The Sierra Leone Web


May 2001

31 May: The RUF has returned a number of weapons and military equipment, including vehicles, which were seized last year when the rebels abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers, according to a statement released by UNAMSIL on Thursday. At a ceremony held in Makeni on Thursday, RUF commanders handed over AK-47s, general purpose machine guns, G3 rifles and other weapons to a U.N. delegation led by Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai. RUF Colonel Ngulu Kpakai told Agwai that logistical problems had prevented the RUF from releasing more equipment, but promised that more would be handed over in the future. Agwai commended the rebel group for returning the equipment, but noted that additional equipment taken from both UNAMSIL and the ECOMOG force was still in the RUF's possession. Earlier this year, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi noted that RUF fighters had been reluctant to surrender the weapons. He said they were hoping instead to exchange them for cash under the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) programme. Agwai urged the combatants to turn in the weapons to their commanders, warning that the could not be accepted in the disarmament process. He also requested that the RUF provide UNAMSIL with the locations and type of remaining equipment in their possession so that UNAMSIL could determine what kind of logistical assistance to provide.

19 officers and 1,000 soldiers from the Sierra Leone Army's 14th Battalion took part in a passing-out ceremony Thursday at the Benguema Military Training Centre. Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Smith of Britain's 1st Battalion, the Light Infantry, told the Sierra Leone Web that the newly-trained soldiers would now receive a further six weeks of training at Newton. The 14th Battalion is the seventh batch of Sierra Leonean soldiers to receive training from British forces since the programme's inception last year. The next group will be trained by the  2nd Battalion, the Light Infantry, which is due to replace the 1st Battalion on June 11.

30 May: President Charles Taylor of Liberia has alleged that militia forces loyal to the government of President Kabbah are backing insurgents fighting in that country's northern Lofa County, according to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, who met with the Liberian leader on Tuesday. "(Taylor) wanted also to bring to my attention the fact that Sierra Leone CDF people are now involved also," Adeniji (pictured right) said in a BBC interview. "He was implying also that Sierra Leone was also getting involved in the attacks on Guinea. He showed me a CDF card and then showed me the member, the owner of the card in detention. I then had to explain to him that the CDF are not military controlled by the government. There are elements of the CDF that are now out of touch with their own government because they have been living across the border for some time." Adeniji said the United Nations was still working to try and bring together the presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, in an effort to restore peace in the sub-region. "The U.N. has been trying, cooperating with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, to try and arrange meetings between the presidents of the three countries," he said. "They are still working on it; they have not given up. We just hope that that will go on. There will be no alternative ultimately to the three presidents sitting down to talk the differences and iron those differences between them."

29 May: Sierra Leone Army troops began to deploy Tuesday in the RUF-held towns of Rokupr and Kambia, in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia District, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told reporters. The deployment was the result of an agreement earlier this month between government and RUF negotiators in the Nigerian capital Abuja, and followed ten days of disarmament of the warring RUF and CDF factions in Kambia and Port Loko Districts. In all, 3,348 combatants turned in their weapons during the exercise, which ended on Monday. 1,088 RUF and 2,260 CDF combatants handed over their weapons and were enrolled in the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) programme, Novicki said. Police have visited the DDR camp at Port Loko to brief the ex-combatants on the criteria and procedures for absorption into the army and police force, she added. The government and RUF are due to meet again on June 2 to review progress in the disarmament process, and to determine in which areas it should proceed.

UNPP Secretary-General Joe Conteh has reacted cautiously to Monday's appeal by party leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart for reconciliation between the party and its dissident parliamentarians. In early 1997 the UNPP moved to oust 14 of its 17 parliamentary representatives, but was unsuccessful in persuading the speaker to expel them from parliament. The matter is currently before Freetown's High Court. In a Krio language interview Tuesday on Radio Democracy's Weytin Dae Be, Conteh said that if Karefa-Smart were serious about reconciliation, then he should withdraw the court action. "This is not a matter which should be settled in court," Conteh said. "As far as we’re concerned, we’re still ready to reconcile with him. But we also want him to act in good faith." But in a face-to-face interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday, Dr. Karefa-Smart insisted he had no intention of dropping the case. "You do not take the country’s time and effort to the High Court to have an interpretation of the constitution and then suddenly say we withdraw," he said. "(That) means either that you think you were wrong in going to court, or that the court is unable to interpret the constitution, which we cannot do in the interests of the country." Karefa-Smart said the dissident parliamentarians were being offered only "the possibility of being accepted and forgiven" by the party, and he insisted that it was up to them to make the first move. "I don’t know why people get this idea that the person who’s been offended against has any initiative in the matter," he said. "If you have woman palava, the person you offended has no obligation to apologise to you. He will have to go and make right what he's done." Karefa-Smart, who earlier this month was tapped by the UNPP National Executive Committee to lead the UNPP in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, said his party would only participate if disarmament were complete and the state of emergency lifted. He said the UNPP accepted the current six-month extension of the term of the president and parliament, but warned that the opposition would not accept a second postponement of the elections. The only solution, he insisted, would be to call a national assembly which would have the responsibility of charting the way forward. "It’s extra-constitutional but not non-constitutional," he said. "The constitution doesn’t say that the people have no right to do what they want to do. The constitution is just a little guide-book, so to speak. When I buy something and they give me instructions what to do, that doesn’t mean I cannot do something which is not in the instructions." Karefa-Smart, who turns 86 years old next month, compared his situation to that of former South African President Nelson Mandela. "I don’t know anyone in the UNPP who says ‘you have done your bit, give us a chance’," he said. "We’ve not done our bit. We’ve been deprived of the responsibility." But even as the veteran politician prepared for a second presidential contest, Conteh questioned the validity of his nomination. "The desire of the party will be better expressed when we convene a national convention," he said. "If at the convention the voters – and this time I want to let INEC officials observe the convention – we’ll really say this is the flag bearer for the presidential elections. We will go by that decision. But for now he’s not the presidential candidate." Karefa-Smart, however, professed to be unconcerned that his candidacy might cause a further rift within Sierra Leone's second-largest party. "Why not? We’ve held together so far," he said.

Sierra Leone government and RUF representations met together with U.N. officials in Koidu at the weekend in an effort to put an end to hostilities in the country's eastern Kono District, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Tuesday. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, Political and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Abu Koroma, and Sahr Randolph Fillie-Faboe, the Minister of State for Eastern Province, met with RUF Political and Peace Council Chairman Omrie Gollie and RUF 3rd Brigade Commander Brigadier Morris Kallon on Saturday, the second day of the talks. UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai and Chief Military Observer Brigadier-General I.S.A. Chisuzi attended for the United Nations.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has completed on Sunday an operation to evacuate some 54,000 refugees, most of them Sierra Leoneans, from Guinea's strife-torn "Parrot's Beak" region to safer sites in the interior of the country, a spokesman for the refugee agency said in Geneva. Between February and March, an estimated 40,000 other refugees fled the Parrot's Beak on their own after rebel attacks in the area. They walked to Katkama, between Gueckedou and Kissidougou, for relocation to safer areas. The spokesman stressed that the evacuation of the Parrot's Beak was voluntary, and that some refugees had chosen to remain there until they could return home rather than beginning over in another location. With the end of the programme, the UNHCR is terminating its assistance to the Parrot's Beak. The agency's material assistance will now be provided only in new sites where the Guinean government can ensure the safety of the refugees. At the same time, the UNHCR is continuing to transfer Sierra Leonean refugees from Forecariah Prefecture. The refugees have the option of relocation to a new site in central Guinea or voluntary repatriation to Sierra Leone.

RUF rebels handed over 591 former child combatants to UNAMSIL at Makeni on Friday, in a ceremony attended by U.N. officials, members of the Sierra Leone government, RUF officials, and diplomats. 424 of the children, including 10 girls, were released in Makeni. The others were handed over at reception centers elsewhere in the country. According to UNAMSIL, child protection services in Kenema, Makeni and Daru will provide demobilisation services for the former child soldiers. 

The security situation in Sierra Leone is still too fragile to for the repatriation of refugees from Guinea, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Tuesday in report to the Security Council on refugees and internally displaced persons. "For the time being, I believe that the conditions for the immediate return of all refugees to Sierra Leone do not exist," Annan said, adding: "The governments in the region, UNHCR and other United Nations agencies must therefore continue their efforts to ensure the protection, safety and well-being of refugees and internally displaced persons on their territory." The secretary-general urged the leaders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to begin talks urgently in order to resolve conflicts that have driven over a million people from their homes. This massive uprooting of people in the border area, he said, was one of the most serious humanitarian and political crises facing the international community. Annan also expressed concern over the possibility that fighting in Liberia could have a destabilising effect on the rest of the sub-region. "While recent events in Sierra Leone may give rise to cautious optimism, the fighting in northern Liberia is intensifying and could lead to a serious political and humanitarian crisis which has already led to new and increased flows of refugees and displaced persons," he said. Annan pointed out that a U.N. Consolidated Appeal for West Africa had so far received only eight percent of the amount requested, and he urged the international community to make money available to U.N. agencies and non-governmental organisations to assist in the protection, relocation, and return of refugees and displaced persons.

Liberian President Charles Taylor accused Britain Tuesday of fueling conflict in the sub-region by arming and training Sierra Leonean Kamajor militiamen who they say are backing Guinean dissidents battling in the country's northern Lofa County, according to the Reuters news agency. "We believe that Britain is on a secret war in West Africa and West Africa should not be complacent about it," Taylor was quoted as telling Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. Adeniji was shown boxes of British-made ammunition which the Liberians claim was captured from rebel forces. Britain has in the past denied the charges. Taylor's press secretary quoted the Liberian president as telling a Canadian delegation led by Special Envoy to Sierra Leone David Pratt earlier in the week that the British troops should be under the command of the United Nations. Everybody should be concerned about the British presence in Sierra Leone," Taylor reportedly said. Adeniji on Tuesday played down speculation that the British military presence in Sierra Leone was undermining the United Nations peacekeeping force. "I don't think that is true. The British do have their presence in Sierra Leone. We do not see it as confrontational."

