The Sierra Leone Web


May 2002

31 May: The Sierra Leone Bar Association has decided to challenge the swearing-in Monday of Eke Ahmed Halloway as Justice Minister and Attorney-General, saying that his assumption of office without parliamentary approval "raises serious constitutional issues."  In a press release issued following Thursday's emergency general meeting, the Bar Association said it would immediately institute an action in the Supreme Court "to test the constitutionality of the procedure adopted by the president in effectuating the said appointment by way of an interpretation of inter alia Sections 56, 57 and 64 of the 1991 Constitution." In a subsequent letter to the Sierra Leone Web, Bar Association Secretary-General Yada Williams said over 90 percent of the association's members felt the government's action in swearing-in Halloway without parliamentary approval was unconstitutional. "We are pursuing the matter in the Supreme Court because this will create a dangerous precedent if left unchallenged," Williams wrote. "Of course, the Attorney-General will have to step down if the Supreme Court rules in our favour. That will, however, not be a bar to him going through the proper procedure — parliamentary scrutiny, etc."

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations called on the U.N. Security Council Friday to be pro-active in addressing crises around the world "before they escalate and become too complex and expensive to manage or resolve." Ambassador Ibrahim M'baba Kamara cited in particular the current strife in Liberia "and its consequences for peace and stability in the Mano River Union sub-region." The ambassador praised the United Nations for its role in supporting Sierra Leone's just-concluded presidential and parliamentary polls, noting that the Council's call for free, fair and transparent elections would have been "meaningless" if UNAMSIL had not been authorised to provide the necessary logistical support to Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission. "The next challenge is the sustained effort of the international community to achieve the shared objective of sustainable peace and security in Sierra Leone," Kamara said.

Sierra Leone's Mission to the United Nations was the victim of vandals Thursday, when someone stole the Sierra Leonean flag flying in front of its midtown Manhattan offices. The metal "Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations" plate with Sierra Leone's engraved national insignia was also taken. The thefts followed an incident last week where the United Nations flag was stolen from in front of the mission. "We don't know whether both were acts of vandalism or petty robbery, but it is a matter of concern," said Ambassador Sylvester Rowe, the Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs. He added that the second incident had been reported to New York police.

30 May: The Sierra Leone Bar Association was preparing to meet in emergency session Thursday afternoon on the question of whether the government acted constitutionally this week when it swore in Eke Ahmed Halloway as the country's new Minister of Justice and Attorney-General. "We are going to discuss the question of whether it’s constitutional for him to take the oath of office without first obtaining parliamentary approval," former Bar Association secretary-general Abdul Tejan-Cole told the Sierra Leone Web. Tejan-Cole is also interim director of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), which issued a press release Thursday questioning the constitutionality of the move. Under Sierra Leone's constitution, the posts of Attorney-General and Minister of Justice are indivisible. The CGG cited Section 56 of the constitution which requires parliamentary approval for all cabinet nominations. The government cited Article 64 in making its case for swearing in the Justice Minister and Attorney-General without parliamentary approval. Sierra Leone's newly-elected parliament will not convene until June 14. Tejan-Cole said the Bar Association could decide to take the matter to the Supreme Court "for the Supreme Court to interpret the provisions to determine whether we are right."

29 May: 19 paramount chiefs have been nominated for the 12 parliamentary seats reserved for Sierra Leone's traditional leaders, Radio UNAMSIL reported. Six of the nominees — P.C. Abu Mbawa Kongoba II (pictured left) of Mafindor Chiefdom in Kono District, P.C. Sahr Francis Kabba-Sei II of Penguia Chiefdom in Kailahun District, P.C. Samba Bindi Hindowa V of Badgia Chiefdom in Bo District, P.C. Charles Caulker of Bumpe Chiefdom in Moyamba District, P.C. Brima Victor C.D. Kebbie III of Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District and P.C. Sama Lamina Sam II of Loko Massama Chiefdom in Port Loko District — were unopposed, and thus under Sierra Leone's Electoral Laws Act (Article 34) were declared duly elected by the National Electoral Commission. The other six seats will be filled in an election on June 10. Nominees are: Bombali District: P.C. Kandeh Luseni III of Sella Limba Chiefdom and P.C. Massa Yalie Tham II of Makari Gbanti Chiefdom; Koinadugu District: P.C. Alhaji Alimamy Lahai Mansaray of Dembelia Sinkunia Chiefdom and P.C. Sheku Magba Koroma III of Diang Chiefdom; Tonkolili District: P.C. Bai Kurr Kana Gabro Sanka III of Kunike Chiefdom and P.C. Bai Sunthuba Osara III of Gbonkolenken Chiefdom; Kambia District: P.C. Bai Kelfa Sankoh II of Mansogbala Chiefdom and P.C. Bai Shebura Sumano Kapen III of Mambolo Chiefdom; Bonthe District: P.C. Samuel Murana Koroma of Bendu Cha Chiefdom and P.C. Madam Margaret Thompson Seibureh of Bum Chiefdom; and Kenema District: P.C. Madam Mamie G. Gamanga of Simbaru Chiefdom, P.C. Sally Satta Gendemeh of Malegohun Chiefdom and P.C. Alhaji Amara Jobo Goway - Sama V of Tunkia Chiefdom.

Liberian soldiers are demanding money from refugees before allowing them to cross the Dar-es-Salaam border crossing point to safety in Sierra Leone, Liberian refugees told UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande. Opande, who visited the eastern border area on Tuesday, listened as some of the refugees related that they had fled their homes after soldiers warned them of impending attacks by rebels. The Liberian government claims it is locked in a defensive struggle with armed dissidents backed by Guinea. Some Western sources, however, say the rebel threat has been exaggerated in an attempt to get the United Nations to lift sanctions, first imposed a year ago for Liberia's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The sanctions were renewed last month. Opande then crossed the Mano River Bridge to the Liberian town of Bo Waterside for a meeting with Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea. According to a U.N. statement, he stressed that UNAMSIL, in collaboration with the Sierra Leonean army, was doing everything in its power to police the Sierra Leonean side of the border. "Peace in one of the Mano River Union countries without peace in the others is no peace at all," Opande was quoted as saying.

