The Sierra Leone Web


May 2000

31 May: RUF rebels recaptured the town of Lunsar from pro-government force after a five-hour battle on Tuesday night, military sources said on Wednesday. Government forces, who had taken the town on Monday, said they had run out of ammunition and had been forced to retreat. The BBC reported that government forces were regrouping in the town of Mamusa, while the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted a defence official as saying reinforcements were being rushed to the area.

British troops assigned to train the Sierra Leone Army may also provide security at Lungi International Airport and around UNAMSIL's headquarters in Aberdeen after the current contingent of Royal Marines pulls out next month, a British military spokesman said on Wednesday. "Their central role is advice and training but it could also include a force on the ground for an actual patrol-type task," the spokesman said. He said the remaining troops would number in "three figures" and could be drawn from the 42 Marine Commando currently on the ground, the Parachute Regiment, or the Royal Anglians. Meanwhile, Britain has dismantled its rear logistics headquarters at Lungi and some support staff have departed. "The manpower is dropping but the number of soldiers on the ground is not. There is no change to the mission," the spokesman said. Meanwhile, British troops handed out leaflets in Freetown Wednesday saying they would soon leave Sierra Leone. "The U.K. military force has achieved its mission of stabilising the security situation in Sierra Leone while (U.N.) reinforcements arrive," the leaflets read. "As UNAMSIL reinforces and assumes the role of defending Lungi there will be a withdrawal of British troops...A strong British military team will remain to assist the government defence forces and UNAMSIL. The essential technical and other advice given to both will remain firmly in place."

A high-level U.N. team headed by former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Manfred Eisele was set to leave New York for Freetown on Wednesday to assess problems faced by UNAMSIL in response to the crisis which began on May 1, according to Fred Eckhard, the the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General. The team will make recommendations to improve the U.N.'s ability to discharge its mandate. UNAMSIL said Wednesday that the military situation in the country was relatively quiet, with no fighting between U.N. troops and RUF fighters in the past ten days. As of Wednesday morning, the reported strength of UNAMSIL stood at 11,280 troops, with reinforcements continuing to arrive.

The RUF is forcing children to join its ranks and engage in combat, including demobilised child soldiers, Human Rights Watch charged on Wednesday. In a statement, the group said it had documented abductions of children as recently as early May. "Since taking United Nations peacekeepers hostage in early May, the RUF has forced many children, included demobilised RUF child soldiers who had laid down their arms, to join its ranks," the Human Rights Watch statement said. "Many other children have been abducted by the RUF in recent weeks to carry military equipment and looted goods, and female abductees are regularly raped."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has resumed distribution of seed rice and tools to some 40,000 destitute farmers in Sierra Leone, many of whom have been displaced by fighting in recent years, the ICRC said in a statement issued on Wednesday. The seed is urgently needed before mid-June, the end of the planting season for upland rice. If the programme goes according to plan, the ICRC said, more than 200,000 people in Pujehun, Kenema, Kailahun  and Tonkolili Districts should be able to feed themselves by the next harvest. Distributions had been interrupted recently by fighting along the Freetown - Kenema highway and by general insecurity in the country. Starting at the beginning of the week, however, the ICRC began distributions to 2,000 families in Kenema District from existing stocks in its warehouses. The ICRC said reaching tens of thousands more people depended on work to repair the Mabang Bridge, which would provide a safer alternate route, bypassing to the south fighting between pro-government forces and the RUF. "The bridge has been impassable for trucks for several years, but the ICRC hopes to have it rebuilt by the end of the week, thus opening up a new supply route for the ICRC and for civilian and commercial traffic between Freetown and the southern provinces," the statement said.

Four ex-SLA officers arrested last week in connection with attacks on the home of President Kabbah's chief security officer and on Wilberforce Barracks have been freed, according to Oliver Somasa, the head of Sierra Leone's Criminal Investigations Department. "We are continuing our investigations but have released the men we were holding," Somasa said. Those released included former AFRC Secretary of State for Marine Resources George Adams, Santigie "Brigadier 55" Kanu, and former AFRC commander Lieutenant-Colonel Augustine Kenny. According to Somasa, an ex-SLA soldier with ties to the RUF, Hassan Sesay, had alleged that the four were involved in a coup attempt, but later said the claims were false. "Sesay was under the heavy influence of drugs at the time he made the claims," Somasa said.

The Sierra Leone government is still contemplating what to do with detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said on Wednesday. "The question is, 'Try him for what? Where to try him?' and other questions which the government would have to find answers to before embarking on any charge," Spencer said. "People think this is an easy matter but it is not. It is a complex issue to decide exactly what Sankoh should be tried for. A decision would have to be taken on whether to try Sankoh locally or internationally." He said any decision would have to be taken in consultation with the international community. We depend on the international community for the assistance we are currently receiving. We don’t want to spoil the present good relationship so we have to ensure we do not end up at loggerheads with them," he said.

South Africa's Department of Home Affairs said Wednesday that Fatou (Mbaye) Sankoh, the wife of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, refused to accept papers served on her on Tuesday evening declaring her persona non grata. The South African government alleged that Fatou Sankoh had engaged in activities intended to promote the aims and objectives of the RUF, which it said were contrary to promoting a climate of peace and stability in Sierra Leone. She was given 24 hours to leave the country. Mabitsela Malefane, chief executive officer of the International Festival of African Arts and Culture (Festac), Sankoh's host in South Africa, said Sankoh had "seen" but "not received" the documents when they were presented to her at her Sandton Hotel room. "She felt strongly that she was not guilty of any wrong doing and therefore did not have to accept the document," he said. Home Affairs Department spokesman Manase Makwela said officials read the document to Sankoh after she refused to sign it. But Sankoh insisted Wednesday that she had received no official notification of her expulsion from either the Department of Home Affairs or the Department of Foreign Affairs, and said she had only learned of the government's decision from journalists. But she added she was willing to leave the country. "I had no intention of staying," she said. "I was brought here to talk about the festival and discuss the situation in Sierra Leone, and I have done that." But despite being ordered to leave, Fatou Sankoh continued to speak out on behalf of her husband's movement. "The informed world understands that all Sierra Leone's war centers around its vast diamond fields," she told SABC radio. "The same community understands that armies of foreign governments, along with private mercenary armies, financed by Great Britain, Nigeria, and various rebel groups, including Chairman Sankoh's, have fought for control of these valuable diamond mines...At no time was my husband ever given a chance to speak publicly, or to give statement to the press, presenting the fact from his side." She accused pro-government forces of kidnapping Foday Sankoh, along with RUFP ministers and bodyguards.

30 May: The U.N. has called on the RUF rebels to allow free movement for 258 peacekeepers surrounded since early this month in eastern Sierra Leone.  "This restriction on the movement of our people in Kuiva and Kailahun must be lifted," UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Tuesday. "We believe the RUF is now trying to find a peaceful solution to this crisis so that is why it is a priority that they must allow free movement." He noted that the RUF seemed to be "withdrawing into the interior of the country." Most of the peacekeepers cut off in Kailahun District are members of the Indian contingent. With them are 11 military observers who were initially held captive, but later handed over. Wimhurst said the RUF had asked Monday that the 11 be handed over so they could be evacuated via Liberia, but the U.N. refused. "If they were allowed to move we could bring them back to Freetown very easily ourselves," Wimhurst said.

Pro-government forces, who reportedly captured Lunsar on Monday, are planning to continue their advance against the RUF, Operations Director Colonel Alfred Nelson-Williams told reporters on Tuesday. "We are operating under the constitution of Sierra Leone and we will continue our advancement,"  Nelson-Williams said in Freetown. "As far as we are concerned we are heading toward Makeni. We expect to meet resistance from the RUF as we are liberating the diamondiferous fields of Kono." Government forces claimed they killed 30 RUF rebels and captured two on Monday during the operation to retake Lunsar. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. The Sierra Leone government has previously denied it is mounting an offensive against the RUF, insisting that it is defending by taking over the positions of attacking rebel forces. "Going to Lunsar was not an offensive strategy, the rebels attacked us from there," presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said on Tuesday. Nelson-Williams said the army's new working principles required soldiers to respect international conventions on the treatment of civilians, prisoners and child soldiers. "It's not the type of army that we used to know," he said.

ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Lansana Kouyate (pictured left) acknowledged Tuesday that he erred when he said ECOWAS heads of state and government and decided to remove RUF leader Foday Sankoh from Sierra Leone. His announcement on Monday brought denials from the Sierra Leone government and protests on the streets of Freetown. "Probably, because it was very late and we were debating many controversial positions, but finally this is because we had another round of contacts this morning with different heads of state, and I think the consensus is that the government of Sierra Leone has to ensure the safety of Foday Sankoh," Kouyate said in explaining the error to the BBC Focus on Africa programme. Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer (right), said President Kabbah had not signed the communiqué issued following Sunday's ECOWAS summit in Abuja "nor has at least Guinea as far as I know." He told the BBC that the question of whether Sankoh should be taken out of Sierra Leone had not been discussed. "It was discussed at the Security and Mediation Committee meeting, but it was not discussed at the full summit meeting. And there was no decision taken about that," Spencer said. Earlier, Kouyate denied that Sankoh's fate had been linked to the release of over 500 U.N. personnel held by the RUF. "We never engaged in any sorts of negotiations," Kouyate told Radio France International. "The release of the hostages was unconditional. As regards the decision to guarantee the security of Foday Sankoh, this follows a close consideration of the issue which does not, by any means, imply that Sankoh will not face trial. The heads of state have also decided to send a fact-finding mission to look into the renewed hostilities and find those responsible." Kouyate said ECOWAS considered the Lomé Peace Accord, signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in July 1999, as still valid. "The accord was negotiated and now it has been violated but we need to see whether the accord should be amended and improved," he said. "For the heads of state, the accord is still holding." He argued that the RUF had been transformed into a political party with the full cooperation of the Sierra Leone government, and that the actions of one person — "even though he is the leader of the RUF" — should not alter this fact. "I believe that the RUF remains a political party," he said. "After the fact-finding mission, those responsible will be identified and the sub-region will, in collaboration with the Sierra Leonean Government, come to some sort of decision. We should not condemn the RUF."  ECOWAS spokeswoman Dr. Adrienne Diop said Tuesday that the option that Sankoh might remain in custody in Sierra Leone had been inadvertently left out of the final communiqué. "The issue of his being taken out Sierra Leone is only one option. He may stay in Sierra Leone or be kept outside Sierra Leone," Diop said. "The two options are open." She said what was important was Sankoh's safety. On Monday, Diop hinted that Sankoh might still have a role to play in Sierra Leone. "It was decided that the safety of Sankoh was important to the future of Sierra Leone," she told the Washington Post. "He will be leaving Sierra Leone fairly soon. Foday Sankoh has violated the peace agreement, and that will be taken into account, but he has a role to play."

Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said Tuesday the Sierra Leone government was considering whether RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be tried at home or abroad. "There are a lot of issues to consider," Kaikai said. "We have to consider if he could have adequate protection here. Is there the possibility of an impartial jury? Is it possible within our legal system? Or do we have the logistics?" Sankoh has not been formally charged, but the government is investigating his role in crimes committed since the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord — in particular the shooting of demonstrators by RUF supporters outside his residence on May 8. The government has also alleged Sankoh was involved in the illicit sale of diamonds while chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, and that he had been plotting a coup. Kaikai said trying Sankoh would cost millions — more than Sierra Leone could afford. "We also have to consider the question of co-conspirators. Should he be the only one on trial?," Kaikai asked. He said a decision would be made "shortly."

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday that the release of over 500 U.N. peacekeepers held hostage by the RUF had been unconditional. "I thank God that I was able to convince them (RUF) to do the right thing, to release all the hostages unconditionally," Taylor told a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria following the ECOWAS summit. Earlier this month, ECOWAS leaders had designated Taylor to negotiate for the release of almost 500 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers detained by the RUF based on his perceived close relationship with the rebel group. "We have always said we know Foday Sankoh. I think our knowledge of him should be used to the advantage of ECOWAS," Taylor said. "We are not going to take credit for this. I think ECOWAS should take the credit for being able to bring that crisis to an end. It was a shameful thing to hold other African soldiers hostage."

467 U.N. personnel who had been abducted by the RUF were released via the Liberian border town of Foya, UNAMSIL said on Tuesday. The number included 427 Zambians, 32 Kenyans, three Indians and five military observers. Four Zambians remain unaccounted for, a U.N. spokesman said, and it is increasingly likely the bodies found a Rogberi Junction last week belonged to the missing peacekeepers. Six U.N. personnel remain in hospital in Freetown, and some of them have injuries which will require specialised treatment outside the country. 258 U.N. personnel — 224 Indians and 11 military observers at Kailahun and 23 Indians at Kuiva — remain surrounded by RUF troops. As of Tuesday morning the UNAMSIL force strength stood at 11,060, the spokesman said.

Former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has suggested he is considering a return to Sierra Leone. Bockarie and a number of his supporters were forced into exile in Liberia last December after he publicly broke from RUF leader Foday Sankoh and accused Sankoh of trying to have him killed. In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Bockarie said he was working as an unofficial security advisor to Liberian President Charles Taylor while retaining control over 2,000 RUF members, some of whom have been integrated into Anti-Terrorist Unit. He said other RUF fighters were training for a return to Sierra Leone. "I am confused and getting angry...You cannot keep a man like me in an indefinite situation," Bockarie said. In an effort to clarify his own role, he told the Washington Post, "I am preparing a document for [Taylor's] attention."

South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs has ordered Fatou (Mbawe) Sankoh, the wife of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, to leave the country within 24 hours. A department spokesman, Ronnie Mamoepa, said Fatou Sankoh had been declared persona non grata because she had been promoting the RUF, which was hindering a peaceful resolution of the Sierra Leone conflict. "These activities are contrary to the letter and spirit of efforts aimed at creating a climate for peace and stability in Sierra Leone," said Foreign Affairs Director-General Sipho Pityana. "The department of foreign affairs, in conjunction with the department of home affairs, hereby declares Mrs. Fatou Mbaye Sankoh persona non grata in South Africa with immediate effect. Accordingly she must leave South Africa within 24 hours." In October 1997 the United Nations Security Council imposed an international travel ban on members of the former AFRC junta and adult members of their families. Foday Sankoh, although imprisoned in Nigeria throughout the period, was named AFRC deputy chairman and consequently was included under the travel ban.

Several ex-SLA soldiers arrested in connection with a May 22 attack on the home of President Kabbah's chief of security, Major Mohamed Aliyu, and on Wilberforce Barracks, have been released, a source close to the AFRC told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. Those arrested were named by the Freetown press last week as Brigadier Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara, Santigie Kanu (Brigadier 55), Sammy, Papa, Tamba Brima (Gullit), George Adams and LTC Kenny. At least four persons, including two Nigerian peacekeepers, were reported killed in the attacks, which were said to have been carried out by ex-SLA soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who were trying to free a comrade from detention. Koroma condemned the attack, and in a May 24 statement said the perpetrators "were not soldiers loyal to the head of state, the leadership of the AFRC and to the people of this country." Earlier Tuesday, a diplomatic source in Freetown suggested to the Sierra Leone Web that most of the blame for the attack should go to a man named Hassan Sesay, who had allegedly mounted the attack in an effort to free a friend from detention. The diplomat quoted a government source as saying there was no hard evidence that those arrested were involved and that "the bulk of the story" may have been fabricated to implicate others. Meanwhile, the Times of London suggested Tuesday that the attack had in fact been a "mini-coup" attempt. In the Times version, the soldiers were attempting detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh who, the newspaper alleged, had "offered a huge sum of money to be sprung from prison." According to this scenario, the gunmen intended to kidnap Aliyu, force him to order the president's guards to open the gates, seize a vehicle, drive to the presidential lodge and capture President Kabbah. They would have then gone to Pademba Road Prison to demand the release of Sankoh and six other RUF officials. The government has maintained that Sankoh is being held at a secret location in Freetown.

29 May: West African heads of state and government meeting at an ECOWAS summit in Abuja have endorsed a proposal made by ECOWAS nation defence ministers and and chiefs of staff which would send an additional 3,000 troops to Sierra Leone. In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the regional leaders called for UNAMSIL's mandate to be changed from "peacekeeping to peace enforcement" and for the force, currently headed by Indian Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley, to be headed by a West African. The West African leaders also "decided to ensure the safety of (detained RUF leader) Corporal Foday Sankoh by keeping him out of Sierra Leone," the communiqué said. A committee of six ECOWAS members — Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Togo — will be sent to Sierra Leone immediately to determine a date for a cease-fire and to end renewed fighting in the country. The committee has been mandated "to make contact with all the parties concerned and prevail on them to redeploy to the positions held as at 1 July, 1999, the date of signature of the Lomé Peace Accord." The summit resolved to conduct an inquiry into the renewed hostilities and to study the illegal trade in diamonds in the region. The leaders also called on the RUF to disarm and demobilise voluntarily. Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current ECOWAS chairman, was directed "to prevail on member states who had pledged to contribute contingents to honor their commitments." Seven countries have reportedly offered troops for the mission, which is expected to be heavily dominated by Nigerian soldiers. Several countries which made similar pledges to provide troops to the ECOMOG force failed to follow through on their commitments. Earlier, ECOWAS spokeswoman Dr. Adrienne Diop told reporters it had been agreed that the West African troops would work under the United Nations rather than as a separate parallel force. She said Sankoh "would be taken out of Sierra Leone to be kept in a safer place" while efforts to revive the peace process continued. 

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate told journalists that ECOWAS would take charge of the rebel leader. "We have decided to give security to Foday Sankoh, probably outside Sierra Leone...but that does not mean that we accept massacres and mutilation of the population," he said. "That does not mean either that he cannot be tried later...this is a decision taken unanimously, with Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Kabbah." But the BBC's Robin White quoted Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya as saying Sierra Leone had not agreed to hand Sankoh over. "Well this is part of a communiqué and I think it has been discussed with the government of Sierra Leone, and this is what the heads of state have agreed on," Kouyate said in a BBC Focus on Africa interview. "I can assure you this was an agreement reached between the heads of state." He declined to disclose when the rebel leader would be handed over, or where he might be held. Kouyate stressed that assuring Sankoh's safety did not mean he would not be tried. "It is premature to say anything on (where he might face trial) because I don’t know what the heads of state will decide later," he said. "But again I repeat it, assuring his safety does not mean he will be out of trial." In New York, Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Kamara, told the Washington Post on Sunday that Sankoh would face trial in Sierra Leone. "He's with us now, and we're not going to let him go," Kamara said.

Pro-government forces said Monday they had captured the RUF-held town of Lunsar. "Lunsar has been liberated. It happened today, early today," said Army spokesman Major John Milton. Earlier in the day, Reuters said heavy fighting had been reported around Rogberi Junction. The news agency quoted military sources as saying pro-government troops had made a push toward Lunsar, but had pulled back after a heavy exchange of fire. Fighting was also reported Monday in various parts of the north or west, causing civilians in Kambia District to flee over the Guinea border. "We are advancing towards Kambia," Major told reporters. He acknowledged, however, that government forces had not yet captured the town of Mange, which lies about halfway between Port Loko and Kambia. Milton said government forces were concentrating their strength in the north because the RUF in the east had shown no sign of attempting to advance, and appeared ready to respect the Lomé Peace Accord. "Since we want peace, perhaps we can cajole those ones and they will lay down their arms," he said.

Despite problems experienced by United Nations peacekeepers since they began to deploy in Sierra Leone late last year, UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley said the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process was "still very much on" as far as the U.N. was concerned. "We are going to move forward in a planned and systematic way to deploy to all the places where we were deployed earlier," Jetley told a news conference in Freetown. Since arriving in Sierra Leone at least 11 peacekeepers have been killed and 25-30 wounded. U.N. troops sent to disarm the rebels have been disarmed themselves, including an entire Guinean battalion on its way to join UNAMSIL earlier this year. This month over 500 U.N. peacekeeping troops and military advisors were abducted and disarmed by the RUF. The last group of abductees was released on Sunday. Jetley said his troops were using "force when necessary" and had inflicted major casualties on the rebels when attacked. "The rebels are still licking their wounds," Jetley said. "The RUF is in a total state of demoralization at the moment," he asserted.

A battalion of 1,014 Jordanian peacekeeping troops left for Sierra Leone on Monday, according to the state-owned Petra news agency. The contingent includes a field hospital. There are currently some 980 Jordanians serving with the UNAMSIL force.

Fatou Sankoh, the wife of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, arrived in Johannesburg on on Saturday despite South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs having told her host — entrepreneur MK Malefane — that she would not be welcome. Fatou (Mbawe) Sankoh reportedly married the rebel leader in February and accompanied him on his controversial trip to Johannesburg. Born in Senegal, she is a naturalised U.S. citizen, and reportedly entered South Africa on an American passport. In a press release she sent the Sierra Leone Web earlier this month,  described herself as "a lawyer by profession and also president of an NGO by avocation." While she declined to discuss her reasons for the current trip, MK Malefane informed the Department of Foreign Affairs Friday that he had invited her to South Africa to discuss her participation in a music and arts festival. Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said the Department of Foreign Affairs was seeking clarification from the United Nations as to whether Fatou Sankoh was affected by the U.N. travel ban on her husband. "We are obviously investigating this matter. We will be getting in touch with the United Nations to see whether she is affected by the sanctions," Pahad said. A spokesman for the Department, Dumisani Rasheleng, said Department of Foreign Affairs was liaising with the Department of Home Affairs in trying to expedite her departure from South Africa. Fatou Sankoh "is travelling on a U.S. private passport that exempts her from a visa," Rasheleng said. "She is also apparently travelling on a different name." In an interview with South Africa's Sunday Independent newspaper, Fatou Sankoh denied reports of RUF brutality or of forcing young children to fight as soldiers. "Foday loves children. He's not the monster the British want people to believe he is," she said. She claimed pictures of people with amputated limbs were "British propaganda" and claimed that pro-government forces, not the RUF, were responsible for mutilations and killings in Sierra Leone. Fatou Sankoh told the Independent that she was Sankoh's only wife. "I am his first wife. There has been no other," she said. But Foday Sankoh himself has acknowledged that he has been married more than once. "In 1977...I went to the eastern part of the country where I married my first wife," Sankoh told the New African in November 1999. In the same interview he spoke of having 11 children. 

28 May: 85 freed U.N. peacekeepers arrived in Freetown Sunday night, the last of over 500 U.N. personnel seized by RUF rebels in northern and eastern Sierra Leone at the beginning of the month. "We are optimistic that the release of the hostages signals a positive change of direction by the Revolutionary United Front in coming back to seek a peaceful settlement," said UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst. Four soldiers were unaccounted for, but Wimhurst told reporters earlier they were likely to have been among the bodies discovered last week at Rogberi Junction. All of those freed Sunday were Zambians, with the exception of one Gambian military observer with a broken leg. Wimhurst discounted reports by Liberian President Charles Taylor that 30-40 of the peacekeepers had been wounded. A contingent of 23 Indian peacekeepers along with 11 unarmed military observers still remains surrounded in the eastern town of Kuiva, but Wimhurst expressed hope earlier Sunday that the situation would soon be resolved. In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's spokesman said Annan was "delighted" with the releases, and said he hoped "that the freeing of the remaining peacekeepers will help create conditions in which the long and agonizing search for peace and stability in Sierra Leone can at last be brought to a successful conclusion."

RUF forces failed to retake the town of Rogberi Junction Saturday in a battle in which, according to military sources, 12 pro-government troops and 29 rebels were killed. Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service said 14 other RUF fighters were wounded. According to British military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp, the RUF mounted a "large attack" on government forces holding the town. "The attack was repelled very successfully by the government forces, with large numbers of casualties inflicted on the RUF," Cramp told the BBC. "And what’s significant about that is it’s a very clear indication in fact that the government forces are now uniting together to be a lot more effective and a lot more robust force...The fact that they’ve repelled what was a very large attack will give them a lot of confidence and they will also be looking at moving even further forward into the east of the country." Cramp indicated that pro-government forces, which consist of a coalition of SLA and ex-SLA soldiers and CDF militiamen under a recently-unified command, were moving toward the RUF strongholds in eastern Sierra Leone. He added that at least some factions of the RUF appeared interested in negotiating an end to the fighting. "We’re getting a lot of mixed messages," he said. "There have been a number of RUF personnel coming over in the last couple of days giving themselves up. They do have a problem. There are signs of splits and clearly at the moment with the RUF on the back foot and pro-government forces pushing ahead there should be a lot of worried people there." Meanwhile, Reuters said heavy fighting had been reported on the Kambia road, where government forces said Saturday they were advancing toward the Mange Bridge.

West African leaders gathered in Abuja, Nigeria on Sunday for a summit marking the 25th anniversary of ECOWAS. The heads of state and government will consider recommendations made by the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council, which worked into the early hours of Sunday morning on a proposal which would send up to 3,000 additional troops to Sierra Leone. "The meeting has ended, but the conclusions will be passed on to the full summit," ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate said at the conclusion of the mini-summit. He told reporters an announcement would be made following the full summit. An original draft proposal, which was submitted ten days ago by ECOWAS defence ministers and chiefs of staff, left open the question of whether the new force would work within the framework of UNAMSIL or whether it would constitute a parallel force with a more robust mandate and its own command. In his address to the summit, President Kabbah indicated that the new troops should be separate from, and work alongside, U.N. peacekeepers. "ECOMOG still has a job to do in Sierra Leone," he said, adding that it should work in a "partnership for peace and security" with the U.N. "What we need is a joint effort — national, regional and international — to achieve peace and security in Sierra Leone," he said. On Saturday, however, Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido said the West African troops would be part of UNAMSIL — a prediction echoed Sunday by BBC correspondent Barnaby Philips. "I think since then the West Africans and specifically the Nigerians — because they’re really the driving force here — have had to face the reality that it’s going to be the the international community — the governments in the West and the Americans are going to supply the logistics and the money for West African soldiers to go to Sierra Leone, and to that extent its inevitable, I think, that the West Africans will be within UNAMSIL," Philips told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. He added that the West Africans continued to have misgivings about placing their troops under UNAMSIL control. "They don’t have entire faith in UNAMSIL’s ability or indeed UNAMSIL’s methods in enforcing peace in Sierra Leone," he said.

27 May: West African leaders met in Abuja, Nigeria Saturday afternoon for an ECOWAS mini-summit to consider the crisis in Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council meeting — attended by the leaders of Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Senegal, Guinea, Liberia and Gambia — took recommendations made last week by defence ministers and chiefs of staff, who presented several scenarios under which ECOWAS nations would send up to 3,000 additional troops to Sierra Leone. Nigerian Foreign Minister Sule Lamido told reporters Saturday that any troops sent to the country would be part of UNAMSIL, and would not constitute a separate parallel force. "The line of action we have adopted is that ECOWAS member countries will be contributing troops to beef up the U.N. peacekeeping force already in Sierra Leone," Lamido said. "The troops will work under the framework of the U.N." According to a draft agenda, the heads of state and government planned to consider "practical involvement of the sub-regional ECOMOG forces and manpower and material requirements." They were to also review the current status of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, and seek to bring implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord back on course.

Sierra Leone government forces clashed overnight with RUF rebels near the town of Rogberi Junction, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst told reporters in Freetown on Saturday. "When we overflew that area this morning it seemed to be calm," he said. SLA Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Mboma told a a press conference "the forward position at this moment is that we are heading for Lunsar." He added there were reports that the rebels were regrouping in the town. Mboma said pro-government forces were massing at Port Loko in preparation for a strike on Kambia, and were advancing toward the Mange Bridge. He noted that all of the disparate pro-government forces, including the Sierra Leone Army, the former Sierra Leone Army and the Civil Defence Forces, were now under one unified command. "Sierra Leone now has a single defence force and defence headquarters that is responsible for the day to day control of government defence forces," he said. "The Defence Operational Group now acts as the executive committee in running the government forces' day to day campaign, under the direction of the chief of the defence staff."

143 freed U.N. peacekeepers arrived in Freetown from Liberia on Saturday, leaving only about 112 unaccounted for or in the hands of the RUF. "We are hopeful that there will be more releases very soon, particularly with the meeting in Abuja," said UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst. "Our efforts are concentrated on getting all of them released." Most of the freed peacekeepers were Zambians, but at least two Kenyan soldiers were among those arriving in the Sierra Leonean capital. Earlier, the Liberian government announced that the RUF had released 180 peacekeepers on Friday. 

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Saturday that Britain was on track to withdraw its troops from Sierra Leone by mid-June, despite a plea from President Kabbah Friday that they remain until stability had been restored to the country. "We have made it absolutely clear all along that the reason why British forces are in Sierra Leone was in the first place to allow the evacuation of British nationals and secondly to allow the reinforcement by the United Nations of their contingent in the country," Hoon told the BBC. Meanwhile, about 800 British paratroopers of the First and Second Battalions of the Parachute Regiment have arrived back at their barracks in Aldershot and Colchester, Essex in the past two days after having evacuated British and other foreign nationals from Sierra Leone and securing Lungi International Airport. The paratroopers were replaced on the ground by about 800 Royal Marines from 42 Commando.

A first contingent of 150 Bangladeshi troops left Dhaka for Sierra Leone on Saturday aboard a U.N.-chartered aircraft. The rest of the Bangladeshi battalion, consisting of 780 soldiers including four staff officers, are due to leave in the next few days.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has questioned the timing of an announcement by the Sierra Leone government that RUF leader Foday Sankoh would be put on trial, since the RUF was still holding some 70 U.N. personnel hostage. "It does not make any sense at this time to deal with the question of Foday Sankoh before disarmament and demobilisation and before elections are held," Taylor said. "The issue of Foday Sankoh must be dealt with after we have succeeded in bringing peace to that country. It will be foolish to do so before then, and I hope the Sierra Leone government will not make the mistake of trying to push or force the situation beyond expectation." Taylor spoke to reporters at Robertsfield Airport in Monrovia before departing for the ECOWAS mini-summit in Abuja. The Liberian president called on all sides to adhere to the Lomé Peace Accord. "It is true that the Revolutionary United Front has committed some horrors, but the government of Sierra Leone must be tactful in how to deal with this matter because two wrongs do not make one right," he said. The RUF reportedly released 180 U.N. peacekeepers on Friday, and Taylor said he hoped the rest would be released soon — possibly as early as Saturday.

RUF rebels have released about 300 former child combatants ranging in age from 7 to 18, who were being cared for by the Catholic charity Caritas at Makeni, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Saturday. He said Caritas was transporting the children to Lungi. Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi said, however, that just 85 of the former child combatants being rehabilitated at the Caritas Centre in Makeni had arrived in Freetown. "This was possible thanks to the courage of two humanitarian workers of our diocesan Caritas, Edmond Koroma and Mark Gbla," Biguzzi told the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) on Saturday. "Last Sunday they walked all the way to Makeni, still controlled by the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, and discovered that there were still 86 children in our rehabilitation centre. Miraculously they were able to escape last Wednesday and after various difficulties finally reached Mile 91, where they found means of transportation to take them to the capital, Freetown. Along the way they were unfortunately intercepted various times by rebel patrols and on one of the these occasions a child was taken by the RUF combatants." He said 91 children at the Makeni centre had been abducted over the past few days by the rebels. Recent fighting has caused Caritas of Makeni to temporarily close its rehabilitation centres at Makeni and Lunsar, but a new centre has been opened at Lungi to received the 85 children who escaped from Makeni. The two aid workers were quoted as saying that, contrary to earlier reports, no homes or buildings had been burned down in Makeni, but that the rebels had done some looting in the area.

The Sierra Leone Bar Association urged the government Friday to ratify the Rome Statute establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC). "Recent atrocities committed in Sierra Leone have again illustrated the urgent need for an effective and independent international court, in order to bring to justice and hold accountable those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law," the Association said in a statement. It noted that when the ICC becomes operational it would have jurisdiction over serious crimes "committed in the context of armed conflicts not of an international character," such as the conflict in Sierra Leone. To date, the Rome Statute is still far short of the 60 ratifications by U.N. member states required for its adoption.

Amnesty International has demanded that Britain investigate allegations of torture against former NPRC military leader Captain Valentine Strasser, currently living in London. "Strasser's people were responsible for, among other things, torture of political opponents," said Amnesty International spokesman Brendan Paddy. "The government has a responsibility to investigate because torture committed anywhere is a crime under U.K. law...(Strasser) was the leader of a military coup and his government was involved in committing serious human rights abuses against anyone suspected of supporting rebel forces. We have signed an international convention against torture and we have brought the provisions into our law. If that's to mean anything we have to bring alleged perpetrators to justice, otherwise...the cycle of torture and killing with impunity will go on." Strasser was among a group of young military officers which overthrew the APC government of President Joseph Saidu Momoh in 1992. He headed the NPRC until 1996, when he was ousted by Brigadier Julius Maada Bio in a "palace coup" just prior to the 1996 elections. Strasser received a scholarship from the United Nations Development Project to study law at Warwick University in 1997, but dropped out after just a year. Last month the man who at age 27 became head of state in Sierra Leone was arrested in Kilburn and accused of damaging his former girlfriend's car. A British Home Office spokesman confirmed reports that Strasser had withdrawn his asylum request after leaving the university, but said he could not discuss individual asylum requests or Strasser's current status. "We always deal with cases individually, and of course his case is pretty peculiar," he said.

About 170 persons demonstrated Saturday at Hatton Garden, the heart of London's diamond district, to highlight the direct link between the sale of "conflict diamonds" and the protraction of the conflict in Sierra Leone. In a statement issued on Friday, the National Association of Sierra Leonean Organisations, which initiated Saturday's protest, noted that the RUF had controlled Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas throughout most of the country's nine year civil conflict. "Uninterrupted access to diamonds and the proceeds of their sale on the international market, has provided the RUF with the funds it requires to secure an endless supply of arms, ammunition and illegal drugs," the group said. A participant in the protest told the Sierra Leone Web that diamond mining giant De Beers had contacted the group this week requesting a meeting, which went ahead on Thursday. "They were worried that we were advocating a total boycott of diamonds," the source said. "They said they would be prepared to work with us and that they supported regulating the trade."

26 May: The RUF freed a reported 180 more U.N. personnel on Friday leaving about 75 left in rebel hands. UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst confirmed the arrival in Monrovia of 46 former hostages. "They are staying overnight in Monrovia and we're hopeful there will be more arriving there soon," he said. The rest were assumed to be waiting to be evacuated from the Liberian border town of Foya. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the 46 "are all in good shape," although the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said they had been taken to hospital in Monrovia upon their arrival in the Liberian capital.

President Kabbah said Friday that detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh would be put on trial "petty soon." "We are in the process of putting together the evidence, and we hope to accelerate that process," he told BBC correspondent Mike Donkin. "We do not want to deny justice, or delay it." Kabbah said his government was still committed to the Lomé Peace Accord signed last July between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. "Because of one man’s conduct you cannot say that the agreement is no longer valid," Kabbah insisted. "What I am saying is that the agreement is one thing which we regard as valid, and Sankoh’s done something wrong, he is going to be tried, and if he is found wanting in any way, or in violation of our laws, then I don’t see that he can claim any rights under that agreement...Sankoh is just one member of the RUF, and he may have one or two of his henchmen with him, but the vast majority of them — we are getting signals that they’re interested in really putting this thing behind us, and we want to be able to pursue that." Kabbah sidestepped a question as to whether pro-government forces were winning the war against the rebels. "Let’s put it this way: We are not fighting, we are just defending ourselves, and in the process we are containing them." He said the government's aim was to get the RUF to obey the peace accord. "The peace agreement clearly provided that people should have access to all parts of the country, and the government should have its law enforcement officers in every corner of the country, and humanitarian workers should also be able to provide food and medicine to people in every part of the country," he said. Kabbah said that "in terms of numbers" the government was impressed with the U.N. peacekeeping force, but added: "It is now left with them to acquit themselves in a way that they will inspire confidence." Regarding the British military presence in Freetown, the president was less circumspect. "Britain’s role in this is one thing that I can be most categoric about," he said. "They came in at the right time, and the security vacuum that existed and the confidence level on the part of the people which was way down, was dramatically improved upon the arrival of the British. And this has really contributed considerably to the improvement of the security situation in the country." He said he would appeal to British Prime Minister Tony Blair not to withdraw British forces from Sierra Leone until stability had been restored.

Minister of Finance Dr. James O.C. Jonah said Friday that the government would prefer to see RUF leader Foday Sankoh tried by an international tribunal, as his safety could not be guaranteed by a local court. Jonah ruled out using Sankoh as leverage in negotiating with the rebels. "If this government tolerates Sankoh as a bargaining chip, it would be out," he said. "The people are angry. They cannot trust Foday Sankoh. We have made [word indistinct] with him before, and I just cannot see any circumstances in which government will make Sankoh a bargaining chip." Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said that Sankoh would be brought to trial in due course, but could give no date. "Justice delayed is justice denied. We don't want to hold onto Mr. Sankoh for ever, but on the other hand justice hastened is also justice denied," he said.

Human Rights Watch charged Friday that the RUF had imposed a "reign of terror" during its week-long occupation of the Masiaka area. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of murder, mutilation, rape, looting and abduction against the civilian population, the group said in a press release.

Both RUF rebels and pro-government forces have been responsible for human rights abuses since the start of the latest round of fighting, a U.N. human rights spokesman said in Freetown Friday. "Civilians have been subjected to forced labor, their property has been looted and destroyed and food and money stolen by the RUF...There are reports of abduction, rape and physical harassment," Richard Bennett said. He added that there was evidence of abuses by pro-government troops as well. "We have received information according to which the pro-government forces were responsible for extra-judicial executions, beatings and arbitrary detentions. "After armed confrontations on May 10 at Masiaka, representatives from our department observed 11 bodies, apparently RUF fighters killed during the fighting...At least two of them had head wounds which seemed have been inflicted at point blank range." Bennett said the U.N. was also concerned about the use of child soldiers by both pro-government and rebel forces.

