The Sierra Leone Web


April 1995

27 April: NPRC leader Captain Valentine Strasser lifted a ban on political parties on Thursday, and offered the RUF rebels a ceasefire and unconditional peace talks. Strasser made the announcement in a speech marking Sierra Leone's independence day, saying he wants to organise elections leading to the installation of a new president by next January. "The rebel crisis has created a mountain of bitterness and hate. I wish to appeal to all peace-loving people to encourage accommodation, reconciliation and tolerance," Strasser said. "For democracy to flourish, an atmosphere of peace, security and stability should be guaranteed...I again call on the RUF to join in the electoral process as government is ready and willing to ceasefire now in order to negotiate peace without any preconditions," he said. Strasser said a national consultative conference would be set up to discuss elections. "This will provide a forum for all parties concerned to genuinely discuss the details and criteria for the declared electoral process, leading to the swearing-in of the new president in January 1996," he said.

26 April: Police sources reported troops using a helicopter gunship and backed by Guinean forces pounded rebels who had seized an agricultural training center at Port Loko.

23 April: RUF spokesman Alimamy Sankoh said Sunday that the rebels had put 35 Guinean and Nigerian soldiers on trial for their lives on charges of genocide and conspiracy to kill foreigners in Sierra Leone. "All of them are facing the same charges," he said. Sankoh said the seven-member court would pass its verdict to a rebel war council for a final decision. If convicted, the 35 — along with two Liberian nationals facing the same charges — could be executed by firing squad, he said. Sankoh said two lawyers sat on the people's court with local chiefs and former local government officials. Charges included genocide against Sierra Leoneans, rape, looting, economic sabotage, and drug trafficking to Europe and the United States. Sankoh said the charge of conspiracy to kill foreigners related to the deaths of an Irish priest and a Dutch family in 1993 and the death of Irish priest Edward Kerrigan on on April 10.

22 April: Deposed President Joseph Momoh Saturday urged a rapid end to Sierra Leone's civil war, saying he is willing to return home to complete his mandate if the people will have him back. Momoh, who has lived in exile in Guinea since being ousted by the military in April 1992, said he has no role in the fighting and no links to the RUF rebels. "Sierra Leone is like a ship that is sinking...We have to do something pretty quick," Momoh said. "My term of office is still incomplete. I was deposed before the end...I will come back, if that is the wish of the people." Momoh said the NPRC government has lost control of the war. "The situation is almost untenable...far above the ability of the current administration. I don't think the country has experienced so much fear, so much uncertainty in its history," he said. "In the interest of peace, Strasser should step aside and give way to a civilian government...the Sierra Leone army has lost the initiative," he added. Momoh denied any involvement in the fighting. "There have been allegations that I have troops that are fighting. There is no truth in it. I have no means to raise an army," he said. "I'm not involved in any way at all. I can't see myself fighting side-by-side with the RUF."

21 April: Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku Friday welcomed the RUF's release 16 hostages, and called for peace talks between the rebels and the government. "The government of Sierra Leone has already indicated its willingness to hold talks with the RUF and I hope that these can begin as soon as possible," Anyaoku said. He said he would be in contact with both the RUF and the Sierra Leone government to encourage them to begin peace talks. The rebels have called for a national conference on Sierra Leone's future, and have called for a withdrawal of all foreign forces as a precondition to negotiations. Anyaoku said the Commonwealth would work with the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity to try to resolve the conflict.

20 April: RUF rebels released 16 captives Thursday. A British Foreign Office spokesman said the freed hostages, which included six Britons, three Swiss, one German and six Sierra Leoneans, had driven to Conakry, Guinea where they would be handed over to diplomats on Friday. The spokesman said British police were sent to Sierra Leone in November to negotiate with the RUF. "They have kept a more or less permanent presence ever since," he said. "They were instrumental, they have the expertise in these hostage negotiation situations and were advising the (British) High Commission there and the ICRC." The spokesman said there had been no direct contact with the RUF. "There were no face-to-face meetings. All the contact was made over It was a long, difficult and painstaking process," he said.

19 April: An RUF military tribunal will try foreign soldiers captured in battles with the army and could be executed by firing squad, an RUF spokesman said Wednesday. "The tribunal will sit on Sunday and the verdict should be known by Tuesday," RUF foreign affairs coordinator Alimamy Sankoh said. "The charges against them will be acts of foreign aggression against the people of Sierra Leone, economic sabotage, and acts of genocide against the people. The maximum sentence will be the death penalty. They will be executed the military way," he added. Sankoh said 19 Nigerians were captured in one battle, while 3 Guineans were taken prisoner April 8 while defending a Kuwaiti-owned Islamic radio station near Newton, about 35 miles from Freetown. Sankoh put the number of Ghanaian prisoners of war at 7. Ghana has denied having any troops in Sierra Leone. Neither Guinea nor Nigeria has confirmed the capture of their soldiers. Guinea sent an additional 300 troops to Sierra Leone this month, where it already has a contingent of about 500, backed by heavy artillery. The RUF has disrupted economic life in Sierra Leone with random attacks on towns and highways, and have come close to Freetown in recent raids, targeting satellite towns like Newton. The RUF also holds 10 European hostages — 6 Britons, 3 Swiss and a German — but Sankoh said only logistical problems are holding up their release.