The trial of jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh and 49 co-defendants was moved to Sierra Leone's High Court Wednesday after High Court Justice Patrick Hamilton accepted defence arguments that the severity of the charges warranted the transfer from Magistrate's Court, Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay reported. Sankoh and the others face 70 counts of murder, attempted murder and related charges stemming from a May 2000 incident at his Freetown residence, when his bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators in front of his residence. More than 20 persons died as a result. The defence also argued that the Magistrate's Court did not have room to accommodate the large number of defendants. Preliminary hearings began in Magistrate's Court on March 4. The former rebel leader has denied all charges, but he has yet to enter a formal plea. Justice Hamilton set the trial date for June 5. If convicted under Sierra Leonean law, Sankoh could face the death penalty. It is widely expected, however, that his case will be transferred to the Special Court, a tribunal set up jointly by the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government to prosecute a handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone since the end of 1996. The Special Court, which has precedence over Sierra Leonean courts, does not have the death penalty. Meanwhile, in an interview subsequently broadcast on the BBC, Sankoh's Nigerian lawyer welcomed the decision to transfer the case to the High Court. "It is a matter we have pursued vigorously both in the attorney-general’s office and even the UNAMSIL, that the matter should be taken to High Court," Edo Okanya told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. "Otherwise we waste too much time in the preliminary inquiries in the Magistrates’ Court. And then there might be a way that I will be moving to London by next week to liaise with the other lawyers who are coming to join me to make a formidable defence team." Okanya insisted he would pursue the case in the High Court "to its logical conclusion."

28 May: The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Monday it was concerned for the safety of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, who are in danger of being cut off by fighting between Liberian security forces and armed LURD dissidents. According to a UNHCR statement, last week's fighting in Gbah and Medina has cut the road the main roads to the Liberian capital and stranded some 11,000 Sierra Leoneans and 8,000 displaced Liberians sheltering at the two refugee camps in Sinje. Aid workers have been unable to reach the camps for the past two weeks, the statement said. UNHCR spokesperson Delphine Marie, in a statement broadcast Tuesday by the Voice of America, said the Sinje camps were of particular concern. "It is specifically that one that is causing problems because the road has been cut off by fighting for two weeks now," she said. "We have no access to the camp. We cannot deliver any aid. We only have radio contact with the refugee leaders." She said that refugees had begun to panic as the fighting moved closer to the camps. The deteriorating security situation means that land repatriations to Sierra Leone, which were to resume following this month's presidential and parliamentary elections, have had to be put on hold. Meanwhile, the UNHCR is making plans to charter a ship to repatriate the Sierra Leoneans by sea. The ship, which has the ability to return just 200 people a week, would be a temporary measure pending the reopening of the Monrovia - Sierra Leone. "Hopefully, we should have a solution in the next few days to hire a boat from Guinea that would come to Monrovia and then to Monrovia to Freetown and return," Marie said. "But that would only be one boat per week and, of course, [they are] much less productive than the land convoys." The UNHCR says there are 39,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in six camps in Liberia, plus an estimated 15,000 refugees outside the camps. About 18,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned home since the beginning of the year.

Britain formally announced Tuesday a contribution of $500,000 for Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In a statement released in London, Baroness Amos (pictured left), the Foreign Office's Minister for Africa, noted the TRC's role in promoting a healing process in Sierra Leone by building long-term reconciliation. "(Britain's) commitment has helped the Government of Sierra Leone secure peace," she said. "But this is just a beginning. We must build on our success, and together work hard to ensure that Sierra Leone does not falter through lack of resources." Today's contribution had already been mentioned in statements from the TRC's interim secretariat. It comes on top of a $365,000 British donation in January 2000 which went to fund preparatory work in setting up the Commission. Baroness Amos observed that donor response to funding the TRC had thus far been hesitant, and she expressed hope that other donors would now step forward. Last week the United States announced a similar donation, but a diplomatic source warned that the U.S. was uncomfortable with the TRC's $9.6 million price tag. Pointing to the Special Court, which saw its proposed budget slashed from $114 million to $58 million, he suggested there might be some areas of the TRC where costs could be cut. A UNAMSIL source noted that the Special Court budget was reduced when it was decided to eliminate the second chamber. "If they have to respect U.N. scales, the TRC as a totally independent body will not have to apply U.N. rules," he said, adding: "The TRC budget is quite realistic and shortage in funds will mean that they will have to considerably reduce the number of staff."

27 May: Amid the furor in Freetown over the results of the May 10 special vote which suggested that military voters had thrown their support in large numbers to the former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, President Kabbah has assured Sierra Leone's soldiers that he does not doubt their loyalty, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. Members of the military, police and other security forces, along with persons who were directly involved in conducting the elections, cast their ballots four days before the rest of the country went to the polls. The results were supposed to have been combined with the election day results. Instead, they were reported separately, drawing the ire of those who voted on the Special Polling Day and expressions of concern from the international community that the right of some citizens to cast their votes in secret had been compromised. "The president told the soldiers that he does not doubt their loyalty, even though they did not vote for him," Lewis said. "The president called on the officers to dialogue with their superiors and go directly to him if their problems were not solved. He assured them of his fullest cooperation as their commander and chief." In an interview with BBC correspondent Josephine Hazeley, Kabbah (pictured left) said he addressed the country's soldiers Wednesday in Freetown, Makeni, Yengema and Kenema. "I spoke to them frankly and openly," he said. "The choice of the exercise by the soldiers to vote is not a matter for me to question. Everybody has a constitutional right to vote for whoever you want." Kabbah said that some persons had made what he described as "unrealistic promises" to the solders to persuade them not to vote for his Sierra Leone People's Party. "I explained to them that some of those promises that were made were unrealistic, and they understood," he said. "But what really bothered me, why I went and spoke to them, is that these soldiers have been trained at considerable cost, and the people were getting a bit angry with them, the soldiers. So I think things are normal." Meanwhile, Ernest Bai Koroma (lower left), the presidential candidate of the opposition All People's Congress, also played down suggestions that the military's support for Johnny Paul Koroma, himself a former military officer, was cause for concern. "I don’t believe it is a threat to our peace," he said. "It was an expression, the wish of the military. But if at the end of the day that the totality of the Sierra Leoneans are saying otherwise, then by all means I think we have to move forward in the manner in which the majority of the people are thinking."