Bodies discovered in the bush Monday near Rogberi Junction were probably those of U.N. peacekeepers, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Friday. "We're not absolutely sure, but the evidence points to them being men of the U.N. contingent — four Zambians and one Nigerian," he told reporters. The bodies were clad in military uniforms, some with U.N. insignia. A U.N. team which visited the scene this week was unable to make a positive identification of the bodies, as they were in an advanced state of decomposition. But Wimhurst said the U.N.'s Zambian contingent reported four soldiers missing following fighting between UNAMSIL troops and RUF rebels in the area on May 6. Two Nigerian soldiers were also unaccounted for. Wimhurst denied earlier reports that the bodies had been mutilated, but said the "remains were scattered" by wild animals.

Pro-government forces are continuing to advance from Rogberi Junction towards the RUF-held town of Lunsar, British military spokesman Lieutenant Commander Tony Cramp said early Friday. "There are no great signs of activity. Obviously there have been isolated outbreaks," he told Reuters. "The indications are the government forces are continuing their advance from Rogberi Junction to Lunsar." Cramp said hundreds of Royal Marines formally took over defence of Lungi International Airport from British paratroopers at a ceremony on Friday morning. "They are fully deployed in Lungi and around Aberdeen Peninsula," he said.

A new group of about 10,000 persons fleeing the fighting have been found on Tasso Island, in the estuary between Freetown and Lungi, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday. The group was found in "deplorable condition" without adequate water, sanitation, medicine or shelter, according to Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Amnesty International Secretary-General Pierre Sane has condemned a provision of the Lomé Peace Accord granting a blanket amnesty for war crimes, and has called for all those guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses to be put on trial. He also called for the creation of an international commission of inquiry. "Deliberate and arbitrary killings, mutilations, rape and abductions have continued since the signing of the peace agreement," Sane said in a statement released in Freetown Friday. "Human rights abuses in Sierra Leone will not end until there is an end to impunity...This (peace) agreement provides no justice, accountability." He said those accused of gross human rights abuses could be tried in another state if fair trials could not be guaranteed in Sierra Leone. Sane and Amnesty International's researcher on Sierra Leone, Tessa Kordeczka, met in Freetown this week with President Kabbah and other government officials, including Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa. They were also to meet with the commander of British troops and the British and Nigerian High Commissioners, U.N. officials and local human rights groups.

Members of Parliament and Sierra Leone's Civil Society Movement announced the formation Friday of a Parliament and Civil Society Task Force and a Parliament and Civil Society Movement Task Force to "sustain and co-ordinate the current collaborative efforts between Parliament and the Civil Society Movement - Sierra Leone." 

Zainab Bangura, the National Coordinator of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, called Friday for an international tribunal to be set up on Sierra Leone. "I think it is important that we know who are the external players behind the RUF, who has been involved with our diamonds," Bangura said in an interview with Radio France International. "So if you have an external tribunal...we can also bring in the external players. The war in Sierra Leone was fought both internally and externally. The external forces were very, very strong." Bangura said the external tribunal should be responsible for trying detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "Foday Sankoh has become an obstacle to our lives for too long," she said. "We have to deal with him once and for all, so by getting him out of our lives, it can give us an opportunity to move ahead. But if he’s tried within Sierra Leone he will be a security risk, because (the rebels) will always want to come for him, and then the trial must consume us —  psychologically as well as financially. I don’t think we actually (will) be able to go through that. Bangura said the civil society should take a leading role in addressing Sierra Leone's problems. "I think the only people who can take the initiative will have to be the civil society who have been part and parcel of this problem, and also because the civil society has been involved throughout this crisis and has played an active role," she said. "At the same time they also have a problem because they think that there has to be a political leadership in the [words indistinct] crisis, because there is a democratically-elected government, and the civil society within the last three or four years has come to play a role that is not normally played in other countries." She said civil society groups were planning to consult with their constituencies in the Western Area and in southern and eastern Sierra Leone beginning next week. "It is only after we have done that you can be able to come with a consensus," she said.

Zambian President Chiluba has sent the Commander of the Zambian Army, Lieutenant-General Geojago Musengule, to Sierra Leone to deliver a message of solidarity to Zambian peacekeeping troops and to thank West African leaders for helping to ensure the release of Zambian soldiers held hostage by the RUF.  "Our soldiers have not gone to Sierra Leone for war. They should therefore, be considered as agents of peace and not conflict," Chiluba said in a statement to mark Africa Freedom Day. He said Musengule was being sent to talk "to our forces and tell them that we are together and praying for those still held (and) speak to Heads of State and commend them for the efforts they were making to ensure the release of our soldiers." Declared Chiluba: "The unfortunate incidents of Sierra Leone will therefore, not discourage Zambia from continuing with the noble cause of peacekeeping in that country, nor will it affect Zambia's participation in other peacekeeping missions in Africa."

Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah denied Friday that Liberia was involved in illegal arms and diamond dealing with Sierra Leone's rebels. In an interview in Accra, reported by Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Mulbah said Liberia shared a porous border with Sierra Leone which could be easily penetrated by illicit diamond traders and gunrunners. Liberia has often been accused of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Figures published by Partnership Africa Canada earlier this year documented that over the past decade Liberia diamond sales to Antwerp alone have, on the average, exceeded its estimated production by over thirty times. The inference is that most of these diamonds actually originated in Sierra Leone.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said Friday it was continuing to provide food assistance to new and previously-displaced persons in Sierra Leone through "food-for-work," "food-for-training," and "food-for-agriculture" projects. WFP said in its latest report it had begun registering an estimated 14,000 newly-displaced people in Kafu Bullom Chiefdom ahead of a planned food distribution there. The WFP will deliver over 100 tons of food by road, while assessing the needs in nearby Loko Masama Chiefdom. In Freetown, the WFP distributed 746 tons of food to 56,106 beneficiaries during the reporting period. The number included 26,326 displaced persons. In Bo, the WFP distributed 177 tons of food to 13,102 persons and in Kenema 192 tons of food were distributed to 19,482 people. The WFP's office in Bo has resumed normal programming at levels reached before the current crisis, but the WFP said security concerns at Kenema were hindering its operations outside of the town. 

25 May: 29 Zambian peacekeepers freed by the RUF on Monday were flown back to Freetown on Wednesday night. Their departure from Monrovia had been delayed by the hope that additional U.N. personnel would be freed to join them, according to BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh. Reginald Goodridge, who is spokesman for Liberian President Charles Taylor, acknowledged logistical difficulties Thursday, but said "we expect a sizeable number of the hostages to be released between now and tomorrow." Taylor was designated by ECOWAS to negotiate for the release of the detained U.N. peacekeeping troops. The RUF has so far released 233 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers, but are still holding about 260, most of them from Zambia, according to UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst.

President Kabbah has promised British High Commissioner Alan Jones that all combatants under age 18 serving in pro-government forces will be demobilised and removed from the front line. The pledge came after an outcry in Britain following publication in London's Evening Standard newspaper of 14-year old Abu Kamara, holding what appeared to be a British rifle. Britain is expected to supply about 10,000 self-loading rifles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition to help the government fight RUF rebels. The Evening Standard alleged that government checkpoints were being manned by children as young as 12 armed with British weapons supplied over a year ago.

UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said Thursday that the United Nations no longer considered detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh a "credible" negotiating partner with whom to resume dialogue over the peace process. The RUF "will have to find a credible interlocutor" for continued application of the Lomé Peace Accord, he said. Wimhurst said UNAMSIL already had "direct contacts with (RUF) commanders in the field," but gave no details.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised U.S. Senator Judd Gregg Thursday for blocking payment of $368 million owed by the United States for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gregg, who is chairman of an Appropriations Committee subcommittee, has criticized U.S. support for the Lomé Peace Accord and has said he will block the funding as long as the agreement is in effect. "Let me say it is not helpful," Annan said of Gregg's actions, and challenged him to come up with his own peace plans if he disagreed with U.N. efforts. He said the U.N. is "not in good financial shape," owing hundreds of millions of dollars to member nations who have provided peacekeeping troops. Gregg's freezing of the U.S. funds, already appropriated by Congress, "is only going to make matters worse," he said. "Where a peace agreement is signed but one or more of the parties are tempted to violate it, the U.N. needs a credible and robust presence in order to deter and discourage potential violators," Annan told reporters, adding that U.N. peacekeepers cannot be expected to only "keep peace between angels."  Warring parties are often "warlords and militia leaders whose only aim is power and personal enrichment," Annan said. He pointed out that the threat of international isolation might have no meaning for people like RUF leader Foday Sankoh. 

UNAMSIL has sent a team to the area where two journalists and four SLA soldiers were killed Wednesday in an RUF ambush. Two other journalists were were injured. The team was led by Deputy Force Commander Brigadier-General Mohammed Garba, according to Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), together with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society have distributed non-food relief this week to 11,640 displaced persons (1,354 families), mostly women and children, gathered at Lungi. The people were newly arrived at the town, most of them having fled from Port Loko, Masiaka and Makeni in the face of renewed fighting in the country. In a statement Thursday, the ICRC expressed "acute concern" about the fate of demobilised child combatants and other children faced with imminent recruitment by Sierra Leone's warring factions.

Reaction to the deaths of two journalists, Kurt Schork of Reuters and Miguel Gil Moreno of Associated Press Television News, who were killed in a rebel ambush Wednesday near Rogberi Junction. U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: "I knew (Kurt Schork) over 30 years ago; we were in Oxford together. And I'm very sad today. He was a good man, and if you look at all the many posts that he occupied, he was a brave man. He went to a lot of places, a lot of the troubled and dangerous places of the world to bring the news to people. And I am very sad about it." MARIA DE PATROCINIO MACIAN BLAYA (mother of Miguel Gil Moreno): "I am filled with overwhelming sadness and grief, but in the end I find solace in the fact that Miguel was doing the job he loved and died doing the work he felt ordained for. He felt his mission was to give voice to those who did not have one." U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: "They were doing what other journalists are doing around the world — taking risks so that the rest of us can keep informed. The message that they uncovered in Sierra Leone is that the killing has not stopped."  LOUIS D. BOCCARDI (President and CEO of AP): "Miguel's death leaves us with an indescribable sense of loss. Our pain is not eased by the certainty that he was doing work he loved when tragedy struck. Professional accolades fade to the background at tragic moments like this but at least he lived to accept the honor, just last month, of being hailed as the Royal Television Society's cameraman of the year." GEERT LINNEBANK (Reuters Editor-in-Chief): "Kurt Schork was a courageous reporter, a courageous man who perhaps more than any other journalist highlighted the plight of the Kurds during the Gulf War and later those victims of the Balkans conflicts." RICHARD HOLBROOKE (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.): "What the public that watches these pictures and doesn't really realize is the compulsion to tell the story, which differentiates people like Kurt and Miguel from the rest of us — the risks they take to make sure the world knows what's happening in what otherwise would be the dark recesses of people behaving at their absolute worst...(Kurt Schork) was almost always right. He showed no bias. He was cheerful no matter how awful the situation. He believed journalists could be a force for good in the world while reporting the truth as he saw it. It is an enormous loss to journalism." MARK LAITY (spokesman for NATO Secretary-General George Robertson): "Overall I would say that we have lost two superb journalists doing one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and they are people we can ill afford to lose because there are not many that can do it with their sense of courage and commitment and fairness." RAMON LOBO (journalist for El País): "Death always waits for those who look it in the eye....My only consolation is to think that they died doing a job they loved and which is so misunderstood, telling the truth which few people want to hear." UNAMSIL SPOKESMAN DAVID WIMHURST: "The deaths have shocked and saddened us all. These two men were both very fine journalists and experienced war correspondents and their loss is being felt far beyond this place." U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: "They were colleagues and friends for many of you. They went into dangerous areas to tell us all what was really going on and their contribution was invaluable and my admiration for their work and their courage is also unbounded."

24 May: Two Western journalists, one identified as 53-year old veteran Reuters reporter Kurt Schork (left), an American, and the other as 32-year old Associated Press Television News producer and cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno (right) of Barcelona, Spain were killed Wednesday when the two vehicles in which they were riding were ambushed by RUF rebels just east of Rogberi Junction. Four Sierra Leone Army soldiers were also reported killed in the attack. Two Reuters reporters were injured in the incident, South African television cameraman Mark Chisholm and Greek photographer Yannis Behrakis. British military spokesman Captain Fergus Smith said the two wounded reporters had been treated by Jordanian peacekeepers and evacuated to the Indian Field Hospital in Freetown. BBC correspondent Mike Donkin said they had been treated at a UNAMSIL field hospital at the front and later transferred to "one of Freetown's main hospitals." Their injuries were not considered to be life threatening. Last year ten journalists died in Sierra Leone, making it the most dangerous country in the world for members of the press. 

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed outrage over what it called "the latest murderous attack on journalists" in Sierra Leone which claimed the lives of two journalists and left two more injured. "These journalists are victims of a group of murderous thugs, who for years have deliberately targeted local reporters and foreign correspondents covering the Sierra Leone conflict," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement. "It's time the RUF and its leader, Foday Sankoh, were held accountable for these deadly assaults, whose aim is to eliminate independent reporting on one of the world's worst civil conflicts."

Police in Freetown have arrested seven ex-SLA soldiers who attacked Wilberforce Barracks overnight Sunday, killing two Nigerian peacekeeping troops. Police said the former soldiers, loyal to Johnny Paul Koroma, first tried to kidnap President Kabbah's Chief of Security, Major Mohamed Aliyu, before heading to the barracks where they attempted to free a detained colleague. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Koroma condemned the shootings, saying they were calculated "to willfully derail the peace process in Sierra Leone." According to Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, Koroma said the perpetrators were not loyal to the head of state, the leadership of the AFRC, or the people of Sierra Leone. Koroma said he had assured Kabbah that a task force would be set up to investigate the matter and that those guilty would be brought to justice.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), chaired by AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, called for the government "to institute judicial action against, and punish without delay, all those who are found guilty of criminal acts," including signatories to the Lomé Peace Agreement. "The rule of law is the cornerstone of democracy and must therefore be upheld," the statement said. The CCP called on the government to restore the territorial integrity of Sierra Leone by bringing all areas "previously dominated by conflict parties" under the constitutional authority of the president, and to nullify all mining leases, contracts and agreements entered into by RUF leader Foday Sankoh and his Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD). The CCP statement urged RUF combatants to give up their guns, and promised the Commission would work with government and all agencies concerned to ensure the protection of former combatants. "The CCP reiterates its determination to pursue its mandate by encouraging combatants wherever they may be to stop fighting and join the peace process," the statement said. The CCP also called for the unconditional release of U.N. personnel and the return of their weapons as a pre-condition for the resumption of the peace process, voiced opposition to the recruitment of child soldiers "whether by pro or anti-government forces," and warned against "breeding hatred and division in our society through witch hunts against so-called collaborators, especially at this time when national unity should be our priority."

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has condemned the continued detention without charge of journalist Abdul Kuyateh, the acting editor of the Freetown bi-weekly newspaper Wisdom. Kuyateh was arrested on May 11 by officers of the Criminal Investigation Division. Police have so far refused to comment on his arrest. The Agence France-Presse cited sources Wednesday indicating the journalist's name was found on documents found in the ransacked home of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. The journalists' advocacy group Reporters sans Frontières claimed last week Kuyateh had been detained in connection with a December 1999 story alleging the hiring of mercenaries by the government and the RUF. "We are at pains to understand why no proper explanation has been given on Kuyateh's arrest," the SLAJ statement said. "We are yet to understand how a government drawing its legitimacy from a democratic process can suddenly metamorphose into a repressive regime as is now the case of the detained editor." SLAJ called on the government "to renew its commitment to freedom of expression and the rule of law by either charging Kuyateh in court now or releasing him immediately."

President Charles Taylor of Liberia told a group of Libyan journalists in Monrovia late Tuesday that RUF leader Foday Sankoh was part of a solution to the crisis in Sierra Leone. "Foday Sankoh, regardless of what he may be, is a factor in this process. He is not a piece of paper that will go away," Taylor said. "When you have a conflict like this, all sides must be brought together. Anyone, no matter who, has the right to what he believes." Taylor, who has acknowledged a personal relationship with Sankoh, compared the rebel leader to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. "Years ago, the struggle of the PLO was considered a terrorist struggle and our brother Yassar Arafat was supposed to be the number one terrorist of the world," he said. "Now he is eating at the White House, he is eating at Number 10 Downing Street, which means that people's minds have to change." Taylor said should release the U.N. peacekeepers without precondition. "You know the western world is saying that Africans do not know how to control themselves, then when Africans come to help you take them hostage, that's not very good." The Liberian leader repeated his call for a ceasefire in Sierra Leone as a prerequisite to peace. "The Sierra Leone Army and the Kamajors must be disarmed, and then there must be room for all sides to negotiate for whatever process they want," Taylor said.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Wednesday his government favoured an African peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, with the West playing a supporting role. "European troops in the front line are not necessarily helpful in achieving (a) reduction in tension," Cook told the BBC. "It is better if the front line is provided by African troops facing African situations." He said Britain could provide logistics and leadership to the force. "We do not envisage any circumstances in which our fighting units will become a combat force within the U.N.," Cook said.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh appeared "physically fit, he looked mentally fit" except for a superficial bullet wound on his left leg when a Kenyan delegation met with the rebel leader in Freetown on Tuesday, according to Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, Kenya's Vice Chief of Staff. Opande would only say the meeting took place at a government building in Freetown. "When we talked about the taking of the U.N. observers and the U.N. peacekeepers, he looked very regretful for the action, and he actually apologised that it should not have happened and he was personally very sorry for what happened," Opande told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "I have no reason not to believe that he meant what he said. But of course history will tell what he wanted to pass on to us and the rest of the world." Opande said Sankoh was "in the safe custody of the government of Sierra Leone," adding: "No U.N. are around where we met him."

The United Nations Security Council was briefed on the situation in Sierra Leone Wednesday by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi. In a statement read out out following the meeting, Security Council President Ambassador Wang Yingfan of China said Council members were deeply concerned at reports of the discovery of bodies, possibly those of U.N. peacekeepers, near Rogberi Junction. Members of the Council emphasised that the RUF was responsible for the fate of the victims. Council members also expressed their deep concern over the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone and reminded all U.N. member states of their obligation to observe the arms embargo against the RUF. Security Council members again demanded the immediate release of all U.N. personnel detained in Sierra Leone and urged all those with influence with the rebel group — including Liberian President Charles Taylor — to work toward that end. In his Fourth Report on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, released on Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would be sending a multi-disciplinary high-level team to Sierra Leone to draw lessons from UNAMSIL's experience in the country. The team will be led by former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Manfred Eisele, and will assess problems and make recommendations to improve UNAMSIL's ability to discharge its mandate. Council members were informed of the mission, which is tentatively expected to begin work next week.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday he hoped most of the remaining approximately 250 U.N. peacekeepers still being held by the RUF would be freed by the weekend. He said he had spoken to Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was designated by ECOWAS earlier this month to negotiate for the hostages' release. "He expects to be able to see some more of the detainees released before the end of the week," Annan said. He noted that ECOWAS heads of state were due to meet Saturday in Abuja. "Of course, I would hope that by the time they meet, most of the peacekeepers would be in freedom," he said.

U.S. Senator Judd Gregg said he is remaining firm in blocking funds for U.N. peacekeeping operations because of his anger over U.S. support for the Lomé Peace Accord signed last year between the Sierra Leone government and RUF rebels. The agreement gave the RUF a say in government as part of a power-sharing arrangement which was to have led to disarmament by the country's warring factions. "American taxpayers have to ask themselves why are we spending money; why would we want to spend money to support, encourage and endorse people who are essentially criminals," Gregg said on the floor of the Senate. "The policy being pursued in Sierra Leone was misdirected from the start. We shouldn’t have been making peace, we should not have been bringing into the government people who acted in such a barbaric way toward their own people. We should have been taking a much harder line."

The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, said he would not want to Britain to withdraw in a situation where chaos would likely ensue, but he maintained that a mid-June pullout was realistic. "That decision was based to a large extent on the advice we were able to provide to policymakers in Whitehall," he said. "We have been working since our arrival to ensure that we have created the conditions to allow us to come out in mid-June. The U.N. is becoming increasingly capable and the government forces are taking the battle forward towards the key RUF heartland and doing it very successfully." President Kabbah's spokesman, Septimus Kaikai, was more cautious: "I'm sure that they will not leave us in a situation that will make us vulnerable," he said. "They know what is taking place on the ground." Richards argued that a new unity among disparate pro-government militias was making them into a more effective fighting force than had previously been the case. "They are very keen to remain locked together, so the disparate factions that have spoilt Sierra Leone in the past, I think, are now a thing of the past. They are determined to do the right thing and remain loyal to the president," he said. "A key part of the training we are giving is to instill in the new army the right sort of codes of behaviour and I am confident that our faith is well-placed." 

An eight-member team sent to Rogberi Junction has been unable to determine whether bodies discovered on Monday clad in military uniforms with U.N. insignia were were those of U.N. soldiers. Further investigation will need to be conducted, according to the Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard. He said the U.N. is actively seeking forensic experts for this purpose.

29 Zambian peacekeeping troops freed by the RUF on Monday are believed to be in the process of being handed over to the United Nations, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Wednesday. A helicopter sent to the Liberian border town of Foya on Tuesday failed to find any new released detainees. 

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said Wednesday he would like to see a Sierra Leone peacekeeping force under a single unified command rather than a U.N. force and a parallel Nigerian-led West African force. Wade said in Paris that conflicts on the continent "are a matter of concern for the whole world, not only for Africans."  "'Africa for Africans' is an obsolete concept and bad alibi for dictators," he said. "For the United Nations and some major powers, it is a pretext to avoid intervening and to renounce their responsibilities."

23 May: Sierra Leone Army (SLA) troops and RUF rebel forces clashed overnight at Rogberi Junction, according to the SLA Lieutenant-Colonel Edmund Bangura. "We had an initial contact about two kilometres east of the junction at midnight and one of our men was killed in the firefight," Bangura told Reuters. "An hour later they attacked our forces around the junction. There was heavy fighting for about 40 minutes." There was no independent confirmation as to the extent of the fighting. Later in the day the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that pro-government forces had captured Lunsar and were advancing towards the RUF stronghold of Makeni. At the same time, AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana that government forces had captured Lunsar and were doing mopping-up operations to consolidate their hold on the town, but he denied they were moving toward Makeni. But Bangura indicated that about 300 pro-government troops were consolidating their position at Rogberi Junction, which he described as the army's front line. "This is our forward position. We do not hold Lunsar. I assume that it is in rebel hands," he said. "We will be in Lunsar soon enough, but not before I receive the necessary orders and logistical support." Bangura said, however, that the Fifth Sierra Leone Battalion had travelled the road to Port Loko on Monday without difficulty. "There are rebel forces in the area. One has to assume they may attack any time, any place, but I think we have the forces to deal with them," he told reporters. Reuters' Kurt Schork reported hearing the sound of heavy artillery fire from the direction of Port Loko early Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported an RUF attack on the northern town of Bumbuna, but said a 600-man Sierra Leone Army contingent stationed in the town had repelled the attack. The report gave no details.

British troops from the First Battalion the Paratroop Regiment on the ground in Sierra Leone will be replaced by Four Two Commando Royal Marines this week in preparation for a pullout of British forces next month from the country, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told Parliament on Tuesday. "It is a sensible military step which preserves our capability on the ground for the remainder of this mission, while allowing the Parachute Regiment to return to the U.K.," Hoon said. "Our assumptions on timing remain the same. The build-up of U.N. forces between now and mid-June is on schedule." In his Commons statement, Hoon said "advance elements" of a Military Assistance Training Team would arrive in Freetown shortly. "The team will provide advice and training to help the Government of Sierra Leone rebuild a new, effective, democratically accountable Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence in line with the Lomé Peace Agreement," he said. The offer of the British-led team was announced in March by Prime Minister Tony Blair as part of an effort to help Sierra Leone build its restructured army. Hoon said Monday that Britain would make light weapons and ammunition available to the Sierra Leone Army under the supervision of British officers. "The precise distribution of arms and ammunition will be carefully considered in the context of the local political situation and the wider regional issues," he said. "Our commitment to promoting stability and security in Sierra Leone remains the same; our decision to enhance the capability of the Sierra Leone army is an essential element of that."

UNAMSIL has sent a team of U.N. military observers, civilian police and a human rights officer to investigate six to eight bodies found near Rogberi Junction, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Tuesday. Their task has been made more difficult because, according to the Associated Press, SLA troops buried the bodies late Monday in two separate graves. The spokesman said that the U.N. had so far been unable to find a forensic expert to help identify the remains. The mutilated bodies were discovered Monday by SLA troops and a British freelance photographer, Paul Barnett. UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said the bodies were clad in Zambian military uniforms, some of them bearing U.N. insignia. Barnett told reporters some of the uniforms carried Nigerian identification. One uniform had a U.N. insignia "Nibatt 2, UNAMSIL" on its sleeve, referring to a Nigerian battalion, Barnett said. "They had their army ID cards in their pockets and one had a Zambian passport," he added. Barnett said two of the bodies had blue U.N. helmets and one had a bullet hole in his head. The victims had been "dead for quite a long time," possibly five or six days. Wimhurst pointed out Monday that the RUF had been using uniforms seized from captured U.N. peacekeepers, and said more investigation would be necessary to determine whether the dead were Zambians peacekeepers. The soldiers believed they buried eight bodies, but were not sure because the corpses had been hacked to pieces and, according to the Agence France-Presse, had been partly devoured by animals. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement late Monday expressing shock at the discovery of the bodies "appalled by the culture of violence and cruelty which pervades the conflict in Sierra Leone." Annan called for all parties to respect international humanitarian law and recognised standards of human rights.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday that attacks on RUF positions by pro-government forces were complicating his efforts to negotiate the release of some 233 remaining U.N. personnel held hostage by the rebels. "The longer these attacks are carried out the more difficult it will become in mediating a successful release of the remaining hostages," according to a statement issued by the Executive Mansion in Monrovia. Taylor expressed "dissatisfaction over the slow pace of the release of U.N. hostages owing to the continued attacks against the RUF by government forces," the statement said, adding "He has called for all parties to cease fire immediately in order to allow his mediation at freeing the remaining hostages to proceed without difficulty."

The Sierra Leone government disputed Tuesday an assertion by the Liberian government that Sierra Leone government forces were attacking RUF positions. In a statement issued by the Office of the President in Freetown, the government asserted that it "has only been defending its positions, and that in defending the positions of its forces, they have used the defensive strategy of taking over any position from which attacks have been launched on the position of its forces in order to neutralise the capacity of the enemy to continue attacking from that position." In a statement issued by Charles Taylor's government earlier Monday, Liberia asserted that the attacks on rebel positions were complicating efforts to negotiate the release of the remaining U.N. hostages. "Government does not therefore see the connection between defending the positions of its forces and the release of the U.N. peacekeepers who were illegally abducted," the Sierra Leonean statement said. "It should be recalled that the ECOWAS Heads of State, and indeed the entire international community at large, had indicated that there should be no precondition for the release of U.N. peacekeepers who are to be released without delay. This global position was indeed endorsed by President Charles Taylor at a recent ECOWAS Summit in Abuja."

A delegation of Kenyan political and military officials working to support efforts to negotiate the release of U.N. personnel held captive by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone have met with detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Freetown. "When I saw Foday Sankoh, I got the impression that he was sorry for having captured our soldiers. He did say that he had no grudge with the people of Kenya, and he had no grudge with UNAMSIL," Kenyan Minister of State for Defence Julius L. Sunkuli told the BBC in Monrovia on Tuesday. "He said that he did not want to fight the war any more, and he said to me that he wanted to meet president Kabbah to tell him that...He did not put up a face of a very brave man. He gave an impression of a man who is unable to do much now, especially in the kind of situation he is, namely he being in the hands of the government of Sierra Leone." Sunkuli indicated he was not sure whether Sankoh was sincere about wanting an end to hostilities. "It is very difficult to judge the intentions of a man who is, who has been captured," he said. "You cannot know if he’s applying remorse as a strategy." Asked by BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh whether Kenya would be willing to forgive Sankoh "in the interests of continental peace," Sunkuli replied: "Well we have nothing much to forgive him. We lost our lives, the lives of many Kenyans. And we have recovered many of our men back, many of UNAMSIL’s people are still away. We did inform Foday Sankoh that it is not useful to discharge hostages in bits, and we just want all our people out and we want our equipment back, and that we did tell him, because we are a poor country. To lose that amount of equipment is not good at all." The minister said Kenya had no plans to pull out of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone. "I don’t think we should ever entertain this question, both in Sierra Leone and whatever we go on, because we cannot let your fellow human beings suffer just because of our own little fears," he said.

Humanitarian organisations have expressed concern that former child soldiers are being re-recruited by Sierra Leone's warring factions, while other children may be being abducted. According to the BBC, the agencies say some 40 children at a care centre in Makeni have been taken back by their RUF commanders. The agencies also say children ranging from 7 to 14 years old have been seen foraging for food with pro-government forces at Masiaka. Caritas International has said it is trying to evacuate children from areas where fighting is taking place, the BBC said.

40 Sierra Leone Army officers ranging in rank from lieutenant to major Monday, where they will undergo an eight-week British-sponsored training course at the Ghana Military Academy, according to Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. The officers will be trained by military instructors from Ghana and Britain. 

Some of the 29 Zambian peacekeepers freed by the RUF on Monday have related stories of mistreatment while in rebel captivity. "It was my first time to be captured so far. You could be dragged here and there just like that, being beaten [words indistinct], being hanged like animals," one of the Zambian solders told BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh. Another described his experience as "very difficult." "Of course when we are captured we are stripped naked. Everything was taken from us," he said. "We were beaten with [butts] and we were packed in a small mini-bus which carries about 15 passengers but we were almost 50." A third soldier told Paye-Layleh that he had been badly tortured. He said the peacekeepers had been tied up and had been given only four mangoes to eat per day. He said he had not been beaten. "No, no beating," he said. "Just fires the weapon in the air then points at you, you know."

Libya will provide two Ukrainian-chartered helicopters to assist in the evacuation of U.N. personnel from Sierra Leone, Liberian President Charles Taylor announced Monday on his private radio station. He said the helicopters were due to arrive in Sierra Leone on Tuesday. Last Friday Taylor complained two helicopters sent by Libya earlier had been too small to be of use. "They sent two toy helicopters," he said.

Kamajor militiamen in Bo say they are preparing for an attack against the RUF in Kono District, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Tuesday after visiting the city. Fofana quoted one commander as saying they were only waiting for adequate logistics to mount an offensive. "He says he’s very impatient, his fighters are very impatient," Fofana said. "I saw a number of Kamajors (at the Kamajor headquarters), some carrying rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47 and [word indistinct] rifles. They were battle-ready and they were saying they would move on Kono and capture it if they are encouraged by the authorities to do so." In Kenema, however, Fofana said Kamajor militiamen and RUF rebels were mining side-by-side, creating an "uneasy calm" in the town. "It is no secret in Kenema," he said. Obviously people go back and forth to Tongo and other mining towns around Kenema District, the Kenema town itself...In Tongo, for instance, RUF people are there — that’s well known. There are Kamajors as well. What I learned from it all —  and it is very interesting — is the fact that the Kamajors have warned the RUF not to attempt to play any mischief. That 'we are here side by side, if you attempt to do anything that’s a bit out of the way we will take you on.' And basically they are getting along. Everybody’s finding diamonds and making money for themselves." Fofana said on his way from Bo to Kenema is observed Kamajor militiamen mining for diamonds.  "They will not say who they are mining for, but they were all around the diamond field," he said.

22 May: Two Nigerian U.N. peacekeeping troops and three ex-SLA soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma were killed in a shootout at Wilberforce Barracks overnight Sunday. The clash was apparently triggered by an attempt by a group of former soldiers to free a colleague who was in detention. According to BBC correspondent Mike Donkin, the ex-SLA soldiers first descended on the home of President Kabbah's chief of security, Major Mohamed Aliyu. "In a gun battle, two militiamen died," Donkin said. "The rest of the group then attacked the Nigerian peacekeeping battalion’s barracks in an apparent effort to free one of their number detained there. In the firing which followed, two of the U.N.’s peacekeepers were killed and another was injured."

29 more Zambian peacekeeping troops were freed through Liberia on Monday, with a message that detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be freed within 13 days. "You are given 13 days in which Sankoh should be released. When you go, tell the U.N. to keep off. This is an internal issue," one of the freed peacekeepers quoted RUF field commander Colonel Issa Sesay as saying. He did not specify what would happen if the government failed to turn Sankoh over. The freed U.N. soldiers spoke of maltreatment by the RUF rebels. Zambian Sergeant Sanyangwe Davies said their group of hostages was beaten and tied to a tree. "We were given mangoes to share," he said. A similar account was given by Warrant Officer Phiri Shadreck: "We just ate virtually nothing. We stayed hungry almost the whole day. It wasn't easy to go through," he said. "These guys are very dangerous people. They could have killed us any time."

Prior to this latest announcement, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst told the BBC that "slightly below 300" U.N. personnel remained in RUF captivity. "We don’t have a good idea of where they are, and we haven’t had for some time," he said. "All we know is they’re held by the RUF somewhere in Sierra Leone." Wimhurst said the primary contact with the RUF was being made by Liberian President Charles Taylor. "(Taylor) has instigated contacts with the RUF and it’s through his efforts that we’ve been able to secured the release through Liberia of 204 so far," he said. "He’s assured us that the goal is to have all the detainees released as soon as possible."

Pro-government forces have advanced along the Freetown - Makeni highway toward the RUF-held town of Lunsar, local journalists reported on Monday. The Agence-France Presse (AFP) quoted an independent radio reporter as saying the troops had reached the town of Mamusa, just outside Lunsar. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. In Kambia, the AFP cited an unconfirmed report that the RUF conscripted civilians over the weekend in the towns of Rokupr, Bamoi, and Kawula, and that the rebels had regrouped at the towns of Madina, Mambolo and Moribaya in Samu Chiefdom. The AFP quoted "at least six witnesses" as saying RUF rebels were digging trenches around Kambia Bridge to prevent an advance by pro-government forces.

The departure of 776 Bangladeshi peacekeepers was delayed Monday as they waited for cargo aircraft to transport them and their equipment to Sierra Leone. "We are ready, but we need proper aircraft so that men and equipment can go together," a defence source was quoted as saying. He said they had been offered an Airbus but instead opted for cargo aircraft. "We are on a 24-hour alert and will fly to Freetown as soon as the aircraft arrive," the source said.

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Secretary of State for Africa, Peter Hain, told Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee Monday that Britain would agree to Sierra Leone's request to supply arms and ammunition to pro-government forces fighting an offensive against RUF rebels. "Clearly we don't want a situation where the United Nations is being deployed behind a Sierra Leone force which is taking on the rebels, and that force does not have ammunition," Hain said. The minister also told the Committee that Britain had turned down a request by President Kabbah in April to have a British officer effectively take over as Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff, to replace the late Major-General Maxwell Khobe. Hain called Kabbah's proposal a "crazy idea" which would have put a British officer in charge of an army "which did not in effect exist." Asked whether the request, which was turned down by the foreign office before it reached the minister, should have been taken more seriously, Hain replied: "When you get a request, even from an embattled president, you don't always stand to attention." Asked whether British troops on the ground in Sierra Leone might intervene to rescue a missing British aid worker or a British military observer trapped by the RUF in Kailahun, Hain said: "You would not expect us, with a very effective British deployment, to turn our backs on British citizens...caught in the crossfire."

Britain's opposition Conservatives are urging that British soldiers be sent to strike at RUF forces in the bush if there is a realistic chance of success, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Monday. In a speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude called on ministers to state openly that their aim is the military defeat of the RUF. "If the government's advice is that by extending the British mission for a few weeks and extending it in terms of what the mission is, there is a serious prospect the British contingent could actually defeat the RUF, we would support that," he said. "The only condition is that they should be open and clear about what they are doing." 

Sierra Leonean soldiers and a British freelance photographer reported Monday the discovery of at least six bodies clad in Zambian military uniforms, some with U.N. peacekeeping insignia, raising fears that the dead may be Zambian U.N. troops abducted by the RUF earlier this month. The bodies, which had been hacked to pieces, were found in the bush about half a mile north of Rogberi Junction. "These bodies were wearing uniforms that bear the United Nations symbol, and some of the uniforms had a clearly-identifiable Zambian country name patch on them," UNAMSIL Spokesman David Wimhurst told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "The bodies themselves are not identifiable; they’ve seriously decomposed. They’re essentially skeletal. They appear to have been shot. There are some skulls with bullet holes in them." He noted that it could not yet be determined whether the bodies were actually those of Zambian peacekeepers, because RUF fighters had stripped the captured U.N. personnel of their uniforms and were using them. "So the fact that we have bodies wearing Zambian uniforms doesn’t necessarily — at this stage anyway — indicate that they are definitely Zambians," he said. "We are therefore launching a thorough investigation to try and identify these remains." The Associated Press reported that Zambian passports and military identification cards, many of them containing bullet holes, were found in the pile of corpses and uniforms. Pro-government troops estimated the total number of bodies, including other bodies scattered in the area, as numbering between nine and eleven.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his Fourth Report on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, has recommended that the U.N. Security Council increase the authorised strength of the U.N. peacekeeping force to 16,500 troops, but said UNAMSIL should continue to operate under its current mandate. On Friday the Security Council raised the ceiling on troop strength from 11,100 to 13,000 to accommodate new peacekeeping contingents expected to arrive over the weekend. Annan suggested the force may need strengthening again when the new peacekeepers arrive in order to "establish the security conditions throughout the country required for the successful implementation of aspects of the peace process, including disarmament and the holding of democratic elections." Among his immediate concerns, Annan said, were the release of U.N. personnel held hostage by the RUF, an end to "hostile acts" by rebel fighters, and their full cooperation in retrieving the dead, wounded and missing. He also recommended the Council strengthen sanctions to "prevent RUF commanders from reaping the benefits of their illegal exploitation of mineral resources, in particular diamonds." Annan said detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be held responsible for the recent crisis in Sierra Leone, and that as leader of the rebel group he should be held "accountable for his actions and those of RUF, and for the safety and well-being of all those who have been detained." The U.N. would have to draw lessons from its experiences in Sierra Leone, the secretary-general said. "The force, which had been designed, equipped and deployed as a peacekeeping force, was quickly forced into actual combat with one of the parties that had pledged to cooperate with it," Annan noted. He added that the turn of events had caused many problems within UNAMSIL, including the areas of command and control, cohesiveness of the force, the flow of information, equipment and preparedness of the troops, and overall coordination.