28 May: United National People's Party leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart called Monday for reconciliation between the party and dissident members of parliament. The representatives, originally numbering 14, were expelled from the party in early 1997, but have held on to their seats parliament in what Karefa-Smart insists is in violation of the constitution. The matter is currently before the High Court in Freetown. "We believe we have a special responsibility for reconciliation in our party," Karefa-Smart said in a statement handed to reporters. "We therefore affirm that the options for reconciliation which have been known to all concerned have never been closed. We are therefore firmly committed to resolve whatever divergence of views and any difficulties that may exist in our party." Karefa-Smart received a mandate from a general meeting of the UNPP Executive Committee and party loyalists earlier this month to lead the UNPP in upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections expected at the end of the year.

24 May: The RUF will hand over some 600 child combatants and children associated with the rebels' fighting forces at a ceremony in Makeni on Friday, the UNAMSIL announced on Thursday. The children will be handed over to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. The handover will be witnessed by Sierra Leone government officials and members of the diplomatic corps, UNAMSIL officials, RUF leaders, and journalists. After the children are handed over to the U.N., they will be registered an put under the care of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Catholic relief agency CARITAS, the International Rescue Committee, and Christian Brothers.

Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai and other senior UNAMSIL officers met Wednesday with RUF commanders in Koidu to appeal for a cessation of hostilities between rebel and pro-government forces in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District. Agwai held similar talks on Tuesday with pro-government CDF combatants based at the town of Kombayende, in Kono's Lei Chiefdom. Earlier this week, the CDF attacked rebel positions in the junction town of Njagbwema Fiama, only eleven miles from Koidu. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Brigadier Morris Kallon told Agwai that RUF combatants had been ordered to stop fighting, and promised they would only fight in self-defence. Later in the day, Agwai addressed CDF militiamen at Njagbwema. The combatants told him they accepted the cessation of hostilities agreement signed between the RUF and the CDF on May 15, but they expressed suspicion about the rebels' sincerity and commitment to the accord.

23 May: Sierra Leone's RUF rebels are preparing to hand over more than 500 former child soldiers to the United Nations on Friday, RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley said late Wednesday. So far this month, the rebels have already handed over nearly 400 children to U.N. peacekeepers. "These are new children, and when I say ‘new,’ these are children which have been taken from various parts of the country and brought to Makeni to be properly handed over to UNAMSIL authorities," Golley told the Sierra Leone Web by telephone from Freetown. He said that the rebels planned to turn the children over to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General. "I hope to go to Makeni tomorrow to oversee arrangements and to be at the handing-over ceremony on Friday," Golley added. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that some 5,400 children have fought on all sides during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil conflict, with the vast majority of those having served in the ranks of the RUF. Many others were abducted and used as forced labour, or as sex slaves, by rebel fighters. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web that most of the children who would be released Friday were former soldiers. "They’re mainly child combatants, but they include some abductees — young women and children," he said.

A joint government and UNAMSIL assessment mission which travelled to Kono District on Tuesday to investigate ceasefire violations this week by the pro-government CDF militia has blamed the incident on "a gap in communication as far as timely information was diffused to combatants on the ground," according to a statement issued on Wednesday. The U.N. announced earlier that Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, the National Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces, had been directed to accompany the mission and help resolve the situation between CDF and RUF combatants. Norman cut his trip short, however, and never reached Kono. "He got off at the first stop, Kenema, before the rest of the delegation went on to Koidu and Kombayende," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the Sierra Leone Web.

2,250 combatants have disarmed in the first six days of Sierra Leone's newly-revived disarmament programme, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki was quoted as saying on Wednesday. According to the Associated Press, 940 RUF combatants and 1,310 CDF militiamen have handed over their weapons in Kambia and Port Loko Districts since the programme began on Friday. "The RUF has demonstrated its credibility so far in the disarmament process and we are expecting them to continue," Novicki said. Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, said Wednesday that the disarmament of combatants in Kambia District was nearly complete. "I think that the disarmament will start in Lunsar tomorrow, and then I think that we would really be ahead of schedule," he told the Sierra Leone Web, adding: "The next step would be for the Joint Committee on Disarmament comprising the government and the RUF and UNAMSIL to meet again to draw up a timetable for disarmament to take place in the other areas around the country."

U.S. President George W. Bush moved Wednesday to ban the import of rough Liberian diamonds into the United States. The U.S. action follows a similar ban imposed earlier this month by the United Nations Security Council as part of a package of sanctions aimed at forcing the Liberian government to abandon its alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels —  a charge the Liberians continue to deny.

22 May: A joint government and UNAMSIL team headed by UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai travelled to Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District on Tuesday in an effort to put an end to renewed attacks on RUF positions by pro-government CDF militiamen, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said in Freetown. Norman was expected to meet with CDF combatants who overnight Sunday attacked the RUF-held town of Njagbwema Fiama, eleven miles east of Koidu. Norman, who is also the CDF's National Coordinator, last week issued a joint statement with the RUF ordering combatants on both sides to desist from further hostile acts. 

More than 1,728 combatants have disarmed in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia and Port Loko Districts since the disarmament process resumed on Friday, UNAMSIL said on Tuesday. As of Monday, 813 RUF fighters and 915 CDF militiamen had handed in their weapons. The number included 203 child combatants, 195 from the RUF and eight from the CDF. The disarmament exercise continued on Tuesday, with 100 more combatants being disarmed at Kambia, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima told the BBC. "The moment they disarm we destroy the weapons right there and then," Yerima said. "(The combatants) partake in the destruction of the weapon, and we take them to DDR centre in Port Loko for demobilisation there." The RUF 3rd Brigade commander at Kambia, "Colonel Bai-Bureh," told the BBC that 700 of his men had already been disarmed, and that only 30 to 40 of his personnel were still carrying weapons. Bai-Bureh said he would like to join the restructured national army, but that he was first looking towards presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to take place before the end of the year. "We have to mobilise ourselves for the election process in this country," he said. "By now I’m not in a position to join the Salone army, but after the election I will join up, I’m determined to join up the national army in this country." 

Germany and the Netherlands have agreed to equip Nigerian peacekeepers in West Africa, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday, quoting German and Nigerian officials. Under the agreement, Germany will provide $2.6 million in equipment and technical assistance to the Nigerian army over the next three years. "This military assistance is Germany's contribution to the strengthening of the military capabilities of the Nigerian army," said German Ambassador Armin Hiller at a ceremony in the Nigerian capital Abuja. "(It) covers the establishment of technical workshops for the repair of military vehicles and trucks, delivery of spare parts, military consultations and the training of Nigerian military technicians." The Dutch government has agreed to provide 100 trucks to Nigerian peacekeepers serving with the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone, Nigerian Defence Minister General Theophilus Danjuma said. He said the trucks would be transported to Freetown directly from the Netherlands.

21 May: Pro-government CDF militiamen attacked a checkpoint and RUF rebel positions overnight Sunday in the junction town of Jagbwema (Njagbwema Fiama), eleven miles east of Koidu in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said on Monday. Novicki told the BBC that the attack, which violates a ceasefire agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the  RUF, was verified by U.N. peacekeepers who last Wednesday established a permanent patrol presence in Koidu. "We have quite good information, and are able to verify on the ground when these incidents take place," she said, adding: "I can’t tell you how many persons were involved at this time, but it was in fact verified by our military forces on the ground." Last week the CDF and RUF signed a joint statement ordering their combatants to desist from all acts of hostility. Novicki said the issue had been reported to the government, and that the U.N. had received assurances that the matter would be resolved. "We expect that the government will do its best to get the word down to the troops on the ground that they are expected to comply with the cessation of hostilities agreement," she said. "The government has given us an assurance that they will deal with this issue, so we expect that we will not see any more of these kinds of incidents."

1,009 combatants have turned in their weapons since the disarmament process resumed on Friday in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia and Port Loko Districts, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the BBC on Monday.

Malaysia has donated RM190,000 ($50,000) to Guinea to fund humanitarian relief efforts for tens of thousands displaced persons and refugees — mainly Sierra Leoneans, the New Straits Times reported. Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar presented the cheque to the Guinean ambassador, Mamadou Toure. 

19 May: President Kabbah and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, flew to the Guinean capital Conakry on Saturday for urgent discussions on Friday's bombardment of Rokupr by the Guinean army during the process of disarming RUF combatants in the town. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the Guinean authorities indicated the incident was due to a communication gap, and promised that immediate steps would be taken to prevent a recurrence. The Guineans also expressed their full support for the disarmament process in Sierra Leone, the statement said. Meanwhile, the commander of the UNAMSIL force, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande called the attack "terribly uncalled for and unfortunate," the Associated Press reported. The U.N. had initially blamed Guinean helicopter gunships for Friday's attack, but Opande said that the Guineans had fired several artillery shells from across the border. The Guineans "must understand that this is not the way to enhance peace," he said. Some of the shells, which were fired at approximately 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. local time, reportedly landed only 400 metres from where 110 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers were overseeing the disarmament of scores of RUF and CDF combatants. One young girl was killed in the attack, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web.