18 April: A UN-chartered boat carrying 600 Liberian refugees left Freetown Tuesday for Monrovia. The refugees, who had been staying at Waterloo Camp, 18 miles from Freetown, said they had decided to leave because rebels were close to attacking the camp. Many of the 6,000 Liberians at the camp have moved into a disused railway station at Waterloo, as well as other sites along the main road into Freetown.

15 April: Extra troops have been deployed to protect a Kuwaiti-owned Islamic radio station outside Newton, military sources said Saturday. The radio station has already come under attack, and RUF foreign affairs coordinator Alimamy Sankoh confirmed on Saturday that it is a rebel target. "We want to capture it, dismantle it and take it to our headquarters to use for the purposes of the people of Sierra Leone," he said. Military sources said government troops and units from Nigeria and Guinea have been deployed extensively on the approaches to Freetown, and that "the radio station is now heavily guarded by troops." The radio station was purchased from the Sierra Leone government by the Kuwaiti-sponsored African Moslem Agency in the mid-1980's, and can reportedly broadcast as far as Europe. The station is run by a Jordanian with 25 Sierra Leonean staff. Military sources said troops are patrolling the surrounding area. "Although the RUF rebels have attacked two towns — Songo and Newton — and some other small towns nearby, government troops are now confident that the rebels' fast move to reach the capital has been contained," a military spokesman said.

12 April: The RUF issued a statement Wednesday saying its fighters were not responsible for the death of Irish Roman Catholic missionary Edward Kerrigan, who was killed in an ambush on the highway between Bo and Freetown. The RUF did not say who they believed carried out the attack, in which a Sierra Leonean missionary was wounded.

11 April: Sierra Leone Army Chief Brigadier Julius Maada Bio said Tuesday evening that the RUF rebels do not have the forces to capture Freetown. Bio said that tension had risen since the attack on Newton last weekend, but that frightening the population is a tactic of guerilla war. "Infiltration is always one of the main strategies terrorists use to wreak havoc on unsuspecting civilians thereby bringing about the associated loss of confidence in the ability of the army to protect them, Bio said. "Nonetheless, the army has mounted various aggressive operations within the affected area which have brought about huge successes." RUF spokesman Alimamy Sankoh, who is in Ivory Coast, has called upon foreign diplomats to leave Freetown, saying an attack on the capital is imminent. Embassies say they are monitoring the situation, but have no immediate plans to leave. The RUF, which is holding 10 Europeans, says Nigerian, Guinean, and other foreign troops must leave Sierra Leone before they will talk to the military government.

10 April: Irish Roman Catholic missionary Edward Kerrigan was killed in a rebel ambush along the Freetown-Bo road Monday, the Catholic Mission said. Kerrigan, who had been based at the Christian Brothers mission in Bo for the past five years, died when his car came under heavy gunfire on the road. A Sierra Leonean missionary was also injured in the attack.

9 April: RUF rebels sneaked around army positions in broad daylight Saturday to attack the town of Newton, their closest strike to the capital so far, a senior military officers said Sunday. The officer said about 150 rebels armed with AK-47 automatic rifles attacked the town, about 35 miles from Freetown, but were driven back by government forces backed by Guinean troops and heavy artillery. He said only 2 paramilitary police and 13 rebels were killed. 3 rebels in paramilitary police uniforms were captured and identified as deserters, he said. At Waterloo, thousands of Liberian refugees had abandoned their camp and were sleeping at a disused railway station which is nearer the main road, military sources said. There was no evidence to support claims by RUF spokesman Alimamy Sankoh in Ivory Coast that there was fighting in Waterloo and that the rebels had reached Freetown's eastern suburbs.

8 April: At last 40 soccer fans were injured Saturday, 3 seriously, when the main gate at the national stadium collapsed prior to an African Cup Winners Cup qualifying match against Ghana. Police said thousands of fans had begun to arrive at the stadium more than seven hours before the Leone Stars were due to play Ghana's Black Stars in the second leg of the preliminary round of the Cup Winners Cup. With thousands more fans surging in, emergency workers feared there would be even more injuries if soccer officials did not halt ticket sales. The game was won by Sierra Leone 1-0 after a 77th minute penalty shot by Lamin Conteh, who plays in Belgium. Ghana won the first leg 4-1, guaranteeing that they will advance to the second round. The Leone Stars needed at least a draw to keep alive their chances of staying in the tournament.

3 April: 7 of the young army captains who seized power three years ago were promoted Monday, one of them to the rank of brigadier. Five of the officers, all close to NPRC leader Captain Valentine Strasser, were dropped from the cabinet on Friday. Information Minister Arnold Gooding said the five quit voluntarily to focus on the campaign against rebels. Captains Reginald Glover, Komba Mondeh, Charles M'bayo and Tom Nyuma, all dropped from the cabinet last week, became lieutenant-colonels. Nyuma, a powerful member of the NPRC, was assigned the job of general staff officer while M'bayo now heads military intelligence. Chief of Defence Staff Captain Julius Maada Bio was promoted all the way to the rank of brigadier. Former minister Captain Karifa Kargbo was made a major and becomes military spokesman and Captain Idris Kamara, also promoted to major, takes charge of internal security. The promotions were criticised by many Sierra Leoneans. "I just can't see how one can be promoted from captain to brigadier in a disciplined army," a prominent unnamed politician said. Another said he believed the officers agreed to return to barracks to head off any attempt at a counter-coup.