Sierra Leone has welcomed Friday's action by the United Nations Security Council to increase the authorised strength of the UNAMSIL force from 11,100 to 13,000 troops. In an address Monday to the General Assembly's Special Political Committee, Deputy Permanent Representative (Political Affairs) Dr. Sylvester E. Rowe said his delegation "was encouraged by the assurances given by members and non-members of the Council" that the U.N. would not abandon Sierra Leone, and pleased that there was a consensus that the U.N. should continue to fulfill its commitment to the country. "In our view, the Council sent a clear message to the RUF and others, that it would not be deterred by any acts of terrorism and intimidation, nor by attempts to disparage the entire mission of the United Nations in Sierra Leone," he said. Referring to the abduction of U.N. personnel this month by RUF rebels, Rowe insisted that the U.N. had not failed in Sierra Leone, and that Sierra Leoneans still had confidence in the organisation to help them to restore peace and security throughout the country. The ambassador argued that the success or failure of U.N. peacekeeping efforts should be judged "on the basis of the readiness and sincerity of abide by the commitment they made in signing a peace agreement" and by the ability of the U.N. "to adapt its concepts of peacekeeping, its basic perceptions about armed conflicts involving non-governmental actors, as well as its previous mandates and rules of engagement" based on lessons learned. "We welcome last Friday’s decision of the Security Council to respond to the prevailing circumstances in Sierra Leone," Rowe said. "We trust that the Council would not hesitate to respond speedily and effectively, in the event of any further breach of the peace by the RUF and its internal and external allies."

Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday that RUF rebels should disarm voluntarily or be disarmed by force, because violence in Sierra Leone threatens stability in the sub-region.  Jackson, who is President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, returned to the United States after holding talks with government officials in Nigeria, Liberia and Mali. In a telephone interview with reporters, Jackson condemned the reported killing of more U.N. peacekeepers by the RUF, saying it showed "the contempt they have for democracy. They must be held accountable." He said Nigeria was ready to lead a military force into Sierra Leone to impose peace. "But these troops must have a peace enforcement mandate, not a peacekeeping mandate," Jackson said. "Otherwise they will be targets" for the rebels of the Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front. The RUF must disarm and demobilise voluntarily or be disarmed and demobilised. They must not retain military power because that threatens democracy." He told reporters that continued fighting in Sierra Leone could "create a domino effect of instability in the region." "There is a real obligation to secure democracy in Sierra Leone," he said. Jackson also called on Congress to unblock funds for the U.S. share of UNAMSIL peacekeeping efforts. The money is being held up by Senator Judd Gregg, who has voiced opposition to provisions of the Lomé Peace Accord which gave the RUF a role in government. "Holding up resources jeopardizes more lives," Jackson said. "If U.S. troops are not going in, then the burden is on Congress to provide financial support for allies who are ready to help."

European Union foreign ministers expressed "deep concern" Monday over continued violence in Sierra Leone, and condemned "the attacks on UNAMSIL peacekeepers by the Revolutionary United Front, the RUF's continuing detention of U.N. personnel and its blatant violation of the Lomé Peace Agreement."  The ministers, gathered in Brussels for their monthly General Affairs Council meeting, said that although it was stabilising somewhat, the security situation in the country remained highly volatile. "The Council calls once again on the RUF to end all violence, to release all detainees unconditionally and safely, to disarm, and to implement the Lomé Peace Agreement, which remains the basis for lasting peace and stability in Sierra Leone," the ministers said in a statement. "(The Council) for its part agreed to consider urgently what practical support the EU might give in order to help the UN fulfil its mandate and to strengthen the U.N. presence in Sierra Leone over the coming weeks."

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that a hold on U.S. payments to the United Nations for peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor and Congo was adversely affecting both the U.N. and the U.S. "We have $226 million in unpaid bills, despite having the funds already appropriated," he said. The funds are being blocked by Senator Judd Gregg, who chairs a key subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee responsible for State Department funding. In the case of Sierra Leone, Gregg said in a Washington Post editorial that he would continue to block funding as long as the Lomé Peace Accord was in force. Gregg has frozen a total of $368 million in funding for the current fiscal year; the $226 million figure represents unpaid bills to date. Boucher said that as a result of Gregg's actions, "the United Nations either has to defer payments to nations that are providing peacekeepers or skimp in some other area. Either way, it damages U.N. peacekeeping." In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a continued hold on the money "is going to hamper our activities," adding "I hope that the other members of the Senate would work with the senator concerned to remove the holds."

21 May: RUF rebels have released an 54 more United Nations personnel, UNAMSL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Sunday. The freed peacekeepers were handed over to Liberian officials in the border town of Foya and evacuated by helicopter to Monrovia, Wimhurst said. They were flown to Freetown by plane a few hours later. The group was made up of 42 Zambians, 10 Kenyans, a Malaysian and a Norwegian, Wimhurst said. Three were reported injured and, according to a Reuters reporter in Monrovia, two of them were carried on stretchers. About 280 U.N. personnel are believed to be still held by the RUF. Felix Downes-Thomas, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Liberia, said "quite a lot more" U.N. peacekeepers were due to be released on Monday.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will call on the U.N. Security Council to consider widening sanctions in Sierra Leone to prevent rebel leaders from providing from the illicit sale of diamonds, the BBC reported on Sunday, referring to an advance copy of Annan's latest report on Sierra Leone due to be presented to the Security Council this week. According to BBC United Nations correspondent Mark Devenport, Annan is proposing an increase in U.N. personnel to 16,500, consisting of "the addition of two infantry battalions, a logistics battalion, a light artillery unit, helicopter gunships and armed patrol boats." Devenport said Annan believed this would be sufficient for UNAMSIL troops to gradually deploy forward, but not to be able to take over RUF strongholds. "If the mandate of the U.N. soldiers is changed to authorize them to impose peace throughout the country, then the number of peacekeepers would need to increase yet again," Devenport said.

The Sierra Leone Army said it repelled a rebel attack at Rogberi Junction Sunday, but Reuters said it was "difficult to tell how much resistance" the pro-government forces faced. Reuters correspondent Matthew Bigg said one one threat seemed to come from soldiers at the rear shooting over their colleagues in forward positions. "The 15-minute burst of fire by about 60 troops showed how unstable the frontlines are — and the jumpiness of government soldiers," Bigg observed. "It was just a pocket of marauding rebels who are trying to find their way back to their concentrated area," Second Lieutenant Ken Jabbie said later, adding that the RUF would have used greater force if they had really wanted to retake the town. Meanwhile, pro-government military forces were said to be massing Sunday at Magbelli Bridge, about 45 miles from Freetown, for an expected attack on the RUF-held town of Lunsar. According to Reuters, trucks ferried hundreds of soldiers across the bridge over the Rokel River Saturday to a temporary encampment consisting of a number of mud-brick houses. The pro-government forces, consisting of SLA soldiers, the ex-SLA "West Side" unit, and Kamajor militiamen, have reportedly been supplied with food, ammunition and uniforms, and unified under a single command.

Additional peacekeeping troops from Zambia, Bangladesh and India have begun arriving in Freetown, two days after the U.N. Security Council raised the maximum authorised strength of the UNAMSIL force from 11,100 to 13,000. BBC correspondent Mike Donkin said the new forces would be used to support an offensive by pro-government troops against the RUF along the Freetown - Makeni road east of the capital. "Sierra Leone Army units backed by militiamen are now pushing beyond the town of Masiaka, which has changed hands three times in the past week," Donkin said. "As they advance the U.N. troops move in behind to hold the ground gained. But in the jungle and the bush there’ve been no decisive battles and it’s hard to assess who holds the upper hand." In Dhaka, a Bangladeshi defence official told the Agence France-Presse that the first contingent of 150 Bangladeshi troops were set to leave for Sierra Leone on Monday "unless there are any last-minute hitches." The Bangladeshi contingent will consist of 776 men, including 46 officers. They were scheduled to leave earlier, but technical problems delayed their departure. About 18 U.N.-chartered Canadian aircraft will fly the soldiers to Freetown, the defence official said.

Any Nigerian forces in Sierra Leone should be commanded by Nigerian officers, President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Saturday. In a Reuters interview, he said the United Nations provide financial support and a more robust mandate. "We don't mind who commands the U.N. forces in Sierra Leone, but the Nigerian formation should be commanded by a Nigerian commander," Obasanjo said in Abuja. "We are saying that the peacekeeping mandate which only more or less allows you to fire back in self-defense may not be adequate for you to enforce the Lomé Peace Agreement in Sierra Leone. So if you give us the green light, in 24 to 48 hours we can have five battalions there on the ground operational." Meanwhile France, often considered a rival to Nigeria in the sub-region, has called for a larger Nigerian role in resolving the conflict in Sierra Leone. "It does not seem to me in keeping with the sense of history that western countries should send expeditionary corps to all corners of Africa to restore law and order," French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine (right) said on Saturday. "People must go back to work on the political accord on which the country's political future must be based, and the neighbouring African countries must become more involved, because Sierra Leone's ethnic-commercial conflict with a background of diamonds extends well beyond the country's borders...I believe that Nigeria, the region's largest country, now truly advancing towards democracy under the leadership of a respected head of state, should play a greater role."

As many as ten more Kenyan soldiers are missing and feared dead in Sierra Leone, according to a report by Kenya's KTN television. The report quoted UNAMSIL Chief of Staff Colonel Michael Fundi as saying an armoured personnel carrier carrying ten Kenyans went over a bridge on May 9 after being hit by a bazooka. Two Kenyan peacekeepers were earlier reported as missing and presumed dead.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Sunday that while the fate of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh was a matter for the Sierra Leone government, Britain would be concerned if Sankoh were to continue to play a role. Under the terms of last year's peace agreement, Sankoh was made chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development with the protocol rank of vice president. "It's a matter for them to decide what should happen to him next, "but obviously we would be concerned that he should no longer have any kind of an influence over Sierra Leone," Hoon said. "He was the one who broke the peace accord, he's responsible for the recent upsurge in violence." The minister said Britain had discussed a request for more ammunition with President Kabbah. "We have not yet taken any specific decision but we certainly will be examining it very carefully," he said. Hoon indicated that Britain would continue its commitment to Sierra Leone even after the paratroopers currently in the country pull out. "For some time we have had advisers present," he said. "That is something we will continue...Obviously we have to have regard to the safety of anyone who goes there to train the army of Sierra Leone and when the situation is safe we can take that forward."

President Kabbah urged the RUF Saturday to return to the positions they held before the Lomé Peace Accord and to halt offensive action. He said the rebel groups should allow civil servants to enter the areas under their control so that the administration could be rebuilt. "I appeal to you, the RUF, to commit yourselves to the disarmament," Kabbah said in a nationwide address.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Saturday that many RUF fighters were still anxious for peace. "It is clear that the vast majority of the combatants are fed up with fighting, but some of those at the top of the hierarchy, who obviously are very selfish, want things for themselves so they keep their men fighting," Spencer told Reuters. "As far as Foday Sankoh and the RUF is concerned, we believe that we need to separate the individual from the organisation...We know for a fact that there are many RUF members who are not involved in fighting now and who did not share the attitude of Foday Sankoh and some of his commanders." Spencer said that for the peace process to continue, the RUF would have to stop all hostile actions, allow complete freedom of movement of U.N. forces, and free all hostages, including civilian and U.N. peacekeepers along with their weapons. The alternative to the peace agreement was military action, he said. "The government will have no alternative but to take military action, in a defensive posture largely, against those who are mounting attacks against government positions." Spencer added that a blanket amnesty for war crimes did not apply to acts committed after the signing last July of the Lomé Peace Accord.

A delegation of Kenyan military and government officials left Monrovia for Freetown early Sunday, with the aim of travelling to Kabala. "We are going to Kabala — we're going to that little town to see the rest of the (Kenyan) battalion," said the Vice-Chief of Genera Staff of Kenya's armed forces, Daniel Opande. Opande said six Kenyans were among the 334 U.N. personnel still being held by the RUF, and in a Reuters interview late Saturday he expressed concern about a link being made between the release of the peacekeepers and the fate of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "We do not want to believe that there should be conditions on the release of the hostages," he said. "Of course, naturally one would think that that is what is happening. Definitely it gives us cause for concern. Without (Sankoh's arrest), this thing would have been completed by now." He added that the release of the detained peacekeepers had "more or less trickled down to nothing in the last few days."

The crisis in Sierra Leone is expected to be on the agenda when 15 European Union foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office ignored reports from former High Commissioner Peter Penfold about the impending crisis in Sierra Leone, according to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper. According to the article, one of Penfold's last acts was to warn of the coming crisis and to appeal for British military officers to assist the pro-government forces. The request was later turned down.

Two officials from London-based Amnesty International will arrive in Freetown Monday for talks with government and U.N. officials on the human rights situation in Sierra Leone. Amnesty International Secretary-General Pierre Sane and Sierra Leone researcher Tessa Kordeczka are expected to meet with President Kabbah, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Sama Banya, as well as with UNAMSIL officials. The two will also meet with "human rights defenders and Amnesty International members currently in the frontline," a press release said. 

A search is underway for a British aid worker missing in Sierra Leone since May 9, when he is believed to have visited the town of Songo, the scene of fighting between pro-government forces and the RUF.  Engineer Alan Smith, 55, from Birmingham, arrived in Sierra Leone on May 3. He was said to be visiting an educational project, travelling with donations for a local education charity, and it is feared he may have been abducted at an RUF checkpoint. "The U.N. mission are looking for him, British forces are, as far as they are able in the areas they are operating in, which are fairly limited, and the Sierra Leone police are also looking for him," a British foreign office spokeswoman said on Sunday. "We have been concerned about his whereabouts for some time. We have been trying hard to locate him,"  said Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon. "That effort continues but obviously it is a matter of great anxiety to us."

Iran has voiced support for Sierra Leone's government, and expressed hope that the latest crisis in the country could be solved peacefully. "The Islamic Republic of Iran has always supported the constitutional government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and has remained a friend of the Sierra Leone nation since the start of the crisis in that country," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi late Saturday. "Foreign powers have not refrained from doing what they can to fuel the conflict and unrest in that country," he said, adding that the conflict in Sierra Leone was the result of intervention by foreign powers in that country's domestic affairs. Asefi expressed Iran's concern over the violation of the rights of innocent people and called "for the restoration of peace and tranquility with due respect for the sovereignty of the law."

The U.S. Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, arrived in Bamako, Mali on Sunday, where he repeated his demand for the immediate and unconditional release of U.N. hostages by the RUF. Jackson ruled out any linkage between the release of the U.N. personnel and that of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Before leaving Monrovia, Jackson said there was "no moral equivalence between what the U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone want to do, and what Foday Sankoh and the RUF have done to the people." Referring to his talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Liberian President Charles Taylor, Jackson said: "There is one thing consistent — the commitment to preserve and maintain democracy in Sierra Leone, and to make certain in the future that the RUF no longer have the ability to interfere with the integrity and the pursuit of democracy in Sierra Leone." Jackson told BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh that his remarks May 12 comparing the RUF and South Africa's African National Congress had been misunderstood. "There is no moral equivalence between the ANC political organization and the RUF, a terrorist organisation; no comparison between Mandela, an international statesman, and Foday Sankoh, who is an international outlaw, but the idea is that what is the PLO in Israel, or Britain and Ireland, ANC in South Africa...when you finally have peace is when the extremes find out that there are more advantages in peace than in war," Jackson said. "And, the deal was basically working in Sierra Leone, but the RUF broke the deal shooting through a crowd and killing unarmed people and taking U.N. hostages, that's a level of international criminal behavior that is unacceptable. But, war is risky and peace is risky, but peace is worth the risk. War has little fruits, and peace has rich fruits. And, for peace, it is worth going the last mile."

20 May: Two Sierra Leonean fisherman were reported missing Saturday after their boat collided with a British Royal Marines landing craft which, according to differing accounts, was on a reconnaissance mission or was practicing landing procedures near Freetown. Neither boat was carrying lights. Five fisherman were rescued and two were missing. A search for the missing men involved a Lynx helicopter from the frigate HMS Argyle and, after daybreak, paratroopers in rubber boats. The fishing boat was in violation of Sierra Leone's 11:00 p.m. nighttime curfew, and may have decided to remain at sea for that reason.

U.S. President Bill Clinton said Friday he had authorised the Defence Department to provide up to $20 million to UNAMSIL and other international forces working to stabilise the situation in Sierra Leone. The assistance will take the form of military transport, supplies, equipment and services. "Sierra Leone's people have suffered far too much for far too long, and they need immediate assistance to prevent a return to full-scale civil war," Clinton said in a statement. "Our African and other partners have taken a stand to restore peace and hope to Sierra Leone. We will stand with them." Clinton pledged the U.S. "will do what is necessary for Sierra Leone so the international community can get the job done," adding: "We have a genuine opportunity to make a difference, to give them a chance for a better future, and to aid the cause of stability and democracy in Africa."

Two field artillery guns were being airlifted Saturday from the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean to British paratroopers on the ground in Sierra Leone. The field guns of the Royal Artillery 29 Commando have a range of 17 kilometres, and are similar to two weapons flown in on Thursday night during a landing exercise.

Former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has accused Britain of prolonging the war in Sierra Leone. In a Reuters interview published on Saturday, Bockarie insisted that the RUF was still a force to be reckoned with. "It is Britain that has prolonged the war in Sierra Leone, because they do not want to bring in the right procedure to bring lasting peace," Bockarie said. "No troops can defeat the RUF on the ground." Bockarie went into exile in Liberia in December following a public rift with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "I was insisting that the ECOMOG leave and the U.N. should deploy simply because I knew we had fought the Nigerians for the past six or seven years," Bockarie said. "We felt if the Nigerians remained to maintain peace there, it wasn't going to be peace — we would fight, like what is happening now." The former RUF commander, who himself abducted two Médecins Sans Frontières workers in Kailahun last December, predicted the RUF would eventually release all of their U.N. hostages, still thought to number about 350. "I feel they must be released, because the president here (Liberian President Charles Taylor) is doing very well," he said. "In any case where you want to see proper peace, you have to do the right thing — try to let the people feel that they have a right, and that respect is given to them, and they release them to you. You cannot use just your power." Bockarie, who met Friday with Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, denied that he had committed atrocities in Sierra Leone's civil conflict. "For me to look at somebody and just shoot you or cut your hands off — I'm just not that type," he said. And despite orders from Taylor and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo not to return to Sierra Leone until after the disarmament was complete and elections had been held, "Mosquito" hinted that he might not be willing to wait. "We can't wait indefinitely to return home. Why should I be here — I didn't fight to become a refugee," he said.

19 May: The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to adopt a British-sponsored resolution increasing the authorised strength of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone to 13,000. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to recommend an increase next week to 16,500 troops, but Britain pressed for a vote this week because peacekeeping troops expected to arrive in Sierra Leone over the weekend would put the force over its current 11,100 troop limit. In a letter to the Security Council, Annan said the increase to a 13,000 troop limit was necessary because "as a result of the recent attacks by the Revolutionary United Front against UNAMSIL personnel and the resumption of hostilities, it was deemed crucial to accelerate the deployment of military units that member states had already committed for service with UNAMSIL."

Royal Marine commandos have staged a trial landing on the beaches of Sierra Leone overnight, a British military spokesman said on Friday. As part of the exercise, two British warships, the frigate HMS Chatham and the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (pictured left), operating as part of the Amphibious Ready Support Group (ARG) sailed eight miles up the Freetown River. Helicopters from the Ocean reportedly carried marines and artillery ashore as part of an operation to test their landing plans. Reconnaissance units from the British 42 commando aboard the Ocean took part in the exercise, which was drawn up to reinforce the troops of the First Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who are already on the ground.

Freetown was reported quiet overnight Thursday, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Friday. Fred Eckhard, the Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, said the U.N.'s primary concern was still the release of some 350 U.N. troops still being held by the RUF. "We have no new information concerning them," he said. 

RUF leader Foday Sankoh is in government custody, "well protected and in a safe location" while investigations proceed into a series of RUF attacks against U.N. personnel which began on April 30, the Sierra Leone government said Friday. In a statement issued Friday by the Office of the President, the government insisted it was committed to the Lomé Peace Accord, but laid out what it said were conditions the RUF would have to comply with for the peace agreement to be implemented. These included the immediate and unconditional release of U.N. peacekeepers and their equipment and the freeing of all abductees held by the rebels, including women and children. The government demanded the RUF stop its attacks and withdraw to positions held by the rebel group prior to the coming into force of the cease-fire agreement last May, warning "our troops will continue to defend themselves... (by) taking over any position from which an attack is launched on their positions in order to neutralise the capacity of the enemy to continue attacking from that position." The government also demanded the RUF withdraw from the diamond-rich Kono District, remove all impediments to the movement of civilians and humanitarian organisations, and commit to the simultaneous and speed disarmament of all armed groups. 

A Jordanian battalion of U.N. peacekeeping troops was said to be consolidating its positions at Masiaka, Reuters reported on Friday.

Burkina Faso denied Friday that it was involved in supplying arms to rebel movements in Africa in exchange for diamonds. "Burkina Faso, which has always persevered against every adversity, categorically denies the gross slur that it supplies arms to rebel movements," the government said in a statement Thursday night. In March, a United Nations committee investigating sanctions-busting in Angola named Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore (pictured right) as having received "substantial contributions" to his political campaigns as well as "direct personal payments" from UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi in return for permitting his country to be used to transship arms from Eastern Europe to the Angolan rebels. Burkina Faso has also been accused of supplying false end-user certificates for arms shipments that were destined for RUF forces in Sierra Leone.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair referred Friday to his country's historic responsibilities and "our own interests" in providing assistance to Sierra Leone. In a broadcast to the nation, Blair praised British troops in Sierra Leone and said British paratroopers had helped "to bring new stability and hope to a people who have suffered terribly." Referring to the RUF "campaign of terror," Blair said: "This isn't war as we understand it. It is an appalling savagery inflicted upon the civilian population in which rape and slavery and mutilation are the everyday weapons. It's a campaign of butchery in which — as we've all seen on our television screens — young children have had their arms and their legs hacked off as a warning to others." Blair said the mission of British forces in Sierra Leone was to evacuate British citizens, to secure the airport, and to assist the United Nations in flying in reinforcements. "I should emphasise our forces are not there as combat troops," he said. "They are not there to fight a civil war. Their task is to get British citizens out — and those U.N. reinforcements in. They are also working closely, as part of their role, with the U.N. forces already on the ground, giving them logistic support and advice. Blair said British troops had helped evacuate Britons and other nationals to safety, and raised the morale of U.N. and Sierra Leone government troops. "And perhaps, most of all, re-assured the people of Sierra Leone by demonstrating the rest of the world would not abandon them to their fate," he said. "I know there are those, of course, who believe that we should do nothing beyond offer some words of sympathy and condemnation. But that would be to turn our back in effect on those poor defenceless people in Sierra Leone, when we could do something to help them. It's one of the reasons why Britain counts in the world. Britain is seen to have values and be prepared to back them up."

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain rejected Friday allegations that British military forces were illegally occupying Sierra Leonean territory. "British forces are in Sierra Leone at the request of the Government of Sierra Leone and with the blessing of the U.N. They are evacuating British nationals. They are complying fully with domestic and international law," Hain said. "It is the RUF who are consistently operating outside domestic and international law and who have committed gross human rights abuses. Harangues from such people on spurious legal points will be seen for what they are worth. (RUF leader Foday) Sankoh has committed serious breaches of the Lomé Agreement. How he is dealt with is a matter for the Government of Sierra Leone in whose custody he is."

A week after his remarks to reporters caused a diplomatic row and put his visit to Sierra Leone in doubt, Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister said Friday the government would welcome the Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa. "The government had wanted that clarification (of Jackson's comments) and he's done so," said Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya. Last week Jackson suggested that RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be coaxed back into the democratic process, and that Sankoh's voice "would be a very positive one." Jackson also said all the parties in the Sierra Leone conflict had blood on their hands, and he compared the RUF to South Africa's African National Congress in the transition period to democracy. But this week Jackson insisted he had been misunderstood, and he blamed Sankoh and the RUF for the current crisis in Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, Jackson called on the RUF to release all U.N. personnel they were holding, and warned they would be held accountable for attacks on U.N. peacekeepers. "All the hostages should be freed and freed now. There is no basis for delay, there is no basis for negotiation," Jackson said on his arrival at Robertsfield Airport in Monrovia, Liberia. "The peacekeepers cannot be target practice for the RUF...For such behavior there must be accountability." Jackson said it would be a "huge mistake" for the RUF to link the release of the peacekeepers to the release of their leader, Foday Sankoh, and he repeated his support for a strengthened Nigerian-led force with a peace-enforcement mandate. "They (the Nigerians) have the power to remove RUF as a military consideration in negotiations," Jackson said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Friday that his efforts by his mediation team to  negotiate the release of U.N. personnel held by the RUF were being hampered by heavy rains around the Liberian border town of Foya, making roads impassible, and by a lack of helicopters. Taylor complained that two helicopters sent by Libya were too small to be of use. "They sent two toy helicopters," he said. Meanwhile, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan revealed that a 26-member Kenyan delegation had arrived in Monrovia to support negotiations for the release of U.N. personnel held by the RUF. In Nairobi, the Kenyan newspaper The Nations reported Friday that five injured Kenyan peacekeeping troops had been returned home. The five had been among a contingent of Kenyan troops who broke through RUF lines at Makeni, but were attacked by pro-government troops at Kabala who mistook them for rebels wearing stolen U.N. uniforms. Two other Kenyans, were believed killed, but the RUF has refused to turn over their bodies and so they are officially listed as "missing in action," The Nation said. Of 25 Kenyans originally detained by the RUF, only 15 are still held captive.

Russia's Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, is not expected to consider until June 7 a request by President Vladimir Putin to send four Mi-24 military helicopters and 115 troops to work with the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone. The Federation Council is being asked to approve the mission for a two-month period, which can be extended at Putin's request.

Gibril Massaquoi, Special Assistant to RUF leader Foday Sankoh, has demanded Sankoh's release as a precondition to restart peace negotiations. "Our leader must be released and we must go back to the negotiation table," Massaquoi told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) from by satellite telephone from Makeni. "If they put our leadership on trial, we are not going to sit back and watch that for a second time. We will answer force with force and dialogue with dialogue." Massaquoi, who fled Freetown after RUF supporters opened fire on demonstrators in front of Sankoh's residence on May 8, blamed the Sierra Leone Army for for the incident. 19 persons were killed and some 50 wounded in the shooting and its aftermath, at least two reportedly summarily executed by RUF fighters. "They put unarmed civilians in front and militia men behind with weapons," Massaquoi said. "We are not in for war. But with the kind of provocation as in Freetown and if we are attacked in the provinces, we have no option but to defend ourselves." Massaquoi accused the Sierra Leone government of not respecting the Lomé Peace Accord. "We want to go back to the negotiating table at a very practical level, to make sure that all parties comply with what they signed," he said. "We are reluctant to talk to these politicians as we know their tricks...We want the international community to ensure that the 2001 elections take place." Massaquoi again denied that the RUF was holding U.N. personnel, and insisted that RUF field commanders were searching for "those who fled into the bush." 

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Friday that about 650 Sierra Leoneans from the Port Loko area had arrived in Guinea, bring to nearly 2,000 the number of new arrivals since the beginning of May. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva that the refugees reported heavy fighting between pro-government troops and the RUF. There are estimated to be tens of thousands more internally displaced people in Sierra Leone, but there are no signs of further large movements toward Guinea," he said.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said Friday that renewed fighting in Sierra Leone is seriously disrupting the work of thousands of farmers and jeopardising the country's rice production. In a statement issued in Ivory Coast, the WFP said the worst-affected areas were in Bombali and Kambia Districts in Northern Province, where the agency was forced to postpone food distributions to farmers. "With the recent upsurge of hostilities, many farmers have been displaced and many others lack the seeds and tools which would enable them to start cultivating before the heavy seasonal rains set in soon," WFP Representative in Sierra Leone Patrick Buckley was quoted as saying. In Bo, the agency has begun food distribution to some 3,000 farmers. If security conditions permit, the WFP will also begun food distributions to some 18,000 farm families in Kenema and Pujehun Districts, the statement said.

Fatou Sankoh, the wife of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, alleged Friday that a demonstration outside her husband's Spur Road residence on May 8 was organised by an unnamed "senior official member" of the Sierra Leone government. "Bodyguards assigned to protect my husband responded to the mob and at one point — fearing for my husband's life — the guards opened fire on the mob and, sadly, casualties resulted," she said in a press release issued in New York. "My husband was quickly taken from the scene and became unavailable for a time." Mrs. Sankoh said that following "a reward booty allegedly offered," her husband was seized by "elements of the Kabbah government," and publicly humiliated and detained. Fatou Sankoh, nee Mbaye, is said to be a naturalised American citizen, originally from Senegal. She described herself in the statement as a lawyer and the president of a non-governmental organisation. She and Foday Sankoh were reportedly married in February just prior to the rebel leader's controversial trip to Ivory Coast and South Africa. In her press release, Mrs. Sankoh called her husband's treatment "unlawful and outrageous." "My husband was approached by a mob, was protected by his personal security guards, taken away from the life-threatening situation, and was subsequently 'captured' by members of the same government which provided him with security guards," she said, adding: "Humiliation of this leader who is loved — almost revered — and supported by an impressive organisation will not go unnoticed. There can be serious consequences for this government-sanctioned behavior." Fatou Sankoh expressed her belief that her Foday Sankoh, when given the opportunity, would "provide detailed statements of the state of the Lomé Agreement from the perspective of his organisation."

18 May: Another 15 U.N. hostages were released to the Liberian Mediation Delegation Thursday, Liberian President Charles Taylor was quoted as saying. He said the 15 had already crossed into the Liberian border town of Foya to await evacuation to Monrovia. "President Taylor did not mention the nationalities of the new batch of release hostages, but he said a Kenyan general who was also set free had decided to remain with the rebels until his colleagues are released," said BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh. Taylor added he expected the RUF to free 30-40 wounded peacekeepers still held in Sierra Leone. "We are hoping that by today's end everything will have been arranged for the evacuation of these wounded personnel," he said. In Freetown, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said 13 freed peacekeepers had arrived in Freetown on Thursday, 67 fewer than expected. "I can't tell you why we got that misinformation. We were told by Monrovia that there were going to be 80 people. It turns out that's not the case," Wimhurst said. Some 330 U.N. personnel still remain in RUF hands. "We don't know how many are left, if any, in Foya," Wimhurst told reporters. "The pace of release was never set out in concrete." Meanwhile, Wimhurst said 44 more freed U.N. peacekeepers were returned from Monrovia to Freetown on Wednesday night —  40 Zambians and four Kenyans. He declined to comment on whether the arrest Wednesday of RUF leader Foday Sankoh could complicate negotiations for the remaining U.N. peacekeeping troops and military observers. "Our position on the detainees remains the same as it has been: their release has to remain unconditional. Unconditional and immediate," he said.

The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a British  proposal to increase the authorised size of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone from 11,100 to 13,000. Britain's U.N. ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, requested the immediate vote because new troops arriving from India, Bangladesh and Jordan will put the force over its limit by the weekend. In his report to the Security Council due next week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to propose 16,500 troops for Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, ECOWAS nation defence ministers and chiefs of staff meeting in Abuja said Thursday they were ready to send 3,000 more troops to Sierra Leone. ECOWAS Information Director Dr. Adrienne Diop said seven countries had pledged to contribute troops and equipment. "The mission of ECOMOG in Sierra Leone will be that of peace enforcement," she said, in a reference to the more limited mandate of UNAMSIL. Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Major-General Victor Malu, who formerly served as ECOMOG force commander, said that the force should be under Nigerian leadership. "We are of the view that if we take command of the force its activities will be more result-oriented, because we understand the terrain better, and we will have more troops on the ground," he said.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh underwent surgery overnight to have a bullet removed from his leg, and was recovering Thursday, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said. Sankoh "received medical attention yesterday for an injury to his leg, and he is recovering from that," he told reporters. Wimhurst added that the RUF leader "remained in the hands of the Sierra Leone government."

Britain mounted a show of force in the skies over Freetown Wednesday night in a warning to RUF rebel forces not to launch further attacks. According to the BBC, a British Harrier jet passed low over the capital while several military helicopters flew overhead. In London, British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said rebel troops who attacked British paratroopers on Tuesday had been "well armed and well organised."

RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Special Assistant, Gibril Massaquoi, rejected a suggestion Thursday that Liberian President Charles Taylor was working in the interest of the rebel group. "The thing is plain: His role is to see the peace process in Sierra Leone is being speeded up and that all parties to the agreement adhere to that particular signatory," Massaquoi said. "I think that is what he’s trying to do, not that he’s siding us or he’s trying to seek our interest. That is not the issue at all." Massaquoi escaped from Freetown following the RUF attack on demonstrators outside Sankoh's home on May 8, and reached Makeni on Wednesday night. On May 5, Massaquoi denied the RUF was holding U.N. personnel, suggesting instead they had lost their way in the bush — a position he maintained on Thursday. "Immediately the searching goes on, if we see any one of them in the bushes, we have to release them to President Taylor," he said. "I think he is the immediate country by us. We have to release them to him. I think President Olusegun Obasanjo has already told us that if we have any one of them, if we are fortunate to find them, let us make sure that we deposit them to Liberia so that the situation will calm down and we try to see our best with them, get back to the table and resolve the whole episode." Massaquoi dismissed a suggestion that the RUF had lost credibility as a result of the current crisis, and he attacked British Prime Minister Tony Blair for describing the rebel group as brutal. "That is what he will say because they are all supporters of President Kabbah," he said. "That is what he will say. You have to ask him whether the British troops he sent in Sierra Leone, whether they are part of the U.N. peacekeeping forces. They are all part of the criminals or the politicians you have in Freetown there. They are all part of them. So they will only say something in favour of them. They do not even know what is happening on the ground."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has requested that the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of Parliament, approve a measure to send four military helicopters and a contingent of about 105 Russian troops to Sierra Leone. "The Russian military contingent will act as part of the U.N. peacekeepers in the area determined by the U.N. Security Council to conduct an operation for maintaining peace in Sierra Leone," Putin wrote in a letter to House spokesman Yegor Stroyev. Its mission would be to ensure security for U.N. personnel with "air escorts for land convoys, reconnaissance flights, air operations and patrol and rescue flights," according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Solomon Berewa said Thursday the government would resist pressure from Sierra Leoneans to "take drastic action" against RUF leader Foday Sankoh, but he said the government "might not be as accommodating with him" as it had been in the past. "No views have yet been crystallized as to what to do," Berewa said. "Foday Sankoh committed a lot of crimes. He himself is a very vicious man and has a lot of vicious boys around him...The government might use a different technique this time to deal with him." Berewa said. "We misjudged him to be a rational human being."

Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was designated by ECOWAS last week to negotiate for the release of U.N. personnel held by the RUF, made what he called a "quick trip" to Bamako Thursday for consultations with Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, the current chairman of ECOWAS. Afterwards Taylor told Radio Mali he was not in a position to answer questions. "I think we do not want to say or do anything that will give cause to jeopardize the release of these hostages," he said. "I have come to brief the chairman of ECOWAS on the activities, what they have accomplished, what are the difficulties, what are the demands, and to seek guidance on how we can continue until we resolve this matter." Lewis Brown, who heads the Liberian negotiating team, travelled with Taylor to Bamako. "Consultations continue around the clock. Things are developing very fast," said Taylor's spokesman, Reginald Goodridge.

Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived in Nigeria Thursday, where he met in the Benin City with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Jackson, who is U.S. President Bill Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, is seeking ways to help bring about the release of U.N. personnel held by the RUF in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. "The RUF had a golden opportunity to disarm, to disengage and rejoin the society," Jackson said in Nigeria. "They, in a real sense, violated the whole world when they chose to maintain their armament, when they take U.N. soldiers hostage...The RUF must not be allowed to exist as a military threat to Sierra Leone." Prior to leaving the United States, Jackson told the BBC that his role was to "touch base with the regional leaders about what are the next steps beyond stopping the fighting, beyond capturing Sankoh, to protect the integrity of the democracy of Sierra Leone." Said Jackson: "There was a very tense moment with the jubilation of (Sankoh) being captured, but Sierra Leone is not freed, it is not free until the RUF drop their guns and disengage, until the gunrunners who have been carrying out the country stop doing so. It requires a long-term commitment to stability and security to the democracy of Sierra Leone and a commitment to its development."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it is continuing to operate in Sierra Leone despite renewed fighting which broke out on May 5. "As soon as hostilities broke out, the ICRC and the local Red Cross set up a first-aid post on the Hastings-Waterloo highway in the Freetown area, where violent clashes took place. The most seriously wounded were evacuated to Connaught Hospital in Freetown," the ICRC said in a press release. The statement said there had been no interruption in the ICRC medical programme at Kenema Government Hospital and, after a ten-day interruption, the agency had resumed distribution of basic supplies to vulnerable persons in the country. The ICRC said that although the current lack of security had placed limits on its activities, it had managed to meet the needs of a group of 300 persons in a village about 20 km. from Kenema. The entire programme to supply seed and supplies should benefit approximately 300,000 people, including internally displaced people, returnees, and particularly vulnerable groups. The ICRC noted that it is working with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society to restore contact among relatives dispersed by recent events, and especially to find the parents of children separated from their families.