A total of 140 RUF rebels, including ten women, were disarmed Friday at a UNAMSIL reception centre in Rokupr, according to a statement issued by the U.N. peacekeeping force on Saturday. The combatants, led by RUF 3rd Brigade commander "Colonel Bai Bureh," turned in an array of weapons which included an anti-aircraft battery and mortars, AK-47s, AK-58s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other small arms and ammunition. The surrendered weapons were immediately disabled. The rebels also turned over 58 child combatants to U.N. peacekeepers. 92 CDF militiamen also disarmed to UNAMSIL Friday in Port Loko District — 60 at Kabata Junction and another 32 at Port Loko town. They turned in a large quantity of arms and ammunition. The disarmed combatants were then transported to the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) camp at Port Loko. The DDR process is due to continue in Kambia and Port Loko Districts until May 28, after which time it will be extended to the rest of the country. Present for Friday's disarmament exercise at Rokupr were Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General; UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and the deputy commander, Major-General Martin Agwai. A government delegation included Internal Affairs Minister Charles Margai, National Security Advisor Kellie Conteh, as well as other ministers and officials from the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). Representing the RUF were Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, political advisor Colonel Patrick Beinda; RUF security chief Colonel Augustine Gbao, and Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, the RUF's chief of administration.

18 May: The Guinean army shelled the town of Rokupr Friday, only hours after scores of RUF rebels and CDF militiamen handed over their arms to the U.N. in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the disarmament process in the country's northern Kambia and Port Loko Districts. The Associated Press, quoting UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki, said the attack occurred shortly after the departure of U.N. military observers. There was no immediate word on casualties. Earlier in the day, about 120 rebel fighters followed the lead of RUF 3rd Brigade commander "Colonel Bai Bureh" and surrendered their arms to U.N. peacekeepers at a colourful  ceremony overseen by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone. 60 CDF militiamen handed over their weapons as well. "What you have done today will encourage the U.N., who is here to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Put your minds to it and follow this disarmament path," Adeniji told those present. Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, responded that the RUF was "showing the world that we are determined to bring peace to the people of Sierra Leone," adding: "The time has come for fighting to be over and the disarmament is beginning." Reuters, quoting rebel spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, said the RUF combatants had turned in assault rifles along with several heavier weapons, including an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and four machine guns. The rebels also handed over 25 children, who were be taken to a demobililsation centre run by the Catholic relief agency Caritas. Golley, as he boarded a helicopter earlier Friday on his way to the ceremony, told the Sierra Leone Web by satellite telephone that the rebel group was now prepared to free even more children. "These children are supposed to be handed over on the 27th, and I want to oversee that," he said. "I want to hand them over to (U.S. Ambassador Joe Melrose) for him to hand them over to UNICEF."

UNAMSIL has established a permanent patrol presence in the RUF-held town of Koidu, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday. He said about 250 Bangladeshi peacekeepers were deployed in the city on Wednesday.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, this week evacuated the last 227 Sierra Leonean refugees from the Massakoundou camp near the Guinean town of Kissidougou, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The Guinean authorities had demanded the closure of the camp, fearing infiltration by insurgents fighting against the government. Since the beginning of March, over 8,000 refugees from Massakoundou have been moved to new UNHCR camps further north, while several thousand others opted to travel to Conakry by bus for repatriation to Sierra Leone on an IOM-chartered vessel. Since early February, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have relocated about 44,000 refugees from Guinea's volatile "Parrot's Beak" region, a strip of land which juts into Sierra Leone. In the past two weeks, aid workers have evacuated over 5,000 persons from Kolomba and other camps. On Saturday, the UNHCR will send 44 trucks to Fangamadou camp in the centre of the Parrot's Beak to bring out 2,000 refugees who have agreed to be relocated. More convoys will be sent to smaller sits and camps throughout next week. The relocation operation is expected to be complete by the end of May. Meanwhile, the UNHCR has continued to register refugees in Forecariah Prefecture for repatriation to Freetown, the spokesman said. A total of 249 refugees who registered to return to Sierra Leone left for Conakry Friday morning, where they will board IOM-chartered boats for home. At the same time a relocation convoy is planned for Sunday to transfer refugees to Sembakounya camp in the Dabola Prefecture.

Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, denied Friday having told a British newspaper that Liberian President Charles Taylor was until recently in direct control of the RUF, and is threatening to take the newspaper and its writer to court. In the May 17 article, reporter Lutz Kleveman wrote: "Omri (sic.) Golley, head of the Revolutionary United Front delegation in peace talks with the Sierra Leone government, told The Telegraph: 'Taylor was in complete control of the RUF until about two weeks ago. He decided everything the RUF did'." The article also quoted Golley as saying the Liberian president had exploited the rebel group's control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines since December 1998 for his own profit. But speaking to the Sierra Leone Web by telephone from Freetown Friday morning, Golly denied he had made the statements — or that they were true. "You can take it from me that I never said anything of the sort," he said. "I’ve always been one of those who’ve considered the Liberian president, government and people as very important to resolving the problems in this country as well as the sub-region." Golley said he was preparing to institute a libel suit against the Telegraph in connection with the story. "I have instructed solicitors this morning to take appropriate action against the writer of the article, the editor and the publication company about this article," he said. "I consider that it demeans me in the eyes of reasonable thinking members of the public. Things are being said about me which are not true." The Telegraph did not respond to inquiries from the Sierra Leone Web.

Dr. James O. C. Jonah, who stepped down as Finance Minister at the end of February, has been named a 2001 Carnegie scholar. Jonah is one of 16 researchers to receive the highly competitive fellowship this year "in recognition of their innovative scholarship in areas of interest of the Carnegie Corporation." He will be attached to the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the City University of New York Graduate and University Centre, as Senior Fellow. In his research topic, "The United Nations in conflict resolution: the role of the international civil servant," Jonah will analyze his experience as a senior U.N. officer for more than two decades, and will assess the "indispensable role" of the international civil service in the conduct of international relations.

17 May: Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who as National Coordinator of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces signed Tuesday's agreement with the RUF to bring to an end all hostilities throughout the country, told the BBC late Wednesday that the militia was ready to disarm. "It has always been their desire to hand in the weapon and then to conclude on peace, because they took up those weapons to fight on behalf of the people," he said. "The people are now demanding that they should hand in the weapon now that they have concluded on peace." Norman added that while the CDF had a large number of members, not all of them were combatants. "Those that are in arms are not many, but you know it’s a voluntary organisation, so we are talking of a huge number of men," he said. "But those with arms are not very many at all. They are maybe about the same strength, just about slightly above the strength of the RUF." The Deputy Defence Minister hailed Tuesday's agreement between the government and the rebels as "very significant," and he said he felt that an end to the country's decade-long civil conflict was now within sight. "Yes, I do feel that way, and this is why I can tell you readily that I’m very, very happy that peace is on the way for Sierra Leoneans," he said.

A UNHCR team reportedly left for Kailahun District on Wednesday in an effort to free 85 Guinean civilians abducted earlier this year and believed to be still detained by the RUF, a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web.  23 Guineans, mostly women and children, were returned to Conakry over the weekend after having escaped from RUF captivity — 16 of them by jumping onto a UNAMSIL vehicle during a patrol by U.N. peacekeepers in Kailahun. 

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande visited the rebel-held town of Koidu on Wednesday, where the interim RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, took him to the villages of Simbakoro and Meiyor where he said pro-government CDF militiamen had attacked RUF positions on Monday and Tuesday. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Opande expressed regret over what he called an "unfortunate" incident, and expressed the hope that following Tuesday's meeting between the government and the RUF, the two sides would now send instructions to their frontline commanders to abide by the ceasefire agreement. Opande also visited the RUF-held town of Makeni and met with a patrol of Ghanaian peacekeepers at the village of Kondenbu. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL Deputy Force Commander Major-General Martin Agwai toured Kambia District, accompanied by UNAMSIL military officers and senior RUF officials.

Liberian army chief General John Tarnue is facing trial for allegedly ordering six Liberians across the closed Liberia - Sierra Leone border to retrieve a truck. The six, including several senior security officers, were detained on the Sierra Leonean side and taken to Freetown for questioning. There, they reportedly said they had crossed on the orders of Tarnue, the commander of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Tarnue is said to have denied the charge. "The trial of the commanding general started on Tuesday," National Security Advisor Lewis Brown told the Reuters news agency. Reuters quoted a court source as saying one witness had given the names of top military officers who he alleged received large sums of money from the truck's owner.

The head of Sierra Leone's opposition National Unity Party has criticised the government for its decision to negotiate with the RUF rebels. John Benjamin asserted in a BBC Thursday that with most of its leadership in prison, the RUF was finished as a rebel movement. There was no need, he insisted, for the government to create new rebel leaders for them to negotiate with. "They are creating the people they talk to," he said. "They’ve created Colonel Issa as leader for RUF. They’ve now created an Omrie Golley, who has his own political party, and they are talking to him. What do you get out of these people that you create? The leadership of RUF is in the hands of government. They’re a defeated group. So I don’t really see where the negotiation comes in." Benjamin said that while the RUF controlled a few towns, the government had made no effort to take over areas "that are not under any control."  "If government wants to take Kono today they can take it," he said. "I think the first thing we should do is get control of the major towns. We should be in charge. And once we are in charge, then these rebels, all what we should do is how we should accommodate them in the society."

16 May: The RUF has released 110 more children, many of them child combatants, bring the number freed since last week to at least 190. The rebel group has promised to hand over about 400 children by May 25. According to Ibrahim Sesay, the director of the Catholic relief agency CARITAS, the children ranged in age from six to seventeen. He said they had been turned over to CARITAS in the Tonkolili and Bombali Districts of northern Sierra Leone, and were taken to Makeni for medical treatment. "Many of them look very sick though they appear very willing to have their life changed," he told the Reuters news agency. "Many...said to our officers that they want to go back to school, as a majority of them were going to school when they were abducted."

