of emergency. Rebels have targeted police officers, witnesses say, and police officials estimate that at least 500 of their number were killed during the battle for Freetown in January. Police officers who escaped from rebel-held Lunsar in February said the rebels executed most of the 170-strong police force at the Lunsar football field. Many police have refused to work since the battle for Freetown, demanding that they be armed. Margai told police officials that the force would also get new uniforms and a new barracks.

Six people died of measles in Kenema over the weekend after an outbreak of the disease in displacements camps, health officials said on Tuesday. They said 400 cases of measles had been reported at one camp. A team from the Ministry of Health was set to begin a vaccination campaign Tuesday which will target children aged between six months and twelve years. Meanwhile, three people have died from lassa fever; however, one doctor told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the situation is not considered alarming.

BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay has given further details of a press conference held Monday night by RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Ojukutu-Macaulay said journalists met Sankoh and representatives of the Inter-Religious Council at a location which remained undisclosed for security reasons (other sources identified the venue as either "Camp Lodge" or military headquarters), saying only that it took place "at a specific building somewhere in Freetown." He said journalists, as they entered, heard Sankoh instructing his followers to release all civilians they were holding within 72 hours. "I asked him the question as to what is happening with regards to cease-fire. He said they are now preparing the stage for dialogues and that very soon — in fact he said 'sooner or later' — he will announce a cease-fire. He then went on to say that as his own gesture, he has actually ordered his men to release all civilians within their camps within 72 hours." Sankoh told reporters that he would soon be departing for Lomé, Togo to hold discussions with his men, but Ojukutu-Macaulay said the rebels appeared to be opposed to the idea. "Most of the rebels he spoke to on the radio don’t want Foday Sankoh to go out of the country," he said. "They want Foday Sankoh to meet with them here in Sierra Leone. And Foday Sankoh too has been talking to them, and I think plans have been made for Foday Sankoh to meet with the rebels somewhere in Sierra Leone." In response to a question on Sankoh's mental condition, Ojukutu-Macaulay responded: "Foday Sankoh was — apart from the fact that he looked tired — he was very alert. In fact, at one stage when we asked him questions he sort of threw the questions back at us. And then it got to the point when he started pointing at us, that we are all responsible for what has happened in Sierra Leone and that we cannot continue to be pointing fingers and blaming one man." Late last week, RUF legal Omrie Golley denied that those in contact with the Inter-Religious Council were, in fact, part of the RUF. Ojukutu-Macaulay said that while he could not identify the rebels speaking to Sankoh because they used aliases such as "Junior Lion" and "Five-Five", they appeared to acknowledge Sankoh's authority. "Yes, as we were in fact being ushered into where he was actually talking to the rebels, Foday Sankoh was saying good-bye to the rebels. And at that point I heard the rebels saying, 'We want to hear your voice. We have been longing to hear your voice, and we hope you are well.' And yes, it was the voice of a loyal rebel fading away as Foday Sankoh was saying 'over and out.'"

8 March: President Kabbah said Monday he had asked Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema to mediate Sierra Leone's civil war. He said Eyadema, who is the current ECOWAS chairman, had agreed to the request. "I came to ask the current ECOWAS chairman to mediate and he agreed," Kabbah told journalists in Kara, Togo before leaving for Nigeria. No date was announced for the talks to begin.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has called on his followers to observe "an immediate cease-fire within 72 hours" and, according to the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA), to release all hostages in rebel hands, in particular three Catholic clergymen who were abducted under various circumstances during the past three months. "Where you are positioned at the moment, please observe what I have asked you to do," Sankoh said. "I therefore call on you my commanders anywhere you are in Sierra Leone to immediately release all innocent civilians and religious workers including Catholic priests you have held as hostages." The rebel leader spoke by radio to RUF commanders at 18:30 local time, from a place identified as "Camp Lodge", telling them (transcript translated from Italian): "Enough with atrocities, we need peace...I am a man of peace, a man of God, and my being in prison is a blessing that affirms the right to life for the people of Sierra Leone." Afterwards, at a press conference which lasted into the early hours of Tuesday, Sankoh told journalists: "I am happy to note that the government is seriously committed to peace, particularly President Tejan Kabbah." He said Kabbah had agreed to allow him to meet with RUF battlefield commanders to discuss their strategy for peace negotiations. "I will be leaving soon for Lomé, Togo, to hold discussions with my men, where we will have to come out with our proposal demands for everlasting peace in Sierra Leone," he added. "What we all want is sustainable peace, no monkey tricks. Let me say that Sankoh is not the problem for peace in Sierra Leone." He said one major issue which needed to be discussed was the 1996 Abidjan Accord which, he said, should be renegotiated. Sankoh said he would condemn any of his followers who were guilty of atrocities against civilians, but said "such accusations are being levelled at the RUF by the Kamajors. This is propaganda." After the press conference, Sankoh was flown by ECOMOG helicopter back to the Nigerian warship where he is being detained. Declared Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi, "The path to peace is full of obstacles. We hope that today we began something. We are cautiously optimistic." President Kabbah said in Togo Monday that Sankoh would have to return to detention in Sierra Leone after holding preliminary talks with his fighters. "The law must take its course," he said.