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley told the Bangalore Deccan Herald Wednesday that some 200 Indian peacekeeping troops remained under siege by RUF forces in eastern Sierra Leone. "I am concerned for the safety of the Indians and also for the safety of other UN troops taken as hostages of whom only 93 have been released," Jetley said in a telephone interview. "These are Zambians and Kenyans who are part of the U.N. force. They were originally in Makeni and Magburaka, then they were taken to a place called Koidu, which is the heart of the diamond mining area. From there they have been moved to the Liberian border." He said when Kenyan and Zambian troops attempted to disarm RUF fighters in Makeni, the rebels retaliated by taking Kenyan and Zambian hostages, and by surrounding the Indians in Kailahun. When Jetley sent a patrol of 23 other Indian soldiers to investigate, they were held up in the town of Kuiva. "They held them up, they didn't let them go forward, they didn't let them go backwards," Jetley said. "They said 'sorry you cannot proceed further, these are our orders.' But it's a sort of a friendly relationship. The second in command and the other officer have been permitted to go up to Kailahun. Its an uneasy truce. "It's a blow hot, blow cold situation, depending on what happens to their leader, Foday Sankoh. They keep getting orders on a radio that Sankoh used to keep." The general said despite the current tensions, the Indians were popular with the people of Kailahun, especially as they had looked after the welfare of the local people. "We found people with bullets still in them after several months and our doctors attended to them," he said. Jetley said "senior citizens of Kailahun, led by the paramount chief, who was the RUF Party representative in the area, presented the Indian peacekeepers with a memo "saying they were very happy with the Indian commanding officer and we're fed up with the fighting, we want peace to prevail and so on and so forth." Said Jetley: "It shows there is a desire on their part to break away from the nonsense that is going on."

Human Rights Watch expressed concern Thursday at "credible reports" pro-government forces in Sierra Leone were torturing and executing suspected members of the RUF, including RUF fighters who had completed the DDR programme. Human Rights Watch warned that government-condoned attacks on former RUF combatants who had completed rehabilitation programmes were not only war crimes, but could lead many RUF fighters to return to active fighting.

17 May: RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who vanished May 8 after his supporters opened fire on a crowed of demonstrators in front of his home, was captured in Freetown early Wednesday morning. "Just before six o'clock this morning Foday Sankoh was detained by a combined team all working together," a police spokesman said. "The detention took place in the Spur Road area of Freetown. Foday Sankoh was saved from an angry crowd and initially taken to Cockerell Defence Headquarters for his own safety. He was later taken to a safe place. He has a leg injury and we do not know how he received this. He is currently in Sierra Leone police custody and is safe. He is receiving the best possible medical treatment available for his injury. A major police inquiry is continuing and more information will be given at a later date." BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said the rebel leader, who had been searched for throughout the capital, had apparently been hiding out in a shack less than 150 yards from his residence. Another account, published by the London Press Association (PA News), suggested Sankoh had returned to his house accompanied by one man — possibly a bodyguard — after hiding out in the hills. He was spotted by a man taking his young nephew to Muslim prayers. Witnesses said Sankoh asked to be taken to the Nigerian High Commission. Instead the man alerted soldiers. "There was a struggle and, according to some reports, Sankoh drew a silver revolver but it was empty," PA News said. "He was quickly overpowered and shot in the leg by a soldier known as 'Scorpion'. The man with Sankoh was also shot and was, reportedly, close to death." AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma confirmed Wednesday morning that his men had taken Sankoh into custody. "He was arrested somewhere behind his house, just by the hills, and he was taken to Lumley Police Station and then finally brought to me," he told the BBC Network Africa programme. "It was because my men made the arrest, and and they did took him to the police station, and they in turn sent him to me, and I handed him over to the government." Koroma said he did not meet with Sankoh, but instead attempted to calm the crowd from his veranda. The rebel leader was paraded naked through the streets of Freetown by Sierra Leone Army troops before being being taken to Defence Headquarters at Cockerill. From there, according to Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp, spokesman for the British forces in Sierra Leone, Sankoh was flown in a British helicopter to a "secure location" at Lungi International Airport, where he is being held by the Sierra Leonean authorities in what Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer called "protective custody." BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle quoted eyewitnesses as saying Sankoh was put on a stretcher and taken under heavy guard to a Royal Air Force helicopter.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said early Wednesday that no decision had been made on whether to prosecute RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "It depends on what he does and his attitude, that what will determine what the government does," Spencer told the BBC Network Africa programme. He said the government was still committed to the peace agreement signed with the RUF in Lomé, Togo last year. "The government wants peace," Spencer said. "That has been our position all along. It is not in the interest of this country for us to go back to all-out war. And we are trying to avoid that as much as possible. The government will do what is necessary to ensure that there is peace. If it is determined that going along with the Lomé Agreement is absolutely useless, then the government will take a position. But as of now the government’s position is that we still believe that the Lomé Agreement is viable and we are going to go along with that as long as possible."

REACTION to Sankoh's capture: BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY ROBIN COOK: "I welcome the news today that the rebel leader Foday Sankoh has been arrested and is now in detention. This deprives the rebellion of its leadership and encourages us in the hope that we may be able to stabilize Sierra Leone and stop the rebel advance...I hope it means that it will deprive them of the reason for continuing their fight, and encourage them in the view that we have actually put the rebel advance into reverse and that we are on our way to our objective of stabilising Sierra Leone and putting the peace process back on track."  REGINALD GOODRIDGE, Spokesman for Liberian President Charles Taylor: "There is definitely cause for concern...The fact that their leader has been arrested may throw a stumbling block in the way of the release of further hostages. Sankoh is a key part of the Lomé accord. It all depends on how the Sierra Leone government decides to proceed." UNAMSIL FORCE COMMANDER MAJOR-GENERAL VIJAY KUMAR JETLEY: "Now at least they (the RUF) have got some sort a leader. Earlier they were doing things in isolation..."I think the peacekeepers are already being released in Liberia. The Liberian president is working on that already and many are on the border already, The process has already started on getting them released." U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: "Today we had some good news, that Foday Sankoh has in fact been captured." U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN RICHARD BOUCHER: "The fact that he was in the peace process was a decision of the government and the people of Sierra Leone. And the next step in either the peace process or with him personally is up to them as well. I'm not going to push them toward one direction or the other." BRITISH DEFENCE SECRETARY GEOFFREY HOON: "(Whether to release Sankoh) is a matter for the government of Sierra Leone, but clearly we would prefer that should not happen." UNITED STATES U.N. AMBASSADOR RICHARD HOLBROOKE: "I think it's a positive development that he is located and he's in a position where he is going to be able to be dealt with appropriately, and that he will not be able to continue the outrageous agreement-breaking ways that he has pursued." RUSSIAN U.N. AMBASSADOR SERGEY LAVROV: "I think we'd have to reassess Lomé given all the events, the latest developments." BRITISH U.N. AMBASSADOR SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: "There needs to be, we hope, a realization by all sides that we must come back to the Lomé Agreement and to a political route forward, and Foday Sankoh's role in that must be judged by the government of Sierra Leone and by the U.N." CHINESE U.N. AMBASSADOR WANG YINGFAN: (On how Sankoh's arrest will impact the U.N. peacekeeping mission) "It depends on how this development is handled by the government of Sierra Leone." SIERRA LEONE PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN SEPTIMUS KAIKAI: "A lot of these things are being sorted out now. Our main concern now is that we can...bring peace to our country." RUF COMMANDER COL. BAO: "We are totally against it. We don’t believe the people in the United Nations want peace in this country. They should not have allowed our leader to be humiliated by useless politicians like Kabbah and others. That is why we are now trying to put our matter across ECOWAS, because we know ECOWAS did well by bringing peace to this country. It is the United Nations and Britain who have derailed the whole peace process." AFRC LEADER AND CCP CHAIRMAN JOHNNY PAUL KOROMA: "I think as far as I am concerned I think he should be tried. And I particularly when he killed civilians who were demonstrating in front of his house. I think he has something to answer." AFRC SPOKESMAN PRINCE EDWARD NICOL: "It is a victory for Sierra Leone, a victory for common sense and a victory for the peace process." CANADIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN MICHAEL O'SHAUGHNESSY: "We welcome the news Foday Sankoh has been arrested in Freetown. The government of Canada hopes this will contribute to restoration of a durable peace in Sierra Leone. We await the reaction of the government of Sierra Leone."

The RUF has released 80 more U.N. peacekeepers held by the rebel group for two weeks, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Wednesday. "Eighty more have come to (the Liberian border town of) Foya," Wimhurst said in Freetown. He said 44 others, part of the 139 who arrived in Foya on Sunday, "have arrived from Foya to Monrovia and should return to Freetown tonight." Wimhurst said 81 Zambians and 14 Kenyans had already arrived in Sierra Leone's capital. Meanwhile Lewis Brown, the spokesman for the Liberian mediation team working for the release of the U.N. hostages, said the RUF had agreed to release 30-40 wounded U.N. personnel. "If we have to move them by road it will be a disaster," Brown told Reuters. He said the RUF had toughened its negotiating stance in the wake of the arrest of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "The general developments in Freetown have made the discussions harder," Brown said. "When you talk as negotiators, you get the feeling the RUF consider him as a key part of the process." In a related development, Libya said Wednesday it would send helicopters to help with the evacuation of injured UNAMSIL troops who have been freed by the RUF and who have arrived in the Liberian border town of Foya, according to Libya's JANA news agency.

600 more peacekeeping troops were expected to arrive in Freetown Wednesday, to be followed soon by 1,400 Indian solders, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Wednesday. He said the new arrivals consisted of an infantry unit, a mechanized battalion and an artillery battalion. A battalion of Jordanian troops and a battalion of Bangladeshis are expected at the end of the month.

United Nations peacekeepers and Sierra Leone Army troops fought a two-hour battle with RUF fighters at Port Loko late Tuesday into Wednesday, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst told reporters. He said the RUF forces attacked pro-government positions armed with mortars, light arms and rocket-propelled grenades. Six Sierra Leonean troops and a Nigerian UNAMSIL soldier were killed in the attack, and ten others — five Sierra Leonean soldiers and five U.N. peacekeepers — were wounded. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the attack on Port Loko involved about 500 RUF troops. "In the end the attack, which was a serious one, was repelled," he said. Wimhurst said Port Loko was reported calm Wednesday afternoon.

ECOWAS nation defence ministers and chiefs of staff meeting Wednesday in Abuja, Nigeria have agreed to send additional troops to Sierra Leone under a changed UNAMSIL command structure, a high-ranking Nigerian military officer told the Agency France-Presse (AFP). "There was a general consensus that the countries present would contribute more troops," he said. "It was agreed they would go in under UNAMSIL, if funding and a changed command structure are agreed with the U.N...It was agreed the command structure must reflect the country with the preponderance of troops." Nigeria, with four battalions in Sierra Leone, is currently the largest contributor of troops to the UNAMSIL force.

British paratroopers clashed with rebels at Lungi Loi early Wednesday morning, near Lungi International Airport. Four of the were reported killed in the exchange of fire. "We believe a force of 40 rebels came down the road towards the Parachute Regiment position," British military spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp told reporters. "There was an engagement lasting approximately ten minutes, after which the rebels fled." Another British officer, Captain Cameron Jack of the First Battalion Parachute Regiment, said four rebels were killed and a woman civilian wounded in the shootout. "Twenty-five pathfinders in the platoon were attacked by 40 RUF at 0045 this morning and they responded for ten minutes," Jack said. 

A coalition of pro-government forces consisting of Kamajor militiamen and soldiers of the AFRC's Westside unit loyal to Johnny Paul Koroma pushed as far as the Magbelli Bridge over the Rokel River Wednesday, according to a report by Reuters. Their commanders said they met no resistance, and said their advance was slowed only by the need to consolidate their flanks and consolidate their logistics. Samuel Cole, a Westside commander, said their aim was to link up with loyalist troops moving east from Port Loko towards RUF strongholds. "We lack food, ammunition and communications," he said. "The farther we go up the road, the more critical the supply problem becomes." Cole said some of his men were fired upon Tuesday by a government helicopter gunship by mistake "because they didn't know we had advanced so far and thought we were rebels." Reuters said most of the villages along the road had been deserted by residents. "The rebels came on Sunday. There were hundreds of them. Some were on foot, some were in vehicles," said Salliou Kamara, the CDF chairman of Robonka. "They burned our village to get our people out. Most of our people are still in the bush. We have brought our CDF troops back but not all of them have weapons." 

Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. President Bill Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, was scheduled to leave Wednesday for Nigeria, which is considering deploying additional troops in Sierra Leone. Jackson's mission was delayed by one day while he sought to clarify remarks he made to reporters last week which upset the Sierra Leone government and infuriated civil society groups. Jackson suggested that Sankoh needed to be coaxed back into the political process, that Sankoh's voice "would be a very positive one," and that all parties in Sierra Leone had blood on their hands. On Monday Jackson "clarified" his position to say that " Foday Sankoh and the RUF alone are responsible for the current crisis in Sierra Leone." After Nigeria, Jackson will visit Liberia, Mali, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security conditions permitting, according to State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher. Boucher said Jackson's mission would be to consult with regional government on how the U.S. could support their efforts to resolve the Sierra Leone crisis and to bring about the release of some 350 U.N. personnel detained by RUF forces. On Friday, Jackson indicated he would seek out RUF leader Foday Sankoh, but Boucher said Monday there was "no plan for him to meet with" the rebel leader. When asked whether the change was a result of instructions issued by the U.S. government, Boucher replied: "We've obviously stayed in touch with Reverend Jackson as he prepares for his trip. I'm sure he knows the view that we're expressing here now." Jackson will be accompanied on his West African visit by Ambassador Howard F. Jeter, Deputy Assistance Secretary of State for African Affairs, and State Department staff.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took American lawmakers to task Wednesday for blocking funds to support U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the current funding formula, the U.S. is responsible for one third of U.N. peacekeeping costs. Calling their action a "grave mistake," Albright said their rationale "boiled down" was that the operations didn't come with a guarantee of success. "Troublemakers in these regions cannot simply be wished away; they must be contained, captured, convicted or converted which, in every case, requires resources," Albright said in an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "For example, in Sierra Leone there are two realistic and possibly overlapping alternatives. One is to beef up the existing U.N. operation, which Congress isn't allowing us to fund. The other is to back a voluntary coalition of the willing. Of course, the Senate bill would cut our voluntary peacekeeping request by one third." Albright said that despite resource constraints, "the administration is doing its best to help the U.N. and regional leaders restore order in Sierra Leone, secure the release of detainees and try to create the conditions of an enduring peace."

Human Rights Watch called on the Sierra Leone government Wednesday to ensure that RUF leader Foday Sankoh received a fair trial for what it called "his crimes." The human rights group said that extensive evidence had been compiled on crimes against humanity carried out Sankoh's followers. "But that evidence should be carefully compiled and presented in a court of law. Sankoh should be informed of the specific charges against him as soon as possible, according to fair trial standards," the groups said in a press statement. The Sierra Leone government has not yet said whether it would seek to put the RUF leader on trial, and said Wednesday that Sankoh is being held in protective custody. "There is a good case against (Sankoh), but it must be presented soberly and carefully, before impartial judges," Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division as quoted as saying. "Otherwise, the cycle of violence in Sierra Leone will only continue." Takirambudde suggested that the capacity of the Sierra Leonean judiciary was in question and that the possibility of an international tribunal should be considered. "At the core of the crisis in Sierra Leone is the question of impunity," Takirambudde said in the statement. "If the international community can send investigative teams into Kosovo to document war crimes, it should be prepared to do the same for Sierra Leone. The perpetrators of abuse must be held accountable."

Following the arrest Wednesday of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Amnesty International repeated its call "for all those responsible of committing human rights abuses to be brought to justice." The human rights group has opposed a blanket amnesty for war crimes committed during the country's civil conflict "because it violated international law and failed to address the gross human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed during the conflict," Amnesty said in a statement. The statement argued that the RUF had failed to live up to the provisions of the Lomé Peace Accord. "Neither RUF members nor anyone else should continue to benefit from the amnesty in that agreement," Amnesty said. "The killings, mutilations, rape and abductions which continued after the amnesty are, in any case, not covered by the amnesty and those responsible must be brought to justice." Even if the blanket amnesty were not annulled by the Sierra Leone government, the statement said, the international community should move to bring those responsible for serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law to justice. "Any state may request the extradition of suspected perpetrators of human rights abuses for trial in its own courts," Amnesty said. "If the Sierra Leone government does not submit the cases of such suspects to its own courts, it must nevertheless comply with any extradition request."

16 May: 93 of the 139 U.N. peacekeeping troops released by RUF rebels to the Liberian government last week have arrived back in Freetown. The peacekeepers — 79 Zambians and 14 Kenyans — were among a group freed by the RUF on Friday. They reached the Liberian border town of Foya on foot Sunday. 15 were flown to Monrovia Sunday in a helicopter chartered by the Liberian government, but the remaining 124 were stranded for at least two more days awaiting transportation. The remaining 46 U.N. troops will be evacuated from Foya on Wednesday. "They'll rest up, feed, wash and have a good night's sleep," UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said of the returning peacekeepers. He said none required immediate medical attention. The U.N. troops were dressed in uniforms donated by the Liberian government. Their own uniforms were seized by the RUF. 

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday that the acting RUF commander, General Issa Sesay, had agreed to free additional wounded U.N. peacekeepers. "Between 30 and 40 of the personnel are wounded. Some are in a serious condition," Taylor told reporters in Liberia. "We are concerned about the fate of the 30 to 40 personnel that are wounded...They can't be brought in by road because it will take three days for them to reach the Liberian border, so there is a need for logistical assistance to go into Sierra Leone and airlift them out in non-enemy helicopters." Taylor said mediation team which negotiated the release of 139 U.N. personnel last week was "still present on the ground" in Sierra Leone. "There are a whole bunch of demands," he said.

Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan, in a BBC interview broadcast on Tuesday morning, said that 124 U.N. peacekeepers whose release by the RUF was negotiated by Liberia last week, were still in Foya. The Liberian government flew 15 others to Monrovia in a chartered helicopter, but said the country didn't have the resources to airlift the others. "We have been trying to obtain assistance, logistical assistance, to transport them to Monrovia," Captan told the BBC Network Africa programme. "As you are aware, the roads from Foya to Monrovia are very bad. We are quite frustrated though that up to now there has not been a single U.N. helicopter in Liberia to begin the process of transporting the freed U.N. peacekeepers from Foya to Monrovia despite the fact that we’ve made that representation to them. We are quite disappointed and frustrated, and we thought that be now there should be no reason for any of those 124 peacekeepers to still be sitting in Foya without proper medical attention, feeding and so forth." In Freetown, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst acknowledged problems in evacuating the U.N. personnel. "Since yesterday we have had two helicopters on the ground in Monrovia ready to fly to Foya, where the vast majority of our personnel are now staying," Wimhurst said. "We have not been able to do that for reasons that are not completely clear. But it seems that the Liberians themselves will be flying their aircraft into Foya and bringing our people out." He said a special representative of the UNAMSIL force was currently in Monrovia. "The longer this goes on, the more concerned we become about their physical situation, their health," Wimhurst said. "We're afraid they may be suffering from malnutrition and dehydration. There are third-hand unconfirmed reports that they may be in a worse condition." Captan said he believed the RUF was willing to negotiate the release of the remaining U.N. detainees. "But we are very concerned that in a process of negotiating the release of these U.N. peacekeepers there is a continued situation of hostilities existing," he said. "You can’t negotiate the release of hostages when people are fighting. There must be a cessation of hostilities by all parties. That’s the only way you can negotiate." The Liberian foreign minister said he had "absolutely no information" on the whereabouts of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who disappeared a week ago after his men opened fire on demonstrators in front of his residence. "We went to Freetown, the United Nations said that they do not know," Captan said. "And that is quite surprising to us, because we understand that Foday Sankoh had over 30 bodyguards from the United Nations, and for him to have disappeared without their knowledge is sort of confusing. The government says they don’t know, so we really don’t know where he is."

Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar has told British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie that Nigeria is ready "to come to the rescue" of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. Nigeria already has four battalions serving with the U.N. force. Abubakar said if Nigeria were to send additional troops, possibly outside of UNAMSIL, the U.N. would have to pay the cost. ECOWAS foreign ministers and chiefs of staff are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Abuja to do decide on the organisation's military response to the deteriorating security situation in Sierra Leone.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate called on the United Nations Security Council Monday to change UNAMSIL's mandate to allow for the use of force. Currently, U.N. peacekeepers are allowed to use force in self-defence and to protect civilians under imminent threat of attack. Kouyate said following a meeting of one-day meeting of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council UNAMSIL's command structure should be changed "with ECOWAS countries predominating." "If the U.N. Security Council hesitates in changing the mandate, ECOWAS countries may be forced to go on their own in Sierra Leone with a peace enforcement mandate," he said.

About 150 Indian peacekeeping troops arrived in Freetown on Tuesday, according to a U.N. spokesman in New York. Fred Eckhard, the Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, said an additional 600 Indian soldiers were expected on Wednesday. Eckhard said all UNAMSIL expatriate civilian staff who were evacuated to Banjul last week had now returned to Freetown.

Russia said Tuesday it was possible that Russian troops might be assigned to supplement the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone. "The Russian side, at the request of the U.N., is ready to allocate its helicopter contingent," said Leonid Ivashov, head of Russian Defence Ministry's main directorate for international military cooperation. "This consists of four Mi-24 helicopters and the corresponding personnel, consisting of 104 men. There will also be an interaction group working directly with the U.N. mission. The unit has been put together, its technical readiness is quite high, and they are just waiting for the order to take off."

One of the RUF's commanders in Makeni, Colonel Augustine Gbao, has accused UNAMSIL of holding RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who disappeared last week from his Spur Street residence in Freetown after his men opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators. "They should release our leader so that we should revisit the Lomé Peace Accord," Gbao told the BBC's Network Africa programme in an interview broadcast Tuesday morning. The RUF commander, who said he was speaking from near Masiaka, insisted that the rebel group was not alone in violating the terms of the peace agreement signed between the government and the RUF last July, and he claimed that the accord called for disarmament only after all the other provisions of the agreement had been executed. "The SLPP government headed by Kabbah and his cohorts have violated the Lomé Accord," Gbao said. "For instance, all the 37 articles in the Accord — nothing has been done about it. The only thing they are chosen is RUF to disarm." He told the BBC that the rebels were holding on to their weapons for fear of being attacked by pro-government forces if they disarmed. "We have not disarmed yet. The people are molesting us," he said. "They don’t have regard and respect for the leadership of RUF. What about more when we are disarmed? They will just arrest us. Put us in a container and then chunk (sic.) us into the sea. That is the aim of the U.N. and Kabbah presently. According to the peace accord, disarmament should come last. That is what is written up in Lomé Peace Accord. Disarmament should come last. We should not use army to disarm, and all the other articles written and then they don’t follow it — don’t implement these things. How do you expect us to disarm?" Gbao made no reference to RUF attacks on U.N. peacekeeping forces or the approximately 350 U.N. personnel still believed to be held by the rebels, but he denied that his forces had carried out attacks on villages near Freetown. "We have never attacked any town or villages," he said. "Tejan Kabbah’s militia, the ex-SLA under Johnny Paul Koroma, and the United Nations attack our positions at Lunsar, Gberi Junction, and Masiaka, and we have to defend ourselves. That is all there is to it. We are committed to the Lomé Peace Accord. We will never violate it."

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley has approved a more offensive role for U.N. peacekeepers in countering RUF rebels, according to Brigadier David Richards, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone. He said U.N. troops would move out from Freetown into the countryside. "(Jetley) is orchestrating a move forward back into the country." Richards said the development was a change in strategy for the U.N. force. "I think it is, in terms of a plan. It is definitely...a move east and to some extent south...towards the RUF heartland." On Monday, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, urged pro-government troops not to take the offensive, and appealed to both sides to return to the positions they held before the current crisis. "Our point is that all sides should stop hostilities and go back to the positions where they were and not attempt to move from those positions," he said.

British officials have reportedly said that the role of British forces in Sierra Leone could be expanded to supply pro-government troops fighting the RUF with ammunition. But British forces spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp denied Britain was about to arm Sierra Leone's militias, although he said ways of helping pro-government forces, "including supplies," was being examined. In London, a British Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said Britain was not arming Sierra Leonean troops "in this particular situation," but added: "It is something that would never have been ruled out. We'd have to reflect very carefully on it...but it is not something we are considering at the moment." She noted that Britain had already provided arms and training equipment to the new Sierra Leone Army in the past "make them more efficient." Richards told reporters that six additional battalions of U.N. peacekeepers, rather than the two expected, might be on their way to Sierra Leone. Any increase in the size of the UNAMSIL force beyond the 11,100 troops authorised would have to be approved by the U.N. Security Council.

British Foreign Minister Robin Cook will urge Russia to support a crackdown on illicit diamond dealing in Africa, which is fueling some of the continents conflicts, a foreign office spokesman said on Tuesday. The spokesman said Cook will seek support for a diamond certification system when he meets Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow. Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain told Parliament Tuesday that the trade in "blood diamonds" was perpetuating conflicts in Africa. "We totally oppose the blood diamond trade in places like Angola and Sierra Leone. Its it those blood diamonds that continue to fuel conflict in those regions," he said. "That is why we pushing for an international self-certification scheme by the diamond trade, backed by governments, to stop this trade in blood diamonds and make sure the type of dreadful conflict we are seeing in Sierra Leone is not perpetuated by the diamond trade that keeps them going."

British and Nigerian commanders met Tuesday to resolve differences which had created friction between the British force and Nigerian UNAMSIL troops at Lungi. "Both commanders have agreed boundaries at Lungi. One British soldier was told by a Nigerian soldier: 'If you don't tell us what you are doing you will get shot'," said Brigadier David Richards, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone. "I am confident that this is a non-problem. We had told the Nigerians what we were doing but it did not get down to soldier level." The Nigerian commander, Brigadier General Alex Garaba, said there had been an isolated "local dispute" which had been resolved. Garaba suggested that a lack of liaison by the British troops had been responsible for the problem. "If someone is coming in new to that place, you should announce it," he said. "If you do not start deployment with liaison, you will run into incidents." Earlier, Nigerian UNAMSIL troops reportedly warned British paratroopers that unless they sought permission to patrol they could be shot at on "suspicion of being white mercenaries." British senior military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Bill Sharpe said he didn't think a real problem existed. "This can all be worked out at a low level," he said. "Liaison at the appropriate level will be carried out. We are all in the same business. We may not be U.N. but we are here for the common good." UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst called the friction that appeared to have developed between the Nigerians and the British "unfortunate." "The British soldiers are here on a specific mission. We have a specific mission. So far we have managed to mesh our common interests pretty well," he said. "I expect and hope that this particular difference will be resolved at battalion level if not higher." A British government spokesman in London also downplayed the report. "We are not aware there are any problems with the Nigerian forces. This is overblown reporting from people out in the field," he said.

600 Sierra Leoneans have fled to Guinea's Forecariah Province over the past three days, bring to 1,000 the total number of new arrivals since renewed fighting between pro-government forces and the RUF earlier this month, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva on Tuesday. He said the new refugees were coming from Kambia District. "It seems that rebels controlling the border area in Kambia have now decided to let civilians enter Guinea while concentrating on fighting government troops reportedly advancing towards Kambia from the direction of Freetown," Janowski said. He said the new arrivals were being transferred to the new camp of Kalako, adding that the UNHCR had transferred additional staff to Forecariah Province and was prepared to accommodate up to 25,000 people. In Sierra Leone a recent attack on the Waterloo-Port Loko axis has created a displacement of civilians into Freetown, Janowski said. The UNHCR estimates the number of new arrivals in the capital at 20,000, in addition to 60,000 displaced by earlier fighting and some 6,500 Liberian refugees. Up to 10,000 people have also taken refuge near Lungi International Airport, where British paratroopers have taken over responsibility for security.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was due to leave for West Africa Tuesday in his role as President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, has postponed his departure, according to spokesperson for Jackson's Rainbow-Push Coalition in Chicago. A White House official was quoted as saying Jackson would probably leave on Wednesday. The delay comes amid a firestorm of criticism by the Sierra Leone government, parliamentarians, and civil society groups in Sierra Leone and abroad after Jackson told journalists on Friday that RUF leader Foday Sankoh had a political role to play in Sierra Leone and needed to be coaxed back into the political process. In Freetown Tuesday, state radio announced that Jackson was not welcome by the government because of his statements allegedly expressing sympathy for the rebels. On Monday, Jackson attempted to do damage control, on the one hand accusing Reuters of misquoting him, and on the other saying his comments Friday had "apparently been misunderstood." In a prepared statement, he went on record as blaming the current crisis in Sierra Leone on Sankoh and his RUF rebel movement. "First and foremost I'd like to make it clear that Foday Sankoh and the RUF alone are responsible for the current crisis in Sierra Leone. I condemn fully and unequivocally the violations of the Lomé Agreement by the RUF," he said. Jackson also drew a comparison Friday between the RUF and South Africa's African National Conference in the transition period leading to democracy in that country. "The purpose was not to compare the RUF and the ANC — there is no equivalence between the two," he said on Monday. "The ANC could do this because it held the moral high ground and had the support of a majority of South Africans. The RUF has neither." Jackson told Reuters Sankoh had "discredited himself in the eyes of the people of Sierra Leone and many in the international community" by violating the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord. He said if the RUF wanted to play a long-term role in Sierra Leone it must disarm, demobilise and transform itself into a political party. "To assess the situation we must first respect the legitimate democratic government of Sierra Leone — it has no equivalent and is the government as recognized by the world community — and offer the support Kabbah needs for stabilising that government and support ECOWAS in the regional efforts — that's what we must do," Jackson said. The Lomé Peace Agreement offered the RUF a window of help bring peace to all the people of Sierra Leone, yet the RUF has wasted that opportunity." In a conference call with Sierra Leonean journalists and politicians Monday afternoon, Jackson repeated his call for the RUF to disarm, to return to the negotiating table and to release the U.N. peacekeepers they are still holding. According to VOA, Jackson said he was committed to helping bring peace to Sierra Leone, and appealed for his audience's support. "We ought to turn to each other and not on each other, because we really are on the same side of history, fighting for peace and justice," he told them.

Amid a diplomatic row over remarks made last week by Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, who was quoted as saying that Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya warned Tuesday that unless Jackson explained his comments, the Sierra Leone government would be unwilling to receive him. Banya spoke to BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle before he received Jackson's clarification of his remarks. "He is comparing the RUF and its leader Foday Sankoh with the ANC and its leader Nelson Mandela. I think that, as I told the American ambassador, that is an insult not just to South Africa but to the entire African continent," Banya said. "Then he talks about blood being on everyone's hands. Now that is not an even-handed statement. Anybody who is familiar with what has happened in the last nine years, especially in the last 24 months, will see that blood is on the hands of just one group of people. With all that I think that we need a clarification of this or it will be difficult to receive him." Banya said he had received Jackson's clarification but had not had time to look at it. "Until I have studied that I will not be able to make comments on it," he said. Banya insisted that the RUF were "bandits," not revolutionaries, and demanded that Jackson withdraw the comparison of the RUF to Nelson Mandela's ANC. "We want a retract of that statement before we can make up our mind to receive him, and that means civil society has to be appeased," he said. "The mood in the country is an angry mood, and it will not be in his own interest to come into Sierra Leone in this atmosphere, unless the position is really clarified."

Canada said Tuesday it will send 30 military cargo specialists to Freetown to help speed up cargo operations at Lungi International Airport. Defence Minister Art Eggleton said in a statement that Canada was responding to a U.N. appeal to help cope with increased traffic at the airport caused by a speed-up in the deployment of UNAMSIL troops in Sierra Leone. "It was agreed we could contribute Canadian Forces airport support personnel and equipment for this ever-increasing critical U.N. mission," Eggleton said. The Canadian troops will be deployed within ten days at an estimated cost of C$1.1 million (US $739,000).

15 May: UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst confirmed Monday the release of 139 U.N. personnel in Liberia. "This is obviously a very positive development. It shows that the crisis around our detained personnel is moving into a new phase," Wimhurst said. "We knew there was a plan by President Taylor to get our people out into Liberia. At that time we understood the first number would be 13. Overnight it mushroomed to 139...We hope very much that all of our detained personnel will be released as soon as possible and brought back to Sierra Leone." Originally Wimhurst said the U.N. hoped to airlift the 15 former detainees in Monrovia to Freetown on Monday, while UNAMSIL was planning relief flights to the Liberian border town of Foya where the remaining 124 were said to have arrived. Late in the day, however, Wimhurst said the U.N. peacekeepers would likely be returned to Sierra Leone on Tuesday. "It is unlikely there will be any movement tonight," he said. "We haven't been able to get to Foya. The Liberian government says the 15 are in a hotel in Monrovia, but we haven't seen them." The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, said in New York that the freed U.N. personnel were thought to be mainly Zambians, but he said precise numbers would have to be confirmed. Eckhard referred to the additional 18 U.N. military observers and peacekeeping troops who were let go in Kailahun on Sunday, saying they had been released from detention and transported from Giema to Kailahun, where they had been based. He added that they were "neither detained nor free to move." Meanwhile, BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh told the BBC Network Africa programme that the group of 139 peacekeepers had been released by RUF commander General Issa Sesay after a delegation sent to Sierra Leone by Liberian President Charles Taylor negotiated with the RUF for the detainees' release. Taylor was designated to negotiate with the RUF at an ECOWAS mini-summit held in Abuja, Nigeria last week. Paye-Layleh said the U.N. personnel were released on Friday, but had only arrived in Liberia by foot on Sunday morning. "Those who are keeping (the U.N. captives) are saying if they want the process to go on as it started, then the attack on RUF positions should stop," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that the RUF's release of 157 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone was a "welcome development" and that the U.N. was working hard for the release of the other hostages, and to consolidate and stablise the U.N. mission. "As you can imagine, the morale is good, and the men are encouraged by this," Annan said. In a statement issued later by his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, Annan stressed the important role played by Liberian President Charles Taylor in bringing about the detainees' release. He said he was gratified by the progress made so far, but would encourage Charles Taylor to press on until the roughly 350 remaining detainees held by the RUF were released and their weapons recovered.

Sporadic mortar fire was reported in the Port Loko area overnight Sunday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Monday. Freetown was said to be relatively calm, he said, adding that UNAMSIL was conducting regular reconnaissance flights. The airlift of a battalion of Indian peacekeeping troops by a Canadian Airbus and commercial aircraft is expected to be about half complete by the end of the day, he said. Eckhard told reporters that the estimated 20,000 people who had moved into Freetown to flee fighting last week had begun returning to the Waterloo area over the weekend. New displacements of between 7,000 and 9,000 persons were reported in the area between Port Loko and Lungi. Insecurity had prevented an assessment of the situation in the Masiaka area, he said.

The commander of the UNAMSIL force, Major-General Vijay Jetley, told reporters Sunday that it was important to negotiate with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "He is the cult figure of the RUF. I think we have to negotiate with him," Jetley said. "He is the one who is still calling the shots." Sankoh disappeared last Monday following demonstrations in front of his home in Freetown which turned violent when his supporters opened fire on the crowed. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Monday that there had been no change in the legal status of the Lomé Peace Accord as a result of the current crisis in Sierra Leone. "It is very much the same as it was before on the 7th of July last year," Berewa told the BBC. "We are still trying to ensure that the terms of it are implemented." He said he saw no reason to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. "Everybody agrees, not just ourselves, but the whole international community is in agreement that the terms in here are the best we that can have and the best [word indistinct] for bring peace to Sierra Leone," he said. "I don’t think renegotiating it is on the cards at all."

The journalists' rights group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF - Reporters without Borders) protested Monday over the arrest of Abdul Kuyuteh, the acting editor of the weekly Wisdom Newspaper. According to the RSF, Kuyuteh was detained on May 11 by officers of the Criminal Investigation Division in connection with a story he investigated in December 1999 about the alleged hiring of mercenaries by the government and the RUF.

Former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has denied rumours that he has been involved in the renewed fighting between the RUF and pro-government forces in Sierra Leone. Bockarie was exiled to Liberia last year after he publicly broke with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh said he asked Bockarie about the rumours in Monrovia on Sunday. "I talked to him and I confronted him on the issue, and said that he didn’t have any reason for going back to Sierra Leone to fight," Paye-Layleh told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "He said that was not true, and I did not have any reason to disbelieve what he is saying because I have not really seen him in any military mode. I've seen up and down his brand-new jeep with a few fighters who followed him to Liberia. So if he is doing that it has to be very surreptitiously done, but there are no indications that he is shuttling between here and Freetown to fight as people claim."

Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), told the Sierra Leone Web Monday that the DDR programme had been brought to what he called a "temporary halt" as a result of the RUF's attacks against U.N. peacekeeping forces and the rebel group's expressed unwillingness to disarm according to a mutually agreed timetable. "The other main faction, the CDF, has officially decided to hold back until the current crises are settled," Kai-Kai said. "As for the AFRC/exSLAs, they were poised to continue the disarmament and to enter a Military Re-integration Programme. This programme would have seen them through a selection and screening exercise for possible re-entry into a restructured national army. The unsuccessful ones would have gone through the demobilisation and re-integration programme." He said the official position was that the programme is still ongoing and that the government was appealing to all combatants, especially to the RUF, to continue disarming according to the programme. "We are yet to see a response, even in the Eastern region, where the RUF is apparently not at all keen on resuming any hostilities," he said. The last figures on disarmament, issued May 4 before the current crisis, which has seen rearming on the part of the warring factions, were: RUF - 4,501; AFRC/ex-SLA - 5,768; CDF - 8,735; Current SLA - 3,804; Others - 1,463; Total - 24,271. Total weapons and ammunition handed in by the RUF, AFRC/ex-SLA and CDF - 14,792 and 255,653, respectively.

