The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

April 1998
 

30 April: Guinea has closed its border with Sierra Leone to prevent junta remnant troops and RUF fighters from crossing into Guinea, SLBS (state radio) reported on Thursday. Junta attacks in Kono and Kailahun Districts have forced thousands of civilians to seek refuge in Guinea during the past month. Junta supporters are reported to have mingled with the fleeing refugees. The SLBS report, quoting a presidential statement, said the Guinean government would turn over about 100 detainees suspected of being junta supporters. Guinean ECOMOG troops have been posted near Kailahun District "to flush out remaining junta forces," the report said.

While tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans have taken refuge in Guinea, the onset of the rainy season poses new about the fate of those who were forced to remain in Sierra Leone. Refugees have spoken of having to leave behind those who were too old or sick to make the journey, and indiscriminate looting and burning of villages in eastern Sierra Leone has compounded the problem there. "People arriving are already in pretty bad shape. Some of the children are malnourished," U.N. World Food Programme spokesman Wagdi Othman said after visiting the Guinean side of the border. "The problem on the other side (in Sierra Leone) is that most of the food has been looted and now it's the start of the planting season, what they call the hungry season in Sierra Leone...You can talk about tens of thousands of people there." The refugee population in Guinea has risen from 20,000 in January to some 150,000 since the onset of heavy fighting in Kailahun and Kono Districts in March and April. Aid agencies have moved refugees away from the border areas to 20 camps near the town of Guekedou, to better care for them. Elsewhere, the rains have made roads impassable. Aid agencies say they have stocked enough food in the Guekedou area to feed 250,000 people for a month. Othman said they would also being in high-protein food for malnourished refugees.

Around 100 junta supporters were killed in a battle with the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) in Kailahun District over the weekend, the SLPP's Freedom Now newspaper reported Thursday. The newspaper added that Kamajor militiamen had sealed a key ferry route to prevent AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma from reaching Kailahun District, long a RUF stronghold. "My boys will soon flush out all remnants of junta forces from the entire Kailahun District," Kamajor leader Karmoh Brima was quoted as saying.

Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea has disputed ECOMOG allegations that Liberian troops are fighting alongside AFRC/RUF fighters, saying the reports were intended to discredit the Liberian government. Chea said that if a Liberian was captured while fighting in Sierra Leone, it did not mean that his actions were sanctioned by the Liberian government. He noted that supporting a fighting force was extremely expensive, and that the Liberian government could not afford to do so. "We have no interest whatsoever in the Sierra Leonean crisis and all we are saying is that it is easy to chase out rebels from the city, than from the jungle. We think all sides to the conflict should negotiate," Chea said. Sierra Leone's ambassador to Liberia, Wildred Kanu, on Wednesday delivered a special message from President Kabbah to Liberian President Charles Taylor. Kanu declined to reveal the contents of the message, but described relations between Sierra Leone and Liberia as "cordial and friendly." A Liberian Foreign Ministry statement issued Wednesday said President Taylor told Ambassador Kanu that Liberian security was linked to the security of Sierra Leone.

ECOMOG has confirmed that rebels have killed three women, mutilated five other persons, and burned down 70 houses in northern Sierra Leone, Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday. Those injured in the attack are being treated at Kamakwie Wesleyan Church Hospital.

Liberian Star Radio reported Thursday that "nearly 60 people" were attacked and wounded, and that many villagers suffered gunshot wounds, traumatic amputation, or other injuries. One witness said the rebels entered the town saying that ECOMOG had come to redeem the town. As soon as people began coming out of their houses, they were shot on sight, he said.

The French charity Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has begun distribution of farm tools and seeds to 15,000 families in Bo and Pujehun Districts, in an effort to boost food production. The distribution followed an assessment of food security and nutrition needs in the district, which showed that many families had lost their seeds and tools because of the war. The ACF Head of Mission said the organisation's goal was to reduce mortality and morbidity rates in war-affected areas.

The African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights, based in Banjul, Gambia, has deplored the prevailing human rights situations in eight African countries in a communiqué issued on Wednesday. The countries named were Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, eastern Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The commission cited slavery, lack of freedom of expression and association, forced deportations, extra-judicial executions, religious intolerance, and political repression. Female genital mutilation was singled out as one of the most widespread violations of the rights of African women in many African countries.

29 April: A Kamajor militia leader has called for the registration of all Civil Defence Forces (CDF) fighters because of growing lawlessness among them, SLBS (state radio) said on Wednesday. Allieu Kondowa, speaking to paramount chiefs and CDF leaders in Bo, criticised "acts of lawlessness by some Kamajors who now roam the streets of Bo," and said that all militia members should be registered. "All Kamajors not deployed in Bo should return to their respective bases, as ECOMOG has been mandated to arrest all roving Kamajors and send them back to their operational areas," Kondowa said.

Deputy Minister of Education Abass Collier said Wednesday that Sierra Leonean students who fought alongside ECOMOG would receive government grants of between $100 and $150. Ten such students have so far been identified, and dozens more are known to have fought against the junta.

Desmond Luke was sworn in as Chief Justice on Tuesday, after his appointment was confirmed by parliament. At the swearing-in ceremony, Luke said he was "prepared to face the daunting task of salvaging the image of the battered judiciary which once ranked among the best in Africa and the Commonwealth about 30 years ago." Luke holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, and has served as foreign minister, health minister, and ambassador to the European Union. He was a candidate for president in the 1996 elections, finishing tenth with 1.1 percent of the vote. He has been a strong advocate of democratic government, and during the period of  AFRC rule emerged as a leading supporter of the Kabbah government-in-exile. During the ceremony, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said: "Ethics and morality in the judiciary started to decline in the 1960s when some judges became partisans in politics and involved in high-level impropriety." He succeeds Justice Samuel Beccles-Davis, who was reportedly forced to retire due to his swearing in of AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma as head of state following last May's coup. Beccles-Davis has denied that he collaborated with the military regime. Many of the judges who fled the country following the coup have returned since the restoration of the civilian government. There are now seven High Court judges in the country. Only one Supreme Court judge remains active, while three others are on leave prior to retirement.

52 more civilians are reportedly being treated in Freetown after an attack Wednesday by AFRC/RUF rebels at Motema, in Kono District. Close to 100 people are currently undergoing medical treatment at Connaught Hospital. More than 30 had their fingers or wrists chopped off with machetes, while at least 15 had their ears amputated.

ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe has said that close to 100 Liberian mercenaries have been captured in the past week, either in combat or in towns and villages in the interior where AFRC/RUF rebels are still fighting. He said 50 fighters from Liberia's former ULIMO-K militia and 20 from the NPFL were being detained at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown. "This is enough evidence to show you that the Liberian leader and his ex-rebels are helping the deposed junta in its military campaigns in eastern Sierra Leone," Khobe said. The Inter-Press Service (IPS) quoted a former NPFL fighter being detained at Pademba Road, Samuel Konneh, who said he was not certain how many ex-NPFL fighters had been sent to Sierra Leone. "Perhaps more than 1500, because we were driven in trucks to RUF-controlled areas, along the Sierra Leonean border, and since then, three weeks ago, we have been fighting in Kono district where I was captured," he said. Konneh said it was easy to recruit Liberian fighters, since thousands of youths who had fought in Liberia's civil war had nothing to do. "I was happy to come fight in Sierra Leone because I know nothing other than the gun," he said. "President Taylor could not integrate us into the Liberian army and I thought coming to Sierra Leone to fight, could have helped me out." Other Liberians interviewed said they had been promised diamonds and gold by the AFRC and by unnamed Liberian officials. "(Liberian officials) told us not to allow Kono and Kailahun districts in the east to fall, because these places have rich diamond and gold deposits," Konneh said. As the rebels have continued to lost ground in Kono, they have resorted to atrocities against the civilian population. "Most of the rebels speak with Liberian accents and do not understand the terrain in Kono, so they just kill, rape and burn without compunction," said Aiah Ngegba, a civil servant from Yengema whose left hand was chopped off by junta forces.

Several non-governmental organisations implementing food and development programs are in danger of running out of food in June or July if donors are not found soon, a humanitarian source said Wednesday. USAID, the primary donor for most of the programs, has not yet approved its 1998 food commitment. The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was unable to loan food because of its own low reserves. Humanitarian agencies said their efforts were also hampered by security and access problems in the east. AFRC/RUF forces holding out in the east have destroyed several key bridges, preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid.

28 April: The trials of 59 persons charged with treason for allegedly collaborating with the AFRC military junta were referred to the Freetown High Court on Tuesday. The accused, who appeared in three batches in Magistrate's Court, have not entered pleas. Some of them also face murder charges. Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa leads the prosecution, while some 15 lawyers are representing the defendants.