Guinea has reinforced its border with Sierra Leone after the fall of Kambia and cross-border rebel raids on Guinean villages, diplomats and  Guinean ECOMOG officers said on Monday. "The Guinean government is alarmed by the rebel capture of the key Sierra Leone gateway town of Kambia, about ten miles from the Guinean border, and is not taking any security risks with the rebels in Kambia," a West African diplomat said in Conakry. "It has rushed several thousand more troops to join the thousands who were sent there late last year." The Guinean ECOMOG officers said Kambia, along with surrounding towns and villages, was captured by the rebels two weeks ago. ECOMOG withdrew in order to avoid civilian casualties, they said, adding that thousands of civilians had been trapped in Kambia by days of fighting. The officers said rebels had crossed the Guinean border in eastern and northern Sierra Leone last weekend, burning houses in Petehya and nearby villages in Faranah District, killing ten civilians.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said Monday that speculation about a Nigerian pullout from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone was being over-dramatised. "You should know that ECOMOG is in Sierra Leone by virtue of a decision of the Heads of State of ECOWAS, and they can only withdraw with the consent of the ECOWAS countries," Okelo told journalists in New York. "The second point is that the ECOWAS/ECOMOG forces are in Sierra Leone on behalf of the Security Council, and they are discharging that function on behalf of the Council. That theoretically means that if the ECOMOG forces withdraw, the Council will have to find a way of dealing with the problem in Sierra Leone. And thirdly, it should be realized that the necessary provisions are being made by the government for the eventuality of an ECOMOG pullout. The training of a new army, bilateral arrangements between the Government of Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and so forth. So the withdrawal of these forces would not mean that that is the end of everything." Okelo said he had briefed the Security Council on the improving security and military situation in Sierra Leone. "The situation now in Freetown is very much stabilized. The rebel presence has been removed from virtually the entire peninsula, and it is the intention of ECOMOG and the government to pursue this process to the other parts of the country as well," he said. He added that the government, with the backing of the international community, was committed to a "double track" approach: "The pursuit of a military option to stabilize the situation, introduce a measure of stability and protection for the civilian population, and also, on the other hand, to continue with the option of a dialogue. That is, constructive engagement with the RUF in order to resolve, once and for all, the political problem."

British United Nations Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said Monday that Britain had introduced a draft Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) by an additional three months. The extension of UNOMSIL's mission was in line with a recommendation Friday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

7 March: 31 children released by rebel forces on Friday evening were turned over to UNICEF Sunday for counseling, UNICEF officials said. The children, who range in age from 5 to 18, will also receive trauma treatment. Most of the children come from eastern Freetown. Members of the Inter-Religious Council who visited the children on Saturday said UNICEF was offering to attempt to find homes for the children or to return them to their families. "The majority of the children are between 7 and 8 years old," said Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi. "We are very happy for them and their families, and for the significance this gesture will have in the peace process of the country." UNICEF says that more than 2,000 children went missing following the rebel attack on Freetown in January, and estimates that nearly half of that number were abducted by the rebels.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley warned Sunday that the rebels were preparing to launch a general offensive unless the government took quick steps to advance the peace process. "We are now starting to think that the government is not serious about the peace process," Golley told the Agence France-Presse in Abidjan. "Unless the situation changes and the government makes a real effort to deliver on its promises, we will have little alternative but to commence the offensive," he said. Golley said RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie told him RUF fighters "were on an increased state of alert" over the weekend because of events which had stalled or derailed the peace process. "One month after Kabbah made these promises, Sankoh is still in chains. He has still not been released and no meeting between him and his men has been set up," Golley said. He did not elaborate on how long the RUF might wait to launch an attack, but warned the government should act "quickly or face the consequences."

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley accused the government Sunday of attempting to create a "faction of its own favour" among disaffected soldiers claiming to be members of the RUF. Representatives of the Inter-Religious Council said last week that rebels calling themselves the "People's Army" had set out conditions for peace talks. These included giving RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh access to the international media, setting a time and venue for peace talks, and reinstating soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army into the country's new military. The "People's Army" was a name used by the combined AFRC and RUF military forces during junta rule. Golley said the "People's Army" no longer existed. The organisation combining members of the RUF and former junta "is now called the RUF," he said, adding:  "We do not know who this group is. But we know for sure that it does not represent the RUF and the AFRC." Late Friday, the group released 31 children as a token of good will. Golley said the group which released the children had "no ties" to the RUF. "We were not holding any children," he said.

ECOMOG troops are positioned about 12 miles south of Lunsar along the road leading to Makeni, according to the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA).

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Sunday that former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma was now considered deputy head of the RUF. "Mr. Koroma is number two in the hierarchy of the Revolutionary United Front after Foday Sankoh," Golley said, adding that Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, who holds the RUF rank of general, was considered the "third man" in charge. Koroma and Bockarie were together "somewhere in the eastern part of the country," Golley said.

President Kabbah held high-level talks with a three member OAU delegation over the weekend, state radio reported. Assistant OAU Secretary-General Daniel Antonio, who headed the delegation, expressed the OAU's support for the government's decision to hold talks with the rebels. On Monday, President Kabbah is expected to hold talks in Lomé with President Gnassingbe Eyadema, the current ECOWAS chairman.

ECOMOG will carry out artillery tests Monday on the western edge of the Freetown peninsula, in Aberdeen and along Lumley Beach, according to a military statement issued on Sunday. "The enormous sound effects from the heavy bangs and shots in the test firing process will be heard in the city's environs as soon as the exercise commences at about 9:00 a.m. local time," the statement said.