British Secretary of State for Defence Geoffrey Hoon told Parliament Monday that British forces in Sierra Leone had secured Lungi International Airport and so far evacuated almost 450 persons from the country. Hoon said Britain had made it clear that its forces would not be deployed in a combat role, but were providing advice to UNAMSIL and technical military advice to the Sierra Leone government and to the U.N. in New York. "In this context, whilst our forces remain, we shall do what we can to assist the U.N. Mission," he said. "Its success is essential to ensuring long term peace and stability in Sierra Leone...Our presence has helped to ensure confidence and has contributed to the stabilisation of the situation." Hoon said that once the U.N. peacekeeping force was up to its full authorised strength of 11,100 troops, the British presence at the airport would no longer be necessary. "I can assure the House that U.K. forces will stay no longer than is necessary," he said. "However, even when our forces do withdraw, we will not be ending our political or diplomatic support for the UN or indeed for Sierra Leone. When it is safe to do so, we will continue with our programme of assistance to help train and build effective, democratically accountable Sierra Leonean Armed Forces, which we announced in April. We will also continue to contribute military observers to the U.N. Mission, and if required, technical advice to UNAMSIL...But there is no question of the U.K. taking over the UN Mission or of being drawn into civil war."

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bernard Miyet told reporters following a closed-door briefing of the U.N. Security Council Monday that the position of U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone is improving, and that the situation in the country was never as bad as some news accounts indicated. Miyet said not one member of the Security Council had suggested the Sierra Leone mission be abandoned. "Just because you believe that at some point you will have failures and difficulties, and each situation is different, you do not say, 'For the sake of the U.N. I close my eyes to what is happening in these countries and leave hundreds of thousands of children, women and men starving or killed in a country because I do not want to damage the image of the U.N." Miyet acknowledged that some of the U.N. peacekeeping troops were poorly equipped at the start of the mission. He emphasised that the international community should provide sufficient resources to ensure that U.N. peacekeeping missions are successful.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called Monday for a tightening of the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and noted what it said were persistent reports of arms shipments to the rebel group over the past year. "The crisis in Sierra Leone can't be solved without addressing the question of weapons supply for the rebels," Lisa Misol of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division said in a statement. "With peace unraveling in Sierra Leone, rebels can be expected to activate their arms supply channels unless the U.N. takes firm steps to stop them." The group also called on the U.N. Security Council to authorise U.N. forces to monitor Sierra Leone's borders, especially that with Liberia, as well as roads and airstrips in RUF-controlled areas and to halt any arms shipments they detect. Human Rights Watch also urged the Security Council to order an official inquiry into illegal arms shipments to the RUF, including the role of illicitly-mined diamonds originating in rebel-controlled areas of Sierra Leone "in order to identify the illicit channels of supply, expose embargo violators, and devise strategies to halt these flows."

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher referred Monday to comments last week by Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Bill Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, that it was important to bring RUF leader Foday Sankoh back into the peace process in Sierra Leone. "I guess what we would have to say is (Sankoh) has a chance to play a positive role, to demonstrate some sincerity by releasing the U.N. detainees, by ordering a ceasefire, by reopening the channels of communication to discuss a genuine, credible peace process for Sierra Leone," Boucher said. "We've made quite clear that what we are looking for and what Rev. Jackson will do during his trip is to reinforce regional efforts to secure the immediate release of U.N. hostages that are held by the rebels, to restore the ceasefire and to return to implementation of a credible peace process under the Lomé Accords." Jackson will travel to Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Nigeria from May 17 to May 22nd.

Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Sierra Leone, called on the Sierra Leone government Monday not to go on the offensive against the RUF. At a press conference in Freetown, Adeniji said both sides should return to their pre-crisis positions, and he urged the government not to pursue the rebels but to find ways of reviving the peace accords. "Our point is that all sides should stop hostilities and go back to the positions where they were and not attempt to move from those positions," he said.

14 May: RUF rebels have released 139 U.N. personnel into Liberian custody, Liberia's President Charles Taylor said on Sunday. Taylor said 15 of the group had been flown to Monrovia in a government-chartered helicopter, while the remaining 124 were waiting to be evacuated from the Liberian border town of Foya. Taylor said the freed detainees had been held by the RUF in Kailahun District. According to figures received by the Sierra Leone Web, however, only 41 U.N. personnel were believed held in Kailahun District as of Saturday — 18 in Kailahun and 23 in Kuiva. Those in Kailahun were handed over to Indian peacekeeping troops in Kailahun earlier on Sunday. In a ceremony at Liberia's Executive Mansion attended by the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Liberia, Felix Downes-Thomas, Taylor introduced two "smiling but tired-looking men wearing new uniforms" whom he said were freed Kenyan and Zambian peacekeepers, the Associated Press reported. Taylor also criticised the United States, which he said had refused to provide air transport for the captives. Instead, Taylor said, they had been forced to walk for three days through heavily-forested areas of eastern Sierra Leone to reach Liberia. There was no immediate comment from the United States. Taylor also warned that continued attacks by pro-government attacks against the RUF rebels "threaten the lives" of the remaining U.N. captives.

RUF rebels handed over 18 captive U.N. peacekeeping troops and military observers to UNAMSIL on Sunday, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said in Freetown. The U.N. personnel, including 11 unarmed military observers — one from each of the contributing countries — and 7 Indian troops were handed over to a contingent of Indian UNAMSIL soldiers in Kailahun, who themselves remain surrounded by RUF troops. The Russian Embassy in Guinea identified one of the freed observers as Lieutenant-Captain Ufimtsev. A second was identified as Major Andrew Harrison of Britain. No further details were available. "We are encouraged by this decision of the RUF to no longer detain our men," said Wimhurst. "We would like to see the rest of our people being detained released as soon as possible...We have yet to reach an agreement with the RUF to allow the 11 military observers to move to Freetown."

Control of the strategic junction town of Masiaka has changed twice Sunday in back-and-forth fighting between pro-government forces and RUF rebels, but is now reportedly in the hands of Sierra Leone Army troops. The town was seized briefly Sunday morning by rebel forces, after having been taken by loyalist forces on Saturday. Earlier Sunday, SLA Colonel J. Nelson C. Youe, aka "Prayer," told journalists the rebels had launched a surprise attack at about 6:45 a.m., which lasted for an hour. "Now they are on the run and we are pursuing them," he said. Subsequent updates reported opposing forces holding opposite sides of the town before an an SLA major told Reuters his troops had withdrawn to take up defensive positions. 

President Kabbah urged RUF fighters Sunday to lay down their weapons and join the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, and — in what appeared to be an acknowledgement that the government is not in direct contact with RUF officials — appealed to those with access to RUF field commanders and combatants to "let them know...that the cause for which the RUF had been fighting is lost." Kabbah said RUF fighters who laid down their arms had nothing to fear. "Their safety is assured," he said. "Let them know that this grieving but resilient nation, is ready to receive them as members of this great family we call Sierra Leone. Together, we can all join in a collective effort to use our human and natural resources, not in destroying, but in building our country, for the benefit of us all."

Britain's Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, arrived in Freetown on Sunday, where he held talks with President Kabbah and later with the commander of the UNAMSIL force, Major-General Vijay Jetley. Guthrie insisted that British forces would leave Sierra Leone as soon as possible, and said there were no plans to land the Marines 42 Commando. "They give us some flexibility by being as sea. It gives us more options," he told reporters. "We will go as soon as we can, as soon as the mission is completed. We are now optimistic that its going to happen by mid-June." But Guthrie declined to give a specific date for the withdrawal. "I can't give you an actual date. If we had a plan we wouldn't tell you," he said. "We are here to evacuate people, secure the airports. We are not part of the U.N." There are currently some 700 British military personnel on the ground in Sierra Leone. Guthrie is expected to inspect British paratroopers securing Lungi International Airport on Monday.

The commander of the British forces in Freetown, Brigadier David Richards, said on Sunday that Sierra Leone's capital was secure. "The situation is much more stable now," he said. "I believe that Freetown is now secure by the U.N. and by the new government forces." He told the BBC that RUF leader Foday Sankoh seemed to be "out of commission" and speculated that the rebel leader might even be dead. "We do not believe that Foday Sankoh has yet reasserted authority over the RUF, which is split. The government is trying to exploit that split and I think they have some chance of success," Richards said. "The situation is much more stable now. The difference between what it was like when we arrived and today is remarkable, and I am not claiming any credit for that. It has been a delight to watch how the U.N. and government forces have managed to regain the initiative, and clearly we have been able to be of some assistance to them. The rebels are now well clear of Freetown, which is now secured by the UN and government troops." Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Sunday that he expected British troops in Sierra Leone to be withdrawn within a month. "We expect this to be over in a month. We want it to be over in a month, and we want to keep that deadline there as pressure on the U.N. to get their people there in a month," he said. "We don't want that timetable to slip."

13 May: Documents found in RUF leader Foday Sankoh's looted house provide "circumstantial material" showing the rebel leader was planning "to stage a very violent and bloody coup" this week, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (left) alleged on Saturday. "We have materials on the coup plan. This is not a speculation. Some of his associates are giving us more details and telling us what Sankoh had in mind," he said. Berewa said plans for the coup, which he said was to have taken place on Tuesday, were upset by a peace demonstration Monday in front of Sankoh's house. RUF supporters fired into the crowd with automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade. 7 people were killed in the attack and 12 more in the violence which followed. Sankoh himself disappeared shortly after the demonstration and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Berewa said other documents found in Sankoh's house related to the sale of illicit diamonds, the recruiting of child soldiers by the RUF, and financial favours granted to RUF supporters. Berewa alleged that Sankoh, who under the Lomé Peace Accord was made chairman of the government's Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD) with the protocol rank of vice president, had tried to trade or sell diamonds abroad to enrich himself and fund the RUF. During a trip to South Africa, purportedly for medical treatment, Sankoh made deals "in a reckless manner," Berewa said. The RUF leader reportedly presented one diamond company with a list of supplies he wanted, including drugs, military equipment, radio and television gear, political campaign materials and school supplies. Berewa said officials found documents describing negotiations with several "well-known" companies and individuals based abroad. "The names are so many," Berewa said. "Foday Sankoh was anxious to have power." One businessman, named as Mitchell Phillip Nicholas, reportedly suggested to Sankoh that he could smuggle gems by helicopter from Kono District to neighbouring Liberia or Guinea. There was also said to be a comprehensive list showing that Sankoh had received 2,134 diamonds  — 347 carats in gem-quality stones and 95 carats in industrial-grade stones worth some $150,000 — from RUF mining activities between August 1999 and January 2000. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, Berewa also alleged that some of the documents found in Sankoh's home dealt with the RUF's practice of abducting children for use as soldiers. "There were documents pointing to the forceful capture of hundreds of civilians by the RUF and, according to these documents, they were specifying where these people were abducted, when they were trained, who trained them, and where they are located right now," Fofana said.

Pro-government forces, led by the ex-SLA's "Westside" unit, have retaken the town of Masiaka from RUF rebels, according to reporters who reached the town on Saturday. "We killed 23 rebels riding this highway on Friday night. We ambushed them," the unit's commander, "Colonel" Salifou Keita Cissey, told Reuters. He claimed he had burned the bodies "because I don't like to see them." There was no independent confirmation of his claim. Sierra Leone's Acting Chief of Defence Staff, Colonel Tom Carew, inspected the town as the Westside fighters celebrated their victory by firing their assault rifles into the air. "We are trying to get a coalition of forces that will stand and defend the people," he said. Earlier, Carew (pictured right) told reporters that the RUF advance on Freetown had been turned back by pro-government forces. "The offensive has not only been stopped, but we are chasing them away and I want to believe they will never see Freetown," he said. "We are not on the offensive yet, we are still on the defensive, but if they come and attack us we will not sit by to see them enter Freetown, so we will pursue them wherever they go until they stop attacking us. If they stop attacking us, we will stop." 

RUF forces twice attacked pro-government positions at Port Loko overnight Friday, according to a statement by Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information. "Armed rebels attacked Port Loko twice last night at 5 p.m. and at 10 p.m.," the statement said. "The attacks were repelled by loyal government troops. The area is still firmly under control...Government forces have advanced from the Waterloo area as far as Mile 38, Mile 38 is now firmly under government control." 

Three RUF fighters involved in Thursday's attack against UNAMSIL troops at Mile 91 were captured Friday and taken to Bo, where they were interviewed by BBC Bo Correspondent Prince Brima. "Speaking to me in an interview at Bo Police Station, one of the rebels told me that they attacked Mile 91 in order to cut off the highway linking the capital Freetown and Bo, the second city," Brima. "He also alleged that 400 mercenaries from Burkina Faso arrived in Makeni from Liberia four days ago and are now preparing to launch a full-scale offensive to capture Freetown." There has been no independent confirmation of the allegation.

Eleven ECOWAS foreign ministers met in Freetown Saturday for the third meeting of the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC), set up under the Lomé Peace Accord to monitor the peace process in Sierra Leone. Also expected to attend the meeting was OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, British and Libyan officials, and an official from the Commonwealth. In a statement, the Sierra Leone government said it remained "fully committed" to meeting its obligations under the peace agreement, and said it was ready to resume implementation of the agreement under "auspicious" circumstances. The statement called on the RUF to release more than 500 U.N. personnel, together with their weapons, equipment and personal effects; to return all weapons seized from the Guinean peacekeeping contingent in February; to relinquish control of Kono, Makeni, Magburaka and other areas to UNAMSIL and the government with immediate effect; and to disarm, simultaneously with other combatant groups and submit to the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. The government also called on the international community to provide the resources to speedily implement a credible DDR process.

At least six British warships had arrived in Sierra Leonean waters by Saturday evening. They were said to include the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, the frigates HMS Cumberland, HMS Chatham and HMS Argyll (pictured left), the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, and a supply ship, the RFA Fort Austin. The convoy is reported to be carrying some 1,000 royal marines. "The ships are moving into the region and will gather off Sierra Leone, but you won't see the Illustrious or Ocean close in to the shore," a Ministry of Defence statement said. "We cannot say at this stage whether anyone will be going ashore."

As of Saturday, 508 U.N. personnel are still believed held captive by RUF rebels in northern and eastern Sierra Leone, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web. These include 18 in Kailahun, 23 in Kuiva, 32 in Makeni and Magburaka, and 434 others, mostly Zambians, in other places, the source said, adding: "Presumably most are in Koidu and vicinity."

U.S. President Bill Clinton has notified Congressional leaders that a small number of U.S. military personnel run the risk of getting caught up in hostilities in Sierra Leone, National Security Council Spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Saturday. He said Friday's notice referred to the fact that military personnel are involved in airlifting peacekeeping troops and supplies to Freetown on behalf of the United Nations. "Given the situation, we thought it appropriate to consult with Congress," Crowley said. "We've kept the (Capitol) Hill fully informed as this has unfolded." 

12 May: RUF rebels and UNAMSIL troops, backed by pro-government militias, fought a three-hour battle between U.N. forces and RUF rebels near Mile 91, the BBC reported on Friday. According to BBC Bo Correspondent Prince Brima, fleeing residents said the rebels attacked Guinean peacekeepers on two fronts late Thursday, but were driven back. "Both Guinean UNAMSIL troops and pro-government Sierra Leone Army militias occupying the area, backed by a helicopter gunship, were able to repel the attacks after a fierce three-hour battle," Brima said. "Truckloads of pro-government militiamen were this morning seen heading for the area to confront possible further attacks." In Freetown, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said Nigerian UNAMSIL positions at Port Loko had been the target of sporadic firing throughout Thursday night. "Our soldiers returned fire," he said. "They suffered no casualties. That was the major overnight incident. Today everything here is quiet, particularly Freetown is secure." A Sierra Leone Army commander, Major Francis Sowa, told Reuters that RUF rebels attempting to advance on Freetown this week had been driven back to to Magbuntoso, about 38 miles from the capital. "Our position was attacked in the early hours of today by the rebels while we were mopping up to push forward," he said. "Their attack on our position will let them understand that we are ready to pursue them anywhere they go this time, as they suffered heavy losses. By tomorrow my joint forces will definitely get to Masiaka." In London, a British Foreign Office official suggested that the situation in Sierra Leone was beginning to stabilise. He noted the RUF had not made any significant advances in the past 48 to 72 hours and said pro-government militias had "made a quite good account of themselves" in fighting with the rebels. Britain's Ministry of Defence downplayed the number of RUF fighters involved in a reported advance on Freetown. "The ministry view is that it is less dramatic than some views we're the media. We think there are 1,500 RUF altogether engaged in this current move west," a defence official said. 

Funeral services were held at the National Stadium Friday for 19 persons killed on Monday when RUF supporters fired on a crowd of demonstrators in front of RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Spur Street residence, or in the aftermath of that attack. A crowd of about 20,000 mourners, including President Kabbah, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, civil society groups, family members and ordinary people, attended the gathering. Following the ceremony, thousands lined the route from the stadium to the Kissy as the thirteen flag-draped coffins of civilians were transported to the cemetery in an open trailer. The six soldiers killed were buried in a military cemetery on the other side of the capital.

Canada will send two Canadian Forces officers trained in military officers to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations to help the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone develop a capacity for rapid response, Canadian Defence Minister Art Eggleton (pictured left) said in a statement issued on Friday. In addition, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will fund two officers from developing countries. He said the Canadian government would also provide 1,700 helmets and 1,700 fragmentation vests to the poorly-equipped peacekeeping force, enough to outfit two battalions of troops. This donation, valued at C$864,000, follows a request by the U.N. to provide these items to troops who had arrived in Sierra Leone without protective equipment. "The current crisis in Sierra Leone and the hostile actions against the U.N. peacekeeping mission deployed there demonstrate the serious need to develop within the U.N. system a real capacity for rapid reaction," Eggleton said. "Canada's assistance will improve the the U.N.'s ability to help and the equipment we are donating will significantly improve the personal protection of troops in Sierra Leone." The Canadian government also announced Friday it would donate C$5 million (U.S. $3.4 million) in emergency humanitarian aid. "This humanitarian aid will be flexible and targeted to those most in need," said Minister for International Co-operation Maria Minna (right). "As soon as it is safe for aid workers to return to Sierra Leone, we will move quickly to start directing this new aid to help the tens of thousands of individuals and families that are caught in the middle of the conflict."

Many peacekeeping troops sent to Sierra Leone were poorly prepared for their mission, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the French daily newspaper Le Monde in an interview published on Friday. "Our soldiers are badly trained and badly equipped," Annan said. "You know that countries which supplied us with soldiers were supposed to equip them fully and train them well. That was not entirely the case here. Some soldiers arrived without even a uniform." He added that Western countries should have committed forces to UNAMSIL. "Obviously I am disappointed, very disappointed. I am not alone in this. Anyone who believes, or says they believe, in multilateral affairs must be disappointed." Annan, however, welcomed the presence of British troops in Sierra Leone. "The presence of British soldiers has allowed us to guarantee security at the airport, which helps us a lot," he said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson compared Foday Sankoh's RUF Friday to South Africa's African National Congress in the transition period before independence, and said the rebel group still had a political role to play in Sierra Leone. Jackson, who is U.S. President Bill Clinton's Special Envoy for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa, is leaving Tuesday for West Africa to search for a solution to the latest crisis in Sierra Leone, and to seek the release of some 500 U.N. personnel detained by the RUF. Last year Jackson, with U.S. backing, pressured the Sierra Leone government into signing a cease-fire agreement with the RUF which set the stage for the negotiation of the Lomé Peace Accord. "The voice of the RUF in Sierra Leone is Foday Sankoh's voice, and his voice would be a very positive one," Jackson said in a conference call with reporters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "The support that he needs to turn the RUF into a political organisation is deserved...The same type of thing must happen for the RUF (as with the ANC), as we seek to get them to put their confidence in a democratic political process." Jackson said he believed Sankoh, whose whereabouts have been unknown since Monday, was still alive, and he said he would make finding the rebel leader a priority. "One of the things I would want to do early on is to seek not only the whereabouts of Foday Sankoh but to assure him of some port of safety if he can hear our voice," he said. "I would tell Sankoh to make himself become visible and make an appeal to release the U.N. peacekeepers. It would be of immense value to Sierra Leone, the Congo and the rest of Africa. "With Sankoh missing, it has added to the tension." He said his first stop would be to meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has acknowledged a close relationship with Sankoh in the past. ECOWAS leaders asked Taylor on Tuesday to become "personally involved" in attempting to free the U.N. troops. "The peacekeepers must not be used as bargaining chips. Their role is too significant to be captured and used that way," Jackson said. "If Charles Taylor can talk to the commanders and they hear that, that would be positive," Jackson said. "It would be different if he were encouraging the fighting, but he's not."

The commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards, called on U.N. troops to adopt a much more belligerent military strategy and to "take the battle forward" alongside pro-government forces fighting against the RUF rebels. Speaking on Radio Democracy FM, Richards said "our job now in the short term, using the new SLA, is to take the battle forward," adding that the pro-government alliance "do whatever is necessary, increasingly into the interior" of Sierra Leone. A British Defence Ministry spokesman told the Agence France-Presse that Richards was not referring to British troops, which Britain has said are in the country for the purpose of evacuating British and other foreign nationals and to provide security at Lungi International Airport. But Richards indicated that the British troops might become more deeply involved in that originally intended. "That mandate is being liberally interpreted insofar as the activities that I need to conduct in order to ensure the safe evacuation of British nationals, which will continue to be my ultimate priority, allows me to do other activities to make sure I can efficiently evacuate people," he said. 

British paratroopers are manning checkpoints alongside Nigerian UNAMSIL troops in the Freetown suburbs of Aberdeen and Lumley, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. "In Freetown here the security remains watertight," Fofana told the BBC Network Africa programme. "There have been joint patrols involving U.N. troops and Sierra Leonean military personnel and around Aberdeen and Lumley Beach area British paratroopers could be seen very much in action, and they’ve been rigorously searching vehicles and commuters. They’ve set up roadblocks and they’re working actively in collusion with Nigerian U.N. troops." 

British Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie will visit Sierra Leone over the weekend, Defence Minister of State Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean told the House of Lords on Friday. She said that Guthrie, who will be accompanied by Foreign Office officials, wanted "to look at events on the ground." He will also visit Senegal and Nigeria, she said. Britain currently has 900 paratroopers and support troops in Sierra Leone, and is sending 600 Royal Marines, who will be kept in reserve. A British aircraft carrier, the HMS Illustrious, is due to reach Sierra Leone's coastal waters by Monday at the latest, and other British warships are expected to reach the country before then. 

The Joint Implementation Committee on the Lomé Peace Accord will meet in Freetown on Saturday, according to Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS). According the Sierra Leone's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, and representatives of the U.K. Libya and the Commonwealth will attend.

310 troops from the Jordanian Special Forces arrived in Freetown on Friday, bringing the total number of UNAMSIL troops in Sierra Leone to about 9,200. The deployment of the rest of the Jordanian battalion, as well as Indian and Bangladeshi peacekeepers, will be accomplished using a mixture of commercial and military aircraft, a U.N. spokesman said. He said the deployment of the Indian battalion is scheduled to begin on Monday. In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman said a U.S. C-17 military aircraft transported the Jordanians' ammunition to Freetown. Meanwhile, the United Nations has turned down an offer by the United States to ferry some 800 Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops to Sierra Leone because it would take too many flights, tripling the cost as compared to commercial aircraft. "We decided not to use the U.S. aircraft for this airlift because capacity of the plane offered of 40 metric tons would have required too many sorties and clogged up the airport," a U.N. official said. The U.N. has instead chartered larger planes from commercial carriers, for a cost of $6 million as compared to the $15-17 million the U.S. would have charged. But the official said the U.S. is expected to help elsewhere with ferrying in supplies. U.N. officials have also noted the limited capacity of Freetown's main airfield. Lungi International Airport is only capable of handling two or three flights a day, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York. He said the U.N. had requested heavy load teams to increase the number of heavy-lift flights into Lungi. 

One of the four RUFP ministers who joined the Sierra Leone government last year as part of a power-sharing formula agreed upon in the Lomé Peace Accord has denounced RUF leader Foday Sankoh for perpetuating killing in Sierra Leone." Minister of Lands Housing, Country Planning and the Environment Peter Vandy read a nine-point statement over state radio and television Thursday night withdrawing support for Sankoh on behalf of himself and other undisclosed members of the RUF Party. Vandy said that the group "totally dissociate ourselves from the unwarranted violations of the Lomé Peace Accord by Foday Sankoh," adding: "We stand fully by the government and the people of Sierra Leone to see the fulfillment of the peace agreement without any conditions attached." Vandy said the RUF's political wing was committed to "lasting peace in Sierra Leone," and supported Tuesday's call by ECOWAS leaders meeting in Abuja to restore peace in the country by military means if necessary.

U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said Friday that an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 persons had arrived in Freetown since the beginning of the week. "People are not in bad shape, but they obviously are frightened and fear rebel attacks," Berthiaume said in Geneva. She said the WFP would begin distributing supplies and registering people Friday to get a clearer idea of the numbers involved. In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Friday only a small number of people were still arriving in Freetown, and many internally-displaced persons were returning to areas near Waterloo.

About 100 civilian employees of the UNAMSIL force who were evacuated to Banjul earlier in the week were scheduled to return to Sierra Leone Friday as the security situation in Freetown has stabilised. "A little more than 100 members of the non-essential staff who had been redeployed in Gambia several days ago, are returning at this moment to UNAMSIL," UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said. "The present conditions justify their return."

Sierra Leone has been ranked 30th among African soccer teams by FIFA, world football's governing body, despite being among the 25 teams to qualify for the second round of the World Cup playoffs last month. FIFA Rankings: 1. South Africa 2. Morocco 3. Tunisia 4. Egypt 5. Zambia 6. Cameroon 7. Ivory Coast 7. Ghana 9. Nigeria 10. Angola 11. Democratic Republic of Congo 12. Zimbabwe 13. Senegal 14. Algeria 15. Burkina Faso 16. Gabon 17. Mali 17. Namibia 19. Togo 20. Guinea 21. Congo 22. Mozambique 23. Kenya 24. Malawi 25. Liberia 26. Uganda 27. Mauritius 28. Libya 29. Tanzania 30. Sierra Leone.

11 May: Pro-government forces clashed with RUF rebels between Newton and Songo Thursday, about 30 miles from Freetown. "There was heavy fighting beginning at 1300 (1:00 p.m.) on the road between Newton and Songo. It went on for at least an hour," said UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst. "U.N. forces were not engaged." Reuters reporters who witnessed the battle said helicopter gunships pounded the rebels, while Nigerian ground troops serving with UNAMSIL used anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons to recapture territory beyond Waterloo. According to one witness, the rebels were wearing uniforms and blue caps confiscated from captured U.N. troops in an effort to fool pro-government forces. While the Nigerians took an active part in the fighting, peacekeepers from Jordan, India and Kenya sat in their white-painted vehicles ten miles behind the front line and took no active part in the fighting, Reuters said. No casualties were reported. Earlier Thursday, Wimhust told reporters the rebels had attacked the towns of Newton and Port Loko overnight. "U.N. troops at Newton and Port Loko came under fire from the RUF during the night and the early hours of this morning," he said, adding that the RUF fighters had used rocket-propelled grenades at Port Loko and fired from armoured personnel carriers at Newton. "The blue helmets returned the fire and reported no casualties," Wimhurst said. "There are unconfirmed report of RUF casualties in both these areas." The Agence France-Presse, however, quoted a Sierra Leone government source as saying two SLA soldiers were wounded at Port Loko in a battle which lasted 90 minutes. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported Thursday morning that the rebels had also attacked Mange-Bureh, and attributed the two attacks to RUF troops who had been driven from of Rogberi Junction. The BBC reporter said UNAMSIL troops had taken part in the fighting in Port Loko. "The U.N. troops have been very much drawn into combat," he said. "In Port Loko, I understand, they were giving real support to the pro-government forces. And as you know very well, the former AFRC and SLA soldiers are in the thick of the whole action. So it’s not just the loyal Sierra Leone government troops. It’s a combination of all forces opposed to the RUF attempt to overrun the country." Meanwhile, as British Chinook transport helicopters helped UNAMSIL position military equipment and vehicles around the capital, Wimhurst said the U.N. was tightening its defences around Freetown in preparation for a possible RUF offensive. UNAMSIL positions "are solid and becoming more solid by the hour," Wimhurst said. "We have laid our plans and the necessary steps are being taken militarily to protect the capital. Plans have been made to ensure that Freetown remains exactly what it is called - a free town." 

Earlier Thursday, pro-government forces and UNAMSIL peacekeepers were said to be consolidating their defensive positions along the Freetown-Waterloo road amid reports that the RUF was preparing for an assault on Freetown. Former Sierra Leone Army soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma rushed to Waterloo on Wednesday, and late in the day said they had succeeded in driving RUF forces back to Newton. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. AFRC spokesman Prince Edward Nicol said President Kabbah had authorised the ex-SLA soldiers to defend the capital. "The U.N. still insists their mandate is not to fight. We are not waiting for them," Nicol said. UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst acknowledged that the former soldiers had been armed. "The SLA has rearmed itself and we have urged them to behave responsibly," he said. A diplomatic source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday that the government had given the the ex-soldiers some arms "and some were just taken." The Associated Press quoted a pro-government army commander Thursday morning as saying the rebels had advanced to Waterloo, but military sources have denied this. Wimhurst told reporters that peacekeeping troops had come under fire overnight at Newton, about 25 miles east of Freetown. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported early Thursday that the RUF was no nearer than 47 miles from the capital. "I spoke to defence sources yesterday, they were telling me it is not true that the rebels came as close as Waterloo," Fofana told the BBC Network Africa programme. "The panic and pandemonium was created basically by civilians who were carting away their property from those areas so that the rebels don’t overrun those places. But militarily speaking they were saying that the rebels are nowhere near Freetown." Fofana cited reports, not independently confirmed, that "Masiaka has been fully consolidated by the AFRC, SLA and other government forces."

Kenyan UNAMSIL troops which had been encircled by RUF troops at Makeni and Magburaka broke through rebel lines on Tuesday with the help of UNAMSIL's Indian Rapid Reaction Force, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said on Thursday. He gave no details on the number of troops involved, but they were subsequently reported to number about 200. According to a statement by Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information, the troops from Makeni arrived in Kabala, where Sierra Leone Army troops opened fire on them, mistaking them for rebels wearing captured U.N. uniforms. A second group of Kenyans from Magburaka reached Bumbuna without incident, the statement said. Nine wounded Kenyans were taken to hospital in Freetown, where seven of them were treated for bullet wounds. Three were reported to be in serious condition. Two more were injured when they fell from their truck. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the Kenyan troops had not been counted as part of some 500 U.N. peacekeepers held by the RUF rebels in northern and eastern Sierra Leone.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested Thursday night beleaguered U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone might need more troops and a broader mandate to combat RUF rebels and salvage the country's peace process. Addressing a late-night emergency meeting of the Security Council, Annan noted he was not opposed to a call by West African leaders on Tuesday that the U.N. force take on a more aggressive "peace-enforcement" mandate, and he welcomed an offer by ECOWAS to contribute additional troops to Sierra Leone, possibly as the nucleus of a rapid reaction force which he said would be the best way to provide UNAMSIL with the combat capability it needed. "The ECOWAS offer of troops is very important in this respect but it is contingent on financial and logistical support from other member states," he said. Several nations, including Britain, Canada and Malaysia, stressed that any new troops be kept under U.N. command. Annan pointed out that the total current troop offers might exceed UNAMSIL's maximum authorised strength of 11,100, and he urged the Council to revise the force's mandate to allow for the increases. Annan also hailed the expedited deployment of the remaining peacekeeping contingents earmarked for UNAMSIL. "We have to consolidate and reinforce our troops so that they can defend themselves and their mandate effectively, and so they can help stabilise the situation," Annan said. "I am glad to say the additional troops are on their way, including units with battle experience and with combat equipment, such as artillery and helicopter gun-ships." "It is vital that the world should not now abandon the people of Sierra Leone in their hour of greatest need," Annan told the council. "I plead with you, let us not fail Sierra Leone. Let us not fail Africa. This time, in this crisis, let us back words with deeds, and mandates with the resources needed to make them work. The plight of Sierra Leone and its people has become a crucial test of that fundamental solidarity between peoples, rising above race and above geography, which is the most basic guiding principle of this organisation." 

Addressing the U.N. Security Council Thursday on behalf of the Organisation of African Unity, Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali called the crisis in Sierra Leone one of the most serious to ever face the United Nations. "This test of the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone shows very clearly that the mandate and resources are not and never were appropriate to the situation," he said. He urged the Council to give the U.N. force a more combat-oriented mandate. But British Ambassador Stuart Eldon cautioned against such an "over-hasty approach" and said the Council's focus should be on getting the existing force in a position to enforce its mandate. "The secretary-general was right to point out that changing UNAMSIL's mandate will not of itself change it into an effective mission," Eldon said.

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ibrahim M. Kamara, urged the Security Council Thursday to "take the lead in ensuring the safety and security of the people of Sierra Leone." Kamara said it was time to put aside questions of blame over failures by the U.N. peacekeeping force. "It is about time we move ahead because the situation in Sierra Leone is still serious," he said. "It is still a threat to international peace and security. It is a situation which the Security Council must resolutely address as a matter of urgency." Kamara welcomed moves to bring UNAMSIL up to its full authorised strength with the rapid deployment of additional troops. "We hope that this process would be expedited in order to avoid any deterioration of a situation which, we are happy to report, continues to improve to the extent that civilians can now go about their business without hindrance," he said. "We expect the Council to consider its options, and take appropriate and effective measures to deal with the new situation which has emerged in our country." The ambassador said his government was still committed to the Lomé Peace Accord and believed that, despite the RUF having "seriously violated" the provisions of the agreement, it was still implementable. "Government is also aware that a large proportion of the members of the RUF were not in support of the abductions of UNAMSIL personnel, and the refusal by Foday Sankoh to voluntarily disarm his combatants, Kamara told Council members. "They are fed up with war and want the country to move ahead." He called on RUF members to take advantage of the amnesty granted by the Lomé Peace Accord and to cooperate with the continued implementation of the government's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme. "Failure to do so will result in the amnesty being forfeited," he warned. "This will result in their being declared war criminals, with all the consequences flowing from that, including being hunted around the world."

Additional peacekeeping troops on on their way to join the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone, a U.N. spokesman said in New York on Thursday. "Two Jordanian parachute companies, comprising about 240 troops, supported by a 31-strong medical unit are expected to fly to Lungi airport in Sierra Leone within 48 hours," said Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general. "The remainder of the Jordanian battalion is expected to be ready to be deployed by the end of the month." He said a second Indian battalion would be ready for deployment on Monday. "The Indians have also offered one mechanized unit, one special forces unit and one attack helicopter unit," he said. "The Bangladesh battalion is also expected to be deployed next week." The new troops and their equipment are being airlifted to Freetown with the assistance of Canada, the United States, Russia and the Netherlands. Eckhard acknowledged reports that government and U.N. troops had been involved in fighting with the rebels. "Everyone has a mandate to fight back when attacked," he said. "There were two separate attacks last night on U.N. positions. We fired back and we repelled the attackers." But Eckhard said the U.N. had to be careful of  "fighting alongside the elements there that we went in to disarm," a reference to the fact that the Sierra Leone Army had rearmed its men in order to deal with the RUF offensive. He noted reports that elements of the RUF had been crossing the border from Liberia in eastern Sierra Leone, but said that in the capital tension had "reduced somewhat." U.N. reconnaissance flights "do not show the RUF in an organised position ready to pounce on Freetown," he said.

Meanwhile, he said, tension had eased in Freetown and UNAMSIL's position was growing stronger every day. "Are we comfortable? No." he said. "We are coping." The spokesman said some of the 266 U.N. personnel who had been evacuated to Gambia and Guinea were being recalled to Sierra Leone "in light of the new requirements."

Four U.N. military observers held by RUF rebels at Makeni since Tuesday last week escaped on Saturday and were picked up on Tuesday after walking for three days through the bush to reach Magburaka — a distance of about 40 miles. One of the four, Royal Marines commando Major Phil Ashby, said the four had escaped over the wall after RUF fighters made specific theats against them. They then headed for Magburaka, walking by night and hiding by day, but made little progress through the bush. "We considered that if we kept moving at night, assuming everyone was a potential RUF soldier, we would still be there in a year," Ashby said.  "We took a decision that we would approach the locals. We got to a village where someone spoke English. The whole village was incredibly helpful." Ashby said the villagers helped the U.N. observers at the risk of their lives and provided a guide who led them out of RUF-held territory and to the protection of the Kamajor militia. A courier with a bicycle took Ashby's dog tag to the nearest UNAMSIL post, several hours away. Eventually an SAS unit arrived by Landrover, and the four soldiers were airlifted to Freetown in a Chinook helicopter. "They had a satellite phone, so we knew they were on their way, but the battery packed up after 24 hours," said British military spokesman Lieutenant Tony Cramp. The four were identified as as Major Phil Ashby, Major Andrew Samsonoff and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Rowland of Britain, and Major David Lingard from New Zealand. Meanwhile, the RUF released two detained U.N. personnel on Wednesday: Major Suresh Karki, a Nepalese military observer who was suffering from malaria, and Lance Corporal Paucho Singh Chouan of India. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard quoted Karki as saying that neither he nor the 19 people held with him had been mistreated by the rebels.