The Civil Defence Forces (CDF) have been placed under ECOMOG control, President Kabbah told the state-owned Daily Mail newspaper on Tuesday. The step was taken "to make them more effective and make their demobilisation easier in the future," Kabbah said. "Here you have ordinary people laying their lives on the line for freedom for themselves and for their country without getting any reward from the government," Kabbah said.

Local journalists in Kenema say that Civil Defence Forces (CDF) scored "a huge success" over the weekend when they captured the towns of Panguma, Blama, and Gerihun from junta supporters after an hour-long battle. "The rebels lost about 15 of their men and scores were also badly wounded," one journalist reported. The AFP cited reports from Bo that the CDF had secured a key road to the north which had been in rebel hands for the past four years. "The route has been a strategic one used by rebels and quite recently by junta forces during their military campaigns," one journalist reported, adding that the roads capture would facilitate ECOMOG's advance toward Kailahun District.

ECOMOG on Monday called on ECOWAS member countries to put pressure on Liberian President Charles Taylor to "end his assistance to the rebels" in Sierra Leone. In a statement issued in Lagos, Nigeria, the ECOMOG High Command said: "Liberian soldiers are fighting alongside Sierra Leonean rebels, along the border between the two countries." The report said "reconnaissance flights and intelligence reports" had shown the presence of Liberian fighters among fleeing junta supporters. The Liberian government has previously denied the accusations.

27 April: Medical workers at Connaught Hospital in Freetown are working around the clock to save the lives of 68 persons mutilated or otherwise injured by AFRC/RUF rebels in Kono District over the weekend. The attacks left 23 people, including children, with arms or feet crudely amputated, while others suffered from bayonet, machete, or gunshot wounds. The victims were among some 3,000 persons rescued by ECOMOG troops when they captured the towns of Jaiama Sewafe, Bumpeh, Tombodu, and Motema. All of those able to tell of their ordeal spoke of close relatives killed or mutilated in front of them.

President Kabbah, in a speech broadcast Monday to mark the 37th anniversary of Sierra Leonean independence, said the day should be one for reflection rather than for celebration. "We have to think of our mistakes in the past, how such mistakes could be avoided in the future, and what we can do to bring peace, reconciliation, and national cohesion back to Sierra Leone," Kabbah told the nation. "Sierra Leone is classified as the least developed country in the world, but at the time of independence, Sierra Leone was stronger economically than Singapore and Malaysia." He added that this Independence Day called for "national reflection to identify things to be done to move the country forward." No public celebrations were held to mark the occasion after Kabbah cancelled an official reception, saying that the cost was too high and that the money could better be spent on development. In his address, Kabbah deplored recent atrocities carried out by AFRC/RUF rebels holding out in eastern Sierra Leone. "I am distressed by atrocities being committed in the east by junta forces and destruction of bridges in these areas to slow down the rapid movement of ECOMOG troops," he said.

Nearly 70,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived in Guinea since March 15, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) legal officer Machiel Salomons said in Conakry on Monday. Salomons said 40,000 of the new refugees had fled fighting in eastern Sierra Leone. The new influx brings to 130,000 those who have fled the country since last May's military coup. "The situation is under control but could deteriorate at any time," Salomons said.

Two or three Sierra Leonean refugees a day are reportedly dying in the overcrowded refugee camps in Vahun, Liberia. Paramount Chief Collins Brima Ganda said six deaths were reported on Tuesday. Despite the influx of refugees into the district, Ganda said, there had been no delivery of relief supplies since February. He said all the cassava farms in the area had been harvested, and that people will soon have nothing to eat if food is not immediately brought to the area. Ganda also complained about inadequate drugs to treat the influx of new arrivals, which currently stands at between 90 and 120 daily. Alfred Boima, field supervisor of the government refugees agency, described the death rate among the more than 20,000 refugees as low. He attributed the food shortage to bad road conditions. Boima said the World Food Programme (WFP) was doing its utmost to supply food, and that there was some 12 metric tons of food at Kolahun for the refugees, but that bad roads were making it difficult to transport the food to Vahun.

Over 300 AFRC/RUF fighters have surrendered to Liberian immigration authorities at Vahun since February, Liberian Star Radio reported on Monday. The fighters have been transferred away from the border to prevent them from returning to the bush.

Aid officials in Liberia have expressed alarm at reports of the growing incidence of venereal disease among the Sierra Leonean refugee population at Vahun. As many as   9,000 of the 20,000 refugees in the area are thought to have been affected. An aid worker with the British medical charity MERLIN attributed the high incidence of venereal disease to several factors, emphasizing that many of the female refugees had been victims of rape.

A local official in Lofa County, Liberia has expressed concern that fighting from Sierra Leone might spill over into Liberia. Foya District Commissioner Tennyson Farcornia told Elections Commission officers that ECOMOG Alpha jets were constantly flying low over border towns. He said the Liberian towns of Warsonga, Mendicorma, and Sodu were separated from Sierra Leone by land boundaries, and expressed the fear that Alpha jets might stray into Liberian territory and cause problems, as the borders are not visible from the air.

25 April: Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information is in the process of testing a new internet website under a domain set up by Sierra Leone Telecommunications Company (www.SierraTel.sl). When the site is operational, the Ministry reportedly plans to post news and information about Sierra Leone on a regular basis.

24 April: Some 250 civilians mutilated by AFRC/RUF rebels are being treated at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, medical sources said on Friday. The arms and feet of many of them had been crudely amputated, while others suffered from bayonet wounds, the sources told the Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding that 30 more wounded were being treated in Kenema. "Desperate bands of junta rebel factions continue to wreak havoc on innocent civilians particularly in the east. This untenable situation is still a source of deep concern as we are about to celebrate the 37th anniversary of our independence," a government statement said. The statement asked Sierra Leoneans to regard Independence Day as a day of reflection and prayer for the nation's peace-building efforts. "Independence Day should also serve as a day of remembrance for all valiant soldiers of ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces who have laid down their lives as a supreme sacrifice for the liberty and preservation of democracy in Sierra Leone," the broadcast statement said. "Sierra Leone cannot within the present circumstances embark on any programme of gaiety or relaxation."

ECOMOG spokesman Major Jones Aroh on Friday denied a report attributed to aid workers in Bo that an ECOMOG convoy was ambushed Tuesday in Koyima, some 25 miles from Bo. "We are not aware of anything like that. It is not true," Aroh said.

A group of Liberians, reported to be former NPFL and ULIMO-K fighters, is being held at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown on suspicion of aiding the AFRC military junta. Colonel Mohamed Koromah, a colonel in the defunct ULIMO-K militia, acknowledged in a BBC interview that Liberians from both militias are fighting alongside junta troops. He said his unit, which later changed its name to the Special Task Force (STF), was working under orders from its ally, the Sierra Leone Armed Forces, when it backed the AFRC. Koromah said he was a member of the AFRC negotiating team when it met ECOMOG representatives at Orugu Bridge prior to ECOMOG military intervention in February. In response to a question on how many Liberian militia members were being held at the prison, Koromah said, "Well, I was dropped here with 52 men, and I met some of the STF here. I don't know the number but, precisely, we should be about 100 in number." Ten more NPFL supporters of the RUF were conveyed to the prison during the interview, BBC correspondent Brima Fofana reported.

ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe said that 20 Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers whose coffins were displayed publicly in Freetown did not die in a single incident. "(They died) in incidents over a period of time and not in one go," Khobe said. "We had to wait to fly them because flights were not available." The Sierra Leone government imposed censorship on military reporting Wednesday following reports of the casualties carried in the news media.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is continuing to move Sierra Leonean refugees from border villages in Guinea to sites close to Kissidougou at a rate of about 1,500, according to an UNHCR briefing paper issued on Friday. Most of the refugees are being taken to the town of Nyaédou. Refugees reaching Guinea are reported to be in very bad condition; in particular, the UNHCR staff has expressed concern about children under five years of age. In villages where the refugees have no housing, virtually every child is coughing. The UNHCR has registered 100 cases of diarrhea Nyaédou over the past week. In partnership with Médecins sans Frontières, the UNHCR is attempting to vaccinate all children under five against measles. The most seriously ill and wounded refugees are being taken to a medical clinic at Faranah, where people with bullet and machete wounds are being registered at the rate of 10 a day. A first UNHCR emergency team member for the Faranah area was scheduled to arrive on Friday. Two more will follow early next week.

Travellers reaching Freetown told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that many of the refugees in camps in Guinea were dying of hunger and disease. One man quoted by the AFP said ten people were dying in the camps every day because of lack of food and medicine. Another said some 10,000 people were trying to cross into Guinea from Kono District.