Greek police detained 43 illegal immigrants, including an undisclosed number of Sierra Leoneans, when they stopped and searched a truck outside Athens Sunday, the Associated Press reported. The police said they believed the would-be immigrants had travelled by boat from neighbouring Turkey where they had been transferred to a truck to be taken to the Greek capital. Many illegal immigrants from Africa discard their documents and claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of receiving a more favourable consideration of their asylum requests because of the country's decade long civil war.

The Pakistani government says it has begun the process of recalling some 4,000 soldiers from peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone as relations with neighbouring India continue to deteriorate, the Reuters news agency reported from Islamabad. UNAMSIL spokesman Margaret Novicki told the Sierra Leone Web late Monday that while there had been some communication between Pakistani government officials and U.N. headquarters in New York, she was unaware that any decision by Pakistan to withdraw its troops had been reached. 

24 May: The United States will contribute $500,000 for Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web. He said the U.S. State Department informed Congress on May 15 of its intent to donate the funds, and that the notification had now cleared Congress without comment. The money comes on top of a $500,000 pledge from Britain, with Sweden reportedly planning to contribute $200,000 as well. But the source expressed skepticism over the TRC's published budget of $9.6 million for its twelve months of operations. "While the cheque is being written, we are going to look closely at the TRC’s budget to see if there are some economies that can be realised," he said, adding: "Potential donors will be reviewing the budget same as they did with the Special Court." He pointed out that the court's original $114 million budget request was eventually scaled back to $58 million.

The commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, has warned against complacency in Sierra Leone's peace process. "Peace is still fragile here in this country," Opande told BBC reporter Tom McKinley. "One cannot say that we have everything behind us. Let’s say the worst is perhaps behind us, but the peace that is reigning here needs to be built upon and to be strengthened. Fires can still be lit, and they can burn."

Convoys carrying Liberian refugees across the border to Sierra Leone resumed on Wednesday following a two-week suspension during Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary elections, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said in Geneva. Although the border between the two countries remains officially closed, Liberian refugees seeking to escape fighting in their country have been allowed to cross. The Liberians are being transported to existing refugee camps around Zimmi, Kenema and Kailahun. So far, some 15,000 refugees have been relocated to various sites away from the border since fighting in Liberia escalated earlier this year. Another 9,000 are thought to be staying in border villages. Another 5,000 people are displaced in the adjacent Porkpaa District of Liberia and may be heading for the border, the spokesman said

23 May: President Kabbah flew to Conakry Thursday to discuss the latest fighting in Liberia with Guinean President Lansana Conte. In a press conference on Sunday, Kabbah told reporters in Freetown that Liberian President Charles Taylor had asked him to intercede with Conte, whom Taylor accuses of backing Liberian insurgents in northwestern Liberia. "I hope that now this situation is behind us we can spend some more time thinking on this how best to get the two of them together, President Taylor and President Conte," Kabbah said. According to the Associated Press, Kabbah met for over an hour with Conte Thursday before returning to Freetown. On Monday, Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge (right) rejected an ECOWAS appeal for negotiations between the Liberian government and the LURD rebels fighting to overthrow President Taylor, saying it was "the policy of most democratic governments in the world not to negotiate with terrorists." But Kabbah left little doubt Sunday what his advice to the Liberians would be. "Even up to the time we met in Morocco (for the Mano River Union summit) I suggested that he should talk to the rebels just the way we did in Sierra Leone," Kabbah said. "I also reminded him that he was one of those who at that time when we were discussing the peace process suggested strongly that I should talk to the rebels. But as of two weeks ago when we met in Morocco he was still hesitant."

Pakistan is considering the possibility of pulling its troops out of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone as relations continue to deteriorate with neighbouring India, the Associated Press reported on Thursday from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. "This is one of the many options," an official was quoted as saying. "We are also considering recalling 500,000 reserve soldiers and officers to face any situation in the event of a war with India." Pakistani battalions are deployed in the sensitive eastern part of Sierra Leone, in the former rebel-held districts of Kono and Kailahun.

22 May: Only six of 22 ministers have kept their former cabinet posts amid sweeping changes announced late Tuesday by President Kabbah, two days after he took the oath of office for a second presidential term. Dr. Alpha T. Wurie will remain as Minister of Education, Science and Technology; Mohamed Swarray Deen as Minister of Mineral Resources; Alpha O. Timbo as Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Social Security; Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay as Minister of Country Planning, Forestry and the Environment, and Shirley Gbujama Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. Okere Adams retains his Marine Resources post, but the agriculture portfolio has been spun off as a separate Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to be headed by agriculturalist Dr. Sama Sahr Mondeh. Kabbah himself keeps the portfolio of Defence Minister. Meanwhile, lawyer Eke A. Halloway takes over as Justice Minister and Attorney-General from Solomon Berewa who was sworn in Sunday as vice president, while former Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Momodu Koroma replaces Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Joseph B. Dauda moves from Local Government and Rural Development to Finance, replacing Peter Jiwa Kuyembeh, and former Deputy Finance Minister Mohamed B. Daramy takes over as Minister of Development and Economic Planning from Dr. Kadi Sesay, who becomes Minister of Trade and Industry. Former Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman is the new Minister of the Interior. At the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Dr. Agnes Taylor-Lewis takes over from Dr. Ibrahim I. Tejan-Jalloh. Emmanuel O. Grant, who served in a previous cabinet as Minister of Works and Technical Maintenance, is the new Minister of Energy and Power, replacing Dr. Chernor Jalloh, who moves to head the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. SLPP secretary-general Dr. Prince A. Harding, who entered the cabinet as Interior Minister earlier this year, takes over as Minister of Transport and Communications. Dr. Caiser J. Boima was named Minister of Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance, Sidikie Brima as Minister of Local Government and Community Development and one-time Minister of Information and Broadcasting George Banda Thomas is now Minister of Parliamentary and Political Affairs. Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai replaces Dr. Cecil Blake as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Dr. Dennis Bright was named to head the new Ministry of Youth and Sports, and Morikeh Fofana will be Minister of Public Affairs. All the posts reportedly went to supporters of Kabbah's Sierra Leone People's Party, which won a landslide victory in last week's parliamentary elections, ending a series of so-called "inclusive" cabinets which featured members of the opposition in key ministries. The cabinet must still be approved by parliament, which convenes on June 14.