15 May: The Sierra Leone government and the RUF meeting in Freetown on Tuesday pledged an immediate end to all all hostilities throughout the country, and agreed to resume the stalled DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) process, with a fixed timetable for the simultaneous disarmament of RUF and CDF combatants. The two sides met at UNAMSIL's Mammy Yoko Hotel headquarters to follow up on progress made earlier this month at the second round of ceasefire talks held in the Nigerian capital Abuja. Even as talks continued Tuesday, the RUF and CDF issued a joint communiqué promising an immediate halt to fighting, and called on their followers to desist from all hostile acts. Under the final agreement reached between the two sides, the RUF and CDF will disclose the numbers of their combatants and weapons by location to UNAMSIL. Disarmament of both RUF and CDF combatants will commence in Kambia District on May 18, and is to be completed by May 28. Disarmament of combatants in Port Loko District will begin during the same period. According to the communiqué issued following the talks, the RUF estimates that it currently has about 1,000 combatants in Kambia District, while the CDF puts its strength at around 350 troops in Kambia District and 735 in Port Loko District. Meanwhile, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) was asked to consider the urgent establishment of new DDR camps at Lunsar, Makeni, Kamakwie, Masingbi, Koidu, Kailahun, Alikalia, Pujehun and Bonthe, in addition to existing camps in Port Loko, Bo, Moyamba, Kenema and Daru. The government and the RUF then discussed modalities for the reintegration of combatants, for monitoring progress in the disarmament process, and for sensitizing both the ex-combatants and the communities they will return to, in order to promote reconciliation in the country. The two sides also promised to release all child combatants and abductees to UNAMSIL, particularly women and young children, beginning on May 25.

Earlier, Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators met at UNAMSIL's Mammy Yoko Hotel headquarters in Freetown Tuesday to work out a timetable and modalities for the simultaneous disarmament of all parties to the country's decade-long civil conflict. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, who opened the meeting, stressed that Tuesday's talks were concerned primarily with restarting the stalled Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, which he called "one of the most crucial elements" in the peace process. "It is essential both in the interests of overall peace in Sierra Leone and in the interests of the peace and security of individuals that we get the process right," he said. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the government delegation is headed by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, and includes Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Ramadan Dumbuya, Internal Affairs Minister Charles Margai, Minister of Local Government and Rural Development J. B. Dauda, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, National Security Advisor Kellie Conteh, NCDDR Executive-Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Tom Carew. The RUF side is led by Omrie Golley, chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, and includes Colonel Ben Kenneh and Colonel Dennis Lansana, who were described as disarmament specialists; Andrew Kanu of the Political and Peace Council, Colonel Jonathan Kposowa, Chief of Administration; RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, Chief of Security Colonel Augustine Gbao, and Colonel Patrick Beinda, described as a political advisor to RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay.

Sierra Leone's new Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Dr. Cecil A. Blake, was due to be sworn in on Tuesday following his approval by Parliament last week, the Freetown-based Concord Times reported. Blake, who is on leave from his post as Associate Professor of Communications Studies at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, replaced Dr. Julius Spencer, who stepped down last month citing financial reasons.

Human Rights Watch has disputed media accounts of the release last weekend of 23 Guinean civilians from RUF captivity. The Guineans, most of them women and children, had been abducted by rebel fighters in cross-border raids earlier this year. According to the BBC and news wire services, their release was negotiated by relief agencies and UNAMSIL in the eastern town of Daru. But Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka told the Sierra Leone Web that the people had actually escaped from their captors. "Sixteen of the abductees jumped on UNAMSIL vehicles during a patrol to Kailahun in April. The others managed to escape from towns around Kono and Kailahun," Dufka said. She said the captives had been abducted during raids on the Guinean towns of Nongowa, Gueckedou and Yende between December and March, and ranged in age from seven months to 75 years. "Human Rights Watch researchers who interviewed several of the abductees in the capital Freetown said they'd described having been forced to carry looted items from their place of capture in Guinea to the rebel strongholds of Buedu and Koindu," Dufka said. "Both along the way and during their weeks of captivity in Kailahun, the abductees described being subjected to physical abuse, rape and forced labour. At least one child, a newborn, died along the forced march from Guinea to rebel-controlled Kailahun District." She added that the RUF continues to hold at least 85 other civilians. The 23 freed captives were repatriated to Guinea by the UNHCR aboard a WFP helicopter.

A pilot weapons conversion programme aimed at destroying nearly ten thousand weapons collected from former combatants got underway in Freetown on Monday, according to a statement by the German relief agency, GTZ. The destroyed weapons will then be converted into agricultural tools for the benefit of skills training centres across the country. The programme is being conducted jointly by GTZ, UNAMSIL, and with MAPCO, a local non-governmental organisation involved in skills training. The effort got underway Monday at the UNAMSIL barracks on Spur Road. A mobile workshop is due to visit sites where UNAMSIL has weapons in storage. In a BBC interview, UNAMSIL Military Observer Colonel Thomas Lövgren said most of the weapons collected so far, including "AK-47s, FN carbines, G-3 machine gun and mortars" originated in areas controlled by the pro-government Civil Defence Forces. He said after the weapons had been converted into tools, they would be handed back to the government for distribution through the NCDDR, responsible for the country's disarmament programme. "After the trial we have done so far, for example for one AK-47 we receive three to four different tools, depending on the type," Lövgren said. Lövgren stressed that the U.N. peacekeepers were mandated to destroy weapons. "And of course it’s dangerous because last year the May crisis started, the rebels were attacking all the storage and took a lot of weapons back," he said. "And now we are collecting these weapons again. So when they are collecting the disarmament we are disable the weapon immediately by bending the barrel or using a sledgehammer or something like that so the weapons is not available for using. But still each weapon has to be finally destroyed, and that’s what we’re doing now."

14 May: The RUF released 80 child combatants over the weekend and is promising to free some 150 others shortly, Reuters reported on Monday, quoting RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley. "Most of the children are boys between the ages of eight and 14," Golley said. According to the Associated Press, the children were handed over to the Catholic relief organisation CARITAS in Makeni. Reuters quoted a CARITAS official as saying the freed children were in poor condition. Many of them were said to be malnourished and some had bullet wounds. The rebel group has promised to hand over about 400 child combatants by May 25. 

A seven-member RUF delegation arrived in Freetown Monday ahead of Tuesday's scheduled talks with the Sierra Leone government aimed at setting up a timetable for the simultaneous disarmament of both rebel and pro-government combatants. "We have come with an open mind and we are definitely determined to give our people peace this time. It is only left with the government to also demonstrate their commitment," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told the Reuters news agency. Massaquoi said the pro-government Civil Defence Force again attacked RUF positions in the east of the country on Monday, this time at Bunumbu. "We are going to bring it up in the meeting tomorrow," he said. The two sides have clashed several times in recent weeks, with UNAMSIL blaming the CDF for the attacks.

13 May: RUF rebels have reportedly handed over 23 Guinean civilians in the eastern Sierra Leonean town of Daru. The captives, which included 16 women and two children, were taken prisoner in January and February during fighting along the border between Sierra Leone and Guinea. "The men themselves looked very tired. The children looked malnourished, and the women looked hopeless," said BBC correspondent Alhassan Sylla, who saw the freed captives after they were returned to Conakry in a World Food Programme helicopter. "One of the freed people took time to tell the press that indeed during their captivity they were badly treated by the rebels. He said they were made to carry the looted items of the rebels. They didn’t get a good place to sleep. And then he said, most importantly, that a good number of the women among them were repeatedly gang-raped by the rebels." UNHCR officials said they were continuing to negotiate with the RUF for the release of 85 more Guinean civilians still believed to be in rebel hands.

Nearly 10,000 weapons collected by Sierra Leone's National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) and under UNAMSIL custody will be destroyed beginning on Monday at various locations around the country. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the weapons will be destroyed by machine-powered cutting. The pieces will then be converted into about 4,000 agricultural tools, including hoes, sickles, machetes, shovels, axes and garden implements. Ex-combatants being trained at skills training centres run by GTZ and MAPCO will participate in the process. The project will begin Monday in Freetown and will continue through June 18 at Lungi, Moyamba, Bo, Kenema, Daru, Mile 91 and Port Loko, with approximately 450 weapons to be destroyed each day.

11 May: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, announced Friday it had temporarily put on hold efforts to relocate thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's volatile "Parrot's Beak" region because so few of the refugees were willing to leave. "We are suspending the operation because of the low numbers of refugees who've shown willingness to leave the Kolomba camp in particular," UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie told the Reuters news agency. "I think we need to give some people more time to prepare to leave." She said the evacuation operation would resume on May 18. The announcement followed a UNHCR statement issued in Geneva earlier in the day, which noted that while about 4,500 refugees had been relocated since the operation got underway last week, the numbers of refugees willing to leave Kolomba had been lower than expected, suggesting that many of the refugees might have fled recent fighting and insecurity on their own. Since the relocation programme began in February, the spokesman said, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have relocated more than 40,000 refugees away from the troubled border region.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, have distributed hoes, seed rice and vegetable seeds to nearly 5,000 vulnerable farm families in parts of Kenema, Pujehun and Tonkolili Districts, and expects to provide additional supplies for another 6,000 families by the end of the month. According to an ICRC statement, the Red Cross has also begun providing about 7,000 families with household essentials, such as shelter materials, buckets, blankets, mats, cooking pots and soap. The Red Cross is also providing vegetable seeds, tools and training to associations of vulnerable women, and are assisting in the resettlement of more than 4,000 displaced families by providing non-food relief items. Meanwhile, an ICRC nutritionist has visited areas covered by previous Red Cross programmes to assess how effective the help has been.