23 April: The European Union (EU) will provide financial experts to fill key government positions and help fight corruption, Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Jonah said Thursday. "The stench of corruption has spread across all levels of the fabric of society, and a maximum effort must now be made to tackle it," Jonah told reporters.  As part of a "radical reform exercise," the EU will furnish an Accountant General and a Financial Secretary, Jonah said. An EU technical assistance team is due to arrive in Freetown shortly "to help set up a sound fiscal management," Jonah added. He said the World Bank is also expected to send a team to "assess the enormous damage" done to industries, the infrastructure, and businesses during junta rule. Jonah said he advocated setting up an independent authority to monitor internal revenue, customs, and excise taxes. "Prior to the seizure of power by the military junta, there was enough evidence that the civilian government was making appreciable progress in meeting the provisions set by the International Monetary Fund," he said. Jonah acknowledged that his ministry was overstaffed, especially in the accounts department which has over 400 employees, and he predicted that job cuts would soon be made.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy is expected in Sierra Leone on Monday for a two day visit. Bellamy will identify areas of priority for women and children, and urge Sierra Leone's government to include them on their agenda at the highest level. She will also visit UNICEF operations in Bo and Kenema, including camps, a referral hospital, and a child protection unit. Bellamy is due to leave for Guinea on Tuesday.

22 April: Some 250 Sierra Leone soldiers "retrained" to fight junta remnant forces have been jailed in Freetown after civilians accused them of atrocities, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe said Wednesday. When the soldiers passed through Bo last week, angry civilians accused them of having taken part in the murder, rape, and mutilation of civilians during junta rule, Khobe said. Those detained were among a first batch of junta soldiers who had been deployed alongside ECOMOG forces. They include one Lieutenant Buba, who was accused of killing a paramount chief last October by drenching him in acid, and a Lieutenant College, who is alleged to have killed Paramount Chief Alfred Demby in January. After ECOMOG captured Freetown in February, thousands of Sierra Leonean troops who surrendered were encamped and retrained to "perform useful services and provide a force to fight alongside ECOMOG troops in the interior," Khobe said. The practice was criticised by Deputy Minister of Defence and Civil Defence Force leader Sam Hinga Norman."The re-deployment was not only a risk to civilians but it (was) a big security risk to ECOMOG troops they would be fighting alongside," Norman said.

Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer on Wednesday imposed press censorship on all reporting on the conflict in Sierra Leone. According to SLBS (state radio), all  journalists, including foreign correspondents, must clear all reports relating to military activity with the ECOMOG press officer at Wilberforce Barracks. The new restrictions followed reports on the deaths of Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers fighting AFRC/RUF rebels. "The aim is not to censor the press, but rather to enable journalists to give out correct news, especially now the country is at war," Spencer said. ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe said there was widespread anger over the death of ECOMOG soldiers, and that authorities feared mob justice when alleged AFRC collaborators were brought to court to face treason charges.

Paramount Chief Kaimondo Sunduwa Sousiama told a meeting of Kono elders on Wednesday that AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma was "still trapped" in the village of Kongo Wawoh, near Kayima. "The atrocities being committed by the fleeing rebels have reached disheartening dimensions as villages and towns are set on fire and innocent civilians tortured to death," the chief said. "I am prepared to train local hunters in my chiefdom to complement the efforts of ECOMOG."

21 April: 23 more people were charged with treason in Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, bringing to 58 the total number of those charged in connection with last year's AFRC coup and nine months of junta rule. The accused include AFRC Secretary of State for Internal Affairs Brigadier (Rtd.) Modibo I. Leslie Lymon, Central Bank Governor Christian Kargbo, politician Nancy Steele, a former mayor of Freetown, and a lawyer who allegedly helped to print a new denomination of Sierra Leone's currency.

The Sierra Leone government has ordered the freezing of bank accounts belonging to 93 foreign nationals accused of collaborating with the military junta, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa said on Tuesday. The order to freeze the accounts was delivered to Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered, and Sierra Leone Commercial Bank on Monday. Officials said the 93 included Lebanese, Indians, Africans, and westerners. Berewa said the 93 "are suspected of having collaborated with the ousted AFRC military junta and also to have defrauded the country of much-needed revenue through customs duties fraud." Bank officials said the assets frozen amounted to several million dollars.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Judith Kumin said Tuesday that Sierra Leonean refugees reaching Guinea have reported atrocities committed by junta remnant troops and RUF fighters. The refugees said junta troops "are punishing people accused of not supporting them." Some civilians were shot; others were maimed or killed with machetes. "One of our people in the region who was in Rwanda in 1994 says he is getting a sense of deja vu," Kumin said. She noted that refugees are continuing to cross into Guinea at the rate of several hundred a day, while tens of thousands more remained stranded "in desperate conditions" along the border. A UNHCR team has recorded high and increasing rates of diarrhea, malaria and respiratory tract infections, as well as many cases of severe malnutrition, in remote villages in Guinea where many refugees have gathered, she added.

The bodies of 20 Nigerian soldiers who died in separate incidents were flown home on Monday, the Nigerian Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday. The newspaper said 12 of the soldiers were killed when junta troops ambushed an ECOMOG convoy along the Makeni-Kono road last week. The other 8 died from injuries received in a road accident two weeks ago.

SLPP Chairman Paul Dunbar is reported to have died March 20 at Yardu Village in Kono District at the age of 86. His death was first reported in early April by the New Vision newspaper, but other sources were unable to provide corroboration. Dunbar was reportedly killed when he attempted to protect his 13 year old granddaughter from being raped by rebel soldiers.

20 April: Aid workers in Kono District said Monday that the battle for Koidu continued to rage, with ECOMOG forces holding areas inside and around the city. "We will have a big humanitarian situation on our hands once things calm down in the town," one aid worker said. "We know there is a humanitarian disaster out there." Relief workers say thousands of people are trapped in the bush around Koidu, many suffering from hunger and disease.

President Kabbah swore in ten members of his cabinet on Monday, after they had earlier been confirmed by parliament. Among those who took the oath were Dr. Julius Spencer, Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture; Allie Bangura, Minister of Trade, Industry and Transport, and Dr. Sama Banya, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Also sworn in was Dr. Y.M. Koroma as Minister of State, Northern Province.

Nigeria on Monday flew home the bodies of 16 soldiers killed during ECOMOG's weeklong   offensive to capture Koidu and other nearby towns. A crowd gathered at Connaught Hospital in Freetown to watch the coffins being loaded into an ECOMOG truck.

U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone John Hirsch has expressed concern about allegations by ECOMOG that Liberia is training rebel junta troops, saying that the reports are creating fear. During talks with Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea in Monrovia, Hirsch said that the war in Sierra Leone should not continue from Liberia. Chea dismissed the accusations of Liberian involvement as "political propaganda and disinformation," and said that Liberia's territory would not be used to prolong the Sierra Leone crisis. Chea told Hirsch that the Liberian government remains supportive of ECOWAS peace initiatives in Sierra Leone.

19 April: Sierra Leone's under-20 soccer team defeated Liberia in Freetown Sunday, 4 goals to 3 in the first leg of the 1999 World Youth Under Twenty preliminaries. Sierra Leone's Abu Kamara scored with a header in the early minutes of the game. Substitute Clarence Weah equalized for Liberia in the 52nd minute. Sierra Leone then scored two goals in the 73rd and 76th minutes. Liberia replied with goals by Sekou Sherrif and Josiah Seton to again tie the game. Lone Star defender Winston Daniels received a red card the final minutes of the match. Sierra Leone's Sidiki Masselly took advantage of a defensive blunder to score the tie breaker. The second leg takes place in Monrovia in two weeks time.

18 April: Junta forces ambushed three buses carrying ECOMOG soldiers and Kamajor militiamen at Njagbwema, Fiama Chiefdom Saturday morning, 11 miles east of Koidu. Two people were killed and 16 wounded in one of the buses, which managed to escape. The fate of the 80 or more occupants of the other two buses is unknown. "Had it not been for an ECOMOG jet which arrived as we fell into the ambush, all of us would have been killed by the rebels. The gunfire was heavy," said Aiah Mohammed, the driver of the bus. Injured survivors were driven to Freetown, where several victims had limbs amputated. There has been no official response to the attack.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie denied Saturday reports that AFRC and RUF fighters had been driven from Koidu. "We are still in control of that area, so that statement is a complete propaganda just to frustrate our sympathizers out there," Bockarie told the BBC. "We are in control of the capital of Kono, which is Koidu Town, and some major towns around Kono.  Some chiefdoms are still under our control." Bockarie said "serious" fighting for Koidu was continuing. "The fighting is very tense. They have been using all sorts of artillery pieces for their scheme, while all those we have been capturing from them too is being used against them, too. And this is what has made the fighting stiff. We are always capturing their ammunition in ambushes and you are announcing some of these ambushes daily...We are successful to ambush a Nigerian colonel, together with four other officers. They cannot announce that, they only lie that they have taken Kono. I don't know how many Konos they are capturing." He said the AFRC/RUF had recaptured the towns of Jaima Nimikoro, Yormandu, Tombodu "as far as ?Ayade and toward Jaiama Sewafe." Bockarie acknowledged that junta troops had suffered casualties, but claimed that his fighters had inflicted heavy losses on ECOMOG. Bockarie said he was currently "around the north and the west" inside Sierra Leone. "That's my own operational area. I know there very well. That forest is my place," he said. Bockarie said his information on the situation in Kono came from his commander in the area. "I am always in contact with him. I have communication linkage with him. Even this morning, I got in contact with him to reconfirm the story...I always tell you the commander there is Colonel Superman. He is there, and I trust him. He can't lie to me."