Britain will target its annual $2.4 billion aid budget to back military reform in developing nations, Britain's PA news reported on Sunday. The proposals, to be unveiled by International Development Secretary Clare Short on Tuesday, will emphasise human rights training, improving the accountability of the military to civilian authority, and building up the "peace support capacity" of developing countries. The Department for International Development (DFID) is currently working with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence on measures to reform the military in Sierra Leone. Short, when she addresses the Institute for Defence Studies, will argue that "bloated, secretive, repressive, undemocratic" security forces pose a major impediment to development in many poor nations, PA news said. "For too long, development departments across the world have fought shy of this agenda. If we are serious about poverty reduction and development we can no longer afford to do so," she is expected say. Officials say that unless the military in countries such as Sierra Leone are brought under control, they will likely become "seedbeds for the next round of coups." One official said: "Unless the security sector is made accountable to the civilian authorities, you are probably simply wasting money in building a new road or putting in a bridge." Projects could include reduction of the involvement of children in war, controlling the proliferation of small arms and light weaponry, and discouraging "excessive and inappropriate" military spending.

6 March: Rebels in Sierra Leone have followed through on a pledge to release about 30 children children abducted during the AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Freetown in January. Rebel commanders had promised in radio conversations with representatives of the Inter-Religious Council earlier this week to release the children as a token of good faith. According to BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, 31 children were released late Friday evening at the village of Makol, six miles from Waterloo, after a one mile journey through the forest. Ojukutu-Macaulay said the children, who he described as looking "very unkept, very tired and hungry" had been taken to ECOMOG headquarters for an intelligence and security screening before being handed over to UNICEF. Reuters quoted a spokesman for the children, Mohamed Kanu, as saying the rebels wanted the children's release to demonstrate that they were ready to talk peace. He added that the rebels wanted renegade soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army to be integrated into the new armed forces. "The children said, according to ECOMOG, the rebels told them that their release yesterday evening was to register their commitment to peace and that they await the government gesture. And finally, the last part of the rebels’ message is that they want to be reinstated into the new Sierra Leone army," said Ojukutu-Macaulay. RUF legal representative Omrie Golley said the RUF has denied abducting any children, and contended it was not the RUF who had spoken to religious leaders last week. "Nobody within the whole RUF movement is saying they spoke with the religious council," Golley said. He denied that the integration of former soldiers into the new Sierra Leone military was an RUF demand, and accused President Kabbah of trying to "fractionalise" the RUF. A government spokesman reacted to the release of the children: "We hope to begin the peace talks with the rebels in the shortest possible time, as the rebels seem sincere about wanting to talk peace now."

4,000 Kamajor militiamen are being mobilised in Freetown to join the Civil Defence Forces and ECOMOG troops, according to Charles Harding, President of the Hunters Society. "If the war should be brought to a swift end, we have to throw in our lot with the fighting forces to achieve sustainable peace," Harding said. Meanwhile, Vice President Albert Joe Demby told members of the Sierra Leone Police Force on Friday that the government was "actively considering arming all trained personnel in the force."

Travellers arriving in Freetown from Bo and Kenema told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Saturday of severe suffering in the two cities, and said there were fears many would die if aid did not arrive soon. "The town is completely dry and imported goods are in short supply," said a journalist from Bo. "You hardly see any local food item around. Unripe bananas and green mangoes are all what you see around and even then their prices are high." In Kenema pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children were facing starvation and acute shortages of medical care, the AFP reported. Aid agencies have been forced to suspend operations because their stories have been looted or burned. "Airlifting food and medicines to Kenema would be extremely expensive. As soon as the situation improves, relief and other humanitarian assistance will be rushed not only to Kenema but to Bo as well," an aid agency official in Kenema was quoted as saying.

The Sierra Leone government said Saturday it wanted to stamp out passport fraud, and would treat any cases which arose seriously. The announcement, broadcast over state radio, followed an announcement by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Thursday, which reported that Solomon Dominic Musa, identified by ICAC as Sierra Leone's Principal Immigration Officer, had been charged with accepting a bribe of $540,000 in exchange for three Sierra Leonean diplomatic passports. Musa was one of eight persons arrested in connection with an investigation into an international crime syndicate involved with various serious criminal offences, ICAC said. "The government will consider the matter very serious if it turns out to be true," the Sierra Leone government statement said. "This is the type of conduct that the government of Sierra Leone is desperately trying to weed out from among officials."

5 March: ECOMOG, backed by Kamajor militiamen and loyal soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army, captured the southeastern town of Joru on Monday after a four hour battle, according to witnesses who arrived in Freetown on Friday. The Agence France-Presse quoted one witness as saying that the rebels put up a strong fight but were finally overpowered by ECOMOG artillery and air strikes.

ECOMOG engineers have begun repairing the roads leading from Freetown to Tombo. Residents said rebels had dug large trenches in the road and planted spikes to prevent attack by ECOMOG vehicles. Most rebels have fled the area, and ECOMOG has set up a series of military checkpoints, the Agence France-Presse reported.