120 school children in the rebel-held towns of Makeni and Magburaka joined some 26,000 other Sierra Leonean children Friday in taking the National Primary School Examination, in what Education Minister Dr. Alpha T. Wurie hailed as "a big achievement for the people of Sierra Leone." Wurie (pictured left), in an interview with the Reuters news agency, said that this was a sign that the rebels were allowing the government to exert its authority in areas under their control. "We hope that by the end of the year the government will have full control of education at a national level," he said. His sentiments were echoed by UNAMSIL, which provided the transportation and security which allowed the exams to go ahead, and also by the head of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, Omrie Golley. "For the first time we’re talking about the extension of government authority," Golley told the Sierra Leone Web this week, adding:  "We’re making tangible efforts to fulfill our own obligations, and these exams are ongoing." Wurie told Reuters reporter Christo Johnson that when U.N. peacekeepers deployed in rebel-held areas they found qualified teachers still teaching the same curriculum but without basic materials like textbooks or chalk. School fees, he said, were paid in kind. "Two cups of rice, a pint of palm oil was worth paying for a child attending school," he said.

U.S. military instructors have been sent to Ghana and Senegal to train and equip peacekeeping battalions for possible peace enforcement missions in Sierra Leone. The training, part of an $18 million programme known as Operation Focus Relief, is scheduled to run from the end of May through late August. Two U.S.-trained and equipped Nigerian battalions, NIBATT-7 and NIBATT-8, are already serving with UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone.

The head of the Armed Forces of Liberia, General John Tarnue, has been placed under house arrest for ordering military officers to cross the border into Sierra Leone to recover a truck, despite the fact that the border had been ordered closed, the BBC reported on Friday, quoting Liberian authorities. Six persons, including two military officers, an immigration official, a police official, a football player and the chief of Bo Waterside, were arrested by Sierra Leonean security forces in connection with the incident and are currently being detained in Freetown.

A key member of Nigeria's national cricket team has blamed biased officiating for his team's loss to Sierra Leone at last month's West African Cricket Quadrangular. "The two umpires from Ghana and Gambia ruined our game," Okechukwu Ahuchogwu told Nigeria's PM Express. "They resorted to shouting down on us for every call that we made...Though rain fell torrentially which necessitated the change of mat which kept the ball low and skidding through, the greatest factor that killed our game was the umpires." The Sierra Leonean team went on to successfully defend its West African championship with a victory over Ghana the following day. 

10 May: The Sierra Leone government is committed to the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement and is unaware of attacks by the pro-government Civil Defence Forces militia on rebel positions in eastern Sierra Leone, according to Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, who led the government's delegation at least week's talks in the Nigerian capital. "The government is not aware of any pro-government militia attack against the RUF," Berewa told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. He added that the government had repeated instructions to the CDF to respect the ceasefire. "The government wants to assure the RUF high command that it would do all in its power to see that nothing hinders the progress both the government and RUF achieved in the recent Abuja Agreement," he said. On Wednesday UNAMSIL released a statement blaming the CDF for a spate of attacks on RUF positions, and warned the militia to desist. But in an interview Wednesday with Radio France International, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi alleged that the attacks were continuing. "There is fighting up to now as I speak to you," he said. "On the sixth of this month Bandajuma Yawei and Sengema in Kailahun District were attacked. Togoma in the Kenema District on the same date was attacked. All are controlled territories of RUF, including Kaikondu, Kissy Town and Kombayende for the second time. On the fifth these towns came under attack by the pro-government forces. And the fighting is still going on around these areas."

UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and other senior U.N. officials travelled to the Kambia District towns of Madina, Kukuna and Kambia on Wednesday, where local RUF officials urged the peacekeepers to deploy in the area without delay. RUF leaders agreed last week to pull their combatants out of the district and to allow Sierra Leone Army troops to deploy in the troubled border area as a buffer between the RUF, which is accused of launching raids into Guinea, and the Guinean army, which has carried out reprisal attacks on Sierra Leonean towns. It was agreed in Abuja that the RUF combatants withdrawn from Kambia District would immediately join the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, with details to be worked out when the two sides meet in Freetown on May 15. According to a UNAMSIL statement, an RUF official assured Opande that the combatants were ready to disarm as soon as they received orders from RUF headquarters. 

The conflict in Sierra Leone is expected to be on the agenda when Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and American President George W. Bush meet in Washington, D.C. this week, the Voice of America reported. Nigeria is also expected to raise the issues of debt relief and free market economic reforms, the problem of HIV/AIDS, and the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

9 May: A UNAMSIL investigation into recent fighting in eastern Sierra Leone has blamed the pro-government Civil Defence Forces militia for launching attacks on RUF positions, the U.N. said in a statement released on Wednesday. U.N. military observers and Bangladeshi peacekeepers based at Mile 91 travelled to Koidu and Woama this week, while a second Bangladeshi patrol travelled as far as Saiama, about five miles from the Guinea border. The U.N. investigation confirmed RUF reports of CDF attacks on Saiama, a town which was until recently occupied by the RUF, the UNAMSIL statement said. CDF combatants who met with the peacekeepers at Mangadu, about nine miles southwest of Saiama, confirmed that they had been operating in the area against RUF positions. Ghanaian peacekeepers based who were headed north to Koidu from their base at Daru stopped at Bandajuma on Tuesday, where they confirmed RUF reports of a CDF attack on Monday, and witnessed ongoing fighting there. UNAMSIL said it regarded the attacks "as violations of the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement and as a threat to the peace process." Meanwhile, an RUF spokesman said Wednesday that at least nine people had been killed in new fighting between the rebels and the pro-government CDF militia in eastern Sierra Leone. "The fighting began on the sixth (of May) and is continuing until is full-scale fighting," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi (pictured right) told the Reuters news agency. He said at least two RUF members and seven Kamajors had been killed in the latest fighting in Kono and Kailahun which began on Sunday. Massaquoi claimed that the Kamajors had attacked RUF positions from across the border in Guinea. In a separate interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Massaquoi said fighting was continuing at Bandajuma, and that the Kamajors had launched attacks on Saturday at Sengema and Torgborma, as well as several towns in Kono District.

The Sierra Leone government issued a statement Wednesday instructing "all competent authorities" to comply with United Nations sanctions imposed on neighbouring Liberia. The Departments of Customs and Excise, Immigration, Police and other security bodies were ordered to prevent the import through Sierra Leone of all rough diamonds from Liberia, and to take necessary measures to prevent the entry into Sierra Leone of senior members of the Liberian government and its armed forces.

Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, lashed out Wednesday at remarks made to the BBC by Sierra Leone's U.N. Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs, Allieu Ibrahim Kanu. In the interview, which the Sierra Leone Web has learned was not cleared in advance with the authorities in Freetown, Kanu denied that the government was prepared to consider an RUF request that detained members of the rebel movement be released as part of any peace agreement. He insisted that the government had only "noted" the request during last week's talks in Abuja. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web that the rebels had seen nothing to indicate that the government had changed its position. "We do not see anything, certainly in the actions of the government in respect of that particular portion of the Abuja Agreement, to indicate that there has been a change in mood or in respect of looking at this particular request in the light of ways of enhancing the peace process," he said. "We’re prepared to leave it at this point for the government to consider this particular aspect of the agreement we reached in Abuja." Meanwhile, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone confirmed that the RUF delegation to Abuja had requested the release of their detained comrades, but stressed that they had not named Foday Sankoh in particular and that they had not made the issue a precondition to further negotiations or to progress in the peace process. "The government...took note of the request and that they intend at an appropriate time to consider the request in light of the need for building confidence between the two sides," Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right) told the BBC. Adeniji held out the prospect that at least some of the approximately 170 RUF members in detention might eventually be freed, saying it was his understanding that the government did not intend to keep them perpetually in detention. "I think as events unfold and the agreement of Abuja is being implemented, this is something I believe that the government itself would want to do as a means of showing their own approval of the changes that are taking place in the situation with the implementation by the RUF of its undertakings," he said. But the ambassador said the release of the former RUF leader was unlikely. "The issue of Foday Sankoh is a different matter entirely," he said. "It’s a different matter because it was ECOWAS that asked the RUF to replace Foday Sankoh with a new leader, because it thought that Foday Sankoh was no longer an acceptable interlocutor for the sub-regional organisation, as indeed for the United Nations. So really it probably goes beyond the issue of Foday Sankoh personally. It goes beyond the government of Sierra Leone. It’s also a sub-regional as well as an international matter."

Sierra Leonean security forces have arrested six high-ranking Liberian officials who earlier this month crossed illegally into Pujehun District, presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said on Wednesday. The border between the two countries was closed by Liberia in March — a move which was quickly reciprocated by Sierra Leone. Those being held include a Liberian intelligence major, a colonel from the Special Security Service, and a major in the Liberian Immigration Service. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, a preliminary statement by one of the detained indicated that they had been ordered across the border to retrieve a vehicle. Kaikai was quoted as saying that the six would be handed over to the Liberian authorities if it were found that they had not broken any Sierra Leonean laws.

8 May: A Sierra Leonean diplomat denied Tuesday that his government was prepared to consider the release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh (pictured right), or of other RUF officials detained since last year, as part of a peace deal with the rebels. Following last week's talks between RUF and government representatives in the Nigerian capital Abuja, ECOWAS hinted that the government might consider releasing the RUF leaders as a "confidence-building measure." According to the ECOWAS statement, the government delegation "agreed to consider a request for the urgent release of RUF personnel detained in the wake of the May 2000 outbreak of violence in Freetown." But Ambassador Allieu Ibrahim Kanu, Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs at the United Nations, insisted that the government side had merely "noted" the RUF delegation's request and had no intention of setting Sankoh free. "Government has got other priorities at this moment in time," Kanu told the BBC. "At this moment in time we intend to set up a Special Court and the mandate of this court is to try people who bear greatest responsibility for the crimes that we saw committed in Sierra Leone. And I believe that Foday Sankoh bears command responsibility for the activities of his organisation. If we are trying to set up a court, I don’t think at this moment in time government is directing its mind purposefully to releasing Foday Sankoh."