Representatives of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) were due to travel to Waterloo again Thursday to determine the numbers of people on the move and their requirements, a U.N. spokesman said. On Wednesday the mission estimated the population in settlements along the road to Waterloo at about 20,000, with another 10,000 to 20,000 people in the centre of Waterloo. There are also reports of population movements towards Freetown, the spokesman said. The only people able to move toward Freetown are those from the Waterloo area, the humanitarian mission said. Residents from Masiaka and Rogberi were not able to pass the RUF and have presumably gone into the bush. The WFP said it was continuing to provide food to children in southern Sierra Leone, and would would proceed with deliveries to those registered in camps or holding registration cards for Waterloo and Grafton camps, which have been abandoned by displaced persons fearing a rebel attack. The WFP-chartered vessel "Salvator II" has arrived off the coast of Freetown and is available to support humanitarian operations in Sierra Leone, the  spokesman said.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Thursday that while the United Nations would be required to fund any new deployment of Nigerian troops in Sierra Leone, his government would not necessarily insist they be under a separate command. "What we are saying is that since our soldiers have operated in Sierra Leone for so many years, they know the terrain, they know the people, and we are saying that if our five battalions, for instance, we have to operate under the U.N. auspices we will want them to be commanded as a formation," he told the BBC during a stopover at London's Gatwick Airport. "We will not want them to be taken one battalion here, one battalion there. And that stands to reason, because they can then function most effectively that way." Obasanjo said the new force would have a mandate for peace enforcement, rather than just for peacekeeping. "That is also the decision of the leaders of the sub-region," he said. He suggested that the U.N.'s restricted mandate to use force had prevented U.N. soldiers from reacting appropriately when attacked by the RUF, leading to the "most unacceptable situation of almost a whole battalion of U.N. being taken as hostages by the rebels." Obasanjo said the main purpose of the U.N. being in Sierra Leone was to ensure the implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord, which meant "persuading" the RUF rebels to comply. "The RUF knows Nigerian troops and Nigerian troops know the RUF. So its a question of persuading, and if they know that the Nigerian troops are there to enforce an agreement, they will be persuaded," he said. But the Nigerian president declined to commit himself to a statement guaranteeing that the Sierra Leone government would not be allowed to fall to the RUF. "It is not for Nigeria or even for the U.N. to determine a government for Sierra Leone," he said. But the point is this: If the peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts in Sierra Leone fail, then U.N. peacemaking effort and peacekeeping effort will be gravely endangered." 

Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was designated by ECOWAS on Tuesday to "involve himself personally" to bring about the release of up to 500 U.N. personnel detained by the RUF and a resumption of the peace process in Sierra Leone, has called on the rebel movement to stop all military action. "I want to use this occasion to call upon the RUF to call off any any attempt on their part to invade Freetown," Taylor said upon his return from the ECOWAS mini-summit in Abuja. "I think it will be counter-productive and not in the best interests of peace. I call upon the RUF to cease and desist immediately from any and all contemplations of such attacks. And I think instead of talking war, war, war we should be talking about peace, peace, peace."

Memorial services will be held Friday at the National Stadium in Freetown for peace demonstrators killed by the RUF Monday outside the Spur Street residence of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "As at now we expect to bury 19 persons tomorrow, including two female demonstrators," a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web. "There will be a big lay out at the National Football Stadium tomorrow at 14:00 hours (2:00 p.m.) and thereafter interment at the Race Course Cemetery" in the east end of Freetown.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured his cabinet Thursday that British troops had not been sent to Sierra Leone to engage in combat, according to his spokesman, Alastair Campbell said. "The prime minister emphasised that we do have extra responsibilities as a former colonial power, it would be wrong not to be there, but emphasised the troops are there for evacuation, not for combat," Campbell said. The British press has questioned in recent days whether moves by British paratroopers to secure Lungi International Airport, to position U.N. peacekeepers and reportedly to help UNAMSIL with tactical planning represented "mission creep." But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said the British military's actions were consistent with its mission in Sierra Leone of providing "a secure environment for safe evacuation" of British nationals. "Whilst we have capacity and we are there...we are open to requests to assist," the spokesman added. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned Thursday evening that the British troops would defend themselves if they came under fire. "If our troops are attacked, they will fight back, I don't want the rebels to be under any misunderstanding about that," he said. "They would be very wise not to attempt anything that posed any form of threat to our forces."

U.S. President Bill Clinton said Thursday he was sending his Special Envoy for Democracy in Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to return to West Africa and work with regional leaders "for a peaceful resolution of this crisis" in Sierra Leone. "Rev. Jackson has been actively involved in our diplomatic effort to help the people of Sierra Leone realize their peaceful aspirations," he said. Clinton also announced that he had instructed the U.S. military to provide assistance to accelerate the deploy of troops to the UNAMSIL force. "A U.S. military transport aircraft is now in Jordan to move ammunition and supplies that are needed immediately for the Jordanian elements in Sierra Leone," he said. Clinton welcomed an offer by ECOWAS countries, and Nigeria in particular, to send additional troops to Sierra Leone. "We intend to support the commitment West African nations have made to send additional troops to Sierra Leone to restore peace," Clinton said. "A U.S. military team is now in Nigeria to determine what assistance might be needed from the international community to outfit and transport these forces as quickly as possible."

A Sierra Leonean newspaper reporter was among those killed on Monday when RUF supporters fired on a crowd of protesters outside the home of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said on Thursday. Saoman Conteh was shot while covering the demonstrations for the New Tablet newspaper. He was confirmed dead on arrival at Connaught Hospital, RSF said.

Australia advised its nationals Thursday to leave Sierra Leone, and advised against all travel to the country. "The security situation in the country has deteriorated," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a travel advisory. "While a peace agreement has been signed by warring factions, fighting has resumed in breach of the agreement and the security situation could deteriorate further."

Thousands of Freetown residents are fleeing the capital by ferry for the relative safety of Lungi, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported on Thursday. "Some of them have bundles here and there, mattresses, buckets, cooking utensils and so many other items which they are carrying," Rogers said. He added that many people said they felt secure in Lungi because British paratroopers had deployed in the town. "The exodus here is actually quite extraordinary, because any trip of the ferry will take along thousands of people," he said.

Human Rights Watch called Thursday for a new authority capable of coordinating U.N. and non-U.N. military efforts in Sierra Leone, with "a clear mandate and capability to quickly address the grave threats to the civilian population." In a press release accompanying an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anna, the group urged the "augmented force" to adopt what it called a "zero tolerance" policy for human rights abuses, including those committed by its own troops. "Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses on the part of all parties to the conflict in Sierra Leone including some of those now fighting on the government side," the statement said. "Recent reports have suggested that suspected members of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) have been summarily executed in Freetown in recent days. Human Rights Watch urged that the rights of captured combatants and suspected rebels be respected." The group also called for the U.N. to deploy human rights monitors to provide information on human rights abuses which may be taking place outside of Freetown. "Previous experience in the civil war has shown that in periods of both offensive action and retreat, the RUF has often committed its most heinous atrocities," the human rights group said. "Collecting this evidence is a key first step toward holding perpetrators accountable, and, with time, deterring further atrocities."

10 May: A coalition of new and former Sierra Leone Army soldiers and Kamajor militiamen drove RUF rebels from Waterloo to Newton, military sources were quoted as saying on Wednesday. Meanwhile, United Nations peacekeeping troops were positioning themselves for the possibility of a rebel attack on Freetown. Fred Eckhard (pictured right), the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said UNAMSIL "has been consolidating its positions, particularly concentrating troops around the entry points into Freetown" and would do whatever was necessary to defend itself and the Sierra Leone government. "We hope that it's not going to come to a pitched battle, but in effect we're preparing for one," he said. Eckhard said the peacekeepers were not configured to do battle and were "basically in a defensive mode," but were "anticipating for the worst, which would be an attack on Freetown." In the city itself, British paratroopers committed four RAF Chinook helicopters to move Jordanian troops to defensive positions near the capital, while British army planners began helping UNAMSIL prepare new positions, plans and tactics. According to a London Press Association pool report, two troops of SAS soldiers, about 40 men, were helping in U.N. efforts to stabilise the situation. 

Sierra Leonean troops loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma have recaptured the Masiaka from the RUF and are advancing toward Lunsar, Koroma announced early Wednesday. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. In a broadcast over Voice of the Handicap radio, Koroma said the pro-government troops had killed 20 rebel troops, captured a vehicle and a large quantity of ammunition. Koroma, who in 1997 led a short-lived military junta which shared power with the RUF, announced a formal alliance with RUF leader Foday Sankoh when the two men arrived in Freetown in October. But Koroma and Sankoh soon fell out over political and personal differences, and their troops clashed repeatedly in northern Sierra Leone. The Associated Press reported "truckloads of pro-government soldiers and militiamen bristling with weapons" speeding toward Masiaka Wednesday, only about 35 miles from the capital, while thousands of civilians were arriving in the capital, fleeing what they said was a rebel advance. Reuters quoted "fleeing civilians and military sources" at a UNAMSIL checkpoint at Jui as saying RUF troops had reached Mokolo Junction. Witnesses reported seeing a contingent of heavily-armed reinforcements heading for the area led by Sierra Leone's new Acting Chief of Defence Staff, Colonel Tom Carew, Reuters said. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, in a Focus on Africa segment, said rebels had been reported at the highway settlement of Four Mile, less than 30 miles from Freetown. "Defence sources told me this afternoon that the rebel activity around Four Mile is a consequence of the Masiaka battle" where rebels fleeing the fighting with government troops had surfaced in the village, Fofana said. But despite reports of renewed fighting, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst stressed that the capital was safe. "Freetown is not going to fall to the RUF," he said. 

A United Nations humanitarian assessment team set out from Freetown on Wednesday to determine the needs of thousands of people flocking into the capital to escape a reported rebel advance. The team will travel as far as security conditions permit in the direction of Waterloo, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York, adding that the dispatch of such a team was standard operating procedure in such crisis situations. The team is made up of representatives from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Okabe said.

The search for missing RUF leader Foday Sankoh moved to western Freetown Tuesday amid rumours that Sankoh had escaped into the hills surrounding the capital. "Yesterday the Sierra Leone Army dispatched a huge contingent of soldiers who were combing the bush around Malama and the west end of town because it was rumoured that Foday Sankoh was hiking on the hills trying to escape from the city," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Wednesday. "And that was in fact why there was amount of gunfire around that part of town. It created panic among the people. But later on defence staff officials told me that it was basically a hunt for Foday Sankoh." Fofana told the BBC's Network Africa programme that about 20 RUF officials had been rounded up in Freetown. "Among them are some of their chief functionaries like (RUFP spokesman) Eldred Collins; I believe three or four of their ministers and deputy ministers, including one guy called 'Leatherboots' (RUF commander Idriss Kamara) and a number of other people who are hangers-on to Foday Sankoh at his residence at Spur Road," he said. "Initially they were said to be detained at the Defence Headquarters, but they have been referred to the police and I understand they have been taken to the maximum security prison in Freetown."

UNAMSIL currently has 8,936 U.N. peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Wednesday. He said battalions from Bangladesh, India and Jordan are expected to arrived between May 20 and 31, in an effort to bring UNAMSIL quickly up to its full authorised strength of 11,100 soldiers. Eckhard said he had no accurate figures on casualties, but noted that Nigerian troops had sustained casualties during the fighting with the RUF at Rogberi Junction, while Kenyan troops had also been injured in recent fighting.  

India said Wednesday it will send a battle-tested battalion of infantry troops to join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone next week. About 800 troops from India's 18th Grenadier Regiment, which was decorated last year for its role in the conflict in Kashmir, "any time after Monday to join up with some 1,600 Indian peacekeepers" already in Sierra Leone, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted a military source as saying. The source said the Indian soldiers would be flown to Russia, from where they would be airlifted to join the UNAMSIL force. 

Canada said Wednesday it had accepted a request from the United Nations to provide airlift support to UNAMSIL aimed at accelerating the deployment of approximately 1,772 peacekeeping troops from India and Bangladesh to Sierra Leone. "The worsening situation in Sierra Leone calls for prompt action. I'm pleased Canada is able to respond at such short notice, demonstrating once again, the level of professionalism of the Canadian Forces and its commitment to UN peace support operations," Canada's Minister of National Defence, Art Eggleton, said in a press statement. A CC-150 Polaris (Airbus) with up to 20 air force personnel will depart Wednesday for a mission which is expected to take from two to three weeks. The aircraft will transport troops from airports in New Delhi, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh to Lungi International Airport.

Russia will send four military helicopters and 105 soldiers to Sierra Leone to help strengthen the UNAMSIL force, the Interfax News Agency reported on Wednesday. The news agency said all pertinent documents had been prepared and submitted for approval to the upper house of Parliament. The Deputy Head of the Russian Defence Ministry's Main Directorate for International Cooperation, Lieutenant-General Nikolai Zlenko, told Itar-Tass that the final decision would be made after it had been approved by the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's Parliament. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Wednesday that UNAMSIL had no helicopter gunships, but told reporters in New York that some were being ordered from Russia and could be in Sierra Leone by the end of the month.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer called on Britain Wednesday to end the "major discrimination" against African countries when it comes to peacekeeping. "If the British government and British military provide significant support with men and materials to the U.N. force, the whole situation will change very quickly," Spencer told the BBC. But Britain this week ruled out supplying soldiers for a U.N.-proposed rapid response force, and British paratroopers who reached Freetown on Monday have so far limited their role to the evacuation of British and other foreign nationals and securing Lungi International Airport. "The Sierra Leone public expect much more than what the British seem to be giving," Spencer said. "It is disturbing for us because it seems like there is indeed some major discrimination in the way world peace is being kept when it comes to African countries. The British government has been very helpful to Sierra Leone, but we are in a crisis situation now and we believe that the British can play a very leading role and...redeem the image of the United Nations."

The United Nations Security Council consulted on Sierra Leone behind closed doors on Wednesday. Council members were briefed on the latest developments in the country by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi. The secretary-general's report on Sierra Leone, which had been expected earlier this week, has been overtaken by events and is being rewritten and is expected to go to the Council shortly.

West African leaders meeting for an ECOWAS mini-summit on the crisis in Sierra Leone on Tuesday pressed for UNAMSIL's mandate to be changed from a peacekeeping force to a peace-enforcing force. On Wednesday, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate said the U.N. peacekeeping force was made up of "very professional and talented soldiers," but that they were hampered by their peacekeeping mandate. "If they had the rule of engagement and the peace-enforcement mandate, probably what happened couldn’t happen," Kouyate told the BBC. He said ECOWAS had proposed the U.N. Security Council change UNAMSIL's mandate and increase its size by incorporating ECOWAS troops. "But if the Security Council does not change the mandate, well ECOWAS countries are ready to go by their own provided we get financial support and logistic support from outside," he said. Meanwhile, Nigerian Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar said that any ECOWAS force sent to Sierra Leone would have to be commanded by a Nigerian. "There must be a shared responsibility. If you want us to commit troops, then the United Nations also must be prepared to make funds available to keep the troops there," he said. Abubakar described the UNAMSIL force as "ineffective," and said that the situation had worsened since it took over responsibility for security from ECOMOG. "The command ought to have gone to Nigeria, because Nigeria, having been in Sierra Leone for quite some time, and quite familiar with the terrain, would have made a better job of it," he said.

A senior advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has come to the defence of the battered UNAMSIL force, and placed the blame for Sierra Leone's crisis on the RUF. "We assumed a level of willingness on the part of those who signed the peace accords. We had not yet completed deployment when crisis arose," said Shashi Tharoor, Annan's Executive Assistant. He acknowledged that UNAMSIL's mandate which limits the circumstances under which it can use force posed a risk, but said a request for a force with a stronger mandate would likely have been rejected by the Security Council. "If we had gone to the Council and said we don't expect full cooperation and need a robust well-equipped force, the Council would probably not have approved it. We would then not meet the expectations of the Sierra Leone people for peace," he said. Tharoor said the U.N. was committed to Sierra Leone. "We're not going to pull out," he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised powerful U.N. member states Wednesday for not providing better-training soldiers to back the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone. "I had hoped that some of those with the capacity would go to the assistance of those who are in there doing the bidding of the Security Council and the U.N.," Annan said. "The best peacekeeper is a well-trained soldier and we would have liked to see some of the governments with capacity, with good armies and well-trained soldiers to participate. But they are not running forward to contribute to this force so we have to take the forces we get." The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have all turned down Annan's request to contribute troops to a rapid reaction force in Sierra Leone. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said France could not send troops to Sierra Leone because its resources "are not unlimited" and that it was reserving its troops for duty in southern Lebanon. Britain and the United States have offered to supply additional logistical support to the U.N. force, but have declined to contribute troops.

The human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that the deterioration of the security situation in Sierra Leone "poses a real and immediate threat to the fundamental human rights of thousands of civilians" in the country. In a statement issued by its London secretariat, Amnesty said that the security of civilians in Sierra Leone must be the major concern of the international community. "The U.N. has an obligation to ensure that civilians are protected from the atrocities that they have experienced throughout years of conflict," the group said, adding: "We condemn any action which prevents U.N. peace-keeping troops from fulfilling their mandate to protect civilians." The statement criticised the Lomé Peace Accord for failing to address gross human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, which were committed throughout the conflict. "The peace agreement signed in Lomé was not underpinned by either justice or accountability," Amnesty International said. "The continuing political and human rights crises in Sierra Leone will not be resolved while the perpetrators of human rights abuses enjoy impunity." Noting reports that hundreds of Sierra Leonean civilians attempting to flee into Guinea had been prevented from crossing the border by RUF troops, Amnesty called on "countries in the region, especially Guinea" to ensure that refugees are not prevented from entering their countries. "Civilians must not be prevented from leaving areas of the country where their lives and safety are at risk," the Amnesty statement said. The group also called on the U.N. Security Council, Liberia, Guinea and other countries in the region to "take all possible measures to prevent military assistance from reaching rebel forces."

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office "strongly recommended" Wednesday that British nationals in Freetown and "other entitled personnel" — citizens of European Union and Commonwealth nations for which Britain has consular responsibility in Sierra Leone — to assemble at the Mammy Yoko Hotel for evacuation from the country. "The security situation was relatively stable yesterday, but may deteriorate quickly," the statement said. "Those who are unable to travel should remain indoors and keep their heads down." In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday the evacuations could take as long as a week. "The evacuation is continuing, it is likely to take several more days, possibly a week to ensure that our people in the outlying areas are brought to safety," Blair told Parliament.

Approximately 40 civilians casualties were admitted to Connaught Hospital Tuesday after RUF supporters fired into a crowd of demonstrators in front of the home of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. According to Medècins sans Frontiéres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders), two were dead on their arrival at the hospital, 34 suffered from bullet wounds and four had been injured by crushing. Of those wounded by bullets, 10 were injured in the back when they tried to flee. MSF said its surgical team operated on 11 people who were seriously injured. In addition, the group said, the hospital mortuary held the bodies of seven civilians. MSF has suspended its operations in Kenema and Moyamba due to the security situation, but maintains a surgical team in Freetown to assist casualties, MSF said in a statement.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has condemned recent RUF attacks and deplored the fact that the acts had brought the humanitarian in Sierra Leone to a halt and was now creating a new emergency for the most vulnerable people — the elderly, women and children. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Robinson said the RUF's acts are not covered by any amnesty, and said the perpetrators of human rights abuses must be apprehended and brought to justice. 

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) expressed alarm Wednesday that the current crisis in Sierra Leone could result in the renewed recruitment of child soldiers, and urged all parties to abide by a ban on the practice. "We're very concerned right now about the threat to children," said Joanna van Gerpen, the head of UNICEF's Sierra Leone office. "The very high level of instability could lead us back into the vicious cycle where children are used as tools of war." Van Gerpen noted that while the leaders of the Sierra Leone Army had disavowed the practice of recruiting child soldiers, RUF leader Foday Sankoh had not made such a commitment. She said that in Makeni last week, the RUF had re-enlisted 40 child soldiers and was attempting to recruit more.  It is estimated that some 5,000 children served as child soldiers during the country's nine years of civil conflict. Since July, UNICEF said, 1,700 former child soldiers had been demobilised and nearly half returned to their families or placed in foster homes.

9 May: West African leaders meeting for an emergency ECOWAS mini-summit in Abuja, Nigeria  vowed Tuesday to use any means at their disposal, "including the military option," to prevent a forceful takeover of power in Sierra Leone. The leaders designated Liberian President Charles Taylor "to involve himself personally" to ensure the release of some 500 United Nations hostages held by the RUF, and to work to bring about a resumption in the application of the Lomé Peace Accord. The communiqué also warned the RUF leadership that it ran the risk of revocation of a blanket amnesty granted by the peace agreement "as well as being tried for war crimes if they continue to flout the accord." The summit directed ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate to convene a meeting of ECOWAS Ministers of Defence and Chiefs of Staff on May 17 to consider, in the event of new involvement by the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone "the practical modalities of such involvement." Attending the summit were the leaders of Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo and ministerial representatives from Ghana and Burkina Faso — the nations which, with the exception of Sierra Leone, comprise the Joint Implementation Committee on the Lomé Peace Accord. The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, also attended.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh's whereabouts were still unclear Tuesday, after the Sierra Leone government and UNAMSIL both acknowledged they had lost track of the rebel leader on Monday. Reuters quoted a "senior military source" early Tuesday as saying Sankoh had been taken to Cockerill Military Barracks, but later said the report could not be confirmed. "For security reasons, Chairman Sankoh has been taken to military headquarters where he is now, in the protection of the military," Reuters quoted the source as saying. But Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman denied that Sankoh was at Cockerill and suggested the U.N. must know where he was. Reuters quoted Lieutenant Ronald Musa of the Sierra Leone Army as saying Sankoh had been taken away by U.N. peacekeeping troops in an armoured personal carrier. But UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said that the U.N. did "not know under what circumstances he left his residence." A diplomatic source who spoke to President Kabbah Tuesday morning told the Sierra Leone Web that Kabbah claimed to be unaware of Sankoh's whereabouts. Wimhurst told the BBC Tuesday that Sankoh's disappearance was making it more difficult for the U.N. to negotiate for the return of some 500 of its personnel detained by the RUF. "The main channel, the main conduit for negotiating their release would have been through Mr. Sankoh," Wimhurst said. "Now Mr. Sankoh has now gone missing. We do not know under which circumstances and we do not know his whereabouts. It was erroneously reported in the media that UNAMSIL effected his move from that house. That’s not true, we had nothing to do with it. We do want to contact him and we don't know where he is." Sankoh disappeared sometime Monday, after his followers opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside his Spur Road residence. His house was ransacked, but there are conflicting reports as to who was responsible. The BBC said soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma entered the residence, while the Agence France-Presse said Sankoh's home was looted by the crowd of demonstrators.

A contingent of UNAMSIL troops was forced to withdraw from strategic crossroads town of Masiaka after coming under fire from unidentified gunmen, UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst said late Tuesday. He said a contingent of 220 Nigerian and Guinean peacekeepers were forced to withdraw to Bo, Mile 91 and Hastings after exhausting their ammunition in an exchange of fire overnight Sunday, but he said the clash was no "pitched battle." A U.N. reconnaissance flight over Masiaka on Tuesday found the town empty, with no sign of RUF rebels. Earlier Tuesday, BBC correspondent Prince Brima said that the town had fallen to the RUF in the early hours of Tuesday morning. "RUF forces attacked Masiaka at 11:00 last night and the town fell to the rebels in the early hours of this morning," Brima reported for the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. "UNAMSIL forces had to withdraw after a four-hour battle because they were running out of ammunition. One UNAMSIL vehicle was seized and two UNAMSIL personnel were taken away by the rebels." He said 400 Nigerian UNAMSIL troops had been unable to retreat to Freetown because the RUF had blocked the road, so they withdrew to Bo instead. "They are now camped alongside a Guinean UNAMSIL contingent near Bo Airfield," Brima said. "Captain Abdulai, of the defeated Nigerian battalion, told me that his forces did everything possible to contact UNAMSIL headquarters to supply them with fresh ammunition, but that they lost all communication with them." A Sierra Leonean Army officer told reporters at a checkpoint outside Freetown Tuesday that government troops were still battling with the rebels for control of Masiaka. "The fighting is still going on and that is why you see an exodus of people now moving toward Freetown," he said. The fighting has caused thousands of civilians to flee towards the capital. 

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman said Tuesday that his Kamajor militia and former Sierra Leone Army troops loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma had taken over responsibility for security. "Our security in Sierra Leone was in the hands of the United Nations but surprisingly we have come to the conclusion that the United Nations has not been able to protect us any longer," said Norman, who is also coordinator of the pro-government Civil Defence Force, of which the Kamajor militia is the largest component. He said elements of these two forces had been sent to Masiaka to halt the RUF advance. "What we are doing is to push back the RUF combatants to their respective area," he said.

Doctors at Connaught Hospital said Tuesday that 19 persons had been killed overnight and 54 more were wounded, according to the Associated Press. It was not clear how many had been killed when RUF fighters opened fire on demonstrators in front of Foday Sankoh's residence Monday and how many had been killed in separate incidents. At least some of the dead are believed to be rebels.

The RUF has reportedly sealed off parts of Sierra Leone's northern and eastern borders, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski said in Geneva on Tuesday. Janowski said some 265 Sierra Leoneans — including deserting army soldiers — had crossed from Kambia District into Guinea's Forecariah Prefecture since Thursday, but that others had been turned back. "(The new arrivals) reported that...there were many more people trying to get out, but reportedly the rebel forces blocked the border and were preventing people from leaving," he said. "Most of the people who arrived from the western end of Sierra Leone were males. Some of them arrived in uniforms, lightly armed, and were disarmed or surrendered their weapons and ammunition to the Guinean authorities. "They were basically soldiers of the government forces fleeing that area which means that the rebels must have established control in that area." The new arrivals at Pamelap, in Forecariah Prefecture, were transferred to the Kalako refugee site, the UNHCR said.

The U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, arrived in Freetown late Monday via Guinea and has inspected UNAMSIL positions in the provinces. "He is visiting U.N. contingents on the ground to evaluate and assess the situation and to demonstrate that we are determined to put the peace accord back on track," said UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst. "He is in the south and the east, in the evaluate and analyse the situation so as to make progress." In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Miyet had visited Guinean and Ghanaian peacekeeping troops "to demonstrate the will that we have to keep the peace process on track."

Freetown was reported calm Tuesday morning, with no sounds of gunfire were heard in the city overnight. Meanwhile, it appears likely that the number of persons killed Monday when RUF supporters fired into a crowd of demonstrators in front of RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Spur Road residence was much higher than first reported. "This morning I visited Connaught Hospital where there are still eleven uncollected bodies, including a young girl with a jerry-curled hair and a 32-year old first year student in BSC Agriculture, Sullaiman Bah, from Njala University College," a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web. He said Bah had died from wounds "in the belly and neck" caused by fragments from a rocket-propelled grenade. The source said he witnessed Sankoh's official vehicle, a land cruiser, "being roughly driven around by SLAs, apparently commandeered since yesterday." The Washington Post's Doug Farah reported seven people killed and 15 wounded. "At the ramshackle morgue, the seven bodies, all men with several gunshot wounds, were laid out on the concrete patio in the blazing sun, waiting for relatives to claim them," Farah wrote. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) put the death toll at 16 with 40 people injured. "Sources at the city's Connaught Hospital had earlier said seven demonstrators and four soldiers were killed and 40 people were injured," the AFP said. "An AFP journalist counted five bodies around Sankoh's house, which was looted by the crowd. Local residents said the bodies were those of RUF rebels killed after the clashes." 

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (pictured right) would view favourably a United Nations request to send troops back to Sierra Leone to stabilise the situation, provided the U.N. pays the bills, presidential aides were quoted as saying on Tuesday. "We're likely to ask the United Nations to give us the wherewithal. Let the United Nations give us what it takes and we will take care of the situation," a "senior aide" in Abuja told Reuters. U.N. officials have said the Nigerians would operate outside the U.N. force and would probably be similar to a rapid reaction force. The Nigerian contingent would not count towards the 11,100 maximum number of peacekeepers authorised by the U.N. Security Council, and would not be subject to UNAMSIL's mandate which restricts U.N. peacekeepers to using force only to defend themselves or civilians in imminent danger. Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff, Rear-Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi, said he expected an emergency ECOWAS mini-summit to discuss the U.N. request to send two army battalions to a rapid deployment force in Sierra Leone to contain the situation. "The request has to be discussed at the very top," Ogohi told Reuters. "Furthermore, any decision to deploy Nigerian troops will have to be approved by the Nigerian Senate. We are now in a democracy."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot said Tuesday that the current crisis in Sierra Leone underscored the inability of poorly-equipped United Nations troops to keep the peace in conflict zones. "The current tragedy in Sierra Leone reminds us that the U.N., all by itself, is inadequate: It's over-burdened, over-extended, under-supported and under-equipped," he said. Referring to the emergency ECOWAS mini-summit due to convene in Nigeria on Tuesday, Talbot said West African leaders faced an urgent challenge: "to salvage the (Lomé Peace Accord) by getting (RUF leader) Foday Sankoh to release the U.N. personnel and disarm his forces," Talbott said. More than 300 U.N. personnel are known held by RUF forces in northern and eastern Sierra Leone, while another 226 Zambian peacekeepers disappeared in the Makeni area on Saturday. 

A large number of members of parliament have taken refuge at Cockerill Military Headquarters, a diplomatic source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday.

Britain has airlifted about 320 persons to Senegal, a British Ministry of Defence spokeswoman saidn in London on Tuesday. Those  evacuated were said to be either British nationals or citizens of European Union and Commonwealth countries for which Britain has consular responsibility in Sierra Leone. British paratroopers secured the area around the Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown late Monday where the Britons had been told to gather. "It's all gone very smoothly so far," the spokesman said. The foreign office said 550 British citizens had registered with the British High Commission. 250 persons from EU countries and 50 from the Commonwealth would also be included in the evacuation.

France said Tuesday it is prepared to assist with the evacuation of foreigners from Sierra Leone. "An air-mobile detachment has been put on alert in Dakar for possible operations of extraction and evacuation of foreigners," said French Foreign Ministry assistant spokesman Francois Rivasseau. France currently has about 1,200 troops in Senegal. Rivasseau said a French military base in Senegal was capable of receiving as many as 500 people.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Tuesday that British paratroopers had secured Lungi International Airport to provide a bridgehead for United Nations reinforcements, but said they were "not going to become combat troops as part of the U.N. force." But Cook said that the mere presence of British troops could make "a real contribution" to the U.N.'s efforts. "The mere presence of British forces at the airport may help to deter the rebels from advancing on Freetown, but we have no intention of them becoming combat troops in the U.N. force," he said. Cook told the BBC he would confer with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on how Britain could provide additional logistic support to UNAMSIL. "If by remaining there and securing the airport for a period of time we can help the U.N. to build up, then that is a situation we will weigh," he said. "I would not expect that, though, to take long. I would hope that when the U.N. reaches full force, there would not be a need for the presence of others." Britain's position on the extent to which its troops might take military action has been ambiguous. Five British warships, including an aircraft carrier, a frigate and an amphibious helicopter carrier, are currently on their way to Sierra Leone. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, when asked late Monday whether he could guarantee British troops would not be involved in military action in Sierra Leone responded, "I'm not saying that, no."

The U.S. Navy has stationed commandos aboard a patrol boat off the coast of West Africa as a "precautionary measure" due to the worsening situation in Sierra Leone. Kenneth Bacon, a spokesman for Defence Secretary William Cohen, said the patrol boat USS Thunderbolt was not directly off the coast of Sierra Leone but was "in the area and will remain there." The Thunderbolt is one of 13 170-foot long Cyclone-class patrol boats assigned to Naval Special Warfare, primarily for coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance. The Thunderbolt was commissioned in 1995 and has a top speed of 35 knots. The boat normally carries a dozen Navy SEAL commandos, Bacon said. "(The Thunderbolt is) prepared to provide any support or help that she's called upon to provide," he said. "Right now she's just there as a precautionary measure."

UNAMSIL has evacuated nine wounded U.N. peacekeepers by helicopter from Makeni, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday. The ICRC said, however, that it did not have the necessary security guarantees because the group was not in contact with the RUF who were holding the U.N. personnel hostage. The U.N. received authorisation from the RUF to evacuate the nine soldiers, an ICRC spokesman said in Geneva. In Freetown, UNAMSIL spokesman David Winslow spoke of the plight of the abducted U.N. peacekeepers. "The situation is such that now personnel that have been detained have lost their weapons and have had their clothes removed," Winslow told the BBC. Meanwhile,  U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said the number of U.N. personnel held by the the RUF is still believed to be around 500. He said five people, two Kenyans and three Nigerians, were missing, with one Kenyan and one Nigerian presumed dead. Twelve more peacekeepers had been wounded. Eckhard said the U.N.'s Human Rights Unit was attempting to gather reports of atrocities against civilians. So far there had been no case of civilians arriving in Freetown who had suffered mutilations or amputations, he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that bringing the UNAMSIL force up to its full authorised strength of 11,100 troops would help to calm the situation in Sierra Leone. "(It is important) to consolidate the force, bring the force up to strength as quickly as possible and continue our efforts to tame Sierra Leone," Annan said in New York. Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the deployment of the remaining battalions would be expedited by the United States' offer to airlift a battalion of Bangladeshi peacekeepers to Sierra Leone. "We can confirm that the United States has offered to provide logistical support to the Bangladesh battalion, which has said that its troops are being readied for deployment," Eckhard said. "We are still looking for strategic lift for the other two battalions. The Russians have indicated a possible interest in helping us out." The Jordanian and Indian battalions are also prepared to deploy sooner than originally planned, he said. The spokesman said it would take about a week to fly a single battalion into Lungi International Airport because each battalion, together with its equipment, would require nine flights. Eckhard said Annan had consulted with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China — over his request for a rapid reaction force for Sierra Leone, but they had all turned him down. Regarding a proposal for Nigeria to send additional troops to Sierra Leone outside the framework of UNAMSIL, Eckhard said it was questionable whether these could be deployed more quickly than peacekeepers already in the pipeline.

President Kabbah on Monday night deplored the killings of "innocent and unarmed civilians by RUF rebels stationed at (RUF leader) Corporal Sankoh’s residence," and called for the rule of law. "I appeal particularly to those engaged in acts of vandalism, looting or commandeering of vehicles, to desist from these acts," Kabbah said. "The law enforcement agents have been instructed to deal swiftly with any violators of our laws. In this regard, I therefore order all men and women officially bearing arms to report immediately to their official designated locations, and to strictly obey the instructions of their commanders." In his address to the nation, Kabbah acknowledged his government did not know where Sankoh had gone following Monday's disturbances in front of his home. "As I speak to you, the exact whereabouts of Cpl. Foday Sankoh have not yet been determined," he said. "A thorough investigation is however, now being undertaken to determine where he is." The president said his government was working UNAMSIL "to ensure that the security situation continues to improve...and will do all that is necessary to ensure your safety and security."

U.S. Senator Jude Gregg, the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary, said Tuesday he would continue to block U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping efforts in Sierra Leone unless what he called a "truly appalling settlement" — the Lomé Peace Accord — is abandoned. Under the current funding formula, the U.S. is responsible for one third of U.N. peacekeeping costs. In a Washington Post editorial, Gregg accused diplomats of applying pressure to give the RUF at the negotiating table what it could not win on the battlefield. "It was surrender at its most abject," he said. "U.S. envoys point to the support of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and 'the people' for Lomé, but what choice did they have? The West abandoned them to their fate. Supporters have argued that Lomé is the last chance for peace, that amnesty is the price of that peace, that it is naive to think that an accounting for savagery is possible." Gregg called on the United States to lead a multinational effort to bring peace to Sierra Leone, to include efforts to undermine the rule of Liberian President Charles Taylor who has been accused of providing support for the RUF, to reconstitute the Sierra Leone Army with funding to train, equip and pay it, to convene an international war crimes tribunal "to investigate and punish atrocities committed by the RUF," and to ensure that anyone implicated in war crimes be excluded from the election process. "As long as the Lomé Accord is the basis for peace in Sierra Leone, I will maintain my hold on U.S. peacekeeping funds and continue to pursue options other than complete capitulation to those who would shoot, rape and hack their way into power," Gregg wrote.

China expressed concern Tuesday at the current situation in Sierra Leone, and condemned violence against United Nations personnel. "China is seriously concerned about the recent incidents of violence in Sierra Leone and condemns the Revolutionary United Front for attacking the United Nations Mission troops as well as for continuing to hold hostage large numbers of U.N. staff and personnel of other international organizations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a press conference. She called on the RUF to release all hostages immediately and to abide by the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo will make an official visit to Canada later this week, a Canadian government official said on Tuesday. "I think you can take it as read that Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe will be on the agenda" when Obasanjo meets with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Friday, the official said.

Japan expressed concern Tuesday about the RUF killing and abduction of United Nations peacekeepers, and demanded that the rebels cease their attacks and release all U.N. personnel. "We are deeply concerned about the acts of the rebel Revolutionary United Front as violating the (Lomé Peace Accord) and backing off from the nation's peace process that had been progressing under the initiative of the United Nations and neighboring nations," Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ryuichiro Yamazaki told reporters. "We urge the rebel force to halt the hostile acts against the U.N. peacekeeping operations, immediately release the U.N. personnel, and abide by the peace agreement." Yamazaki expressed "strong hope for resuming the peace process through cooperation of all parties concerned" in Sierra Leone. There are currently no Japanese nationals in Sierra Leone, the foreign ministry said.

The German foreign ministry is urging German nationals to leave Sierra Leone. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Sparwasser said Germans in the country, believed to number between five and ten, should turn to the British military for evacuation. Germany closed its embassy in Sierra Leone in March for financial reasons.

8 May: RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Spur Road residence has been overrun and "comprehensively looted" by Sierra Leone Army soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, BBC correspondent Barnaby Philips reported late Monday. UNAMSIL spokesman David Wimhurst acknowledged that the U.N. had lost track of the rebel leader following the shooting earlier in the day of anti-Sankoh demonstrators by RUF supporters in front of his house. "He and his men are not there, but there’s a lot of speculation as to where he is, but no hard facts," Philips said. "We'd like to know where he is," Wimhurst said. In an address to the nation late Monday, President Kabbah said "the exact whereabouts of Corporal Foday Sankoh have not yet been determined." Meanwhile, BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said it had become clear the rebels "have a military presence" in Freetown. "There’s been shooting in the hills throughout the night, and local people say there are rebels in the hills," Doyle said. "The United Nations forces have gathered to try and calm things down, but it’s still very tense."