On Friday, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said ECOMOG soldiers, backed by Kamajor militiamen, had taken control of the city, although other reports indicated that junta forces were holding the east end of town. On Saturday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that ECOMOG captured Koidu on Friday. Retreating rebels left the city in ruins, killing or maiming dozens of civilians who were unable to flee, the AP report said. The rebels "brought forward a large piece of wood on which they started cutting off our hands and fingers and feet," said Alhaji Tejan Cole, a wounded Kono resident. "Some managed to escape in the bush, some died because they were unable to endure the pain," he added.

ECOMOG forces captured four towns in Kailahun District Friday, according to a report by BBC correspondent Prince Brima. "The recapturing of these towns, which started on Easter Sunday, was not an easy task for the ECOMOG troops, as they ran into a series of ambushes," Brima said on Saturday. "But with a superior fire power in the four-day battle, 46 junta troops were killed, while an ammunition dump was destroyed." He added that ECOMOG troops had fought a second battle at Kigba near Bunumbu Friday after being ambushed by junta troops. 10 junta soldiers were killed and four captured, he said. "Meanwhile, 22 people, including women, were early this morning massacred in a mosque at Malima village, nine miles to Segbwema by the fleeing junta troops. According to reports, the people were in the mosque for the 6:00 a.m. prayers when they were rounded up by the junta troops and slaughtered like sheep," Brima reported.

Thousands of Sierra Leonean civil servants, members of parliament, and cabinet ministers--among them President Kabbah--are said to have received their first cheques since the return of civilian rule, the BBC reported Saturday.

17 April: Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Friday that ECOMOG had taken control of Koidu from junta loyalists and RUF fighters holding the city. "I won't tell you when we took the town. What is important is that we have captured Koidu and we are pushing forward on Kailahun and Koindu," Kaikai told a news conference. Sources close to the ECOMOG force said ECOMOG, backed by the the Kamajor militia, had driven junta troops from much of Koidu on Thursday afternoon, but that the rebels were still holding the eastern part of the city. Aid workers in Kono District reported by radio that an estimated 1,000 civilians were crossing into Liberia every day to escape the fighting. They said the rebels, backed by about 500 Liberian fighters, had withdrawn to the east end of the district with the stated aim of striking back against the ECOMOG force.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday unanimously approved deployment of up to ten U.N. military liaison and security personnel to Sierra Leone. The U.N. personnel will report on the military situation in the country, and will assist ECOMOG in identifying former combatants to be disarmed and drawing up a disarmament plan. U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okello said the mission would reassure former combatants that they would not be treated outside the law, and would observe that this was the case.

The European Union has contributed $7 million to help Sierra Leone to demobilise combatants, according to National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray. He said had been set up, or were in the process of being set up, throughout the country, and that the reintegration process would begin in the coming weeks.

ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe told the BBC that Liberian rebels fighting in the east of Sierra Leone are causing his troops more trouble than the junta forces and their RUF allies. Khobe said the Liberians, whom he identified as members of President Charles Taylor's NPFL militia, were hampering ECOMOG's efforts by destroying the infrastructure, such as bridges. He said the Liberians, along with their local allies, were killing large numbers of Sierra Leoneans. Khobe described as "very credible" a report that retreating junta forces had killed 80 people in the village of Ngolahun last weekend.

About 200 civilians were killed last Saturday night by retreating AFRC-RUF rebels in an attack on the village of  Bambatendu, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski has said that the exodus of refugees fleeing the fighting in Sierra Leone has reached alarming proportions. Janowski said more than 100,000 refugees had crossed into Liberia and Guinea since the beginning of the year. Since January, 50,000 Sierra Leoneans had arrived at Kissidougou, he said, and during the past week at least 1,000 Sierra Leoneans a day had crossed into Guinea—many of them suffering from malnutrition and respiratory infections. "According to people who recently arrived, there are tens of thousands more who are on their way to Guinea from Sierra Leone. So, we are seeing an emergency situation building up slowly. The people who flee Sierra Leone are in a very bad shape healthwise. Many of them have been on the road for four months." Janowski said the UNHCR was trying to move people awa from the border area, but that so far only about 15,000 Sierra Leoneans had been moved into the interior. "Some refugees, not very many, are trying to make their way to Conakry -- but, we're talking here about a few dozen a day -- and then try and take a boat or be transferred from Conakry to the capital of Sierra Leone or to areas in Sierra Leone which are safe." He said that while the situation in Guinea was critical, the flow of refugees to Liberia had almost ceased. About 50,000 Sierra Leoneans have fled to Liberia this year, but only a handful had arrived in the country since ECOMOG took control of the area along the Liberian border, Janowski said.

Physically handicapped Sierra Leonean refugees in Bopolu, Lofa County, have complained they are being neglected by relief agencies, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday. The refugees, who number about 15, said they had not received food or medical attention since the  International Committee of the Red Cross pulled out of the area last July. Most of them were maimed during fighting between the Kamajors and the RUF. The refugees have integrated with Bopolu residents and are engaged in farming. They said they were willing to return home when it was safe for them to do so.

16 April: President Kabbah on Thursday named ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe to assume control of Sierra Leone's internal security. "For now, Khobe will be in overall charge of ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone as well as the security system of the country," Kabbah announced during a televised swearing-in ceremony of his cabinet ministers. Kabbah said Nigeria had assigned Khobe to train the new Sierra Leone army. Khobe will continue to head the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, Kabbah said, and will be in charge of the country's security "until ECOMOG Field Commander General Timothy Shelpidi relocates his base (from Monrovia) in Sierra Leone." A presidential spokesman said that since the army had been discredited, the task of restructuring the army had been given to Khobe. "What he is simply doing is helping us restructure our army and advise us of the assistance we need in the guideline of equipment for the new Sierra Leonean army," the spokesman said.

15 April: ECOMOG troops, backed by the Kamajor militia, have captured part of Koidu from AFRC and RUF forces, National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray said Wednesday. "ECOMOG, supported by Kamajors, have taken part of Koidu Town and will take the rest of the town within a day or two," he said. Mansaray declined to give casualty figures, but hospital and other sources quoted by Reuters said more than 20 ECOMOG soldiers had been killed. Wounded Kamajors evacuated to Freetown said junta loyalists were still holding the town. "The junta troops are fighting to stop ECOMOG from capturing the town," Kamajor militiaman Ibrahim Mohamed said, adding that most of the resistance was coming from Liberian mercenaries. "(The junta troops) fight for two or three hours, and then they withdraw further into the town," he said.

BBC reporter Eddie Smith was killed Monday when junta forces ambushed an ECOMOG military convoy at Banbanduhun, in Kono District, the BBC reported on Wednesday. An ECOMOG soldier and five Kamajor militiamen also reportedly died in the attack. Smith covered Makeni and Kono Districts for the BBC since the military coup last May. He was a graduate of Fourah Bay College, and had worked for the independent Vision newspaper and as editor of The Storm newspaper for about five years. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that numerous persons who had their limbs amputated by junta forces were being treated at Connaught Hospital in Freetown, after surviving a 17 hour journey from Banbanduhun.

Aid workers, quoting traditional chiefs who reached Kenema from Kailahun District, said rebels had killed more than 150 civilians in villages in the area. They said that ECOMOG had captured 13 towns and villages since the military operation began there.

Hundreds of Sierra Leonean students in Guinea as refugees demonstrated in front of the Sierra Leone Embassy compound in Conakry Wednesday, demanding to be sent home. More than 900 students have registered with the embassy for repatriation, and many had given up their lodging in expectation of returning to Sierra Leone. However, since the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suspended the repatriation program, many have found themselves without housing. The UNHCR is reportedly planning a new repatriation scheme,  but many refugees have complained that they are unable to afford the price of transportation. Following the demonstration, the embassy gave assurances that it would do its utmost to alleviate the cost of transport for Sierra Leonean refugees.