A pledge made by AFRC/RUF rebel commanders to release 30 school children abducted during the fighting in Freetown had not been fulfilled by Friday, according to a BBC Focus on Africa report. Representatives of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council said the rebels had offered to release the children within 24 hours as a token of good faith. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay said that while talks between the Council and the rebels were continuing, there had been a "hiccup" regarding imprisoned RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh which had caused the delay. "My understanding from a very authoritative source directly involved with the talks is that the rebels again stated that they respect President Tejan Kabbah and they recognise his presidency," Ojukutu-Macaulay said. "However, for them to believe that Corporal Foday Sankoh is alive and well, the government must let Foday Sankoh have access to both national and international media — to talk to them and, more importantly, to give his blessing to the dialogue between the religious leaders and the rebels." He added that the rebels were "insisting on hearing Sankoh's voice" before they released the children, and were demanding that journalists be present when the children were handed over because, he said, they had a letter which they wanted to deliver to the media. Inter-Religious Council members said Friday that the rebels they had spoken to by radio wanted Sankoh to meet the foreign media, and to declare a two week truce beginning March 7. Before the end of the two weeks, a time and venue for peace talks would be agreed to, according to Inter-Religious Council Secretary-General Rev. Alimamy Koroma. "Foday Sankoh asked that we be present when he meets with his commanders, hopefully in the near future, to get the peace talks under way," Koroma said.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley told the BBC Friday he did not know who the Inter-Religious Council members were talking to, but said "the indications that I have been receiving are that they are not in fact from the RUF." Golley said that while there was nothing wrong with the rebels releasing abductees, "that is of course assuming that the Revolutionary United Front are holding 30 abductees," he said that the peace process "has to be focused and the way in which ambiguities are properly dealt with, is by moving in a particular straightforward way," adding: "Foday Sankoh has to be released... Insofar as the military high command in the field are concerned, and what they’re indicating to me, is that Foday Sankoh is still not free. He has not been given the opportunity of speaking to them directly... and unless and until he is free to speak to his people, the ambiguities that I am referring to will continue to occur."

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh was taken on a tour of Freetown on Friday to view the destruction caused by fighting after AFRC/RUF forces attempted to capture the capital in January. Reuters reported that thousands of Freetown residents jostled to get a glimpse of Sankoh, some chanting "We want peace," while others shouted "Killer! Killer! Butcher!" The Agence France-Presse (FP) subsequently reported that Sankoh was taken under heavy ECOMOG escort to view to Wellington Industrial Estate, where he was shown the sacked premises of Sierra Leone Brewery. He was also taken to visit the site of the National Confectionary and the Sierra Leone Candle Factory, both of which suffered massive damage. The convoy also visited parts of central and western Freetown, including dozens of homes which were set on fire while the rebels were retreating. The AFP said Sankoh was spotted by angry crowds who shouted "Kill him!", calling him "the devil incarnate."  On Thursday, Rev. Dr. Leslie Shyllon said the Inter-Religious Council had met with Sankoh after, he said, Sankoh had been taken around Freetown "to see the destruction and atrocities that had been committed" in the capital.

Government authorities have said they are looking forward to peace talks with the rebels, and welcomed a rebel proposal for a cease-fire made in a radio dialogue with members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, Reuters reported on Friday. "We are anxiously waiting to see if the rebels mean business this time around," one senior official said.

President Kabbah is expected to visit Togo on Monday to hold talks with President Gnassingbe Eyadema ahead of proposed peace negotiations between the government and the rebels, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Friday. Eyadema is the current Chairman of ECOWAS. Kabbah has agreed to allow RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to meet with his followers in either Lome, Togo or Bamako, Mali.

In his Fifth Report on the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed Friday that while ECOMOG troops had succeeded in driving rebels out of Freetown, the capital was still threatened by rebel forces in the peninsula. "I unreservedly strongly condemn the merciless murders, inhuman mutilations and other appalling human rights violations perpetrated by the rebels on the innocent civilian inhabitants of Freetown, and the widespread property damage they have inflicted," Annan told the Security Council. "In the light of some allegations that members of pro-Government forces may also have been guilty of violations, I hope that the Government will fulfill its assurances that such allegations will be investigated and welcome its assurances that these forces will adhere to international human rights standards in the future." Annan recommended that UNOMSIL's mission be extended by an additional three months, to June 13, and said he intended to deploy an additional human rights officer to UNOMSIL and increase the number of military observers from 8 to 14. "Should negotiations between the Government and the rebels take a favourable turn, UNOMSIL should remain in a position where it is capable of rendering further assistance to the peace process," Annan noted. In January, UNOMSIL withdrew to Conakry, Guinea prior to the attack on Freetown by AFRC/RUF rebels. Annan said that in view of the improved security situation in Freetown, "It is my intention to re-establish UNOMSIL in Freetown as soon as possible. At least initially, the re-establishment will take place on a small scale and with strict attention to the security situation." Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Programme and other U.N. agencies have been authorised to re-establish a limited presence in Freetown, he said.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) condemned on Friday the kidnapping of hundreds of children by AFRC/RUF rebels during their offensive to capture Freetown in January. Parents in Freetown have reported 2,615 children still missing two months after rebel forces were repulsed from Freetown, UNICEF spokesman Patrick McCormick said. Nearly 700 children of 1,120 cases studied had been separated from their parents in the chaos surrounding the fighting, but about 40 percent had been abducted by the rebels, he added. Most of those abducted were between the ages of 11 and 17, but 26 were below the age of six. UNICEF has managed to reunite 152 children with their families. Some of the abductees have been forced to participate in the fighting, while others were used as porters or sex slaves, UNICEF said, adding that eyewitness testimonies "paint a devastating picture for thousands of children in the aftermath of the failed rebel offensive."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook will travel to Nigeria next week to meet Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo and members of the outgoing military regime. While there, Cook hopes to meet with President Kabbah to discuss the prospects for a lasting peace in Sierra Leone. "We want to see what we can do to help promote security and stability (in Sierra Leone)," a British foreign office source said of Britain's pledge Tuesday to contribute an additional £10 million in aid. "One of the world's most brutal wars is going on there and we believe we can have an impact." Meanwhile Cook, who is on a visit to Moscow, has rejected charges he acted improperly in receiving leaked details of parliamentary select committee reports, including one concerned with the "Arms to Africa Affair" — allegations of foreign office complicity in sales of arms to Sierra Leone by the mercenary firm Sandline International, in violation of the U.N. arms embargo. "There is nothing there to apologise for," Cook said. "We did not seek to interfere, we did not seek to offer any comment, we did not seek to get any amendments."