President Kabbah, in an address to the nation Tuesday to mark the deaths a year ago of 21 persons killed when RUF bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in front of Foday Sankoh's spur road residence, repeated his commitment to "the search for sustainable peace, political and economic development" in Sierra Leone. Kabbah said that last week's meeting in Abuja between representatives of his government and the RUF was cause for cautions optimism about the prospects for lasting peace, "we should not tolerate attempts by any individual or group to sabotage the peace process." Said Kabbah: "The progress we have made so far is irreversible."

The RUF has pledged to hand over up to 400 child combatants, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said on Tuesday. In a meeting with U.N. military observers at Lunsar, the spokesperson said, RUF Colonel Moleski Mohamed Kallon said he had been given responsibility by RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay to collect all child combatants in RUF-held areas in preparation for their release. Kallon requested UNAMSIL's assistance with transportation and food after the children were assembled. 

United Nations military observers based at Mile 91 conducted a joint patrol with peacekeepers from the Third Bangladeshi battalion to the rebel-held town of Koidu on Monday, where they were expected to begin an investigation into reports of fighting between RUF and CDF forces in Kono during the past week, a UNAMSIL spokesperson said. A patrol from the Ghanaian Third Battalion also left Daru for Koidu on Tuesday morning.

More than 4,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have been evacuated from Guinea's volatile "Parrot's Beak" region since a UNHCR-led relocation operation got underway last Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday in Geneva. The refugees are being transported to the Katkama transit camp north of Gueckedou before being sent on to new sites in Albadaria and Dabola Prefectures. On Monday, 995 refugees were evacuated from the Kolomba camp at the furthest tip of the Parrot's Beak, an area believed to be home to some 30,000 refugees. The operation was disrupted on Sunday, when twenty refugee staff of the International Rescue Committee were detained, accused of spreading rumours that the camp was about to be attacked. The staff members denied the allegations and were later released. The agency said Tuesday it would continue sending trucks to Kolomba until all refugees willing to leave the area had been transferred. A UNHCR information team is due to visit nearby villages to inform refugees about the registration and transfer schedule, and the agency plans to send trucks to neighbouring camps later this week. Meanwhile, the UNHCR is continuing to relocate refugees from the Massakoundou camp near Kissidougou. The Guinean authorities have ordered the camp closed for security reasons, fearful that it might be infiltrated by rebels. To date, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have relocated 37,370 persons from Guinea's strife-torn southern border region to safer areas in the interior of the country.

The RUF has dropped its demand that the restructured Sierra Leone Army be included in the disarmament process, RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley confirmed on Tuesday. "Insofar as the SLA were concerned, while we had concerns — and we have always had concerns about the fact that we have not been involved in the conscription into the new Sierra Leone Army — we however did not include the new SLA in our deliberations because we felt we wanted to make firm advances in the peace process," Golley told Radio France International. Last week, however, Acting UNAMSIL commander Major-General Martin Agwai suggested to reporters that there might have been a more practical reason for the rebels' change of heart. "(I asked RUF leaders) if you now believe that you have the chance to win an election, are you saying that within your government you won't have an army?," he said. "They said they will have. That is what SLA is. The SLA is a government force of Sierra Leone, and whichever government is there, there will be an army for that government." Golley, however, stressed that the former RUF combatants should have the option of being part of the nation's new military: "The idea of course is that as soon as practically possible our own combatants, those that want to join the new Sierra Leone Army, would be screened and would enter into the process so that we can be part of that army, which is very much in accordance with Lomé (the Lomé Peace Accord), and certainly the spirit of Abuja."

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi is due to arrive in Freetown on Wednesday for a six-day visit to Sierra Leone. According to a UNAMSIL spokesperson, Annabi is expected to meet with government and U.N. officials, government commissions including the NCDDR, the NCRRR, and the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, and non-government organisations. He is also scheduled to visit U.N. peacekeeping troops deployed in the towns of Makeni, Magburaka, Lunsar and Port Loko in the north, and at Kenema and Daru in the eastern part of the country. 

The European Union announced Tuesday it would allocate €4.5 million (about $4 million) in humanitarian aid to assist tens of thousands of displaced persons and refugees along Guinea's troubled borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. The money will be used to provide the refugees with clean water and temporary shelter, and to help fund food distribution.

The London-based advocacy group Global Witness alleged Tuesday that Oriental Timber Company (OTC), a Liberian logging firm with close ties to President Charles Taylor, is involved in supplying weapons to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "The profits from the timber are basically used to supply weapons, and some of these same individuals who are involved in the timber industry are also responsible for procuring weapons from the former Soviet Union states," Global Witness researcher Alex Yearsley told Radio France International. "The OTC have a network of trucks which they obviously use for timber extraction, but also for the control of the port. They also have control the ships, and what they do, the arms will be brought into one main port called Buchanan Port. The weapons are unloaded and then loaded onto the logging trucks. These logging trucks then carry the weapons through into Sierra Leone through many of the back routes and through the forest, which are impossible to see from the air and are impossible to penetrate, so its very simple for OTC to bring these weapons in."

7 May: United Nations sanctions were due to go into effect against Liberia on Monday, after the Liberian government failed to convince the U.N. Security Council that it had ceased its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Liberia will be banned from exporting rough diamonds, and senior Liberian officials face restrictions on international travel. An existing arms embargo was strengthened two months ago. Over the weekend, Liberian President Charles Taylor flew to Lomé, Togo to enlist the support of President Gnassingbe Eyadema, the current OAU chairman, to fight the sanctions, and in interviews from the Togolese capital he denounced the U.N. action as unjust and unfair. "These sanctions are heartless," Taylor told Radio France International. "Liberia recovering from the war needs assistance to our people, and not means of killing our people. And so you can rest assured that you haven’t heard the last of this yet." He suggested that the U.N. sanctions might be part of an international conspiracy to bring down his government. But on Monday, he sounded a more conciliatory tone, telling his cabinet that Liberia would abide by the sanctions. The Liberian authorities have sought to portray themselves as the victims, rather than as the instigators, of violence in the sub-region. In recent days, government officials have displayed two men to reporters — one alleged to be a captured Sierra Leonean Kamajor militiaman and the other a young Liberian dissident — to back their claims that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Britain are backing rebels fighting Liberian government forces in the country's northern Lofa County. Security was also tightened in Monrovia at the weekend, as Justice Minister Eddington Varmah suggested in a BBC interview that the dissidents might have already infiltrated the capital. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators, most of them women, marched through the streets of Monrovia on Saturday and again on Monday to protest the sanctions. On Saturday they presented a 13-point resolution to United States and European Union diplomats calling for mediation to end the conflicts in the sub-region. One of the demonstration's organisers told the Reuters news agency that the petition would be presented to the U.N. Special Representative in Liberia on Monday. 

Reaction to the imposition of sanctions on Liberia: AMBASSADOR KISHORE MAHBUBANI, CHAIRMAN OF THE U.N. LIBERIA SANCTIONS COMMITTEE: "The general perception in the region was that the Liberian government had not cooperated enough in terms of meeting the requirements of Resolution 1343. These sanctions are not aimed at Liberia for anything that Liberian has done inside Liberia. These sanctions are intended to cut off the support that Liberia provides to the RUF in Sierra Leone." LIBERIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MONIE CAPTAN: "We have always anticipated that no matter what we did, in the back of our minds we knew that there were those members of the Security Council that were intent on imposing sanction on Liberia. What I am feeling is regrets and disappointment that the Security Council could not have developed a more tangible reason for the imposition of sanctions other than what they’ve come up with...Liberia was never a broker for any diamonds from the RUF. And the imposition of sanctions on the diamonds comes at a time where the Liberian government itself had voluntarily imposed a ban on the export of Liberian diamonds...(Liberia is) absolutely not (harbouring members of the RUF), and if the Security Council feels otherwise, we challenge them to prove it."

6 May: The RUF Military High Command met in Makeni Sunday, and unanimously ratified the agreement reached last week between government and RUF negotiators in Abuja. According to Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley, who led the RUF delegation to the ECOWAS-sponsored talks, the rebels reaffirmed their commitment to return by May 30 all arms and equipment seized from UNAMSIL and ECOMOG troops, and agreed to withdraw all RUF combatants from Kambia District by May 18. Under the agreement, Sierra Leone Army troops will be posted along the volatile Guinea border to prevent incursions from either side, and U.N. peacekeepers, accompanied by unarmed RUF observers, will step up their patrols in the area. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web that the RUF had also pledged to hand over at least 200 child combatants on May 25. "We have committed ourselves to doing that," he said, adding: "We’re working out modalities as to who we’ll be handing them over to." Golley said the RUF had agreed to set up committees to oversee the rebel group's withdrawal from Kambia District, to handle the return of materiel seized from peacekeepers, and to deal with the release of child combatants. "We have also set up a committee to deal specifically with DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) in respect of the meeting on the 15th of May (between the RUF and the government) to draw up a practical timetable...for starting the simultaneous disarmament of government CDF and RUF combatants," he said. "From our side, we are showing our commitment to the peace process and we are looking forward to an urgent response from the government in respect of their own obligations as to the agreement that we reached on the second of May. But we’re pressing ahead. We’ve done what we’ve agreed to do."