Nigerian Acting Director of Defence Information Colonel Godwin Ugbo on Wednesday accused Liberia of assisting in the training of Sierra Leonean rebels -- a charge made last week by ECOMOG 26th Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Buhari Musa. "It has been established that Charles Taylor is aiding and abetting the training of about 3,000 Revolutionary United Front militia," Ugbo told journalists in Lagos, adding that Taylor wanted to create instability in Sierra Leone. "This is wrong, but he wants instability in Sierra Leone so that Liberia, his own country, will be stable." Liberia has denied the allegations. Ugbo said AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma was hiding at "an undisclosed border point" between Sierra Leone and Liberia, and added that "RUF renegades" would soon be forced out by ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in a report issued April 15, said that while security in the east and southeast of the country remains poor, other areas are now calm. The U.N. has revised the security status of Freetown, Bo, and Kenema accordingly. WFP internal staff will now be able to undertake short missions to Bo and Kenema, rather than the previous day trips. The WFP-chartered vessel M/V Cecil Dande is currently discharging 1,115 tons of mixed food and commodities brought from Guinea on April 3. More than 2,414 tons of WFP commodities are available in-country, with some 1,885 tons available in Conakry for Sierra Leone. The WFP is projecting to distribute some 2,740 tons of food in May. Priority will be given to food-for-work agricultural programs, "as support to the agricultural sector between April and August is critical," the report said. The WFP reported that Sierra Leonean refugees continued to cross the border into Liberia, arriving at Vaahun, Lofa County at the rate of some 500 a day. As of 6 April, 52,120 Sierra Leoneans had been registered at the Folima crossing point. There was general agreement that the refugees should be moved to more accessible areas away from the border, the WFP report said. A task force made up of UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, UNOPS, IFRC, ICRC, GTZ, and medical NGOs has been formed to closely monitor the Vaahun situation.

"A woman claiming to be the wife of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh" has claimed that only the release of her husband can bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone,   Liberian Star Radio reported on Wednesday. Madam Lusah Lomax Sankoh, interviewed in Lofa County, Liberia, said RUF fighters were refusing to disarm because their leader was still in detention in Nigeria. She appealed to ECOWAS to free Foday Sankoh, saying his release would restore total peace to the sub-region.

14 April: ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe said Tuesday that ECOMOG troops were closing in on Koidu on three fronts, and had reached the town of Motema. He said ECOMOG troops were also advancing on Kailahun from Guinea. Khobe said his troops "will hunt down" AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma and RUF commander Colonel Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, as well as other junta leaders still at large. ECOMOG troops have all but surrounded Koidu, and have moved to within three miles of the city, according to civilians who have fled the town. They said thousands of junta troops and RUF fighters had massed inside the town and were putting up stiff resistance. "Thousands of civilians are escaping from Koidu as ECOMOG troops continue to push forward in bitter fighting around the town," one aid worker said in Freetown. "Most of these civilians are in bad physical shape and malnourished and could not walk far." National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray said ECOMOG had captured a large number of junta loyalists. "The ECOMOG troops advancing to Koidu are putting the rebels under tremendous pressure," he said.

Fourteen more persons appeared before Justice Claudia Taylor in Magistrate's Court in Freetown Tuesday, charged with treason in connection with last year's military coup. The defendants include former President Joseph Saidu Momoh, managing director of WBIG FM 103 and former BBC presenter Hilton Fyle, AFRC Under Secretary of State for Information and former junta spokesman Allieu Badara Kamara, Secretary of State for Religious Affairs Rev. David Bangura, Ahmid Kamara, who was secretary to AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma, and Citizen newspaper managing editor Ibrahim B. Kargbo. No pleas were taken from the defendants, and the hearing was adjourned until April 21. BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay said some of the defendants faced difficulties in obtaining legal counsel. "Many lawyers in Freetown are saying that they are not going to represent some the the accused because they encouraged looting, and also because of the public perception that by representing some of the accused persons, the public might consider them to be AFRC sympathizers."

Sierra Leone's parliament late Tuesday approved President Kabbah's nominations of five cabinet ministers. Those approved included Dr. Sama Banya (foreign affairs), Alhaji Mohamed Deen (mineral resources), Charles Margai (internal affairs and local administration), Dr. Julius Spencer (information, tourism and culture), and Dr. Sulaiman Tejan Jalloh (health and sanitation). Dr. O.C. Jonah (finance and economic planning) is expected to be confirmed when he returns from a foreign trip. Nine other cabinet members were ministers in Kabbah's pre-coup cabinet, and did not need to be approved by parliament.

More than 80 civilians have been reported massacred by retreating junta troops at Ngolanhun in Kailahun District, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported on Tuesday. "About 65 women and children were shot dead, while 20 were slaughtered beyond recognition by some of their relatives," Margao said. Some of the wounded were taken to Kenema Government Hospital, while three others were taken to the Government Hospital in Bo. One woman, who had suffered serious gunshot wounds and had her right hand amputated, said her three children were tied up by rebels and thrown into the fire. Another escapee, whose mother was murdered, told how the rebels attacked Mamboma and [name indistinct], but were later repelled by the Kamajors.  More than 60,000 civilians in neighboring chiefdoms have reportedly taken refuge in the forests.

Rev. Edward Bockarie, a Catholic priest based at Yengema in Kono District,  has been missing for nearly a week, according to Rev. Daniel Yeaboah, the head of Saint Martin's Church in Freetown. "We are anxious to trace the missing priest and we hope that nothing has happened to him," Yeaboah said. "The reports we are getting speak of many atrocities committed by junta forces, including the killing of innocent civilians." He added that some of the missionaries based in Yengema were known to have fled to Guinea.

13 April: ECOMOG has begun a "final offensive" against junta loyalists in Kono and Kailahun Districts, ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe announced on SLBS (state radio) late Sunday. "Our troops commenced the final push today," Khobe said. Aid workers said Monday that the ECOMOG force was using tanks and warplanes in its drive against junta positions. Civilians reaching Bo and Kenema reported fierce fighting near Koidu and the town of Kailahun. Khobe said his troops were converging from Kabala, Sewafe, Bo, Kenema, and Daru, while Guinean ECOMOG troops were advancing from their border. "At the moment, the central axis is making good movement," he said. "The junta troops are divided into pockets and are fighting in different directions." Yengema, on the outskirts of Koidu, had already been captured by ECOMOG troops, he added. On Friday, Khobe told reporters that ECOMOG would "liberate" Kono and Kailahun Districts by Wednesday. ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said the rebels have made use of Sierra Leone's thick forests to evade capture and to launch ambushes against ECOMOG troops, but he noted that the attacks were infrequent and did not appear to be well-organised. He said it was not clear how long it would take to complete the offensive. Junta loyalists and RUF fighters have vowed to make their final stand at Koidu, and witnesses say they have fortified the city and massed thousands of fighters in preparation for the ECOMOG assault. Civilians fleeing Kono have told of widespread killing of civilians and destruction of property by junta forces at Koidu and in numerous villages throughout the district.

RUF leader Sam "Maskita" Bockarie has disputed reports that ECOMOG is closing in on Kono District. "I learned [indistinct] they are trying to do so, that they are forcing their way to take Kono, but we haven't given any chance and I am telling you that I will not allow them to take Kono. We will not allow them. We will fight till as much as they want us to fight. We will not give up. It is true they have launched an all-out offensive, but they will not succeed," Bockarie told the BBC by satellite telephone. He said that the RUF was prepared to wage guerilla warfare against ECOMOG. "As a guerilla, we don't want to fight in the big towns. We trick them to get into the jungle where we can deal with them, before ever marching to the towns." Bockarie rejected a suggestion that the RUF lay down its weapons. "We are fighting a just cause. We are fighting because ECOMOG has moved into our country," he said.

Deputy Minister of Defence and Civil Defence Leader Sam Hinga Norman denied rumours Monday that he planned to overthrow the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah with the aid of Kamajor militiamen. "No presidents have performed better for the ousting of the illegal AFRC regime and the return of civilian rule that President Kabbah," Norman told a crowd at Bo Town Hall. He promised he would remain loyal to the head of state "till the end of the world." Norman disclosed plans for the formation of a regional task force for the defence of the eastern, southern, and northern provinces in times of aggression.

11 April: A three-man mission of the Organisation of African Unity Commission on Refugees left Ethiopia for Liberia and Sierra Leone on Saturday, to assess emergency assistance needs of refugees and war-displaced persons in the two countries. The mission is head by Ambassador Hilaire Mbea Mbea of Cameroon to Ethiopia, and includes Ambassador Jean Bakoniarivo of Madagascar and Ise Mponzi from the OAU Bureau for Refugees. "The objective of these missions is to assess the situation of refugees, returnees, and displaced persons in the countries concerned, and whenever possible provide assistance to the affected victims," an OAU information press release said. The mission is the first of several planned by OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim to assess the assistance needs of thousands of refugees, returnees, and displaced persons in 16 African countries. Other missions will visit Algeria, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), and Tanzania. The OAU devotes at least 6% of its budget to refugee assistance, and has also established a special fund for assistance to African refugees.

A four-member team from the Liberian Ministry of Defence has returned to Monrovia from Camp Naama in Bong County, Liberian Star News reported on Saturday. The team was sent to the area following allegations made on Wednesday by  ECOMOG 26th Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Buhari Musa that the Liberian government was training junta forces at the camp, described by Musa as a former NPFL training base located in Lofa County. ECOMOG's Chief Military Intelligence Officer and the United States Military Attaché to Liberia were reportedly also on the team. A Defence Ministry statement quoted the two as saying they saw no evidence of junta training at Camp Naama.