At least 5 persons were killed and another 30 wounded — several of them critically — Monday when RUF fighters fired automatic weapons and at least one rocket-propelled grenade into a crowd of demonstrators outside the residence of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Reuters estimated the crowd to number about 5,000 people, while BBC correspondents Lansana Fofana and Barnaby Philips spoke of "tens of thousands" of demonstrators. An eyewitness "in the heart of" the demonstration told the Sierra Leone Web that Nigerian UNAMSIL troops in three armoured tanks fired into the air to disperse the crowd, who were hurling stones and bricks at Sankoh's home. "In return the RUF opened fire on the crowd," he said. "Two small boys were caught on the camera fighting each other. One wanted the launcher to fix the grenade he had, but the other was resisting until he was overpowered and then he launched. Sporadic firing opened and we all had to dash on the ground." The shooting reportedly lasted for two or three minutes, but there were some reports later of sporadic firing. The demonstrators, which according to Reuters included members of the AFRC and the Kamajor militia, were taking part in a rally organised by civil society groups and parliamentarians to call for peace and condemn the RUF's detention of U.N. peacekeepers. The crowd surged toward Sankoh's residence, where they overwhelmed the dozens of UNAMSIL troops standing guard. Peacekeepers with tanks finally restored order. Sankoh accused the demonstrators of provocations. "They are provoking (the) situation, provoking us, and it’s unacceptable," Sankoh told the BBC. "This is not the practice of democracy, where you can attack the premises of a man you call a peace maker." But Mohamed Kallon, one of the parliamentarians who organised the demonstration, put the blame on the RUF. "We had no protection. It was a peaceful demonstration. It was provoked by the rebels," he said. The crowd attending the main stretched "from the famous Cotton Tree to Congo Cross," the eyewitness said.

Sierra Leonean government soldiers have been firing their weapons in Freetown "just to make sure that they are very much in control of the security situation," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said Monday following the demonstrations in the capital. "Even from where I’m speaking to you at the military hospital I can hear loud gunfire, heavy weapons, all around the city," he said. "It’s a really very tense situation." Fofana was among those injured in the resulting stampede after RUF fighters fired into a crowd of demonstrators outside RUF leader Foday Sankoh's residence. "I joined the crowd to escape the firing and then we all gathered in a very deep gutter hoping that nothing will happen from there," he said of his ordeal. "And then the stampede started, people started trampling on one another. I was unlucky because I was under hundreds of people. They were trampling upon my legs. I could not even stand up. I could not help myself anyhow." Fofana was given first aid by Red Cross workers and taken by ambulance to Wilberforce Military Hospital. But the BBC correspondent was critical of UNAMSIL soldiers at the demonstration. "Whilst I was writhing in pain the young boy who was with me went to the UNAMSIL people and said ‘the BBC reporter is right there, he’s dying.’ And they said they are not going to touch any civilians, they are not interested. They left me there with other people dying in the sun and then the rebels were firing sporadically all around. They were of no help at all right there."

A joint U.N./RUF mission will leave Freetown on Monday to areas where U.N. personnel are believed held, to try and negotiate their release, according to Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone. "If they are there, we will ask for the prisoners to be released," Adeniji said. Meanwhile, Libyan Minister for African Unity Ali al-Turayki, who brokered Saturday's talks between UNAMSIL and the RUF which led to an agreement on the mission, told reporters on Monday he was confident of a breakthrough. "The news we are expecting is the release of the U.N. peacekeepers and we hope that it will come in the next hours," he said. al-Turayki said UNAMSIL Deputy Commander Brigadier-General Mohammed Garba would travel east by helicopter to try to locate the U.N. hostages and secure their release. "He (Sankoh) gave the green light," al-Tureiki said, adding that Sankoh had promised to send an RUF team on the mission. "I do not know if they go together or separately," he said.

The United Nations Security Council was briefed again Monday on the crisis in Sierra Leone. The Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Fred Eckhard, said the Council had not discussed withdrawing U.N. peacekeeping troops from Sierra Leone, but instead focused on how to reinforce the UNAMSIL force. But said if the security situation in Sierra Leone deteriorated further, he said, "Withdrawal is an option, clearly." Eckhard said the U.N. was moving 266 civilian staff out of Freetown, leaving 55 in place. He said many previous evacuees had gone to Guinea, but the hotels there appeared full. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the RUF and its leader, Foday Sankoh, to "cease immediately any hostile action." Eckhard said Annan was "extremely concerned" about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Sierra Leone, and called on all parties to do their utmost to defuse the tension. He said Annan had appealed to regional leaders to redouble their efforts to bring the situation under control and restore normalcy. Eckhard said the secretary-general had also called on neighbouring governments to prevent the reported movement of RUF rebels from their territories to Sierra Leone. "In the circumstances, the secretary-general continues to stress that, in addition to U.N. efforts, a rapid reaction force may be needed in Sierra Leone as soon as possible to assist in restoring conditions conducive to the resumption of the peace process," Eckhard said. 

RUF rebels shot down a U.N. helicopter at Makeni on Sunday, UNAMSIL's military spokesman was quoted as saying. The rebels shot at two helicopters, forcing one to make a crash landing. The other helicopter landed to pick up those aboard and took off again. The two choppers were carrying food for U.N. peacekeeping troops surrounded by rebels in Makeni and Magburaka. UNAMSIL was able to deliver food to Magburaka, where it also picked up three wounded Kenyan peacekeepers, the spokesman said. No one was injured in the incident. Meanwhile the U.N. has asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate nine U.N. troops who were wounded at Makeni, ICRC spokesman Juan Martinez said in Geneva on Monday. The ICRC, which evacuated over half of its expatriate personnel from Sierra Leone over the weekend, will seek security guarantees from the RUF, but does not currently have contact with the rebel group. The ICRC currently has ten expatriate staff members in Sierra Leone — six in Freetown and four in Kenema. Thirteen more were moved to Conakry. "It's a temporary reduction of our activities while we see how events develop," Martinez said.

The United States said Monday it will airlift a battalion of Bangladeshi peacekeepers to Sierra Leone in the coming days in an effort to help bring the UNAMSIL force up to its authorised strength of 11,100 troops. U.S. officials said last week they were considering providing similar transportation for Jordanian and Indian troops. The official said the U.S. had also sent a "fact finding" team to Nigeria to assess what role the the U.S. military might provide if Nigeria or other countries decide to send additional troops to Sierra Leone. Diplomats said that Nigeria, which pulled its remaining ECOMOG troops out of Sierra Leone last week, was considering sending two additional battalions to Sierra Leone. The battalions would operate separately from the U.N. peacekeeping force. "The idea from the Nigerian side is to get people in there fast and the United States may be considering the mechanics of doing so,'' one diplomat said. President Clinton said the U.S. would do whatever it could to help UNAMSIL carry out its mandate. "It's very important. I spent a lot of time on it the last four or five days and we're working on it," he said.

Former AFRC soldiers loyal to Johnny Paul Koroma have arrested up to 25 RUF officials in Freetown, alleging them of planning a coup set for Monday. Among those arrested was RUFP Trade and Industry Minister Mike Lamin "(The AFRC soldiers) have been raiding houses where RUF people are staying," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Monday. "I understand that they arrested a number of RUF personnel at Lumley last night, and they are currently being detained." An official statement read over state radio said the government had "ordered the immediate release of Lamin and a few others," while others were still being held pending an investigation. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that an RUFP deputy minister was also among those arrested and subsequently freed. The statement warned the public "to desist from taking the law into their own hands" — an apparent reference, the AFP said, to an incident where AFRC soldiers vandalised the hotel room occupied by RUFP Deputy Minister for Labour Idrissa Kamara. "The arrest of RUFP top brass will not help the situation but will escalate more problems to the peace process," RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins told Reuters. Fofana quoted Collins as saying late Sunday the RUF had protested the arrests to the government. Collins said the RUF was demanding Lamin's release and the return of a vehicle belonging to RUF commander Dennis "Superman" Mingo, which he said was commandeered by a group of AFRC soldiers. In a BBC Network Africa interview on Monday, Koroma confirmed that his men had made "a few arrests," but claimed they were made with the support of President Kabbah. "These people had planned a coup for today. And there are some of my men that can testify (to) that, because they asked them to take part," he said. "So instead of us sitting down, we decided to foil that by making those arrests...We did that with the consent of the president. And I cannot sit by and see this place to be torn apart." Koroma said no further arrests were being made. "We just got the key players," he said, adding that those detained were "soldiers who defected to the RUF." Koroma said Kabbah had only been told afterwards of the arrests. "We informed him about it, and to get his blessing," he said. "He told us to contact Defence Headquarters so that they can take appropriate action." The AFRC leader said Lamin was being held by the military police. "If (President Kabbah) thinks the situation is not what we explained to him, is not correct, then he can go ahead and release him," Koroma said.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Parliament Monday that responsibility for the current violence in Sierra Leone "lies squarely with the RUF rebels and their leader Foday Sankoh." Cook said the progress toward peace which Sierra Leone had achieved since the signing last July of the Lomé Peace Accord had been put at risk "by the RUF reneging on the commitments that they made." Cook said the British government was moving military assets to Sierra Leone to be in a position to evacuate British nationals and nations of EU countries without diplomatic representation in Sierra Leone for which Britain has consular responsibility. "The forward elements of the current Spearhead Battalion, the First Parachute Regiment, arrived in Dakar, Senegal over the weekend, He said. "They are currently moving from Dakar to Freetown. In addition, HMS Ocean and support vessels with Four Two Commando and a number of helicopters are moving towards the region and will be at Sierra Leone early next week." Cook said the British forces would ensure security at Lungi International Airport. "This is not only of immediate utility for the evacuation, but is also valuable in allowing the U.N. forces to continue to build up," he said. Cook welcomed an offer by the United States to consider a strategic airlift of Bangladeshi and Jordanian units to bring UNAMSIL up to its authorised strength of 11,100. He said Britain had offered to provide further logistical support, such as vehicles, for the U.N. force. "One of the triggers for the current conflict appears to have been the attempt by the U.N. forces to enter the diamond-producing region which is held by the RUF and provides them with weapons and friends," the foreign secretary told parliamentarians. "This development underlines the importance of the international debate....for more transparent regulation of the trade in uncut diamonds. We should not allow diamonds to be sold for the price of weapons or at the cost of lives." Cook vowed Britain would not abandon its commitment to Sierra Leone. "We will continue to take the lead at the U.N. and elsewhere to restore the peace process," he said. "We must not allow a few thousand rebels to prevent the end to violence and the peace in which to get on with their lives, for which the three million people of Sierra Leone desperately hunger."

British paratroopers have begun evacuating British and other European nationals from Sierra Leone. The estimated 500 British nationals in Freetown have been advised to gather at the Mamy Yoko Hotel. Earlier, an advance force of 250 British paratroopers arrived in Sierra Leone from Senegal Monday aboard a Hercules transport plane. Lieutenant-Commander Tony Cramp said the soldiers, part of Britain's 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, would be stationed at Lungi International Airport, and that their mission was to evacuate British nationals from Freetown if the situation there deteriorated further. "At the moment, we're not evacuating," he said. 200 additional paratroopers were also expected to fly  to Sierra Leone directly from Britain Monday aboard a Tristar aircraft. "The forces are going straight to Sierra Leone. The aircraft can carry around 200 to 220 people and is fully loaded," a Ministry of Defence source was quoted as saying. All 700 troops were expected to be in place by Tuesday. Meanwhile, Britain said Monday it has diverted an aircraft carrier to Sierra Leone, the HMS Illustrious (pictured left). The Illustrious will join up with the frigate HMS Chatham, the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean and three support ships already underway from the Mediterranean in a massive show of force.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, is expected to arrive in Freetown on Tuesday. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York that Miyet's visit was designed to "boost the morale of troops in the wake of the devastating events of the last few days and to help the political process under way to try to resolve the matter of the hostages peacefully." The U.N. Security Council briefed on Sierra Leone during an emergency closed-door session on Sunday, but issued no statement. Meanwhile, the U.N. Staff Council issued a statement Monday expressing "sadness and shock" over four U.S. peacekeepers missing and presumed dead in Sierra Leone. "These vicious and senseless killings underscore the difficult conditions under which all United Nations personnel serve. Again, as too often has happened, United Nations personnel have paid the ultimate price in the service of the noble ideas of the United Nations," the statement said. "These deplorable actions reinforce the need for effective protection for all United Nations personnel worldwide. We call on the international community to bring the killers to justice."

RUF Colonel Laurence Wormandia, who accompanied Deputy UNAMSIL Commander Brigadier-General Mohammed Garba to meet with RUF commanders in Lunsar on Sunday, said the RUF troops had begun advancing on the capital when they heard a rumour that their leader, Foday Sankoh, had been placed under house arrest. "They wanted to come as far as" Freetown, Wormandia said. He added that Sankoh had radioed his commanders and ordered them to stop the advance. Garba said the rebels "melted away" into the bush after the rebel leader ordered the offensive halted. Sankoh's house in is guarded by UNAMSIL troops, but he has not been placed under house arrest. "I want to assure the general public that there is no cause for alarm," said Garba, who called Sunday's trip a "confidence-building mission." A Sierra Leonean helicopter gunship attacked advancing RUF troops Saturday at Rogberi Junction. RUF commanders say they lost 30 men in the attack. According to the Associated Press, "Rogberi had been all but destroyed by fire when reporters visited the site on Sunday."

Nigeria will host an emergency ECOWAS mini-summit in Abuja on Tuesday to discuss ways and means to implement the Lomé Peace Accord following recent violations of the agreement by the RUF, according to a press release issued by the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja on Monday. The meeting was called by President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali, the current chairman of ECOWAS. The heads of state of Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Togo, Sierra Leone and Nigeria — all of them with the exception of Sierra Leone members of the Joint Implementation Committee on the Lomé Peace Accord — are expected to attend the summit.  

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Monday that if United Nations peacekeeping troops were unable to handle security in Sierra Leone that the government would use its own troops to take over the situation. "I don’t think it has come to that yet," he told the BBC. "UNAMSIL is still on the ground. They have to tell us if they are incapable handling the situation, then the government will have to take over." Spencer complained that he was finding it difficult to get information from the U.N. "I have not even been able to get any word from UNAMSIL as of now," he said. "I went to UNAMSIL headquarters and they were holding a meeting. I had not even been given a briefing by UNAMSIL for them to tell me what happened, because they had troops deployed in the area." The information minister stressed that "all-scale war" would not solve Sierra Leone's problems. He noted that President Kabbah was meeting with Mano River Union heads of state in Conakry, and that the Joint Implementation Committee for the Lomé Peace Accord was expected to meet in Freetown later in the week. "A diplomatic way has to be found to resolve the situation, and that is what we are working on," Spencer said. "We believe (a diplomatic solution) is possible. From the indications were are getting it’s beginning to look doubtful, but we don’t think we have reached the stage where we completely abandon the diplomatic option."

Pro-government Kamajor militiamen have taken hundreds of hostages in southern Sierra Leone, BBC Bo Correspondent Prince Brima said on Monday. "The Kamajors raided the premises of the RUF here in Bo," Brima told the BBC Network Africa programme. "Hundreds of the rebels were apprehended and are currently being detained on the premises of the Kamajors. The RUF commander fled during the melee and has now taken refuge at the police station here in Bo." He said the Kamajors had also detained RUF members in Pujehun and Moyamba. The Kamajors were quoted as saying the actions were taken as retribution for what they claim was an RUF attempt to capture the town of Yele over the weekend, and to hold the rebels in protective custody "as feelings are running high in town against them." Brima quoted Kamajor National Public Relations Officer Charles Moiwo as saying the RUF fighters would only be released when United Nations peacekeepers held by RUF are freed.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Monday that 750 Sierra Leoneans had arrived at the town of Forecariah in Guinea. The new arrivals told the UNHCR that many more people want to flee Sierra Leone, but are being stopped by RUF rebels on the Sierra Leonean side of the border. The agency said people are also reportedly on the move in the Masiaka area. 

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said Monday it had been forced to suspend food distributions in Sierra Leone in view of the worsening security situation in the country. In a statement released in Abidjan, the WFP said it has halted food distribution and deliveries to some 43,000 internally displaced persons, orphans and hospital patients in Freetown. The agency has also postponed food distributions to farmers in Bombali, Tonkolili and Kailahun Districts. The food was destined to feed 110,000 people during the approaching "hungry season." "We had to curtail some of our most vital operations in those areas due to the high insecurity risk our staff are facing there," said Paul Ares, WFP Regional Manager for West Africa Coastal Countries. "As a precaution, we have also redeployed most of our staff to Conakry, in neighbouring Guinea."

Sierra Leone's national cricket team defeated Ghana in Gambia over the weekend to become the sport's West African champions. According to Reuters, the Sierra Leone team bowled out Ghana for just 63 and scored the 64 required to win in just 14 overs. The West African Cricket Quadrangular normally involves teams from four former British colonies. Nigeria had to pull out this year because of financial problems.

7 May: A joint RUF/UNAMSIL mission to visit "areas where there have been security problems" will proceed Sunday despite reports of a new RUF offensive, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow said on Sunday. More than 300 and as many as 500 U.N. peacekeeping troops are believed held by RUF rebel forces in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. Winslow said the primary purpose of the mission would be to secure the release of the hostages. The agreement to set up the mission was brokered Saturday by Libyan Minister for African Unity Ali Al-Turayki in talks which included RUF leader Foday Sankoh and the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji. "The Libyan envoy, a joint (RUF/U.N.) mission and various other diplomats...are going up country to the north, to Masiaka and the other places," Winslow said early Sunday. An RUF spokesman confirmed Sunday that Sankoh himself would accompany the mission.

RUF fighters have reportedly advanced to the area between Masiaka and Rogberi Junction, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow told reporters early Sunday. "It is still believed that there are RUF rebels between Rogberi and Masiaka. We had spotted a column of them with an unspecified number of vehicles, so we know they are there," he said. "But there is no immediate threat to Freetown." He described the situation on Sunday morning as "pretty static." Reuters quoted an unnamed UNAMSIL source who said UNAMSIL had used a helicopter gunship to halt the rebel advance. "We pounded them, we pounded them well," he said. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer confirmed there had been a battle between the RUF and UNAMSIL, but had no further details. A senior government spokesman told the BBC that although the rebels had tried to advance, they were stopped a long way from the capital.

RUF commander General Issa Sesay said Sunday his troops had halted their advance toward Freetown and had withdrawn to Makeni. Sesay met with UNAMSIL's Deputy Commander, General Mohammed Garba, in Lunsar. "Last night, the chairman (RUF leader Foday Sankoh) ordered me I should make sure I withdraw all my troops from Rogberi and Lunsar, and I did so," he said. Sesay insisted he was not holding any U.N. personnel. He said the U.N. peacekeepers had fled into the bush, and he was asking his men to search for them. BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle, who was one of the journalists to witness the meeting between Sesay and Garba, said that as the U.N. helicopter arrived it appeared that Lunsar had been deserted. "But then when the helicopter landed, and when it was clear that it was a non-combatant U.N. helicopter carrying civilians, thousands of people came out of their houses to greet us," Doyle said. "And the explanation for that sequence of events appears to be that a Sierra Leone government helicopter has been in action against the rebels in the past couple of days. The Sierra Leone government attack helicopter seems to have been one of the key elements in stopping the RUF advance from their stronghold in the north towards Freetown." In Freetown, Sankoh again insisted the RUF had no plans to invade Freetown. "I will never attempt to derail the Lomé Peace Accord," Sankoh said. He accused "certain people in government" of wanting to create panic among the populace.

President Kabbah told the nation Sunday that his government had an "effective contingency plan" in place which would be activated "in the unlikely event" UNAMSIL failed to provide adequate security in the face of "aggressive action" by the RUF. But Kabbah insisted the U.N. peacekeeping force was still capable of defending the people of Sierra Leone. "We have all been extremely disappointed at the way some UNAMSIL troops have capitulated to RUF forces, but we have not yet reached the stage where we believe the U.N. is incapable of fulfilling its mandate," he said. "I have been assured by the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General that UNAMSIL is prepared to fully discharge its mandate, including the defence and protection of Freetown." The president warned those "intent on raining death and destruction on the citizens of this country" to desist immediately. "Failure to do so will result in dire consequences for the perpetrators," he said. "Be assured that I am determined to ensure that the nightmares in our history are not repeated."

The United Nations Security Council was called into emergency session Sunday to discuss the crisis in Sierra Leone, and to be briefed on the collapse of peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Britain announced Sunday night it has despatched its a parachute battalion, as well as the frigate HMS Chatham, the amphibious helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, and three support ships, to West Africa to protect British nationals in Sierra Leone. Britain's Ministry of Defense stressed that the deployments were "precautionary measures to ensure that we are best placed to respond quickly to safeguard the security of British nationals, if that becomes necessary." They will initially be based in Senegal, where they will be on standby to assist with the evacuation of British nationals from Sierra Leone in case of a further deterioration in the security situation in that country. The so-called "Spearhead Battalion" — Britain's rapid reaction force — consists of about 700-800 men, including support staff. There are normally believed to be about 500 British citizens in Sierra Leone, although some may already have left the country.

Britain and the United States have advised their nationals to leave Sierra Leone because of the deteriorating security situation in the country, the BBC reported on Saturday. Both countries have ordered the evacuation of non-essential staff from their embassies in Freetown. "We have decided that we will reduce our diplomatic staff in Sierra Leone and we are advising British nationals with no essential reasons for remaining to leave," said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. The U.S. statement warned that Lungi International Airport could close without warning. The BBC said there are currently about 170 U.S. citizens in Sierra Leone, many working with international aid groups, and 10 embassy staff.

In a statement made over state radio on Sunday, former AFRC junta leader Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd.) Johnny Paul Koroma called Sierra Leone Army soldiers to prepare to defend Freetown against a possible RUF attack. An Agency France-Presse (AFP correspondent estimated that over 300 unarmed soldiers had responded by late morning to Koroma's call for them to assemble in front of his office at the Miyatta Building. A witness in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web that about 5,000 people had gathered by late morning and that more were arriving. In an interview with the BBC, Koroma said he had addressed a crowed of over 30,000 people. "We are taking a stand ready to defend the people. We don’t want to resort to violence, because that cannot solve the problem," Koroma said. "We just have to find ways and means to defend the people and ourselves. And we will use the SLA’s (Sierra Leone Army), the civil society, the CDF (Civil Defence Force), the SSD (Special Security Division) — everybody." Koroma said he was not handing out guns at the moment, but was sending a strong message to the RUF in the hope of avoiding further bloodshed. "We are saying that we cannot sit by and see this country be torn apart. I think we’ve had enough of this violence," he said. "But what I’m saying is that we are still calling on the RUF to join us in the peace process." Koroma, who resigned his military commission in January, declined to say whether he would take part in any fighting. "I don’t want to go into that, because I don’t want fighting to erupt," he said. "And I’m sure with this message today, they would think twice and then they would try to comply."

Freetown was reported calm Sunday morning, amid stepped-up security. According to the Associated Press, vehicles filled with soldiers moved through the streets while helicopters flew overhead every few minutes. According to the U.N., there are currently about 2,100 UNAMSIL troops in the capital — about 1,600 Nigerians and 500 Jordanians.

6 May: An RUF force estimated at between 500 and 1,000 armed with "infantry-type weapons" has captured Lunsar and is reported to be advancing toward Masiaka, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow said on Saturday night. The rebels are said to be using vehicles captured from United Nations peacekeepers. The precise whereabouts of the rebel force was unclear Saturday night, but UNAMSIL has withdrawn an earlier statement which said the rebels, using human shields, had reached the town of Hastings, on the outskirts of the capital. "We have tried to stop the rebels using all the resources at our disposal," Winslow told the Associated Press. The news of the apparent rebel offensive came shortly after state radio announced a Libyan-brokered agreement, under which U.N. peacekeepers and and rebels would jointly visit areas of northern and eastern Sierra Leone where U.N. personnel are believed to be held hostage. RUF leader Foday Sankoh attended the talks, as did the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji. 

The United Nations has lost contact with another 200 of its peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone, possibly bringing to "close to 500" the number of U.N. personnel held by RUF rebels. "We have lost contact with 226 other Zambians near Makeni," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York. "It looks as if the whole Zambian battalion may have been taken." But other officials say the situation in Makeni remains unclear. "We are not ready to say 500 troops are hostages," one official said. 208 Zambians captured by rebels near Makeni on Thursday, where they had been sent to reinforce U.N. positions, had been moved to Koidu, in Kono District, U.N. officials were quoted as saying. Earlier Saturday, the United Nations had revised downward its estimates of the number of U.N. peacekeepers and military observers held hostage by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, from around 318 to about 278. U.N. officials have acknowledged some confusion in the numbers of U.N. personnel detained, but say no more hostages have been freed since a four-man helicopter crew and two passengers were released on Friday morning. "As far as we know there is no change in the situation since yesterday," said U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst. The RUF continued to deny Saturday that it was detaining U.N. personnel, and insisted the rebel group was not mounting an offensive. The U.N. "should stop saying that the RUF is holding hostages," said RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins. "There were skirmishes and maybe these U.N. forces did not understand the terrain. The safety of everyone is guaranteed. It is not the intention of the RUFP to attack any area."

A British team of 15 military experts left for Freetown Saturday to provide technical assistance to the UNAMSIL force. A spokesman for Britain's Ministry of Defence would not say whether additional advisors might be sent, or whether the British soldiers were carrying weapons and equipment. He said Britain was monitoring the deteriorating security situation in the country. At United Nations headquarters in New York, senior officials of the U.N.'s departments of peacekeeping operations and political affairs met Saturday in crisis talks to determine how to reinforce the United Nations peacekeeping force. Britain, France and the United States have reportedly ruled out providing troops for a U.N. rapid reaction force, an idea floated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said his country was prepared to increase its technical and logistical support for UNAMSIL, while the United States has reportedly agreed to airlift a Bangladeshi battalion earmarked for UNAMSIL to Sierra Leone. There are currently about 8,700 U.N. peacekeepers in the country out of a total of 11,100 authorised by the U.N. Security Council in February. The remaining three battalions were scheduled to be deployed in June. U.N. officials are exploring ways to speed up their deployment.

Hundreds of women demonstrated for peace Saturday outside RUF leader Foday Sankoh's residence in Freetown. "We are tired. We are not only tired, we are fed up," Christiana Macfoy of the Women's Forum told the BBC. "We have reached the end of the road as far as taking all these atrocities that are being committed. And it is the women who are bearing the brunt of it." The women were prevented from entering Sankoh's compound and the rebel leader did not come out to address them, so one of the women read a prepared statement by the protesters over a megaphone. The statement condemned the abduction and murder of U.N. personnel and called for the release of all abductees, including women and children. The women also demanded Sankoh's full and unconditional compliance with the Lomé Peace Accord he signed with the Sierra Leone government last July. Among the demonstrators was Development Minister Kadi Sesay. "I think what has happened has shocked everybody, just at the time when we were hoping that this country is beginning to consolidate the peace and get over all the suffering that we have gone through in the past nine years," Sesay said. "Unfortunately we see that violence has erupted again. The women are concerned, they’re very disappointed, they are very angry." According to Reuters, as many as 2,000 women took part in Saturday's march. Further demonstrations, sponsored by parliamentarians and civil society groups, are planned for Monday

UNAMSIL military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jaswinder Siagh Sandhu denied a report Saturday that RUF rebels had overrun the town of Lunsar. "UNAMSIL troops are still holding Lunsar," Sandhu told reporters in Freetown. A Catholic priest, identified as Father Bruno, claimed RUF fighters had moved into the town on Friday. "The rebels entered Lunsar shortly before noon (1200 GMT) wearing United Nations uniforms and driving their vehicles," he said. Father Bruno acknowledged that he had left the town Friday morning, but said he contacted a student in Lunsar late in the day. But Sandhu said only one rebel entered the town on Friday, causing widespread panic. He said the situation was "relatively calm" throughout most of Sierra Leone. "There is an improvement in the security situation in the country. Only Makeni and Magburaka remain tense," Sandhu said. Some non-governmental organisations, however, have begun withdrawing their staff from Sierra Leone. Some expatriate staff members of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) left for Conakry by helicopter on Saturday. The WFP Representative in Sierra Leone, Patrick Buckley, insisted it was "not an evacuation as such." "We are taking out people who want to get out until the situation gets clearer," he said. On Friday the U.N. evacuated 90 non-essential non-U.N. aid workers and their families from Sierra Leone.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said Saturday the Sierra Leone government had been involved in diplomatic moves to bring the crisis to an end. "The president has been involved in talks with numerous regional leaders and is trying to get that Sankoh himself would see reason," he said, adding "We don’t yet seem to see anything positive." Following Sankoh's meeting on Wednesday with Nigerian National Security Advisor General Aliyu Mohammed, the RUF had promised "things are going to move along smoothly now," Spencer told the BBC. "But we haven’t seen any sign of that. He keeps saying things publicly but the actions of his men don’t seem to bear out what he’s saying. So we have not yet seen any positive developments." The minister said the government was "not satisfied and we are disturbed" by the performance of the U.N. peacekeeping troops. "I think this has been said already that one expects the U.N. troops, peacekeepers to be able to defend themselves. The mandate of the force that is in Sierra Leone gives them the authority to use force to defend themselves, to defend civilians in imminent threat of danger, and to protect government installations, etc. So we’re rather disturbed that such large numbers of U.N. troops would be taken hostage, in some instances it appears without putting up a fight."

The Sierra Leone government issued a statement Saturday condemning RUF attacks on "peacefully deployed United Nations troops" and called on the RUF to cease hostilities and order the immediate and unconditional release of all U.N. personnel and hostages throughout the country. In a statement read over SLBS radio, the government said it was confident in UNAMSIL's ability to maintain the peace, and appealed to the public to remain calm. "There is no need for panic," the statement said.

Pro-government Kamajor militiamen have started mobilising following RUF attacks against UNAMSIL, CDF National Public Relations Officer Charles Moiwo said on Saturday. According to BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima, Moiwo claimed the militia had a total of 15,000 troops in southern Sierra Leone and 18,000 in the east. "Only 5,000 men there were disarmed, and in Bo only 475," Brima quoted Moiwo as saying.

Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated its travel advisory Saturday to recommend against all travel to Sierra Leone. "There are continuing rebel attacks on U.N. forces around the country. A number of UN and other international personnel have been detained by rebels," the advisory said. "The security situation in Sierra Leone continues to deteriorate. In Freetown the situation is volatile and a curfew (2300 - 0600) remains in place and is strictly enforced."

Diplomatic moves by regional leaders to pressure RUF leader Foday Sankoh into ending the crisis in Sierra Leone have so far been unsuccessful. Delegations from Nigeria and Mali have met with Sankoh at his residence, and a delegation from Libya was expected to arrive on Saturday. Contacts by the United States and Britain, as well as by Liberian President Charles Taylor, who named a special envoy to work for dialogue, have also failed to bring an end to bring about the release of U.N. personnel detained by the rebel group. Mali, which currently chairs the regional economic grouping, ECOWAS, is trying to convene a summit in Conakry Sunday of the Mano River Union, to bring together the presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Mali is considering calling a larger meeting of West African states later in the week.

Ukraine's foreign ministry expressed deep concern Saturday over the recent outbreak of violence in Sierra Leone. "Ukraine strongly condemns attacks on U.N. peacekeepers by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front and demands an immediate release of all hostages," the ministry said in a statement. "The ministry considers such actions as a gross violation of the Lomé Peace Agreement on the settlement of the situation in Sierra Leone, and believes that the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front should bear full responsibility for the unacceptable acts of violence against U.N. peacekeepers."

5 May: The RUF is now believed to be holding at least 318 U.N. peacekeepers amid unconfirmed reports that rebel fighters are "on the move," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York on Friday. He was unable to say whether any towns had fallen to the RUF, but a diplomatic source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web that the RUF was "apparently in Lunsar." "Approximately 208 members of the Zambian contingent which were on their way to Makeni and with whom the U.N. mission had lost radio contact yesterday, were disarmed and detained by the RUF," Eckhard told reporters. A contingent of 24 Indian peacekeepers was also surrounded and overpowered at the town of Kuiva, near Kailahun. This was in addition to the 92 U.N. personnel reported held as of Thursday night, now down to 86 with the release Friday morning of a Russian helicopter crew and their two passengers, Eckhard said. A 100-man Nigerian contingent was detained in Kambia, "but later released, minus their weapons." The spokesman said four Kenyan soldiers were missing and presumed dead and twelve people were reported wounded. BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said it was "believed there may well be a lot of Sierra Leoneans" held captive in addition to U.N. personnel, but said there was currently no confirmed information on Sierra Leonean hostages. Eckhard said the rebels had seized 13 of the Zambians' 16 armoured personnel carriers which they were appeared to be using for "military movements." Although it was not clear where they were heading. He said there was "no evidence that there was fighting in the taking of the Zambian armoured personnel carriers," but that "we know from helicopter surveillance" they were in the  hands of the RUF. Eckhard said negotiations to free the U.N. peacekeepers were ongoing. "The efforts right now are political in nature, to get anyone who has any influence with Foday Sankoh to convince him to comply with the peace agreement," Eckhard said. "The emphasis is not at this point to go to war against the RUF. "It's to try to find a political solution to a problem that is threatening the peace process at its core...If that fails, I don't want to speculate what happens next." Doyle described the mood in Freetown as as tense. "It’s strongly believed here that this crisis has been engineered to time with the formal takeover by the United Nations of this operation (from the ECOMOG force), Doyle said. "It’s surely no coincidence that the U.N. takes over and a couple of days after that there’s this major and massive power struggle going on between Sankoh and the U.N.

RUF rebels freed a four-member Russian helicopter and two U.N. personnel held in Kailahun since Tuesday, a UNAMSIL spokesman said on Friday. The six arrived at Hastings Airfield near Freetown shortly 10:00 a.m. local time. The Russian foreign ministry identified the helicopter crew members as Vyacheslav Markelov, Alexander Romanov, Vladimir Platonov and Nikolai Vyuzhenkov, who were working under contract with the U.N. Two Russian military observers, including Lt. Capt. Andrei Ufimtsev, are still being detained. The RUF has continued to deny, however, that it was holding U.N. peacekeepers and military observers. "We do not take hostages," RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins told reporters. As of late Thursday, the U.N. said RUF rebels were known to be holding 92 of their peacekeepers in northern and eastern Sierra Leone, but said the actual number could be even higher. The RUF has surrounded an 23-man Indian contingent in the eastern town of Kuiva, while there are unconfirmed and conflicting reports that another peacekeeping contingent has been encircled or detained in Kambia. A U.N. spokeswoman in New York said Thursday afternoon that UNAMSIL had lost contact with some of its units, numbering about 100 troops. Sankoh's Special Assistant, Gibril Massaquoi, suggested Friday that the missing U.N. troops might merely have lost their way. "We want to believe the peacekeepers alleged to have been held by RUF fighters may have got lost in the bush during the fighting in Makeni and Magburaka," Massaquoi said. He added that Sankoh had ordered his field commander, Colonel Issa Sesay, "to organise a search party for the missing U.N. peacekeepers." Meanwhile, RUF leader Foday Sankoh claimed U.N. peacekeepers had "taken refuge" at RUF barracks in Makeni and that they were free to leave. "In Makeni there was a panic. Some peacekeepers and military observers left the (DDR) camp and took refuge in the barracks that my men have been occupying ever since they entered Makeni," the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted  Sankoh as saying. "They are free to go anywhere." In a separate interview, the rebel leader warned the U.N. not to reinforce its positions in RUF-held areas. We don't want violence here again. It's provocation. You provoke the man, you make a big mistake," Sankoh told the BBC. 

Liberian President Charles Taylor has called on all parties for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Sierra Leone, while warning RUF leader Foday Sankoh not to engage in a fire-fight with the United Nations peacekeeping force. "(Sankoh) assured me that everything will be done to return the situation to status quo," Taylor told the BBC on Friday. " I think it would be foolish for anyone to believe that he can challenge the United Nations and come out right." While Sankoh had complained of problems in implementing the Lomé Peace Accord, Taylor said this was not an excuse for an exchange of fire and injury to U.N. personnel. "I think the first thing that must be done, and I’ve insisted, and I have told him, and I want to believe he understands, is that United Nations personnel must be protected, even by him, and that these problems can be raised in the proper forum," Taylor said. "But to have a fire-fight with the United Nations is a grave mistake, a very dangerous mistake, and must be stopped." The Liberian leader called on the RUF to provide a "full accounting" of U.N. personnel. "They cannot be shot at. There should be no injury, and everything should be done for cordiality instead of a fire-fight," he said. According to Radio Liberia, Taylor sent former Foreign Minister Mrs. Museleng-Cooper to Freetown to open a dialogue aimed at finding an "amicable solution" to the Sierra Leone crisis. At a news conference on Friday, Taylor told reporters he would support any sanctions imposed on Sankoh by the U.N. or ECOWAS aimed at getting him to release U.N. peacekeepers. "Yes, Liberia will be prepared to support any sanctions that would be taken by ECOWAS states, intended to restore peace in Sierra Leone," he said. "Yes, I am a personal friend of Foday Sankoh. That does not mean my country is a personal friend to Sankoh." The United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other sanctions on Sierra Leone's rebels following the 1997 coup, which Taylor's government has frequently been accused of violating. "RUF must understand that seizing U.N. personnel as hostages is not a good thing to do...Working with the U.N. is a better thing to do," he said.

The international community is increasing pressure on RUF leader Foday Sankoh to release U.N. personnel held by his rebel group. Mali's foreign minister arrived in Freetown Thursday and has returned to Bamako, while a Liberian delegation was expected in Sierra Leone on Friday. Meanwhile a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web there were unconfirmed reports that the RUF had reached Lunsar. He said it was possible the Joint Implementation Committee, set up to oversee the peace process, might be convened soon.

A planned demonstration by civil society groups and parliamentarians to protest the RUF's attacks on United Nations personnel has been postponed until Monday, a parliamentary source told the Sierra Leone Web. The march was originally to have taken place in Freetown on Friday. 