MINISTERS OF STATE: Foday Yumkella (Presidential Affairs), S.U.M. Jah (South), Dennis Sankoh (North), Sahr Randolph Fillie-Faboe (East).

DEPUTY MINISTERS: Dr. Mohamed Kamara (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Theresa Koroma (Trade and Industry), Pascal Egbenda (Transport and Communications), Abass Collier and Martin Banya (Education, Science and Technology), Ibrahim Sesay (Development and Economic Planning), Francis Ngebeh (Agriculture and Food Security), Ibrahim Sesay (Health and Sanitation), Sia Ngougou (Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance), Memuna Koroma (Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs), Joe Kallon (Labour, Industrial Relations and Social Security), Morlia Bai Kamara (Marine Resources). 

NEW FACES: Dr. Dennis Bright (Youth and Sport), Dr. Caiser J. Boima (Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance), Eke A. Halloway (Justice and Attorney-General), Emmanuel O. Grant (Energy and Power), George Banda Thomas (Parliamentary and Political Affairs), Dr. Sama Sahr Mondeh (Agriculture and Food Security), Dr. Agnes Taylor-Lewis (Health and Sanitation), Memuna Koroma (Deputy - Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs), Martin Banya (Education, Science and Technology), Ibrahim Sesay (Deputy - Development and Economic Planning), Ibrahim Sesay (Deputy - Health and Sanitation), Pascal Egbenda (Deputy - Agriculture and Food Security), Francis Ngebeh (Deputy - Transport and Communications), Joe Kallon (Deputy - Labour, Industrial Relations and Social Security), Morlai Bai Kamara (Deputy - Marine Resources).

DROPPED FROM CABINET: Osman Kamara (Trade and Industry), Dr. Cecil Blake (Information), Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya (Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Dr. Ibrahim I. Tejan-Jalloh (Health and Sanitation), Abu Aiah Koroma (Parliamentary Affairs), A.B.S. Jomo-Jalloh (Tourism and Culture), Peter Jiwa Kuyembeh (Finance) and Foday Sesay (Minister of State-South). 

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed Sierra Leone's "peaceful and orderly" elections, in a statement read out on Wednesday by Council President Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar of Singapore, called on all political parties and their supporters "to work together to strengthen democracy and thereby assure continuing peace."  The next challenge for Sierra Leone and the international community, the Council statement said, is the further consolidation of peace. "There is much still to do, including the extension of public services to make real the restoration of government authority throughout the country, the further enhancement of the operational effectiveness of the security sector, and the effective reintegration of all ex-combatants.

20 May: The United States Embassy in Freetown praised Sierra Leone's just-concluded presidential and parliamentary elections Monday, noting particularly the absence of violence, and has called on both winners and losers "to accept the results in a manner that will assure continuing peace and stability." An embassy statement noted that the election "was not without its shortcomings" and cited the separate release of the Special Polling Day results which, it said, compromised the right of some Sierra Leonean citizens to vote in secret. The separate publication of the results caused a stir in Freetown when it became apparent that a large part of the military had supported former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma, the candidate of the Peace and Liberation Party. "International observers have said that the election was a positive step towards building democracy and assuring a peaceful and more prosperous future," the statement said. "But it is only one step in a process that will require the long-term dedication, integrity and hard work of Sierra Leone’s political leadership and the active involvement of every citizen. The United States looks forward to being an active partner in Sierra Leone’s efforts to build upon this success."

19 May: President Kabbah took the oath of office for a second time Sunday, five days after Sierra Leone's historic presidential and parliamentary elections, and a bare two hours after Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol certified the results, giving Kabbah some 70 percent of the vote. A small group of between 100 and 200 supporters quickly gathered at the presidential lodge to see Kabbah and his new vice president, former Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, swear and subscribe the presidential and vice presidential oaths before Chief Justice Abdulai Timbo. The ceremony was brief and somewhat muted. As the president pressed the Koran to his lips after signing his oath, a tinny rendition of Sierra Leone's national anthem sounded through electronic speakers. Below on the streets of Freetown, however, the mood was less staid. At 3:15 p.m., as Nicol announced the final results over state radio, a sustained shout went up throughout the capital from supporters of Kabbah's ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. By late afternoon, hundreds of persons were headed for the city centre, many of them singing, dancing, and waving palm fronds. By nightfall thousands had gathered to take part in impromptu street parties around the city. 

With Sierra Leone's decade of civil war officially at an end, President Kabbah said Sunday that his government would turn in his second term to the task of making sure that the citizens of Sierra Leone, officially one of the world's poorest countries, get enough to eat, with an emphasis on agricultural development. "I pledge to ensure that within the next five years no Sierra Leonean should go to bed hungry," Kabbah said in his inaugural address, adding: "We must have the capacity to feed ourselves." In a press conference following his speech, Kabbah told reporters he would focus on areas such as education and health in his efforts to alleviate poverty. But addressing a suggestion that the just-concluded elections might have raised expectations among his supporters to an unrealistic level, Kabbah said he would avoid making extravagant promises. "I mentioned today a very realistic goal of doing something about feeding our people," he said. "I mean, just to make sure that somebody goes to bed having eaten something is not unrealistic, particularly in a country like this." Kabbah also acknowledged the problem of government corruption, which has begun to strain relations with Western donor nations. "We all acknowledge that corruption has over a long period been eating deep into the fabric of our society," he said in his address. "This fight against corruption will continue to be one of my major preoccupations." The newly re-elected president reached out to his political opponents, inviting them to join him in building what he called "a new coalition for national development." But Kabbah hinted that his future cabinet may be less inclusive of opposition members than has been the case in the past. "I certainly believe that it’s in the best interests of the country for us to have a strong opposition, and I will try to encourage that," he told reporters.