Sierra Leone plans a second international donors conference to solicit funds to repair war damage and to resettle the country's estimated 2.1 war displaced persons and refugees, Kanja Sesay, Deputy Commissioner of the National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation said Saturday. "Before the coup, we organised a donors conference in Geneva, where donors pledged some 232 million U.S. dollars, but the next conference is planned to take place in Sierra Leone, so that participants can appreciate the magnitude of the problem," Sesay said. The Commission is holding talks with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other U.N. agencies, on the planned conference, he added. Sesay said lack of funds was a major constraint on the Commission, currently manned only by him and the commissioner. "We cannot access the funds pledged by donors at the last conference, and the estimated $2.5 million  grant received from the British government and the U.N. was used in providing institutional, logistic, and administrative support," he said. All the supplies acquired with the money were looted by the junta, Sesay said. The Commission is also charged with the demobilisation of former combatants. Sesay said the lack of funds was frustrating and could scuttle the program.

10 April: Heavy artillery exchanges were reported along the Makeni-Kono highway on Thursday as ECOMOG began its offensive against junta remnant forces and RUF fighters. The offensive was initiated by an ECOMOG rapid-reaction force to dislodge junta loyalists from a two-mile stretch of road where they had mounted several ambushes, including one on an ECOMOG truck on Wednesday. During Thursday's operation, 20 junta soldiers were reported killed and large amounts of arms and ammunition seized. ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe said Friday that his troops will clear AFRC remnant troops and RUF fighters from Kono and Kailahun Districts within a week. "By Wednesday (April 15) we would have liberated the whole area," Khobe said following a visit to Kono on Thursday. Most of the former Sierra Leone Army troops have surrendered to or have been captured by ECOMOG, but an estimated 3,000 soldiers have joined with RUF fighters to hold out in the eastern part of the country. As to allegations that junta troops were being reinforced by elements of Liberian President Charles Taylor's disbanded NPFL militia, Khobe said ECOMOG was not concerned. "When we finish with the remnant junta forces and the RUF rebels, we will face any incursion from any quarters," he said. It is estimated that ECOMOG will need at least a year to implement postwar security and rehabilitation programmes. 

19 junta soldiers who had previously surrendered to ECOMOG forces were killed Tuesday after they regrouped and attacked a village in Kabala District.

Kamajor sources say rebels have crossed from Liberia and attacked the town of Ngandorhun, in Kono District, Reuters reported on Friday. Kamajor leaders say they have appealed to ECOMOG for arms and ammunition to fight the rebels.

ECOMOG Force Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi confirmed Friday that roads connecting Sierra Leone and Liberia have been closed. (ECOMOG had) taken measures to protect its troops and prevent rebels mixing with civilians and crossing into Liberia under the guise of being refugees," Shelpidi said, adding, "Liberia is also complaining about an influx of refugees from Sierra Leone." The order closing the roads was announced Wednesday by ECOMOG 26th Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Buhari Musa at a press conference in Bo. As to Musa's charge that the Liberian government is training junta loyalists in Liberia, Shelpidi only said that the allegations were not new. The Liberian government has denied the charge. Shelpidi said ECOMOG's advance into Kailahun and Kono Districts was being impeded because the rebels had destroyed key bridges and blocked roads with tree trunks. "We will move on as soon as the obstacles are removed," he said.

The Sierra Leone government has banned all foreigners from the country's key gold and diamond mining areas, SLBS (state radio) reported on Friday. "Only individuals of Sierra Leone origin and nationality, with valid dealers or exporters licenses, will be allowed within the already identified chiefdoms," the report said. The edict, which takes force with immediate effect, listed chiefdoms in Bo, Kenema, Kono, Pujehun, Bonthe, and Kambia Districts. Sierra Leoneans had not fully benefited from the country's mineral resources, and this was an attempt to redress that situation, the statement said. Police, and officials of the Ministry of Mineral Resources, will be charged with enforcing the order.

Minister of Finance and Development designate James Jonah said Friday that Sierra Leone needs prudent management of its resources and accountability to rebuild the nation's economy. "The major problem has always been mismanagement, and it is time the people were told that no country develops through handouts," Jonah said following his return to Sierra Leone on Thursday. Jonah said he was hopeful of strong international support, and that he would use his contacts to attract foreign aid for the country, but he warned that the ultimate development of the nation depended upon Sierra Leoneans themselves. "There is so much to be done, and we can only receive help if we convince our friends that we are serious about rebuilding our country," he said. Jonah claimed that Sierra Leone's crisis had always been engineered by Liberia, and he accused Liberian President Charles Taylor's government of pursuing a "hidden agenda" in Sierra Leone, mainly targeting the country's mineral wealth. "I have always warned that until this problem is addressed, the sub-region is is danger," Jonah said, adding that Taylor's political ambitions should be checked. He accused the Liberian government of using "disgruntled elements" to cause trouble in Sierra Leone. Jonah welcomed President Kabbah's policy of national reconciliation. "But we need to remove the cancer worms in our society," he added.

9 April: The Commonwealth has agreed to provide three judges to Sierra Leone to conduct trials of defendants accused of involvement with the AFRC military junta. In addition, India and Ghana have each agreed to provide one judge on a bilateral basis.

Liberian Secretary of State for Defence Daniel Chea denied Thursday ECOMOG accusations that the Liberian government is training AFRC remnant forces and RUF fighters at Camp Naama in Lofa County, Liberia. "There is no training course in the country and the Liberian government has absolutely no interest in any part of the war in Sierra Leone," Chea said. He added that the "very, very big lesson" Liberians learned from their own civil war is that the country will not be interested in the fighting in Sierra Leone. "The Liberian government has no interest in getting involved in the Sierra Leonean crisis. It is a local problem and we prefer to keep it that way. (The accusations are) the imagination of someone who wants to win international sympathy." Chea said his government had deployed troops in Lofa County along the Sierra Leone border in recent weeks to help immigration officials control the influx of Sierra Leonean refugees.

President Kabbah praised the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) in an address to the nation Wednesday night, and outlined his government's plans to restructure the army. "I should like to recognize the loyal and courageous service rendered by the CDF and the great work they are doing in cooperation with ECOMOG, and the high reputation they gained in insuring that our people in villages and remote places enjoy peace and security," Kabbah said. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana summarized the speech: [On the restructured army] "He spoke about loyal elements within the army, and said that all of these people would be among the matters that will be taken into consideration in deciding the shape and form of the new security establishment in the country...He did not say very categorically what the army would look like, but he did say that he was considering having a small army, but that it must be highly trained and well equipped...He mentioned that there were some loyal soldiers who did cross over to the ECOMOG side to help in the campaign against the AFRC junta. And I will imagine that these soldiers will be considered for the new military arrangement that will supplant the now discredited Sierra Leone army. [On the expulsion of foreigners] He said that some of these foreigners, most of them Lebanese, had improperly obtained their Sierra Leonean passports, and some were involved in some dubious deals that violated the privileges which (the) passport confers on them, and therefore these people were expelled from the country. This does not in any way mean that his government is xenophobic or rather anti-foreign, and that (the) government and the people of Sierra Leone are ready to accommodate foreigners as long as they respect the local people and abide by the laws of the land. [On reconciliation] President Kabbah stressed the need and importance for reconciliation, as he put it, for the benefit of the nation. Now it seems that his government is totally committed to reconciliation and economic progress of the country, and therefore he appealed to elements of the defunct junta who are still holding out in the provinces to contact the nearest ECOMOG base and surrender themselves, so that they will be allowed to participate in the whole process of reconciliation."

8 April: ECOMOG 26th Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Buhari Musa accused the Liberian government on Wednesday of helping to shore up AFRC remnant forces and their RUF allies, hindering the ECOMOG force's advance into eastern Sierra Leone. At a press conference in Bo, Musa said 3,000 junta troops were receiving military training at Camp Naama in Lofa County, Liberia which had been used as a training camp by President Charles Taylor's NPFL militia during the Liberian civil war. "Junta forces are receiving support from Liberia, where they are being trained and armed," Musa said. "Fifteen Kamajors who were recently abducted by the rebels are currently being held in Liberia." Musa announced that all roads between Kenema and the Mano River Bridge, at the Liberian border, had been closed to public transportation. He said the decision to close the roads was taken in order to prevent cross-border activities by dissident groups, which were hampering ECOMOG operations. 