Britain is preparing to send a team of military experts to Sierra Leone to increase the effectiveness of the United Nations peacekeeping force, a British foreign office spokesman said on Friday. "We want to help the U.N. and we will be in a better position to consider what we can supply when the team has reported back to us," the spokesman said. "At the request of the U.N., Britain is despatching an advisory team to Freetown to help the U.N. assess the technical support needed to enhance UNAMSIL's effectiveness." The team, from the Ministry of Defence's Permanent Joint Headquarters, is expected to arrive in Freetown on Saturday. "This follows the assurance Foreign Secretary Robin Cook gave to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday that Britain would do all that it reasonably could to support the UN forces in their mission."

Russia intends to dispatch military helicopters to Sierra Leone, the Russian defence ministry said on Friday. "The military pilots' role will be to carry out flights on behalf of the U.N. peacekeeping forces operating in Sierra Leone," a ministry statement said, adding that the pilots would be armed for their own safety. "The timetable for the dispatch of the helicopter squadron will depend on a Federation Council decision," the defence ministry said. 

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Friday denounced RUF attacks against U.N. peacekeepers. "The behavior of the RUF and its leader Foday Sankoh is unacceptable," Albright said. "The actions of Sankoh and the RUF need to be reversed immediately. The Lomé Accords represented a package of compromises that provided the RUF an opportunity to play a legitimate political role in Sierra Leone. If the accords are broken, the provisions of that agreement are jeopardized...We join the international community in demanding that the RUF and Sankoh personally discharge their responsibilities to the agreement they signed at Lomé — including disarmament and demobilisation — and that they immediately release all those they are holding."

Britain's new high commissioner to Sierra Leone, Alan Jones (full name David Alan Jones) presented his credentials to President Kabbah on Friday. Jones is a career diplomat, who last served as deputy commissioner in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He replaces Peter Penfold, who left Freetown last week. "Sierra Leone’s path towards peace and democracy has not been easy, and you and your people have been obliged to take some very difficult and brave decisions," Jones said. "The time for elections is approaching. It we can all work together to hold a free, fair and transparent election that results in a democratic Government chosen by the people then all the sacrifices will have been worthwhile. We shall work together to see that this happens." Also presenting his credentials Friday was Iran's new accredited ambassador to Sierra Leone, Roshan Samir Jawad. Jawad replaces Ambassador Majid Bismark in the diplomatic post. Iran has no embassy in Freetown, and Jawad will operate from his country's embassy in Guinea.

President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya has expressed concern and sorrow over the deaths of four Kenyan peacekeepers in clashes with RUF rebels in northern Sierra Leone this week. Moi said he was awaiting a full report "regarding the exact circumstances surrounding the deaths and abduction of other Kenyan troops." His comments follow emotional demands by opposition parliamentarians to withdraw the Kenyan peacekeeping battalion from the UNAMSIL force. In his statement, Moi said it was unfortunate that the Kenyans, who were in Sierra Leone as peacekeepers and not as combatants, had to die without a justifiable reason. He appealed to the United Nations to ensure the safety of the peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, the Tanzanian Daily News has reported that a Tanzanian major is among the unarmed U.N. military observers abducted by the rebels.

4 May:  U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday he had asked regional leaders to pressure leader Foday Sankoh into releasing some 92 U.N. personnel now believed held by his RUF rebel faction in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. The secretary-general met with reporters following a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the crisis in Sierra Leone — the third such meeting in three days. "I have spoken to quite a few leaders who have direct contact and some influence on him and who have sent envoys," including the leaders of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Togo, he said. Annan said Sankoh promised Liberian President Charles Taylor that some of the detainees, including "at least" a four-man Russian helicopter crew, would be freed starting Friday. "We'll wait and see if this happens," he said. He said the U.N. was working to strengthen its force in Sierra Leone "as quickly as possible." Currently some 8,700 U.N. peacekeepers have been deployed in the country out of 11,100 authorised by the Security Council. The remaining three battalions were due to arrive in mid-June. Discussions are now underway to speed up their deployment, Annan said, possibly by enlisting the aid of Western countries such as Britain, France or the United States to transport the troops and equipment to Sierra Leone. He said that while he would like to deploy a rapid reaction force to deal with the crisis, this would only be possible if those with such a capacity were willing to provide it. Annan added that discussions were underway with some member states on the matter. Sankoh signed an agreement late Wednesday to release all U.N. hostages, while at the same time denying his followers were holding them. "Nobody believes him," Annan said. "(The African leaders) have told him to take action. They have told him to release (the hostages). They have tried to impress on him the seriousness of the situation and the fact that he is placing himself in a very difficult situation. He is already isolated and it is going to get worse. All the leaders are giving him the same message. If they thought he were not holding hostages, they would not be acting that way with him."

In a presidential statement read out following Thursday's meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Ambassador Wang Yingfan of China said members supported international and regional efforts to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone, including those of ECOWAS. The Council demanded that the RUF end its hostile actions immediately and immediately release all detainees unharmed, cooperate to establish the whereabouts of U.N. personnel still unaccounted for, and comply fully with the Lomé Peace Accord. Council members expressed outrage at the killing of U.N. peacekeepers and deep concern for those wounded or still not located. The Security Council said that Foday Sankoh, as leader of the RUF, was responsible for the attacks on U.N. personnel, that he had "deliberately failed" to cooperate with UNAMSIL to end the incidents, and that he must be held accountable together with the perpetrators. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow pointed out that the amnesty included in last year's peace agreement did not cover acts committed since the signing of the accord. "Those responsible will definitely be prosecuted," he said.

The bodies of four Kenyan peacekeepers have been recovered and are being sent home, UNAMSIL spokesman Osman Lahai told the Voice of America late on Thursday. Three other Kenyans wounded in fighting with the RUF remain at the U.N.'s hospital in Freetown, Lahai said.

The United Nations has revised downward its estimate of the number of U.N. peacekeepers killed in Sierra Leone this week to "four missing and presumed dead," a spokeswoman in New York said Thursday afternoon. The four were reported to have belonged to UNAMSIL's Kenyan battalion. U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said at least 69 civilian and military UNAMSIL personnel were now believed to be held by RUF — 39 in the Makeni area and 30 in Kailahun. Eight other U.N. personnel are reported to have been wounded. In addition, Okabe said, a 23-man Indian battalion was reported surrounded by RUF troops at Kuiva, near Kailahun. She said UNAMSIL had lost contact with some of its units, comprising up to 100 personnel, but noted that the force was sending reinforcements to Makeni and Magburaka. Okabe said there are currently about 8,700 U.N. troops in Sierra Leone with three additional battalions due by mid-June.

The Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) has reported that rebels disarmed and abducted a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers in the town of Kambia, near Sierra Leone's border with Guinea, at about 9:00 Thursday morning. The rebels, apparently members of the RUF, had confined the U.N. troops to the centre of town and sacked the local police barracks, MISNA said. U.N. officials confirmed that Zambian troops had come under attack at Kambia late Wednesday, but had no details. Reuters cited unconfirmed reports that 200 of the peacekeepers were encircled, but were said to still have their weapons. U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe confirmed said there had been gunfire in Kambia Wednesday night, but that it had died down before midnight. According to MISNA, a team of doctors from the French-based medical charity Medècins sans Frontiéres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) was forced to flee to Guinea on Wednesday following shooting in the town.

There was sporadic firing in Kambia and Makeni overnight, UNAMSIL officials told reporters in Freetown on Thursday. They said about five U.N. peacekeepers wounded in fighting at Makeni had been evacuated to Freetown, where they were undergoing treatment at a military hospital. The disarmament camps at Makeni and Magburaka, at the centre of the dispute between the RUF and the U.N., have reportedly been completely destroyed and vandalised. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported that the RUF had allowed peacekeepers from UNAMSIL's Indian contingent to provide food for their U.N. colleagues held by the rebels in Kailahun. He said U.N. officials were not planning to confront the RUF in order to secure the hostages' release. "They were saying that all they will do is to continue negotiating with the High Command of the Revolutionary United Front," Fofana said. "They were saying they’ve had regional leaders talking to Foday Sankoh. They’ve had government officials talking to Foday Sankoh, and that they are hoping things will turn out positive. But in any case they are expressing grave concern about developments there, because their disarmament camps have been targeted and there is no indication the rebels will not take more hostages."

RUF leader Foday Sankoh has again blamed the United Nations for this week's fighting between his followers and UNAMSIL in northern Sierra Leone — a charge the U.N. has rejected. "There was a fight Makeni and Magburaka because of the forcible disarmament," Sankoh said. "They forced their way into the barracks to disarm the men, but then started firing. And I think our men with no alternative but to defend themselves." A U.N. spokesman in Freetown insisted Wednesday that the attacks on U.N. personnel were "completely unprovoked," and he dismissed Sankoh's claim his men had been forcibly disarmed as "completely untrue." Sankoh said the RUF had lost six men in the fighting with an unknown number wounded. The RUF leader also denied rumours that he had been placed under house arrest in Freetown, and warned of serious consequences if he were to be detained. "(Wednesday afternoon) we drove around Freetown from my residence to Kissy, going around to Clinetown, Fourah Bay Road, Sani Abacha Street, to PZ and we (came) back home," he said. "You know they can do anything but it (would) be a big mistake to detain Foday Sankoh. Forget about the combatants. The civilian populace will rise. So I advise and appeal even to President Kabbah not to try it." In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4's World at One programme, Sankoh denied that his men were holding U.N. personnel hostage. "That is fabrication. This is something I really have no knowledge of," he said. "He accused U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as taking part in an "international conspiracy" with President Kabbah to keep him out of power. "(The U.N.) said the only way they could get peace in Sierra Leone is to use force and they did it by firing at my men and disarming my men forcefully. When commanders arrived to investigate, they opened fire at my men," Sankoh said, adding: "I know I have lost about seven men, but that is all I know. This is something that has been planned to destroy the reputation of the RUF."

UNAMSIL Public Information Philip Winslow rejected Thursday Foday Sankoh's denial that his RUF rebel force was holding United Nations personnel hostage. "Mr. Sankoh has denied on several occasions in the last 24 hours that he is holding any hostages," Winslow told the BBC. "His RUF, the RUF of which he is the chairman, is the group that seized our personnel, the peacekeepers." He added that on Tuesday and Tuesday night the RUF had "launched an attack on the disarmament camp where our people were at Makeni, in northern Sierra Leone." Winslow said negotiations for the hostages' release were ongoing at a number of different levels. "There is quite a lot of international pressure being brought to bear on Mr. Sankoh from various other governments trying to convince him to see the light and have these people released," he said.

Shooting heard in western Freetown Wednesday night was "accidental firing by Sierra Leonean Army personnel," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said on Thursday. "(UNAMSIL officials) were saying the Nigerian contingent in UNAMSIL quickly took care of the situation, and within five minutes they had contained it," Fofana said. "But then there was very heightened tension around the city. People were running around and then security was mounted. Vehicles were stopped and rigorously searched, and it actually put people on the edge." As of Thursday morning Freetown was reported to be calm.

RUF rebels have released a Malaysian U.N. military observer, Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Razak said on Thursday. Razak said Major Ganase Jaganathan was freed Wednesday night. Two other Malaysians, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamzah Bachik and naval Lieutenant-Commander Aminuddin Rashid, were still being held as of midday on Thursday. Malaysia has ten military observers attached to the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Thursday he had been given assurances by Sierra Leonean leaders that the hostages would be freed soon. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said Ivanov was handling the issue personally after it was learned that four of the hostages were Russian members of a helicopter crew working under contract to the United Nations. In London, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons that one of the U.N. personnel detained by the RUF in Sierra Leone was a British officer. "We understand that he is safe and well," Hoon said. "No other British citizens have been detained. Negotiations are taking place on the political and diplomatic fronts to secure the safe release of all those who have been detained." A British foreign office spokesman said the British officer, a U.N. military observer, was being held with some 27 other U.N. personnel in Kailahun. "It seems the hostages are being kept in reasonable conditions," the spokesman said. "We are letting the UN take the lead in talking to the RUF but we are in constant touch with them. We are calling on the RUF's leaders to exercise control over their forces."

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, has condemned this week's RUF killings and abduction of U.N. personnel in Sierra Leone, and has warned of consequences. Holbrooke is currently on a five-day mission to Africa. "I think you are going to see the international community prepare a very strong and swift response against those responsible (for the Sierra Leone attacks), and we all know who they are," Holbrooke said shortly after arriving in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon has denounced the "reported killings and kidnappings" of UNAMSIL personnel in Sierra Leone as "heinous crimes for which the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front must take full responsibility." Calling the RUF actions a breach of the Lomé Peace Accord, McKinnon warned that the RUF "should be left in no doubt as to the determination of the international community to stand by the people of Sierra Leone in the defence of their democracy and their legitimately elected government."

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook issued a statement Thursday "strongly condemning" RUF attacks on United Nations forces, and pledging British support for Sierra Leone's peace process. "The leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, must order an immediate end to current violence and respect for the provisions of the Lomé Peace Agreement," Cook said. "He bears a personal responsibility for his followers' actions. The leadership of the RUF is directly accountable for the safety of those U.N. and other personnel who are currently detained. He must ensure their immediate release." Cook said he had informed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Britain was prepared to increase its support for UNAMSIL. "In particular, we are willing to provide technical and logistical support to increase the mission's efficiency," he said, adding that he and Annan had agreed on the importance of a rapid deployment of peacekeeping troops not yet deployed in Sierra Leone. "The rebels appear to have chosen the transition between ECOMOG and UNAMSIL to challenge the peace process," Cook said. "They must be stopped. Britain has done more than any other country outside the region to support the peace process. A lot of progress had been made with over half the rebel forces demobilised, and most of the country brought under the control of the U.N. forces. We are determined to see the job done in the interests of the people of Sierra Leone."

National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray said Thursday that the Sierra Leone government had appealed to the leaders of neighbouring countries and the heads of international organisations to convince RUF leader Foday Sankoh to release U.N. hostages held by his rebel group. Mansaray told the BBC the government was not in a position to use military force to bring about the hostages' release. "Under the Lomé Peace Agreement we have an obligation not to use force here any more," he said. "In fact the government has been the subject of massive disarmament by the U.N. We’ve disarmed many of our forces, including the regular army." Sankoh "has always believed in shooting his way into power," Mansaray said. He’s consistently tested the patience of the government, patience of the international community. He’s seen nothing come out of those actions. And I think he’s encouraged to continue to do that." Mansaray called for the United Nations to take action against the RUF. "Right now there is a mood of hopelessness because the people feel betrayed," he said. "There’s been a number of assurances from all quarters that the people of this country will be protected. We were even encouraged to accept that the ECOMOG peacekeeping force could go without the security situation deteriorating. It’s interesting that the last day the troops spent here was the day Mr. Sankoh started the attacks on the U.N. peacekeepers, because he’s always said that what you do to U.N. peacekeepers is start shooting at them and then there'll be a cry for them to be withdrawn. So he’s lived up to that kind of reasoning."

OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim condemned the RUF killing and abducting of U.N. peacekeepers in a statement issued on Thursday. "I wish to condemn in no uncertain terms these wanton acts," Salim said, adding that the RUF actions were in violation the RUF's obligations under of the Lomé Peace Accord. He urged the RUF to allow U.N. peacekeepers, humanitarian workers to enter areas under its control, and to pursue the path of dialogue in the peace process. Salim said the OAU would send a representative to Sierra Leone to get on on-the-spot assessment of the situation in the country.

Members of Sierra Leone's Parliament will join civil society groups in Freetown Friday for a protest march against the RUF "for their action against the peacekeeping force in the country," a parliamentary source told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. By voice vote Thursday, Parliament adopted by voice vote Thursday a motion expressing concern over what it called "a resumption of hostilities" by the RUF calling it a breach of the cease-fire agreement and the peace accord signed in Lomé, Togo last year. The private members motion, proposed by Hon. A.O. Bangura and seconded by Hon. Dr. Raymond S. Kamara, called on the Sierra Leone government to place RUF leader Foday Sankoh under house arrest and to restrict the movement of RUFP ministers and appointees until the hostilities have ended, and to disarm all combatants within 45 days. The motion called on Parliament to enact legislation suspending "some of the privileges accorded to Mr. Foday Sankoh and other elements of the RUF by virtue of the Lomé Peace Agreement" until the RUF showed "genuine commitment to the peace process." It suggested Sankoh be invited before Parliament to explain the circumstances leading to the RUF attacks on UNAMSIL, and that the RUF leadership be held responsible for further acts of violence "and accountable to the International War Crimes Tribunal." The motion called on UNAMSIL to "forcefully disarm" combatants unwilling to disarm and join the DDR programme within 45 days, to institute cordon-and-search exercises in Freetown and in provincial headquarters "with unusual concentration of ex-combatants, and to restrict curfew hours and limit permits for street demonstrations until security was assured throughout the country. The parliamentarians called on the moral guarantors of the Lomé Peace Accord to "use their influence and good offices" to prevail on Sankoh to respect the peace agreement in view of a "series of co-ordinated attacks against UNAMSIL troops" which, they said, showed Sankoh and his supporters "are not interested in peace but are committed to derailing he peace process and seizing power by force." 

RUF leader Foday Sankoh is "definitely behind" attacks this week on U.N. personnel in Sierra Leone, the country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations told PBS Newshour on Thursday. "The United Nations knows this, that he is behind all this new outbreak," said Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara. "His people are the ones. What he does is he goes out and tells the international community, or when he's faced with the cameras, the media, he tells his fighters to disarm, and when the observers leave, he tells them something completely different. He's not a man of peace. The people know it, the U.N. knows this, the international community knows that this man is not a man of peace." Kamara said Sankoh's motive for the attacks "is rule Sierra Leone by whatever means," adding "But that will be against the wish of the people." The ambassador said the Sierra Leone government had given in to pressure from the international community to sign the Lomé Peace Accord, which gave the RUF a role in the government. "The ball now is in the court of the international community...and we are only waiting to see, because not a small man like Foday Sankoh cannot hold the world to ransom," he said.

The Libyan government said Thursday U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had requested President Muammar al-Qadhafi to intervene to help free U.N. personnel held hostage by the RUF in Sierra Leone. "As a result, the Great Jamahiriyah had carried out contacts with the parties concerned in the [crisis in] Sierra Leone, where the government said that the RUF had abducted 50 UN troops. However, the RUF Chairman Foday Sankoh noted that he was not aware of the abductions," the Libyan news agency said. "Therefore, the secretary of the General People's Committee for African Unity will leave immediately for Sierra Leone to deal with the issue."

Human Rights Watch condemned this week's killings and hostage-taking of U.N. personnel in Sierra Leone, but noted that civilians had been enduring similar abuses from rebels for several years. "Human Rights Watch opposed the amnesty (provision of the Lomé Peace Accord) because we feared that impunity for such atrocities would only breed more atrocities," the group said in a statement on Thursday. "Events of this week have only confirmed our fears. Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division, said RUF leader Foday Sankoh should be held responsible for the actions of troops under his effective command. He called Colonel Augustine Gbao, an RUF commander in the Makeni region where the U.N. killings took place, one of Sankoh's leading deputies.

3 May: RUF leader Foday Sankoh has signed an agreement "to release any hostages if held" by his rebel movement, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday. In a series of incidents since Monday, RUF fighters have detained about 50 U.N. personnel in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. Seven more peacekeepers have been killed and another three wounded. The agreement followed negotiations between Sankoh and Nigerian National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Mohammed. Under the agreement, which was read over state radio and television, Sankoh said he would continue with dialogue over the peace process, allow freedom of movement by U.N. peacekeepers, humanitarian workers and civilians in RUF-controlled areas, and to work for disarmament under the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord he signed last July. Dozens of U.N. troops surrounded Sankoh's house in Freetown while the negotiations were continuing. Officials denied they were planning to arrest the rebel leader, but said they wanted to ensure he was available for the talks.

At least seven United Nations troops have been killed and about 50 captured in three days of RUF attacks on U.N. peacekeepers, a U.N. spokeswoman said in New York on Wednesday. "Following the fighting that took place yesterday and earlier today between U.N. troops and the Revolutionary United Front in the northern areas of Makeni and Magburaka, we can confirm that seven U.N. soldiers have been killed," Marie Okabe told reporters. "We can confirm that about 50 U.N. personnel are being detained by the RUF, at least 21 in the Makeni and Magburaka area and 28 in the eastern area of Kailahun." The detainees in Makeni and Magburaka were said to include three unarmed U.N. military observers. Those held in Kailahun included eight military observers, four members of a U.N. helicopter crew and two civilian members of UNAMSIL, she said. In a BBC interview, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow said the fighting had stopped, but that "a number of other UNAMSIL personnel are not traceable at the moment because the situation on the ground is quite fluid." Winslow called Tuesday's attacks on U.N. positions "completely unprovoked." He described as "completely untrue" a claim by RUF leader Foday Sankoh that the rebel attacks had been instigated by "Kenyan peacekeepers who first used force to disarm and arrest some of my RUF combatants when they are not ready to do so."  "Disarmament is a voluntary process and UNAMSIL certainly did not forcibly disarm them," said Winslow. "But that is the excuse that they were using, or that they claimed, for their having launched this attack on the military observers and the peacekeepers." Sankoh asserted that six of his own troops had been killed in the fighting. He added that he was preparing to travel to Makeni later on Wednesday to address his men. Sankoh acknowledged that he had refused to take calls from UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley, and accused the peacekeepers of bias against his fighters. "Let me appeal to the U.N. peacekeepers not to provoke the RUF and let them work within the prescribed mandate of their position in Sierra Leone," Sankoh said. "I advise General Jetley (and) the U.N. special envoy to gather with their peacekeepers to try and understand the politics on the ground before they start taking sides." Jetley told reporters the RUF had promised to release the hostages early Wednesday, but by late morning U.N. officials were quoted as saying none of the U.N. personnel had been freed. Meanwhile, Winslow said negotiations were going on "at high levels and on various levels" to secure the peacekeepers' release. UNAMSIL has sent reinforcements to U.N. positions which came under rebel attack. About 100 U.N. troops have surrounded Sankoh's house in Freetown, and security has been stepped up in the Sierra Leonean capital.

RUF rebels who detained U.N. personnel in Makeni on Monday have also looted offices and homes in the city, the Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Wednesday. According to MISNA, the rebels looted the offices of the French-based charities Medècins sans Frontiéres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) and Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), as well as several other offices and private homes. An MSF source confirmed MISNA's account of the looting. "Because of the ongoing situation, I can't provide more details at the moment other than to say we are pursuing the safest option for the MSF team," he told the Sierra Leone Web.

Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare (left), the current chairman of ECOWAS, said Wednesday the organisation would send a delegation to Freetown, where it would urge RUF leader Foday Sankoh to "put an end to the various acts of violence perpetrated by his men." ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Lansana Kouyate (right) condemned the RUF attacks on U.N. peacekeepers and called for the immediate and unconditional release of about 50 U.N. personnel being held by the rebels. "The perpetrators of the barbaric act are a serious threat to the peace process underway between the different Sierra Leonean parties and to the assignment of the U.N. mission," Kouyate said. "(Their action) is a violation of the Lomé Peace Agreement signed on July 7, 1999 between the Sierra Leonean government and the RUF under the aegis of ECOWAS." Nigeria also announced Wednesday it would send a delegation to Sierra Leone to try and secure the release of the U.N. peacekeepers. "Upon receipt of this particular information from the secretary-general of the United Nations, our president has sent a powerful delegation to Sierra Leone to ensure the peaceful, safe and prompt release of the hostages," said Nigerian Information Minister Jerry Gana.

The United States has condemned "in the strongest possible terms" what it called "direct contravention to the Lomé Peace Accords" by Foday Sankoh's RUF rebel movement. "The killing of personnel deployed in the U.N. Mission to Sierra Leone, taking of hostages, and efforts to obstruct the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation process over the past several days are unacceptable and must cease immediately," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "All hostages must be released unconditionally and all violations of the cease-fire must stop." Boucher said the U.S. was consulting with other countries on the possibility of deploying a rapid reaction force to deal with the crisis. "What we're doing is considering ways to improve and support the U.N. presence there and the U.N. forces there, including consideration of some sort of reaction force capability," he said. 

In a statement issued Wednesday following a second day of U.N. Security Council deliberations on Sierra Leone, Council President Ambassador Wang Yingfan of China said Council members had expressed "grave concern" about the latest developments in the country. "The Council members all strongly condemned RUF criminal actions, especially in its attacks on the peacekeeping personnel in Sierra Leone," the ambassador said. "The Council demanded that the RUF must stop immediately such criminal actions; that (RUF leader Foday) Sankoh should strictly observe the Lomé Peace Agreement." He said the Security Council was in full support of a statement issued Wednesday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "In particular, in that statement the Secretary-General stressed that leaders in Sierra Leone with authority must be held accountable for their actions," he said. "That is a clear signal to Mr. Sankoh."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Paris Wednesday that the situation in Sierra Leone was not encouraging for U.N. future peacekeeping missions to Africa. "Obviously, we need to reassess after this incident...what changes in attitude, what changes in our relationship with (Sankoh) and others have to be made," he said. "We went into this realizing there will be risks...but I hope we will be able to...continue our work." Annan said that several African heads of state were sending envoys to Sierra Leone "to put pressure on (Sankoh) to pull his men back so that peacekeepers can do their work."

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara, has placed the blame for rebel attacks on U.N. personnel on RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "He is not a man of peace. That’s why he is desperate," Kamara said Wednesday following a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. "You see what has happened in Makeni. His men were disarming. They went to the UNAMSIL people to lay down their guns. Then some of his people went and said 'no you cannot go and disarm.' And he supported them." The ambassador said Sankoh had signed the Lomé Peace Accord "with his eyes wide open," and called on the rebel leader to abide by the document he signed last year on behalf of his organisation. Kamara said he had no doubt Sankoh was in control of his followers. "He says something outside, and then he goes round and say something completely different," he said. "If he is determined, if he wants his people to disarm they would have disarmed long ago. But what he says to the international community or to those people who listen to him, is not what he tells his people. This is what we think is happening now."

The Russian foreign ministry identified the four-man crew of a U.N. helicopter seized by rebels in Kailahun yesterday as Russian nationals, after issuing a denial earlier in the day, and has demanded their immediate release. "According to information that has been received, among the hostages are four Russian citizens who are working under a contract with the United Nations," the statement said. "They are the crew of an Mi-8 helicopter of the Nefteyugansk division of [Russian company] Tyumenaviatrans." The company subsequently issued a statement denying that the captured pilots were working for them. Earlier, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Yakovenko denied reports the pilots were Russians and claimed they were Bulgarians. The Russian foreign ministry reversed itself after the Bulgarian government said it had no information that any of its pilots had been seized. A helicopter belonging to the Bulgarian air carrier Helia Air works under contract with the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone. The company's director Georgi Spasov, said no Bulgarians had been abducted. "We contacted them today and they were all there," he said.

The names of ten journalists who died while covering the news in Sierra Leone last year were among 40 added Wednesday to the U.S.-based Freedom Forum's Journalists Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. They were Alpha Amadu Bah (Independent Observer), Jenner Cole (SKY-FM), Abdulai Jumah Jalloh (African Champion), Mabay Kamara (Freelance), Mohamed Kamara (SKY-FM), Paul Mansaray (Standard Times), Conrad Roy (Expo Times), Munir Turay (Freelance), James Oguoguo (Concord Times) and Myles Tierney (Associated Press Television News). "The wall is filled with the names of journalists who cared and cared deeply about their craft and their responsibilities. They felt journalism is something worth risking their lives for," said Tom Johnson, chairman and CEO of CNN. "But for most of the people in the news business, there is in their dedication to their work a deep strain of idealism that leads them to take risks for truth and understanding that sometimes, tragically, leads to their personal injury or death."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has named RUF leader Foday Sankoh to its annual list of the "Ten Worst Enemies of the Press," issued Wednesday to mark World Press Freedom Day. "Sankoh's rebel RUF force, along with allies from the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), targeted all journalists as 'enemies' during the civil strife that ravaged Sierra Leone for eight years," the CPJ statement said. "During a bloody three-week occupation of the capital, Freetown, in January 1999, rebel forces executed at least eight journalists, some together with their families, before being ousted by the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force." CPJ Africa researcher Yves Sorokobi told the Sierra Leone Web that while the organisation acknowledged Sankoh was in a Nigerian prison during what he called the "RUF anti-media murderous orgy," the rebel leader was selected for the list in his capacity as leader of the group.  Others making the CPJ's Ten Worst list were Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Iran), Slobodan Milosevic (Yugoslavia), Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan), José Eduardo dos Santos (Angola), Alberto K. Fujimori (Peru), Mahathir Mohamad (Malaysia), Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali (Tunisia), Jiang Zemin (China) and Fidel Castro (Cuba). In an accompanying letter to the Commonwealth, the CPJ also accused the Sierra Leone government of having "repeatedly infringed on journalists' rights to reports the news." The group took the government to task for a bill tabled in August 1999 aimed at regulating the print media. The bill would have created a three-member media council, appointed by the president, with powers to suspend or revoke media licenses and to impose heavy fines for "press crimes."

The United States House of Representatives approved by voice vote Wednesday a bill that would provide $20 million to help Sierra Leone recover from more than eight years of civil conflict. The bill provides $13 million for a World Bank rebuilding fund, $5 million to help the country rebuild its judiciary, $1.5 million to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and $500,000 for the State Department to collect information on human rights abuses. The measure would also require the president to monitor the flow of illegal arms into Sierra Leone from countries in the region, and to take action — including the suspension of foreign aid — against any country that participates in arms trafficking. House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman expressed doubts that Sierra Leone's fragile peace would hold, saying he feared "the Revolutionary United Front, which has waged a war of terror...has not changed in its ultimate objective, that is the complete dominance of Sierra Leone." Africa Subcommittee Chairman Edward Royce agreed that the peace was precarious, but said "it's in America's interest to see that terror does not win the day in Sierra Leone, for if it does more than Sierra Leone would be imperiled." The bill must still be considered by the Senate.

2 May: United Nations officials have reacted angrily to a series of RUF attacks this week on United Nations peacekeepers, and the abduction of at least 17 UNAMSIL personnel in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. On Monday, about 100 RUF troops led by a self-styled colonel surrounded a disarmament camp at Makeni and demanded the U.N. turn over ten RUF fighters who voluntarily disarmed last week, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow told the BBC on Tuesday. When an unarmed U.N. military observer refused to turn over the men, who in fact had already left the area, "the RUF became quite menacing and they threatened to burn down the camp," Winslow said. The RUF officer, identified as Colonel Gbao, forced the U.N. observer into a car and took him away. Two other military observers and four soldiers from UNAMSIL's Kenyan battalion were detained as well, Winslow added. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley (pictured right) told reporters in Freetown that the abducted military observers included a Gambian, a Malaysian and a Norwegian. On Tuesday, Winslow said, RUF rebels surrounded a U.N. helicopter at Kailahun and took away five civilian personnel, including the two-man flight crew. Another seven U.N. peacekeepers were captured in the area after the rebels erected a roadblock, according to U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Hedi Annabe. A source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web late Tuesday that the helicopter had been on a special mission to pay UNAMSIL staff in Bo, Kenema, Kono, Daru and Kailahun. Among those detained, the source said, was UNAMSIL Finance Officer Abebe Dubenru, an Ethiopian national. He cited an unconfirmed report that UNAMSIL's team leader in Kailahun is among those being held by the RUF. In the latest incident, RUF fighters and Kenyan troops exchanged fire in Magburaka Tuesday when the rebels attempted to seize the peacekeepers' weapons, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. Two U.N. soldiers were reported wounded in the incident. Jetley said UNAMSIL had protested to RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who denied the incidents had occurred. "It seems as if Foday Sankoh is trying to derail the peace process," Jetley said. "We are not in Sierra Leone to fight, but I am appealing to the combatants not to continuously push us into a corner...If negotiations fail, military action will be taken to get the men released." 

The United Nations Security Council, which met in special session Tuesday afternoon following reports of RUF attacks on U.N. personnel in Sierra Leone, has condemned "in strongest terms the hostile and destructive" actions against U.N. peacekeepers. In a presidential statement read out following the meeting, Security Council President for May, Ambassador Wang Yingfan of China, expressed members' "grave concerns" over the incidents. Meanwhile, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "deeply disturbed" about the RUF's attacks on U.N. civilian and military personnel. "The secretary-general condemns these outrageous and criminal acts against U.N. peacekeepers and calls upon the leadership of the RUF, in particular Mr. Foday Sankoh, to cease these acts immediately," the spokesman said.

The Sierra Leone government has denounced what it called "indiscriminate violence perpetrated by some misguided ex-combatants" this week against United Nations peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone. In a statement submitted to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, the government noted that UNAMSIL had been given a mandate to use force to protect the people of Sierra Leone from physical violence. While the force had exercised "considerable restraint," the statement asserted, UNAMSIL had the means and the capability to discharge its responsibilities." The government statement warned that future violations of the Lomé Peace Accord would be dealt with "immediately and appropriately," and that those responsible would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

The ECOMOG force completed its final withdrawal from Sierra Leone on Tuesday, ending nearly three years of involvement in the country's civil conflict. "We are leaving Sierra Leone with optimism that the world has heard the cry of the people of your country," ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber told President Kabbah in a farewell ceremony on Monday. "Anyone who attempts to derail the peace process will not succeed." ECOMOG intervened in Sierra Leone in 1997, shortly after the coup which brought the AFRC military junta to power. In October 1997 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on the junta, and delegated to ECOMOG the task of enforcing an arms and fuel embargo against Sierra Leone. In February 1998, ECOMOG moved to oust the junta from power and restored President Kabbah's civilian government, which had been operating from exile in Guinea. The under-equipped ECOMOG force was unable to achieve a military victory in the provinces, however, and in late 1998 it was forced to retreat in the face of a rebel counter-offensive. In January 1999 the rebels used human shields to break through ECOMOG's defences, and launched an attack on the capital which devastated much of eastern and central Freetown. ECOMOG reinforcements finally succeeded in driving the rebels from the city. More recently, ECOMOG has provided security in Freetown and has worked with the UNAMSIL force to disarm Sierra Leone's warring factions.

Freetown's historic City Hotel was gutted by fire early Tuesday, according to police sources. Reuters quoted police as saying a Sierra Leonean and a Lebanese national were killed, and four others seriously injured. The fire was apparently caused by a "naked lamp," Reuters said. City Hotel, which dates back to the 1920s, had become dilapidated in recent years and was badly in need of repair. The hotel, Sierra Leone's oldest, was a favorite hangout for British expatriates during the colonial era. Graham Greene wrote one of his best-known works, the 1948 novel the Heart of the Matter, while staying at the hotel.

A Nigerian UNAMSIL sergeant shot by AFRC rebels while on patrol near Rogbere Junction on Sunday was sent home Monday for treatment, Reuters reported. A U.N. spokeswoman in New York said the soldier remained in critical but stable condition.

1 May: National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai said Monday that RUF insistence they be given a wide range of government posts before they would agree to hand in their weapons were not new, but he warned that the demands "will stall the (disarmament) process if they really want to push it too much." Kai-Kai noted that provisions were made in the Lomé Peace Agreement for some positions to be given to the RUF, and said the government was trying to address these. "I know that the issue is being discussed between (RUF leader) Chairman Sankoh and His Excellency the president," he told the BBC. "These are issues they are discussing. It’s really at their level." Kai-Kai also played down concerns over a security vacuum following the final withdrawal of the ECOMOG force. "The withdrawal plan of ECOMOG was already foreseen," he said. "Yes, there are some concerns being raised but as far as we know UNAMSIL is also bringing in more troops and they are deploying them. And UNAMSIL has made an undertaking to take over the security of the state and also the protection of government and civilians."

Rebel AFRC soldiers ambushed a ten-member Nigerian UNAMSIL patrol near Port Loko early Sunday, disarming the peacekeepers after shooting their sergeant, UNAMSIL Public Information Officer Philip Winslow said on Monday. Winslow told the BBC the incident took place near the AFRC's Okra Hills base, where there had been a great deal of banditry and attacks on civilians by AFRC rebels. "Four of the peacekeepers held a position on the main road and six others then went about 700 meters into bush, and the purpose was to block this track back to the main road so that the bandits could not then reach back to the main road," Winslow said. "Once they had got in there they found lying in wait about 100 heavily-armed AFRC rebels, and so our six soldiers found themselves surrounded. The rebels then approached Nigerian sergeant who was leading the UNAMSIL patrol, and demanded that he surrender his weapon. The sergeant refused to surrender his weapon and the rebels subsequently shot him twice, once in the chest and once in one leg. When one of the other peacekeepers went to summon help, the other four [soldiers] found themselves completely surrounded by a numerically superior force and they were overpowered and their weapons confiscated." Winslow said all of the UNAMSIL troops had been released. The wounded sergeant was admitted to hospital in Freetown, where he is in stable condition with a punctured lung and a severe wound in one leg. "This is the first time that a UNAMSIL soldier has been directly attacked, so it’s a very serious situation indeed," Winslow said. He warned that UNAMSIL had no intention of abandoning its patrols in the area. "We’re here to try to keep these roads open and that’s what we intend to do," he said. A U.N. spokesman in New York said UNAMSIL had protested the incident to President Kabbah and to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who is now chairman of the government's Commission for the Consolidation of Peace.

AFRC commander Lieutenant-Colonel George "Junior Lion" Johnson, who was wounded Friday in a shootout with ECOMOG troops in Freetown, is "still alive and responding to treatment" at a military hospital in Wilberforce, a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday. Johnson's driver was killed in the incident. The clash occurred after the AFRC soldiers refused to turn over two vehicles, allegedly seized from departing ECOMOG troops, to six Nigerian soldiers sent to retrieve them. AFRC soldiers reportedly went on a rampage, smashing windshields and threatening retribution, until UNAMSIL troops deployed to calm the situation. Meanwhile, RUF leader Foday Sankoh blamed ECOMOG for Friday's clash. "This is a violation of the cease-fire, killing people in Freetown," Sankoh told reporters.