83 of the 112 ordinary seats in parliament went to the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), giving it an absolute majority even after the addition of twelve seats reserved for paramount chiefs. The All People's Congress (APC) took 27 seats in the north and the west, while the SLPP took the largest share of seats in the Western Area and swept the south and the east. Johnny Paul Koroma's Peace and Liberation Party took two seats in the West-West electoral district; none of the other seven political parties, including the former rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, reached the 12.5 percent threshold in any electoral district necessary to enter parliament. 

Presidential candidates from Sierra Leone's major opposition parties conceded defeat. Ernest Bai Koroma (pictured left) of the All People's Congress issued a statement, however, expressing concern about what he alleged were widespread irregularities in the election, including widespread underage voting and allegations that some of his party's supporters were prevented from voting in SLPP strongholds. Johnny Paul Koroma of the Peace and Liberation Party, Pallo Bangura of the Revolutionary United Front Party and Zainab Bangura of the Movement for Peace all accepted the results of the election on behalf of their parties and pledged to work in opposition. United National People's Party leader Dr. John Karefa-Smart (right), in congratulating President Kabbah on his victory, said he was committed to using "every find practical, non political ways to contribute to solving the many serious social, moral, and economic problems that, if left unsolved, will deny our people and our country their rightful place as models in our region, continent, and world." Meanwhile Pallo Bangura (below left), in an interview with the Sierra Leone Web, said he felt the results of the election did not reflect the will of the Sierra Leonean people. "But we accept it in the spirit of good will so that we move the country forward, so that all us will now sit down and concentrate on what to do instead of sulking over what has gone wrong," he said. Bangura said the elections had been deficient in many respects, such as reports of polling agents being barred from polling stations, and of ballot boxes being stuffed. "But that notwithstanding, my own personal disposition is, looking at the number of people who went out to vote, and judging the mood and the international community’s — especially the observer teams’ — position so far in the perception of the elections, and given the background of the perception of the RUF as spoilers, and still the distrust and suspicion of the RUFP, I thought the best we could do is accept the result and then correct the deficiencies and whatever the problems as we go along," he said. "After all, democracy is a process."

The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) swept Kailahun and Pujehun Districts to pick up another 16 seats in Parliament. Elected in Kailahun are Sallieu Ahmed Ndoleh, Mohamed Lansana Kallon, Agnes Kobba, Jusu Q.B. Sawie, Lydia Yaryu Kutubu, Francis S.D. Tengbeh, Momoh Pujeh and Dominic A. Ngombu. In Pujehun District, the winners were Lawrence M. Kamara, Ansu J. Kaikai, Sidie M. Kallon, Dr. John M. Kallon, Siaka A.B. Magona, Momoh C. Koya, Mary Massalay and Mana Kpana. The SLPP split with the All People's Congress in Kambia District (APC), with the APC picking up three seats to the SLPP's five. Elected for the APC were Dauda Sulaiman Kamara, Ibrahim Sorie and Dr. Jengo Stevens. For the SLPP, the victors were Isattu B. Kamara, Ibrahim S. Sesay, Marray Conteh, Aliusine A. Fofanah and Samba Amara Sheriff Conteh.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw congratulated President Kabbah Sunday on his election victory, and the people of Sierra Leone for turning out in high numbers to participate in peaceful elections, held just four months after the formal end of a decade of brutal civil war. "These elections mark an important milestone on Sierra Leone's return to peace and democracy," Straw said in a statement. "The people of Sierra Leone have given President Kabbah and his new government a mandate to strengthen the peace and undertake the enormous challenge of rebuilding Sierra Leone's shattered institutions and infrastructure. We will continue to help Sierra Leone towards a lasting peace."

18 May: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah seemed assured of re-election in the first round Saturday as official results in twelve of Sierra Leone's fourteen electoral districts gave him nearly 67 percent of the vote and a commanding lead over his nearest rival, All People's Congress candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, who had just over 25 percent. Kabbah needed 55 percent to avoid a runoff election. When the Independent Radio Network's provisional figures from Pujehun and Kailahun were factored in, Kabbah's lead increased marginally, to 68.29 percent as compared with 23.03 percent for Koroma. Trailing the frontrunners at a distance were Johnny Paul Koroma (Peace and Liberation Party) with 3.28 percent, followed by Alimamy Pallo Bangura (Revolutionary United Front Party) with 1.45 percent, Dr. John Karefa-Smart (United National People's Party) with 1.16 percent, Dr. Raymond Kamara (Grand Alliance Party) with 0.66 percent, Zainab Hawa Bangura (Movement for Progress Party) with 0.61 percent, Raymond Bamidele Thompson (Citizens United for Peace and Progress) with 0.53 percent, and Andrew Duramani Turay (Young People's Party) with 0.22 percent.

The National Electoral Commission released results in three more electoral districts on Saturday. In Kenema District, Moyamba and Kono Districts the Sierra Leone People's Party picked up all 24 parliamentary seats, with no other party reaching the 12.5 percent threshold. Elected in Kenema District were Mohamed M. Makaya, Brima Mourie Kamanda, Dr. Bernadeth Lahai, Andrew Lungay, Dominic Kenie Vandy, Dr. Phrancis Bobor Momoh, Musa Conteh and Bintu Myers. In Moyamba District it was Mohamed S. Fofana, Alex M. Koroma, Musa Tarasid Tarawally, C.J. Wongbo-Betty, Sheku Tejan-Sankoh, Jonathan J. Dambo, Samuel B.M. Margai and Joseph N. Kaindoh. Elected in Kono District were Sahr Matturie, Emmanuel William Tommy, Kai Abdul Foday, Komba Eric Koedoyoma, Augustine Bockarie Torto, Komba Claudius Gbamanja, Aiah Sonsiama Fasuluku and Tamba E. Kaingbanja.