4 March: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said in Geneva Thursday she had received assurances that Guinea would continue to provide refuge for people fleeing the war in Sierra Leone. "I thanked Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire for hosting the bulk of the region's some 750,00 refugees," Ogata said. "I wanted to make sure that their hospitality policy will continue and, there, I think I got a good assurance." She described her visits to people mutilated in the conflict as one of the most shocking in her eight years as head of the UNHCR. "While hospitals and clinics are gruesome sights, many more victims never made it to these hospitals," she said. "The pledge of hospitality from the countries of asylum is most welcome but I came back with a feeling that the war in Sierra Leone must end if we are to avert a prolonged crisis in the whole West Africa region." Ogata appealed to the international community not to forget the Sierra Leone crisis.

The World Bank, in a statement issued on Thursday, denied that disbursements to Sierra Leone had been suspended. The statement, which referenced the Sierra Leone Web, was in response to a statement by President Kabbah, reported by Reuters on February 19, who told journalists that "the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have stopped all disbursements to Sierra Leone until the security situation has stabilised." "Disbursements in respect of ongoing Bank-supported operations in Sierra Leone have NOT been suspended," the World Bank statement said. "However, in view of the security situation in the country, which is likely to render very difficult normal project supervision and implementation throughout the country, it was decided to consult with the Government and agree on activities that could still be implemented under the circumstances. Disbursements to facilitate implementation of such activities would continue, so long as Sierra Leone remains current on its debt service payments to the Bank. However, it has been decided to temporarily put on hold the processing of new operations pending sufficient improvement in the general security situation."

Members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council, following a meeting with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on Tuesday, talked by radio Thursday with rebel leaders in the bush. Inter-Religious Council Secretary-General Rev. Alimamy Koroma called the talks "fruitful and encouraging." He said Council representatives and RUF rebels agreed to talk again to discuss a timetable for implementing a cease-fire. "I told the RUF that very soon Corporal Foday will be talking to the international media in Freetown," Koroma said. He quoted Sankoh as telling Council representatives: "I am happy that my position as RUF leader has been recognised by a religious body which I have respect for." In a separate interview, Koroma told the Agence France-Presse: "We are fully convinced that although the international community is playing its part for peace, we as Sierra Leoneans must take the lead. At the end of the day, Sierra Leone is our home and we are going to live with the result which we achieve." Inter-Religious Council member Rev. Dr. Leslie Shyllon described the meeting with Sankoh. "He gave us the impression that he was willing to talk peace, that he recognizes — (he) said that on his own volition he recognized — President Ahmed Kabbah as the legal and constitutional head of this country," Shyllon said.  He...expressed sympathy to the people of Sierra Leone because we learned as we made him to know he was taken around Freetown as per arrangement of government to see the destruction and atrocities that had been committed, and to visit places where there were amputees, particularly children. And so he said, whilst he was not apologising for legal reasons, he said, he was expressing his sympathy to the entire nation for what he had seen and observed." Shyllon said that during Thursday's radio conversation with RUF leaders, Council members called on the rebels to release those they had abducted, "particularly the priests, and also the women and children." He said the rebels had promised to release about 30 school children within the next 24 hours. "And we’re going to watch if they do this," Shyllon said. "We have been under war for eight years. And if they can start by this even token gesture, then we can rely on them as they are relying on us and trusting us very much. We shall rely on them and the people of this country shall believe whatever they say...(The children's release) would take place in the next 24 hours, those are their words. And we believe them."

Former soldiers who participated in January's rebel attack on Freetown have offered to surrender in return for amnesty, a presidential aide said on Thursday. He said the soldiers talked to President Kabbah by radio on Monday. "The rebel soldiers demanded guarantees for their safety and an amnesty if they surrendered to the government," the aide said. He declined to reveal Kabbah's response, but noted that Kabbah had earlier offered amnesties to rebels who surrendered. "The government will encourage contacts with these soldiers to get them out of the bush and reintegrate them into Sierra Leone society," he said.