5 May: Sierra Leone's national football team scored late in the second half Saturday to salvage a 1 - 1 tie in their World Cup qualifying match against Ghana. The game was played at Freetown's National Stadium before a home crowd estimated at 25,000. Ghana's Kwame Ayu scored in the 26th minute with a chip shot over the goaltender, after a defender failed to clear and the sweeper couldn't get back in time. Sierra Leone's Alphajor Bah kicked in the equalizer in the 85th minute when a player was taken down in the box and Sierra Leone was awarded a penalty kick. The Leone Stars reportedly kept Ghana on the defensive, but missed a number of opportunities to score. Meanwhile, Nigeria's Super Eagles rebounded from last month's loss to Sierra Leone with a 2 - 0 win over first place Liberia to keep their hopes in Group B alive. Other weekend results: Madagascar 0, Tunisia 2; South Africa 2, Zimbabwe 1; Angola 2, Cameroon 0; Togo 3, Zambia 2; Egypt 1, Senegal 0; Democratic Republic of Congo 1, Congo 1.

4 May: The United Nations Security Council has refused to suspend sanctions against Liberia now scheduled to take effect on Monday, alleging that the Liberian government has not ended its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. An embargo on Liberian diamond sales and an international travel ban affecting senior Liberian political and military leaders were imposed in March, but were postponed for two months at the request of ECOWAS in order to give Liberia a chance to comply with the U.N. resolution. Liberian officials insist they have met the U.N. demands, but an ECOWAS mission which visited Liberia last month questioned whether the government of President Charles Taylor had in fact severed its ties with the RUF. Earlier this week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a report to the Security Council which relied heavily on the ECOWAS mission's report and unconfirmed accounts, came to the same conclusion. In a letter to Annan on Thursday, Taylor (pictured right) insisted that his government had complied with the U.N.'s demands, and he argued that the sanctions would leave his country defenceless and devastate Liberia's economy. He said an arms embargo, broadened two months ago, left his country unable to defend itself against insurgents currently fighting in Lofa County, and he suggested that Liberia was the "victim of a carefully designed international conspiracy to subvert its government and cause a free, orderly and peaceful people to be exterminated." Taylor was also critical of a ban on the sale of Liberian diamonds, which he said would damage the livelihood of thousands of Liberian miners. "Undoubtedly foreign investments as well as development and humanitarian assistance will be discouraged," he said. "The task of rehabilitating shattered Liberian lives will be impeded; the reconstruction of our collapsed national infrastructure will be frustrated." 

Reaction to the imposition of sanctions on Liberia: LIBERIAN MEDIA SPOKESMAN REGINALD GOODRIDGE: "Our initial reaction is that we are a little bit surprised. It would seem that someone is pre-empting the decision at this point in time. Our representatives are en route to New York, and one would have thought that they would have been given a chance to be part of the meeting and part of the discussion where this decision would be taken...We are going to wait for the seventh and find out what the decision of the full membership of the Security Council would be, and of course we will wait to be advised by our foreign minister and our delegation that is expected in New York today." SIERRA LEONEAN DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS SYLVESTER ROWE: "The Liberian government took a few minimal measures belatedly in an attempt to escape sanctions. The Security Council obviously was not convinced. I think the turning point in the Council decision today was the fact that the Liberian Government was unable to tell the U.N. how, when and at what border points the expelled RUF members had left Liberia. The U.N. could not even find the RUF office that the government claimed it had closed. We are concerned about the whereabouts of Sam Bockarie ("Mosquito"), and until President Charles Taylor accounts for him, turns him over to us or to ECOWAS, and also accounts for the other leading members of the RUF in Liberia, we, and the U.N. I'm sure, would not be convinced that Liberia is serious about compliance with the Security Council's demand that it end its military, political and other forms of support for the RUF." BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: "We have got to bring peace to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We have a policy for that. That policy is to ask the RUF to stop fighting in Sierra Leone, to implement the Abuja Agreement which has taken forward in a useful meeting in Abuja this week amongst parties to the conflict, to allow access to the Government of Sierra Leone, to UNAMSIL, throughout the territory of Sierra Leone. And its against the background of that strategy approved by everybody in the region that the Security Council has decided to move forward with sanctions against Liberia on 7 May, because President Taylor has not fully complied with the requirements of the resolution 1343. And until he has met fully those requirements, those sanctions will remain." U.S. ACTING AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS JAMES CUNNINGHAM: "The sanctions are intended to encourage performance, and to achieve the goal of the resolution, which is to have the Government of Liberia break its links with the RUF and to end its support for it. The Council has no desire to impact the situation on the people of Liberia." LIBERIAN PRESIDENT CHARLES TAYLOR: "Our reaction has been that what it’s always been, that it's not true. We have discontinued all contact with Sierra Leonean peace process. We do not have the means to support the RUF in Sierra Leone and have not had since we came to the presidency. As you very well know that there’s an arms embargo against Liberia and we are now trying to fight off an insurgency out of Guinea backed by Lansana Conte. And so for someone to develop the fallacy that we, a little country recovering from a seven years civil war, can support a huge rebel army in Sierra Leone I think is stretching it beyond imagination."

The evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's strife-torn "Parrot's Beak" region is gathering momentum, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The operation, originally scheduled to begin on Monday, was delayed by two days to allow the refugees time to decide whether they wanted to relocate. On Wednesday, 315 refugees and their belongings were transported from Kolomba, at the first tip of the Parrot's Beak, to the Katkama transit camp. 481 more refugees were evacuated on Thursday. "Refugees, who were initially somewhat reluctant to move, now appear more willing to do so. Some were seen preparing luggage while others sold goods at the market, presumably getting ready for the departure," the spokesman said, adding that the refugees had been asking UNHCR staff about schooling opportunities, food, shelter and work prospects, and freedom of movement at the new sites further north. On Friday, 796 refugees were due to be transferred from Katkama to the new Telikoro camp in Guinea's interior. Some of the refugees arriving from Kolomba reported they regularly heard gunshots coming from the direction of Sierra Leone, the spokesman said. The UNHCR has chartered 25 additional trucks for the operation. 35 trucks are expected by the end of the week, bring the total number of trucks available for the convoys to 85. 

Amnesty International expressed concern Friday over reports that civilians were being killed and injured in what it called "unlawful attacks" by the Guinean military along Sierra Leone's northern border with Guinea. "While efforts are being made to end conflict in Sierra Leone and resolve growing tensions between Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, little attention is being focused on the plight of Sierra Leonean civilians caught up in fighting along the border," the group said in a statement. In the past two weeks, Guinean forces have reportedly launched attacks on the Kambia District towns of Kassiri and Rokupr, and the villages of Kychom, Rokon and Sino. "Guinean security forces have launched indiscriminate attacks on Sierra Leone territory; little or no effort has been made to minimize the risk to civilian lives and property," Amnesty International said. The group noted that while RUF combatants were present in the areas attacked by the Guineans, artillery and helicopter gunships did not appear to have targeted RUF bases with any degree of care and accuracy. While civilians had suffered, there were few RUF casualties or damage to its bases or equipment, the group said. Amnesty International noted that the attacks were in violation of international law, but complained that "there appears to be reluctance by the Sierra Leone government and other members of the international community to condemn" the attacks. "Civilians are also at risk from the Sierra Leone armed opposition Revolutionary United Front, which has carried out deliberate and arbitrary killings and abductions and destroyed homes," the human rights group added. Last month, visiting Amnesty International delegates met a number of persons who had fled Kambia District to escape violence from both sides. Many were now staying in the villages of Barbara, Barlo Wharf and Konakridee. 

3 May: Sierra Leone government negotiators and RUF representatives, who met in Abuja on Wednesday to review the implementation of last November's ceasefire agreement, made significant progress toward resolving a number of outstanding issues, according to statements issued by UNAMSIL and by the regional body ECOWAS, which sponsored the talks. While the ceasefire has held to the extent that fighting in the country has virtually come to a halt, the two sides expressed concern at the slow implementation of other elements of the ceasefire agreement. The meeting took note of a U.N. investigation into ceasefire violations in Kono and Tongo Field which, according to UNAMSIL, "was provoked by perceived menacing forward movements of the Civil Defence Force." The meeting urged the Sierra Leone government to exert control over the CDF to avert further attacks which, if unchecked, could endanger the ceasefire. The meeting took note of deployment by U.N. peacekeepers in several rebel-held areas of the country, and called on the RUF to remove barriers to further deployment and to cooperate in allowing the establishment of state authority in U.N.-controlled areas. Both sides renewed their pledges to remove roadblocks in their zones of influence and to allow access by humanitarian agencies and the free movement of persons and goods. The RUF pledged to return by May 30 all remaining equipment and vehicles seized from U.N. peacekeepers a year ago. The two sides reaffirmed the need for an immediate recommencement of the stalled DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) programme. To this end, they agreed to set up a committee consisting of the government, the RUF and UNAMSIL, which will meet in Freetown on May 15 to work out a timetable for the simultaneous disarmament of RUF and CDF combatants. The RUF delegation agreed to withdraw its combatants from Kambia District, the scene of recent cross-border attacks, and to allow the deployment of Sierra Leone Army troops in the area. UNAMSIL agreed to send a monitoring team to the area which would include unarmed RUF observers. The government agreed to facilitate the transformation of the RUF into a political party and, as a confidence-building measure, said it would consider the release of RUF officials who were detained last May following the breakdown in the peace process. The government delegation also pledged to intervene with the international community to lift the international travel ban on RUF members whenever "appreciable progress has been made in the peace process."