17 May: The All People's Congress maintained its strength in its traditional northern stronghold, taking six of eight parliamentary seats in Bombali and Tonkolili Districts, and five seats in Port Loko District. The other seven seats were won by the Sierra Leone People's Party. Elected in Bombali District for the APC were Ernest Bai Koroma, Edward M. Turay, Abdul F. Serry-Kamal, Dr. Moses O. M. Sesay and Rev. Marie Yansaneh. The SLPP elected Col. (Rtd.) A.O. Kamara and Hardy Bun Abdulai Sheriff. In Tonkolili District, the APC is sending to parliament Musu Kandeh, Edward Sembu Koroma, Usman S. A. Kargbo, Abdulai E. Fornah, Mabel N. Turay and Alie Salieu Sankoh. The SLPP will be represented by Emmanuel O. K. Tholley and Dr. Fatmata Hassan. In Port Loko District, the APC elected Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay, Alpha B. S. Kanu, Ibrahim Bundu, Alhaji Buya Kamara and Alfred Kumbu Smart. The SLPP representatives will be Ibrahim Kanu, A. B. Wurie and Husman Kanu.

The Sierra Leone People's Party took 98.7 percent of the vote and all eight parliamentary seats in Bonthe District, according to figures released by the National Electoral Commission. Elected to parliament were Agnes Bassie, Thomas P. Kaine, Solomon Tua, Arthur Harvey, Jonathan Sama, Dr. Samuel Maligie II, Brimah Conteh and Solomon Bangali. The SLPP also took all eight seats in Bo District, garnering 93.9 percent of the vote. Elected were R.E.S. Lagao, Elizabeth Alpha Lavalie, Cecil Hanson, Patrick Mustapha Kamara, Amidu Nallo, John Ngewo Moriba, Mathew G.B. Alpha and Janet Mamie Sam King.

The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) are the two winners in the West East electoral district. Five SLPP candidates, Sheikh I. Kamara, Josephus K. Johnson, Princess Baba Jigida, Manso Dumbuya and Zainab L. Kamara, and three APC candidates, Minkailu Mansaray, Haja Afsatu Kabba, and Sheku Dumbuya, will claim seats in parliament. The APC list had previously been headed by vice presidential candidate Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh, but the National Electoral Commission disqualified him over questions as to whether he had properly registered as a voter last February. None of the other eight parties contesting in the parliamentary polls received the requisite 12.5 percent of the vote to elect a candidate. Final totals: SLPP - 73,642 (45.5%), APC 55,331 (34.2%), PLP - 12,281 (7.6%), MOP - 5,731 (3.5%), PDP - 3,868 (2.4%), RUFP - 3,525 (2.2%), GAP - 2,545 (1.6%), UNPP - 2,341 (1.4%), NDA  1,909 (1.2%), YPP - 809 (0.5%).

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will depart from the South African model and will be driven by testimony from the victims of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, TRC Interim Executive Secretary Yasmine Jusu-Sheriff told reporters on Thursday. Jusu-Sheriff said that since the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord granted a blanket amnesty to all those who committed war crimes during the war, "the purpose and one of the main objects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone will be to validate and prioritize experiences of victims. It will be a victim-led process, not a perpetrator-prioritizing process." In her first press conference since the opening of the TRC's Interim Secretariat, Jusu-Sheriff expressed frustration that out of a budget of $10 million for the twelve months the commission will operate, the commission had so far received commitments for only a twentieth of that amount — a $500,000 pledge from Britain. "Without firm commitments, the commissioners would not be able to plan on exactly how they intend to carry out their work," she said. "It will be an unfortunate distraction from fulfilling the objects of the commission for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be fundraising simultaneously with its other activities." In recent months RUF leaders have expressed concern that testimony given before the TRC could be used by the Special Court, while will prosecute a handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes in Sierra Leone. Jusu-Sheriff played down fears that the commission could become an adjunct of the court. She noted that the TRC's statute did not require cooperation with the Special court, and that the two institutions had different temporal jurisdictions and mandates. "I don’t think the Special Court is really going to concentrate its mind on what the TRC is doing," she said. "They have to gather evidence that would satisfy an international standard of criminality" before handing down indictments. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2530 / 2970. Commercial Bank: [$] 2550 / 3050. [£] 3000 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2120 / 2340 [£] 2900 / 3250. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2150 / 2200 [£] 3000 / 3050.

16 May: Latest unofficial figures from the presidential election, compiled by the Independent Radio Network: Ernest Bai Koroma (APC) - 247,476; Raymond Bamidele Thompson (CUPP) - 5,459; Dr. Raymond Kamara (GAP) - 7,429; Zainab Hawa Bangura (MOP) - 6,880; Johnny Paul Koroma (PLP) - 29,428; Alimamy Pallo Bangura (RUFP) - 19,025; Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (SLPP) - 793,153; Dr. John Karefa-Smart (UNPP) - 9,308; and Andrew Duramani Turay (YPP) - 2,088. Total - 1,120,246. Posted at 19:30 GMT.

Former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma is poised to enter parliament, as the first official results from the National Electoral Commission show his Peace and Liberation Party (PLP) winning 18.4 percent of the vote and two seats in the West-West electoral district. Eyebrows were raised in Sierra Leone's capital when figures from Friday's special vote suggested that Koroma had received a strong boost from the military. The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) took four seats under the District Block system of voting, with 46 percent of the vote; while the All People's Congress (APC), with 25.1 percent, took the other two seats. Elected for the SLPP are Victor Reider, A.O.D. George, Bamie Cheedy and Kabba Kamara. The APC will send Cecil A. Osho-Williams and Victor Chukuma Johnson to parliament, while the PLP elected Johnny Paul Koroma and Hassan Kamara. In West-East, meanwhile, the APC picked up three seats and the SLPP took five. Elected for the APC are Minkailu Mansaray, Haja Afsatu Kabba and Sheku Dumbuya, while for the SLPP, Sheik I. Kamara, Josephus K. Johnson, Princess Baba Jigida, Manso Dumbuya and Zainab L. Kamara will go to parliament.

Presidential votes by region (based on incomplete results posted at 19:30 GMT): EASTERN REGION: APC -  4,462 (1.7%); CUPP - 174 (0.1%); GAP - 7,429 (0.1%); MOP - 325 (0.1%); PLP - 1,672 (0.6%); RUFP - 4,941 (1.9%); SLPP - 246,433 (95.1%); UNPP - 832 (0.3%); YPP - 155 (0.1%).