Nigerian Deputy Director of Defence Information Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tella has denied a report, carried by several Nigerian newspapers and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, which said 780 Nigerian soldiers were killed in Sierra Leone during January. Tella denounced the report, attributed to an unnamed Nigerian army officer, as being circulated by agents of Sierra Leone's rebels with the aim of lowering morale within ECOMOG and of turning Nigerian public opinion against Nigeria's involvement in ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone. Tella declined to give casualty figures, but stated that the number was nowhere near as high as had been reported. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported the war had cost the lives of more than 1,000 Nigerian soldiers. In January, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Parliament that "many hundreds of ECOMOG troops" had lost their lives in the battle for Freetown.

3 March: ECOMOG troops, backed by Kamajor militiamen, have taken the towns of Newton and Magbuntoso during the past few days, ECOMOG sources and witnesses reported on Wednesday. Newton, about 20 miles from Freetown, fell three days ago and pro-government forces were subsequently able to reach Magbuntoso, about 35 miles from the capital, the sources said. "The rebels put up stiff resistance at Newton but they could not withstand our superior firepower for long, and then we massacred them," and ECOMOG officer said. Other sources said ECOMOG used planes and tanks in its assault, with the Kamajors providing ground support. There were said to be casualties on both sides.

President Kabbah has demanded the recall of the United Nations Development Programme's Resident Representative, Elizabeth Lwanga, because of the failure of U.N. expatriate staff to return to Freetown, an unidentified presidential aide told Reuters on Wednesday. "The refusal of U.N. agencies to permit their expatriate staff to return to the country...has disheartened President Kabbah and the government," the aide was quoted as saying. "It is the belief of the government that certain U.N. agencies have been painting false pictures of insecurity in the country, using that as a basis for not returning."  He suggested that the U.N. agencies were refusing to return in order to put pressure on the government to negotiate with the RUF. "The U.N. and the rest of the international community should be putting pressure on the rebels instead of trying to sink Sierra Leone by cutting off aid at this time when the suffering people of this country so desperately need it," the aide added. Lwanga denied that she had been asked to leave. "My term of office in Sierra Leone is over and I am winding up to leave the country," Lwanga said. "I was not recalled by my principal at the U.N."

ECOMOG displayed nearly 100 prisoners alleged rebel prisoners taken captive during fighting in January, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday. Many of them said they were members of the Sierra Leone Army, while others were police officers. ECOMOG has been accused by the United Nations and several news organisations of carrying out summary executions of suspected rebels and rebel collaborators in Freetown. "ECOMOG is bending over backwards to prove to the world it respects established laws governing the conduct of wars," ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said. He added that some of the men, considered prisoners of war, would be handed over to government authorities for action. Among those captured were a regimental sergeant-major, paramilitary personnel, and several women, including a nurse. One captive, who identified himself as "Sergeant Blood", said he had taken part in the attack on Wellington and that his group had killed half a dozen ECOMOG soldiers. Olukulade said the group was the first to be interrogated in order to determine their level of involvement with the RUF. "The process lasted so long because some of the rebels were heavily drugged and therefore couldn't make accurate accounts, while others were uncooperative," he said. He maintained that the majority of the prisoners had taken part in active combat. Others found to have had no involvement with the rebels had been freed, while a number of child soldiers had been turned over to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), he said.

The current OAU Chairman, President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, is planning an extraordinary OAU summit on African conflicts to be held in Ouagadougou on March 30-31, Burkinabe sources said on Wednesday. They said Compaore was still sounding out African leaders on the plan. A two-thirds majority of member states is required to call an extraordinary summit. The main items on the agenda would be the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute and conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone government has accused Compaore of providing support for RUF rebels battling ECOMOG and pro-government forces in Sierra Leone.

A Nigerian army source told the Associated France-Presse (AFP) in Nigeria Wednesday that 780 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers had been killed in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year. President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo said Tuesday he wanted Nigerian troops withdrawn from Sierra Leone "as soon as possible." "It's true that we have a commitment to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but we can not, on our own, bear the human and financial cost of this operation," the source said.

President Kabbah has broadcast a congratulatory message to Nigerian President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo, stressing the close ties between the two countries. "The peoples of Nigeria and Sierra Leone have close family ties that go back many years and our two governments have often taken a common position on important issues," Kabbah said on state television on Wednesday. " It is my hope that the bonds of friendship and family ties which have held our two countries together will grow even stronger during your presidency."

The clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (NINJAS) appealed for financial assistance on Wednesday after the failure of the group's only laptop computer on Monday. The group of three journalists, who since December have published news on the internet in defiance of Sierra Leone's requirement that reports on the war be cleared by censors, warned that if they did not receive immediate funding, "We will now have to close shop." Following the AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Freetown in January, the NINJAS website operates from Banjul, Gambia.

2 March: Kamajor militiamen have driven AFRC/RUF rebel forces from Moyamba, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Tuesday. "Thousands of Kamajors ... yesterday afternoon finally drove the rebels out of the town after six days of heavy fighting," he said. Kamajor commanders claimed to have killed more than 200 rebels in the fighting. Residents who fled the area reported scores of Kamajors and civilians were killed.