The leader of the RUF's delegation, Political and Peace Council Chairman Omrie Golley, hailed Wednesday's talks as "cordial and held in a very constructive atmosphere." "This time round there seems to be a lot of good will," he told the Sierra Leone Web from Abuja. "And we hope that it would be translated into swift and positive and constructive actions in moving the peace process forward and enhancing it." Golley noted that the committee on disarmament, when it meets in Freetown later this month, would seek to establish a "clear, speedy, workable timetable" for the simultaneous disarmament of both RUF and CDF combatants. "We also dealt with the cross-border attacks — the 'Kambia issue' as we called it," he said. "What the RUF have agreed to do is to withdraw from border areas of Kambia and allow the SLA to deploy with a view to preventing, certainly from the Guinean side and hopefully from the Sierra Leonean side, cross-border attacks into and out of Guinea." Since last November, when the RUF promised to return all weapons and equipment seized a year ago from U.N. peacekeepers, the rebel group has returned only 56 personal weapons, along with ten vehicles and twenty armoured personnel carriers, all of which had been stripped and rendered unusable, according to a United Nations report. To date, the RUF has maintained that individual combatants had refused to hand over the weapons in the hope of exchanging them for DDR benefits. Golley, however, insisted that the rebels would have to do better. "We’re just going to have to move very expeditiously towards a conclusion," he said. "We need to find these weapons and hand them over, period. And we’ve just got to do everything possible to ensure that we’ve met this commitment." The RUF representatives highlighted the problem they faced in obtaining a final certificate of registration for their political party because of their practical difficulty in meeting a requirement that the party own property in both the capital and the provinces. "The government indicated that it would make available properties in Freetown and the provinces to comply with the conditions to allow the RUF to obtain a final registration certificate and to join in the political process in practical terms," he said. "So that now has been agreed. They’ll allocate us government buildings to us in Freetown and in the provinces." Golley said that "for the moment" he would lead the RUF Party. "We have a Political and Peace Council and that council at this particular time, under my chairmanship, is overseeing all aspects of the political process insofar as the RUF is concerned — and the peace process for that matter," he said. 

In a message Thursday to mark World Press Freedom Day, President Kabbah noted that freedom of the press in Sierra Leone "has been one of the casualties of the brutal the rebel war, to the extent that Sierra Leone has been dubbed as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world." Kabbah suggested that this perception would change with the restoration of peace and security in the country. He stressed the role of a free press in the "promotion of peace, tolerance, economic and social development, as well as of good governance by highlighting the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people," but said that ensuring press freedom was not the role of government alone. "It is the collective responsibility of all, including members of the 'Fourth Estate' itself," he said. Kabbah pointed to the newly-formed Independent Media Commission as one safeguard for press freedom in Sierra Leone, and he promised to ensure that the commission would remain independent. The president pointed out that many Sierra Leoneans, especially those living in rural areas, had no access to newspapers and limited access to radio and television. He urged that government and the media work to close the information and communication gap to "give practical effect to the noble principle of freedom of the press, a principle which should today and always, be protected in this country."

The names of three journalists killed while practicing their profession in Sierra Leone last year were inscribed Thursday on the U.S.-based Freedom Forum's Journalists Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Reuters correspondent Kurt Schork and Associated Press photographer Miguel Gil Moreno were killed in an RUF ambush while reporting on fighting between pro-government forces and rebels near Rogberi Junction. Saoman Conteh died May 8 while covering a demonstration in front of RUF leader Foday Sankoh's Freetown residence. The number of journalists killed in Sierra Leone was down from ten a year earlier, but the danger faced last year by those who reported the news in Sierra Leone still made the country one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists.

Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo and Uganda were selected without a vote Thursday to represent Africa on the United Nations Human Rights Commission. At the same time, the United States lost its seat on the commission for the first time since it was established in 1947, finishing last among the four candidates for three seats behind France, Austria and Sweden.

Vice President Albert Joe Demby, who underwent scheduled surgery in London this week for "gall stones or something similar" is recovering and has left the hospital, a source told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday.

2 May: Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer announced Wednesday he was stepping down after three years in government to resume his career in media production and consultancy. University of Nebraska at Lincoln Associate Professor of Communications Studies Dr. Cecil A. Blake has been nominated as his successor, according to press reports and a university source contacted by the Sierra Leone Web. In a BBC interview, Spencer denied a suggestion that he was leaving the cabinet over differences with President Kabbah. "The reason I’m leaving government is really very simple," he said. "And that is when I agreed to become minister I have myself about three years to be in government because I knew then that it was going to be a sacrifice. And now at this point in time I need to move on and be able to earn enough to take care of my family." Spencer joined the Kabbah government-in-exile in 1997 to operate the British-funded pro-democracy Radio 98.1. He was subsequently named to the cabinet in April 1998 following the restoration of the civilian government. Spencer came in for criticism in 1999 for broadcasts he made during the rebel attack on Freetown, when he assured the populace that there was no danger. But Spencer insisted Wednesday that he had not been to blame. "What I’ve been saying, the times I’ve had to comment on that issue, is that all the information I gave was information I received from ECOMOG," he said. "And I was not doing anything for Julius Spencer. It was in the interest of the nation as a whole."

The Sierra Leone government and RUF rebels began a one-day meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, to review progress in implementing a ceasefire agreement they signed last November. "We came with high hopes and expectations," said Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, and the leader of the rebel delegation. "We hope this meeting will practically address the loopholes in the Abuja peace accord, so that we can make headway in the final resolution of the crisis," he told the Reuters news agency. 

A UNHCR-led effort to evacuate thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's volatile "Parrot's Beak" region finally got underway on Wednesday, a spokesman said in Geneva. The operation was to have begun on Monday, but some of the estimated 30,000 refugees at the Kolomba camp at the furthest tip of the Parrot's Beak had expressed concern about a requirement that they walk 75 miles to the Katkama transit camp. Others are reluctant to move at all, hoping that the situation might improve so that they can return home. Initially, the UNHCR planned to provide transport only for the most vulnerable of the refugees. The spokesman said 600 refugees at Kolomba had volunteered to relocate. 25 trucks left Kissidougou Wednesday morning on the eight-hour journey to the camp, while an additional 25 trucks will transport the refugees from Katkama to new camp sites in Guinea's Dabola and Albadaria Prefectures to the north. The relocation operation was originally scheduled to be complete by the end of May, but will now depend on the provision of additional trucks, the spokesman said.

Liberia appears to have failed to cut its ties with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels — a key demand if the country is to avert additional United Nations sanctions due to come into force on May 7 — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council which was released on Tuesday. Annan referred to the report of an ECOWAS mission which visited Liberia from April 19-24 to investigate the extent of Liberian compliance with U.N. demands. The mission expressed "dismay over the untidy handling of the expulsion of members of the RUF" as demanded by the Council, and said the Liberian government had been reluctant or unable to say how the RUF members had left the country, or to provide documentation on their exit or destination. Some of those interviewed by the mission expressed the belief "that some RUF fighters might have simply been relocated to other parts of Liberia," the ECOWAS report said. It also quoted a source as saying that former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, whom the Liberian government claimed to have expelled, was apparently still in Liberia. Annan said the ECOWAS findings were similar to reports reaching the U.N. Secretariat. "Unverified information reaching the Secretariat indicate that Bockarie is still living in Liberia and that the government of Liberia has not severed its relations with RUF in Sierra Leone," he said. Annan said it was up to the Security Council to draw "appropriate conclusions" from the information provided in the report, but he cautioned that the facts could not be independently verified. "Whatever decision the council may take...I strongly suggest that the international community remain engaged with Liberia and its people," he said. "External pressure without dialogue may not have a lasting impact on a country that is battling its own armed insurgency and is mired in deep political and social problems." Meanwhile, the Liberian government has launched a week-long media campaign entitled "Say No to Sanctions," IRIN reported. According to Liberia's Information Ministry, the campaign is intended to "sensitise and mobilise local and international public opinion against the negative impact of UN sanctions, arms embargo and dissident attacks on Lofa County." It aims to produce a petition signed by one million people who oppose sanctions, to be delivered to the Security Council on May 7.

1 May: An RUF delegation left Sierra Leone for Nigerian Tuesday to take part in follow-up talks with the Sierra Leone government aimed at reviewing the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The Reuters news agency quoted UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki as saying the rebels had been flown from Makeni to Freetown, where they boarded a Nigerian plane for Abuja. "Abuja is important so that allegations of ceasefire violations made from either side can be discussed and investigated," she was quoted as saying. Monday's meeting in the Nigerian capital involved consultations on the peace process between ECOWAS, the U.N. and the Sierra Leone government, with the OAU participating as an observer, the UNAMSIL statement said. Tuesday's meeting, which will involve representatives of the RUF, the government and UNAMSIL, in the presence of ECOWAS, will conduct an assessment of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement itself.

UNAMSIL has found evidence of significant destruction in rebel-held areas of northern Sierra Leone, where the RUF has accused the Guinean military of carrying out attacks against its positions, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told Reuters on Tuesday. "Our indications are that it was carried out by aircraft, helicopter gunships, over the border," she said. She added that the U.N. would continue to investigate RUF allegations of attacks carried out against its forces by the pro-government Civil Defence Forces. Novicki said U.N. peacekeepers were now set to deploy in areas of the country held by the RUF. "We are now ahead of schedule. Deployment is up to speed," she said. "We have plans to deploy to diamond areas fairly soon."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore issued a joint statement in Ouagadougou Tuesday calling on Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to cooperate with efforts to restore peace to the sub-region, Radio France International reported.

The United Nations Security Council is likely to approve sanctions against Liberia next week for its alleged continuing support of RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, quoting acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations James Cunningham. The United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of May.