NORTHERN REGION: APC -  199,457 (52.8%); CUPP - 4,660 (1.2%); GAP - 5,810 (1.5%); MOP - 4,141 (1.1%); PLP - 20,616 (5.5%); RUFP - 12,100 (3.2%); SLPP - 123,124 (32.6%); UNPP - 6,207 (1.6%); YPP - 1,571 (0.4%).

SOUTHERN REGION: APC -  14,782 (3.8%); CUPP - 297 (0.1%); GAP - 900 (0.2%); MOP - 1,341 (0.3%); PLP - 1,215 (0.3%); RUFP - 1,182 (0.3%); SLPP - 368,870 (94.5%); UNPP - 1,466 (0.4%); YPP - 125 (0.0%).

WESTERN REGION: APC -  28,775 (30.9%); CUPP - 328 (0.1%); GAP - 481 (0.5%); MOP - 1,073 (1.2%); PLP - 5,925 (6.4%); RUFP - 802 (0.9%); SLPP - 54,726 (58.8%); UNPP - 803 (0.9%); YPP - 237 (0.3%).

Ballot boxes were taken to a remote area of Tonkolili District Thursday where voting had not yet taken place, the Independent News Network reported. On Wednesday, voting also took place in some remote areas of Kono District.

Preliminary reports from the field suggest that Sierra Leone's just-concluded presidential and parliamentary elections were relatively trouble free, National Election Watch chairman Rev. L. B. Rogers-Wright told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. "But one big observation was that again there was not much of a coordination, and NEC (National Electoral Commission) continued to change instructions, and these instructions caused some confusion," he said. Rogers-Wright noted that none of the over 2,000 National Election Watch observers deployed in all fourteen electoral districts had reported any significant trouble. "In fact, we said in our preliminary statement that there are no breaches of security, no violent incident was reported so far," he said. "Preliminary, it doesn’t seem as if there was any attempt at rigging or getting an unfair result. But as I said, we could not ascertain that until we’ve been able to get our reports from the different districts." At a Thursday morning press conference, representatives of European Union, the Commonwealth and the Carter Center observer groups, told reporters that the elections had been as free and fair as was possible in a country which only emerged from a decade of civil conflict in January, BBC correspondent Josephine Hazley reported. They acknowledged there had been problems in the process, but said none of them had been serious enough to affect the outcome of the election. "The elections in Sierra Leone were violence free, allowing free campaigning and voting in most of the country," said Johan van Hecke, the leader of the European Union delegation. "Initial shortcomings in the registration process, and the organization, and the intimidation and coercion in some areas during the pre-election period, and huge logistical constraints did not undermine the determination of the people to express their right to vote."

The U.S. Embassy in Freetown congratulated Sierra Leoneans Thursday on presidential and parliamentary election which, along with the campaign which preceded it, were marked by a nearly total absence of violence. "The United States hopes that this spirit of non-violence and reconciliation will continue as the votes are counted and the winners announced," the embassy said in a statement, adding: "It will take some time for all the votes to be counted. We urge all involved to continue their hard work in this area and applaud the spirit of openness that has so far marked the counting."

15 May: Latest unofficial figures from the presidential election, compiled by the Independent Radio Network: Ernest Bai Koroma (APC) - 21,046; Raymond Bamidele Thompson (CUPP) - 258; Dr. Raymond Kamara (GAP) - 422; Zainab Hawa Bangura (MOP) - 452; Johnny Paul Koroma (PLP) - 4,692; Alimamy Pallo Bangura (RUFP) - 1,502; Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (SLPP) - 72,822; Dr. John Karefa-Smart (UNPP) - 600; and Andrew Duramani Turay (YPP) - 191. 

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his Sierra Leone People's Party took an early lead as unofficial and still incomplete results began to trickle into the capital overnight from thousands of polling stations. The SLPP led by a large margin in Freetown. It also did well in the south and east, its traditional strongholds, with some areas recording a 90 percent or higher vote for the ruling party. That situation was reversed in Makeni, where Ernest Bai Koroma's All People's Congress showed considerable strength. Early returns suggested that after ten years of war, Sierra Leonean voters were staying with the two familiar parties which, aside from several interludes of military rule, have governed the country since its independence in 1961. They also suggest that, whatever the final result, the next parliament will have a more united and vocal opposition than the previous one. The rest of the field of ten parties, two of which contested only in the parliamentary polls and one of which fielded only a presidential candidate, was led by former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma's Peace and Liberation Party. The Revolutionary United Front Party, which this year transformed itself from a rebel movement into a political party, appeared to be struggling to find votes in areas where it had been expected to show some strength. Meanwhile, the National Electoral Commission announced Wednesday that voter turnout in the country exceeded 80 percent. Previously, the NEC said it expected to have complete results available by Thursday evening or Friday morning.

All People's Congress presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma said Wednesday that he was "reasonably happy" with the election results so far, which unofficially have his party in second place behind the Sierra Leone People's Party "only that they are results to me that are questionable, but on the whole I feel okay with them." Koroma told the BBC his party was gathering reports on "certain shortcomings in the elections," such as presiding officials not allowing people to vote as they wanted, but he declined to go into specifics. He said, however, that the inroads he believed he had made in the south and the east were not being reflected by the results coming out. Koroma said his party would accept the results of the election if it were transparent, if everyone feels he has not been marginalised, and the final results had not been manufactured. "The whole idea of democracy is to have an effective government and an effective opposition," he said. Koroma predicted that the election would go to a run-off in two weeks time. "I don't see the possibility of anybody emerging with more than 55% of the votes," he said. "At the end of the run-off if we emerge to be the winners, then we've already told the people of Sierra Leone our message and we have a manifesto that we have presented and we are going into action immediately in keeping with the promise we have made to the people." 