Nigerian President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo, in his first speech since winning Saturday's presidential election, said Nigeria would withdraw its forces from Sierra Leone "as soon as possible," but added that he would not do anything to make the situation in Sierra Leone worse. "We are very sympathetic to the plight of our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone. And we will not do anything to worsen the situation in Sierra Leone," Obasanjo said. "Having said that, we believe that in the final analysis, the problem in Sierra Leone will be solved by the Sierra Leoneans themselves. We are going to work hand-in-hand. So, when will we withdraw our troops from Sierra Leone? I will say as soon as possible. Not a day longer than necessary, but without putting Sierra Leone and the people of Sierra Leone in a situation they cannot get out from...I know that the present Head of State is working hard in the area. Wherever they have gone, however they have gone, by the time we get in, we will consider the situation. And when we believe the time is right, we will pull Nigerian soldiers out of the place without danger to the corporate existence of Sierra-Leone and without unnecessary prolongation of the crisis therein." During the presidential campaign, Obasanjo promised to pull Nigerian soldiers out of the country, calling Nigeria's involvement in Sierra Leone a waste of his country's wealth. The war reportedly costs Nigeria $1 million a day and, according to the Associated Press, is said to have cost the lives of more than 1,000 Nigerian soldiers.

The Sierra Leone government on Tuesday ordered all humanitarian organisations, including U.N. agencies, to register their communications equipment or face a continued ban on its use. The action was taken "in order to facilitate the lifting of the current ban on the use of such equipment by individuals and organisations" imposed in December after ECOMOG accused some organisations of communicating with the RUF, state radio said. "Individuals as from now will only be permitted to carry and use portable communications equipment with authorisation from the Minister of Information and Communication," the statement said. "Anyone found with such equipment without a letter of authority will face arrest and prosecution. Mobile phones are not involved."

Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Dr. Alpha T. Wurie invited students Tuesday to re-enroll in schools, which have been closed for eight weeks following January's rebel invasion of Freetown. "If your uniforms and books have been burned during the crisis, don't hesitate to re-register in any school near where you now live, Wurie said. "Come in whatever clothes you have, but look decent." The regulation requiring students to wear school uniforms has been temporarily suspended. Wurie promised that schools destroyed by the rebels would be rebuilt, and that classes would be held in provisional shelters in the meantime. "Payment teams" would travel to parts of the country to pay teachers' salaries which "had lagged far, far behind in some areas," he said.

A nine-member delegation of Christian and Muslim religious leaders from the Inter-Religious Council  has held talks in Freetown with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, the Italian-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Tuesday. The meeting was held at the urging of President Kabbah, according to Bishop of Makeni George Biguzzi. "We spent almost two hours with the RUF leader in a ‘barracks-prison’ on the outskirts of Freetown," Biguzzi said. "The purpose of our visit was to verify Sankoh’s availability towards dialogue for the realisation of a peace project according to the terms established by the government of Freetown." Sankoh promised to support peace efforts from prison, and expressed regret at the kidnapping of three Catholic missionaries still being held be rebels in Makeni.

Britain said Tuesday it would contribute £10 million in support of ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made the announcement during a parliamentary debate critical of the foreign office's role in the "Arms to Africa" scandal — allegations of foreign office complicity in efforts by the mercenary firm Sandline International to ship arms to Sierra Leone last year, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. "This will provide further support for ECOMOG's efforts to provide security in the country," he said. "It will also fund British help in building a new democratically accountable Sierra Leone army which can ensure security when the peacekeepers leave." Cook, who continued to maintain that a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee report critical of his office "does not raise the slightest doubt about the central findings (by an independent inquiry led by retired civil servant Sir Thomas Legg) that there was no connivance in the Foreign Office of a breach of the arms embargo, and there was no conspiracy by either officials or ministers to undermine the publicly stated policy." Cook said he intended to adopt the recommendations of the Legg report and, despite attacking the select committee's conclusions, said he would accept many of its recommendations as well. Cook has come under fire during the past week for having received an advance copy of the report, leaked to him by a committee member. Cook told parliament that Britain had done more than any other Western country to help Sierra Leone through diplomatic support and financial assistance. Rebel forces had "lived up to their reputation for brutality and bloodshed," he said, adding: "The real tragedy of Sierra Leone is that its people are among the poorest of the world while the country is among the richest in diamonds." He said Britain's new aid package would provide support for ECOMOG, help train a "democratically accountable" military force, and promote demobilisation of combatants.

Scores of trucks drove from Freetown to Waterloo Tuesday, carrying food and supplies for residents who had sought refuge from fighting in the bush. Drivers said they were not travelling beyond Waterloo for fear of rebel ambushes. ECOMOG recaptured the town on February 23.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata delivered a pledge of support from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan when she met with President Kabbah on February 26, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said on Tuesday. According to a briefing summary issued by the UNHCR, Ogata said an eventual repatriation of refugees depended upon the country returning to stability, and stressed that it is practically impossible to deliver humanitarian aid to most of the country at present.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) began making emergency humanitarian aid flights into Freetown by helicopter Tuesday, in an effort to ensure that aid reaches the country's most needy. The WFP recently leased an MIL-MI8 helicopter to airlift personnel, emergency food and medical supplies into the country. "The availability of regular air transport into Sierra Leone, fully dedicated to humanitarian activities, will greatly facilitate our work in reaching people who need assistance," acting WFP Country Director in Sierra Leone Abnezer Ngowi said in a statement. "With this helicopter, we will be able to make frequent runs into Freetown and other parts of the country not currently accessible by road." The WFP will operate the helicopter on behalf of the aid community in Sierra Leone, and hopes to fly to Bo and Kenema where food aid distribution has been hampered by insecurity on the roads. The helicopter, which will be based in Conakry, Guinea, is being funded by the United States, Norway, Sweden, and the European Union. The WFP will make use of a heliport in western Freetown, and has set up a logistics base and storage facility at Lungi International Airport, where the helicopter will be refueled and where medical and other non-food relief items will be stored.