Hundreds of people fleeing into Guinea to escape junta forces in Kono District have died in the forests and mountainous area, government and aid officials said Wednesday. Large numbers of Kono residents have been trying to reach United Nations refugees camps inside Guinea, they said. "But hundreds of them die in the difficult trek," one aid official said in Freetown. He and a senior government official spoke of bodies littering the bush paths. "I escaped from Kono District with more than 1,000 people heading for Guinea two weeks ago," said Sahr Gando, Director of Broadcasting in Sierra Leone's information ministry. "On the 35-mile journey, more than 200 people traveling with me died." UNHCR officials say there are more than 50,000 refugees sheltering at camps just inside Guinea, with many more arriving daily. New arrivals told of  killing and pillaging by rebels in Kono District, where they had conscripted local men and boys to join them.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has resumed work up-country, according to an ICRC report issued on Wednesday. The ICRC delivered consignments of medicines to Kenema Government Hospital on March 22 and April 2, to help treat emergency cases. 40 operations have been performed on war-wounded patients at the hospital since the end of February, the report said. On March 31, ICRC delegates returned to Bo for the first time since activities up-country were suspended because of the fighting. The delegates re-established contact with local authorities in order to gather information on the situation in regard to nutrition, health, and water supplies. The ICRC delegates also visited persons detained by ECOMOG and gave them blankets and personal hygiene items. In cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS), Red Cross messages can be delivered to areas outside of Freetown, including Bo, Moyamba, Makeni, Port Loko, and Lungi, so that families members can communicate despite disruption of normal channels of communication. ICRC water and sanitation engineers, in cooperation with Ministry of Health staff, resumed work last week on 55 wells in Bombali District and Port Loko town, in an attempt to complete the project before the beginning of the rainy season. In the three months since fighting ended in Freetown, five primary-health clinics receiving ICRC support gave consultations to 40,000 patients and immunized 850 children in accordance with the World Health Organisation's EPI (Expanded Programme on Immunization) standards. During the same period the ICRC, in cooperation with the SLRCS, distributed 483 tons of food to 36,877 persons in Freetown, the report said.

Efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea has come to a halt, three weeks after it started, Liberian Star Radio reported on Wednesday. No official reason for the suspension was given, but tickets issued to returnees were reportedly being sold to Sierra Leonean business people. "These business people, who evade taxes on both sides of the borders, have since the ousting of the military government commenced a lucrative cross border trade. The Guinean government has raised concerns about large amounts of duty free good carried into Sierra Leone," the report said, adding that the UNHCR had protested that the real refugees it intended to serve were not benefiting.

7 April: The United Nations Security Council has voted to maintain an arms embargo on Sierra Leone, despite the reinstatement of the country's civilian government. The acting president of the Council said removal of the embargo was not in the best interests of Sierra Leone because of the continued fighting there. The decision to maintain the embargo is said to have come at the request of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the BBC reported Tuesday.

In its report issued on  April 7, the World Food Programme (WFP) noted that eastern and southeastern Sierra Leone remain tense with continued fighting, resulting in thousands of civilians fleeing into Lofa County, Liberia. The WFP reported it has stockpiled 1,300 tons of assorted food commodities in Sierra Leone, with an additional 3,000 tons in Conakry, Guinea. A WFP-chartered vessel, the M/V Cecil Dande, was expected to return to Freetown from Conakry on April 3, carrying 1,200 tons of mixed commodities. The WFP said the vessel would be discontinued after this consignment, and the balance of the commodities in Guinea would be transported overland to Kambia and Makeni. Over the period from March 25-31, the WFP released more than 400 tons of assorted commodities to Action Contre la Faim for use in wet feeding centers in Freetown. The centers targeted 20,000 children under five and 10,000 adults at the six centers, located in the most vulnerable communities in the capital. In Makeni, a one-month food ration was distributed to vulnerable persons through Concern and Caritas. The WFP also provided food to institutions such as hospitals and orphanages in Bo and Kenema through various implementing partners. The WFP report noted that the price of locally-produced commodities such as palm oil were decreasing, due in part to the availability of fuel for transport. The price of rice was increasing, the report said, as stocks from the last harvest were being depleted.

6 April: 21 civilians were charged with treason in magistrate's court Monday in connection with their involvement with the May 25 coup. A 22nd defendant, former Secretary of State for Justice Claude Campbell, was absent because of ill health. According to the prosecution, all 22 "participated in and promoted an endeavor to overthrow the legitimate government of Sierra Leone on May 25, 1997 by unlawful means." All of the accused were charged with treason, which carries the death penalty. Some of the defendants also face additional charges of arson and murder. Dozens of police officers guarded the crowded courtroom as relatives of the accused wept when the charges were read. No pleas were taken, and Magistrate Claudia Taylor adjourned the hearing to April 14.  A list of the accused, compiled after their first court appearance on March 30, includes Sheku Bayoh, a former secretary to several civilian and military heads of state; Umaru Deen-Sesay, Secretary of State for Sports and one-time captain of the national football squad; Victor Brandon, Secretary of State for Development and Economic Planning; Hassan Barrie, Under Secretary of State for Energy and Power and a former engineer with the National Power Authority; Dennis Kamara, who was Deputy Head of Immigration before the coup; Mohammad Bangura, Commissioner for Tourism and later Secretary of State for Information, and former President of the National League for Human Rights and Democracy; Gipu Felix George, head of SLBS under the junta and a former freelance consultant to UNICEF; Dennis Smith, a former SLBS director; Olivia Mensah, an SLBS reporter; Maada Maka Swaray, a former SLBS reporter; William Smith of the newspaper We Yone; Dalinda Lebbie; C.P.O. Samuel Sanpha "Major" Sesay, who was head of immigration under the AFRC; Claude Campbell, a lawyer and former attorney-general under the NPRC; Steve Bio, an arms dealer, relative of former NPRC leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, and associate of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh; Gibril Massaquoi, Sankoh's former spokesman, John Sesay and Anthony Tommy Patrick. Sesay and Patrick were also charged with murder, while the two women, Olivia Mensah and Dalinda Lebbie, were accused of spying for the junta. Radio broadcaster Hilton Fyle's name was read out at the first hearing, although he did not appear in court.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah said the situation in the country was gradually returning to normal. During a stopover in Guinea on his way back to Freetown, Kabbah said security in eastern Sierra Leone and the general food situation were his government's key concerns.

The Leone has stabilised at about Le 1,500 to the dollar, the Pan African News Agency (PANA) reported on Monday. This compares to a value of around Le 2,500 [As reported by PANA. The leone varied in value from about Le 1200 to Le 1600 to one during the period.] to one during AFRC military rule, and about Le 850 to one before the coup. The price of petrol has come down to its pre-coup level of Le 3,000 per gallon, from around Le 18,000. Rice now sells for about Le 31,000 per 50 kilo bag--down from as much as Le 60,000 during junta rule, but still above the pre-coup price of Le 18,000, the report said.

Rex Diamond Mining Corporation anticipates resuming operations in Sierra Leone "in the near future" now that the civilian government has been restored,  the company said in a news release issued on Monday.

5 April: Sierra Leonean High Commissioner to Nigeria, Joe Blell, Sunday backed the Nigerian proposal to use ECOMOG as the basis for a peacekeeping force for all of Africa. Blell said ECOMOG should be used as a model and a take-off point for African peacekeeping initiatives in view of its efficiency and success in resolving crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Referring to the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) backed by the United States and France, Blell said, "An African rapid deployment force in the continent without Nigerian participation would be a failure, given Nigeria's antecedents in peacekeeping."  On Friday, U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Africa Joe Wilson called ECOMOG an ad hoc organisation put together by ECOWAS to deal with the crisis in Liberia and later Sierra Leone. "ECOMOG will essentially disband after the Liberia problem is solved," he said. "ACRI is another opportunity, if there is another crisis, to pull together a multi-battalion force to go in and deal with the humanitarian relief operation or a peacekeeping operation." Wilson said the ACRI, which has the backing of six African countries so far, would operate under the auspices of the OAU, the U.N., or both.

ECOMOG task force commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe has said that all loyal soldiers will be reinstated into the restructured Sierra Leone Army, Liberian Star Radio reported on Sunday. Khobe said that the new officer corps will consist of persons with a solid academic background. Many university students and graduates had expressed willingness to join the new army, Khobe said, adding that some had already undergone military training. Troops who fought with the junta until their ammunition ran out are considered rebels, Khobe said, and will not be reintegrated into the new army.

Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia are calling on the Liberian government to open its borders to allow them to return home, the Liberian Star News reported Sunday. Liberia's border with Sierra Leone was closed last year to prevent a spillover of the Sierra Leone conflict into Liberia. Refugees say that relief agencies are not providing adequate care for them at the Sinje refugee camp. The Refugees Chairman at Sinje, Abdullai Brima, said nearly 2,000 refugees are ready for repatriation. He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has given little attention to the refugees at Sinje. Food rations have been reduced over the months, with each refugee now receiving 18 cups of bulgur and 3 snaps of oil a month.  Only two of the seven hand pumps are in operation, he said. Food is provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) through its implementing partner, World Vision. The refugees reportedly are to receive 27 cups of bulgur, 3 snaps of oil, and 3 cups of beans every month. World Vision has blamed the WFP and the UNHCR for the delay in food distribution. There are more than 7,000 refugees at the camp, which is located 65 miles west of Monrovia. Refugees are calling on the UNHCR to facilitate their return home, but the UNHCR says it has no facilities to receive the refugees on their return. Refugee spokesman Momoh Kanneh  said over 1,500 refugees had already packed and were awaiting repatriation

4 April: ECOMOG told the BBC Saturday that it had captured the six "strategic" towns of Kwiva, Bandajuma Yawei, Maka Kpakeibu, Gbonimbu Kpejewaa, Baaka, and Mano Ferry in Kailahun District from junta forces. ECOMOG troops and their Kamajor allies said they had captured large caches of arms and ammunition. Retreating junta forces reportedly massacred 75 civilians at [?Nyayama] and burned down 30 houses. 20 others who were wounded have been admitted to the Kenema Government Hospital. BBC correspondent Prince Brimah reported a military build-up at Kenema, with ECOMOG soldiers and Kamajor militiamen loaded in trucks, heading for Kailahun. Brimah also reported 115 wounded Kamajors at Kenema Government Hospital. The commander of the ECOMOG 26th Infantry Brigade, Colonel Buhari Musa, said junta forces have resorted to destroying bridges in Kono and Kailahun Districts, but that this would not prevent his troops from capturing the two districts in the near future. Musa called on the junta forces to stop the killing of innocent people and the destruction of their country. He warned them to surrender immediately, saying they could not stop his troops from flushing them out of eastern Sierra Leone.

3 April: Rebel AFRC and RUF fighters have heavily have made Koidu their headquarters and have strongly fortified the city, sources close to ECOMOG said Friday. ECOMOG says its troops have surrounded Koidu and are poised to attack. Residents fleeing the town say that thousands of civilians remain trapped there, and that people are dying of hunger and disease. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said AFRC leader Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma remained in Sierra Leone, but that RUF acting commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie has fled to Liberia. "We know for sure that Koroma and some other key members of his junta are still trapped in Sierra Leone," Kaikai said, adding that every effort would be made through diplomatic sources to ensure Bockarie's return to Sierra Leone for trial.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says some 65,000 Sierra Leoneans have fled the country in the past month from areas of the country still under rebel control. A UNHCR spokesman said 40,000 refugees had crossed into Guinea from eastern Sierra Leone. Many were wounded, and most of the young women said they had been raped by rebel troops. The UNHCR said it was struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.

British Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd will brief a number of NGO's Friday on his trip to Sierra Leone as a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) mission which met with President Kabbah on Tuesday. "The mission was a demonstration of the Commonwealth's strong support for President Kabbah's government," Lloyd said. "We welcome the restoration of peaceful and secure conditions, and we support the restored legitimate government of Sierra Leone in the task of national reconstruction and peace building." The NGO's attending will include Christian Aid, Tear Fund, Oxfam, Conciliation Resources, Save the Children, Article 19, Amnesty International, Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Wateraid, Care International, British Red Cross, Medècins Sans Frontiéres, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Action Against Hunger, Action Aid, Merlin, World Vision, Disasters and Emergencies Committee, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Nord Resources Corp., a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile Ltd., announced Friday that international development banks have extended their existing debt forbearance agreement with the company to May 15. Nord's partner in the joint venture, Consolidated Rutile Ltd., made a similar announcement earlier in the day. The Nord statement said the agreement was made to allow negotiations over the restructuring of the company's debt to be concluded. The company said it expects to receive the balance of its political risk insurance claim in settlement for damage to its facilities at Mobimbi by RUF fighters and army looters in 1995. Sierra Rutile Ltd. is finalizing cost estimates and timing to resume mining operations, the statement said, and will begin to refurbish the facilities after security arrangements, financing, and formal government guarantees are in place.

2 April: The Sierra Leone government has expelled 22 foreigners, mostly Lebanese, who allegedly had business dealings with the ousted military junta. The order of expulsion was signed personally by President Kabbah, according to a statement issued by the attorney-general's office. "Their continued presence is not in the best interest of Sierra Leone. They have shown themselves to be disloyal to Sierra Leone and its government," the statement said. Nine of those expelled were naturalised Sierra Leone citizens, who have had their citizenship revoked. "Those expelled gave full support to the military junta to cause suffering and hardship on the people," Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa said in a radio broadcast. A second statement issued by the attorney-general's office reminded naturalised citizens that Sierra Leone law forbids dual citizenship. Many foreigners "have caused much havoc on the economy of Sierra Leone, and when they saw it served their selfish and narrow interests, they would even collaborate with customs while determined to destroy this country, and caused suffering on the people of Sierra Leone," the statement said, adding that efforts would be made to recover lost customs duties and taxes "which formed the main revenue base of this country."

Commonwealth countries should assist Sierra Leone to rebuild its national institutions, such as the police force, and help the nation develop a policy on the exploitation of its mineral resources, Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge said following a meeting between the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and President Kabbah. "In that respect on our visit we agreed with President Kabbah that the Commonwealth develop and implement support for the development of a sound policy framework for the country's mining sector," said Mudenge, who led the five-man CMAG mission to Freetown on Tuesday. The ministers also agreed that the Commonwealth should work through its secretariat to establish income-generating programs for youth development, to lower the country's high unemployment levels. "We also urged all member governments to assist bilaterally in every practicable way in the country's efforts to achieve national reconstruction and reconciliation," Mudenge said. The United Nations will hold a conference in Freetown in the near future to focus on helping the country to rebuild its public institutions, Mudenge added.

Journalists in Kenema said Thursday that ECOMOG troops are advancing in Kono District. ECOMOG has reportedly deployed at Jaiama Sewafe, some 30 miles west of Koidu. Witnesses said Koidu had been nearly completely burned down by junta troops and RUF fighters.

Seven people were reported killed at the town of Dankawalie when junta supporters ambushed a civilian vehicle on its way from Kabala. ECOMOG has since deployed in the area and has arrested several suspects. "They were mainly surrendered rebels found with documents normally issued to surrendered soldiers and rebels," one journalist said.

The decomposing bodies of more than 550 people were discovered Tuesday in two mass graves in Bonthe. Members of the Civil Defence Unit (CDU) said most of the dead were women and children. "We were attracted to the area by the heavy stench and vultures flying overhead, and when we got to the area we found decomposed limbs and hands sticking out from the shallow graves," one CDU member said. He said he believed the people had been killed six weeks ago by retreating junta forces who bombarded the island, believing it to be a Kamajor stronghold. A diplomatic source has spoken of RUF "genocide" on Bonthe Island by the RUF, citing reports that the rebels had killed virtually "every man or boy of fighting age." Bonthe was used extensively as a training area by the Kamajor militia before it was captured by the RUF. "We have to be aware of the health risk involved, as many of these killings and burials were done between the last three weeks of February," said David Kamara of Handicap International.

Junta supporters abducted seven girls between the ages of 7 and 15 and raped others when they invaded the Ben Hirsch Child Care Center in Kenema,  SLBS (state radio) reported on Wednesday. The centers coordinator, Musu Bureh, has appealed for the release of the abductees. Most of the girls at the center were orphaned during the war, she said.

Liberian Minister of Defence Daniel Chea said all unarmed Sierra Leoneans will be granted refugee status, Liberian Star Radio reported on Thursday. Chea warned that Liberian territory could not be used to wage war against neighbouring countries.

1 April: AFRC and RUF forces in Kailahun and Kono Districts number around 20,000, according to a humanitarian source quoted by the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa (IRIN). The rebels are reported to have anti-aircraft weapons on mobile platforms, land mines, artillery, and a command-and-control structure, the source said, adding that they were desperate with nowhere to go. "They are reportedly conducting a 'no-living-thing' operation in Kailahun, killing all the people, goats, and chickens," he said.

ECOMOG flew ten civilians with amputated limbs from Kono to Connaught Hospital in Freetown Wednesday. One of the victims said junta forces entered Jaiama Sewafe and ordered civilians to gather at the Court Barrie, promising them them food and supplies. The rebels "systematically hacked" off their  limbs, he said, adding that dozens of others were badly beaten. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) cited unconfirmed reports that junta troops killed 18 youths at Kayima, when they refused to be conscripted.

The British charity MERLIN warned on Wednesday that the number of  refugees fleeing to Liberia to escape fighting in eastern Sierra Leone could double to more than 100,000. MERLIN said it was providing assistance to over 50,000 refugees at Vahun, and that more people continued to arrive at the rate of 5,000 a day.

President Kabbah has reportedly left for London, where his wife, Patricia Kabbah, is scheduled to undergo surgery for an ulcer on Thursday, according to a Reuters report.