The London-based group Article 19 called on the international community Tuesday to support the call of the Human Rights Committee to actively involve Sierra Leone's civil society in peace efforts. The Human Rights Committee, based in Conakry, is made up of a coalition of groups including the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), Medecins sans Frontieres, Oxfam, and Christian Aid. Chapter 19 also endorsed the Committee's proposal to create a truth, justice and reconciliation commission, and urged President Kabbah to meet with the member groups as soon as possible to discuss what it called "this aspect of the peace process." In a press release issued on Tuesday, Chapter 19 Executive Director Andrew Puddephatt said there must be an "honest reckoning" of the human rights abuses which had occurred in Sierra Leone. "Every Sierra Leonean must feel that they have a voice, both in deciding what has gone wrong over the past decade and in rebuilding the country," he said. "Article 19 strongly urges the government to make public consultation an integral part of the peace process."

1 March: About 1,000 civilians were killed during six weeks of rebel occupation of Waterloo, according to local headman Ansumana Kargbo, who was quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). There has been no independent confirmation of his account. Kargbo said 500 houses in Waterloo were burned. "About 15,000 civilians fled Waterloo and its outlying villages into the bush. Some walked the over 40 miles into the west of the capital to escape," he said. "Others stayed in the bush feeding on green mangoes. The rebels would organise expeditions into the bush to rape the teenage girls and kill others. When the area was liberated by ECOMOG, about 2,000 civilians came back followed by some 3,000 others. They are now camped around the Waterloo Community Centre, where food is the problem." The AFP quoted villagers who estimated as many as 100 women and children may have died while taking refuge in the bush.

RUF legal representative Omrie Golley responded cautiously Monday to President Kabbah's offer to let RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh meet with his followers in Togo or Mali. "If the government is serious for peace and for peaceful dialogue, then it’s a process which we cautiously welcome," Golley said in a BBC 'Focus on Africa' interview. "Certainly the announcement which they’ve made, we hope that they do want to talk about peace and peaceful dialogue." Golley said, however, that the RUF considered the government's insistence that Sankoh be returned to prison in Sierra Leone after the talks to be "a very retrograde step in the peace process," and called on the government to clarify its position on the matter. "We would be very happy to speak to (Sankoh) and to carry the process forward," Golley said. "We would hope that the government indeed recognises that this is a very good chance for peace and peaceful dialogue once and for all, and moves accordingly." Golley denied that rebel forces had abducted some 2,000 children during the attack on Freetown, as alleged by the government. "Our response is that we deny these allegations," he said. "We say in fact that child soldiers have been principally recruited by the Kamajors and other civil defence militia. We do not accept that we’re holding 2,000 children as abductees. This is completely — we do not accept this allegation." Asked whether he denied that the RUF had employed child soldiers, Golley responded: "We say that the issue of children as child soldiers is one that has to be thoroughly investigated."

Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and the Coordination Centre for the Integration of Refugees condemned Belgium Monday as "irresponsible" for refusing to halt the expulsion of Sierra Leonean refugees. Several dozen Sierra Leoneans are being held in detention centres awaiting deportation, most of them to Guinea from where they had departed for Belgium. "Belgium should not have much problem with assuming its 'international responsibility' in receiving several Sierra Leone refugees and offering them protection," the three groups said in a statement. They noted that according to a United Nations ranking of countries by general state and wealth, Belgium ranks twelfth. In contrast, Guinea ranks eighth from the bottom, and Sierra Leone is ranked last.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata praised Guinea on Monday for welcoming Sierra Leonean refugees, despite the hardships involved. "The clarity and firmness of Guinea offering continued asylum was not a surprise but a very pleasant assurance. At the same time, the need to help the government to carry on that commitment is not going to be that easy," Ogata said at the end of her tour of the West African sub-region. "If the people turn against the refugees, it's going to be very, very serious." Guinean Interior Minister Zainoul Abidine Sanoussi told Ogata that Guinea was worried about the destabilising effect an influx of Sierra Leonean refugees would have. "If the war in Sierra Leone does not stop, I believe that two thirds of the population will flee. And the nearest neighbour is Guinea," he said, warning the government feared refugee camps could become a rear base for rebel activity. "And then the refugees have water, health centres, schools, they are given food. The host population have nothing. We fear a backlash of rejection," he said.

Sierra Leone has been disqualified from the African Nations Cup after forfeiting a Group 2 third round qualifying match against Guinea. Sierra Leone team was unable to compete because of the security situation. Other results: Group 1: Cameroon 1, Mozambique 0; Ghana 5, Eritrea 0. Group 2: Morocco 3, Togo 2; Group 3: Congo 1, Ivory Coast 0; Namibia vs. Mali was postponed. Group 4: Mauritius 2, Angola 0; South Africa 4, Gabon 1. Group 5: Burkina Faso 2, Burundi 1; Senegal 1, Nigeria 1. Group 6: Zambia 1, Kenya 0; Madagascar 3, Democratic Republic of the Congo 1. Group 7: Liberia 1, Algeria 1; Tunisia 6, Uganda 0.