Britain's foreign secretary hailed Sierra Leone's peaceful elections Wednesday as marking "a new chapter of politics and peace in Sierra Leone's history." Jack Straw (pictured left) recalled that only two years ago, the U.N. peacekeeping effort was on the brink of collapse after RUF rebels abandoned the Lomé Peace Accord and attacked U.N. peacekeepers. Straw noted that preparations for the elections had been carried out in difficult circumstances. "People have been able to vote in areas which were still inaccessible to government authorities at the beginning of the year," he said, adding: "These elections mark another milestone on Sierra Leone’s return to peace. Britain remains committed to working with the people of Sierra Leone to help them rebuild their country." Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in parliament that it was "moving" to see that with British assistance, Sierra Leone had been returned to democracy. "People there value their democracy," he said. "I agree that that sends the right signal across the world about the prospects for Africa, and that is as important as anything else. I hope that, as part of the partnership initiative that we take to the G8 this year, we can get stronger measures to deal with some of the outstanding conflicts in Africa that blight the lives of people, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Sudan."qa

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan congratulated Sierra Leoneans Wednesday for voting "in their numbers and in a sprit of mutual respect and reconciliation," saying that the election was a sign that the people of the war-torn country were ready to make a break from their tragic past. "It is also a major step on the road to lasting, sustainable peace," the secretary-general said in a statement. Annan appealed for continued calm and restraint as the election results were being collated and announced. He also urged political leaders and their followers to be magnanimous both in victory and in defeat. Annan noted that Sierra Leone still faced major challenges in reconstruction and national reconciliation. He pointed to extending state authority throughout the country, restoring government control over natural resources, reintegrating ex-combatants and resettling returning refugees as tasks which would require support by both the Sierra Leone government and the international community.

Sierra Leone's just-concluded presidential and parliamentary elections, backed by massive resources from the international community, are already being hailed as the most peaceful in the country's 41-year history. Local and international election observers have yet to give their verdict on whether the elections were free, fair and transparent, but the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured left) said that in an election day tour of the country he had not received any complaints from party agents monitoring the polls. "As a matter of fact, talking to the [counting] agents, they all expressed satisfaction as to the conduct of the election," Adeniji told Radio UNAMSIL. Asked why the polls had gone so smoothly, Adeniji credited the Sierra Leonean people. "Number one is that I think most Sierra Leoneans have learnt a lesson from the inconveniencies, the dangers, posed by the eleven-year crisis," he said. He also said that meticulous planning by the National Electoral Commission and its external partners, logistical assistance from UNAMSIL in distributing voting materials, and "the very visible presence of UNAMSIL troops in every place, including at the chiefdom level," all contributed to making the election a success. Adeniji acknowledged having received a report that one presiding officer at a polling station in Kabala had attempted to stuff a ballot box. "I was not surprised actually that we would find one such case in these thousands of polling stations," he said, adding that the man had been apprehended through the vigilance of a polling agent, and that police immediately took him into custody. 

14 May: Voting continued to proceed peacefully throughout the country Tuesday, with no major problems reported by Independent Radio Network reporters deployed throughout the country. At the Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood Secondary School, polling officials told the Sierra Leone Web they had experienced no problems. The capital was virtually empty of traffic due to the closing of shops and businesses for the election day holiday. In Kissy and Kissy Mess-Mess, lines had shortened somewhat by the early afternoon as many people who arrived at the crack of dawn had already voted. Moses Conteh, the presiding officer at the Police Primary School polling station in Kissy Mess-Mess (pictured left) said voting there had gone smoothly. He showed a list of some fifteen names of persons whose names did not appear on the register, but who were allowed to vote after displaying their voter registration cards. One blind voter had made use of the braille ballot holder to assist him in casting his ballot, Conteh said.

Following reports of voters discovering that their names did not appear on the voter registration list at their polling station, or that the name on the register did not match that on their voter identity card, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol has instructed presiding officers to let all voters with valid voter ID cards to cast ballots. "If their names are not on the register, (presiding officers) should make sure they record their names, voter ID number, and PS code and allow them to vote," Nicol said in a statement. Meanwhile, angry voters from up-country protested at the National Electoral Commission's Wallace Johnson Street headquarters, the Independent Radio Network reported. The protesters claimed  that their names had not been properly transferred to registration lists in Freetown, resulting in their disenfranchisement. An SSD officer on the scene told the Sierra Leone Web that the protesters left after they were assured they would be allowed to vote. 

United Nations peacekeepers and police officers took up positions around Freetown as voting began at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday. At a dozen polling stations in the city centre observed by the Sierra Leone Web, voters waited in orderly lines to cast their ballots. Problems were reported early on at Fourah Bay College and at one other polling station, where polling officials had apparently received the wrong voter registers, Radio UNAMSIL reported. Just before 8:00 a.m., Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol told the Independent Radio Network that voters with valid registration cards would be allowed to vote, but that polling officials should take down their voter ID numbers. Around the country, voter turnout early in the day was reported to be high and voting was proceeding peacefully. A few glitches have been reported in the early going. There was some confusion in Bo when a number of people turned up at polling stations only to find that their names were not on the voter's register, or that the names on the register did not match the names on their voter ID cards, evidently due to errors by registrars. The problems are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the Independent Radio Network reported. At a polling station in the Freetown suburb of Aberdeen had not received its ballot box by 8:30 a.m. Some locations report that polling officials have had to instruct voters in the use of the paper ballots.

Freetown voters began gathering at polling stations before dawn on Tuesday, and by 6:00 a.m., still an hour before the start of voting, long lines had formed in front of polling stations in the city centre. At the Government Model School polling station on Circular Road the queue stretched for several blocks, while at other stations scores of persons stood in line or sat on the ground to await the opening of the polls. 

All People's Congress candidate Ernest Bai Koroma announced a new running mate late Monday, Dauda Sulaiman Kamara, who will replace Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh on the APC ticket. Jalloh was ruled ineligible to contest by Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission over questions as to whether he had properly registered as a voter.

13 May: United Nations peacekeepers blocked some roads leading to the Revolutionary United Front Party's (RUFP) vandalised Freetown headquarters Monday morning as tensions which followed clashes on Saturday between supporters of the RUFP and the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) began to ease.

When Zainab Bangura hears the words "Madam President" she laughs. Hard. Bangura, a long time human rights activist and former head of the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, is looking forward to being a thorn in the side of whichever party forms the next government, and on working for the issues that she is passionate about. And although her tiny Movement for Progress Party is fielding only 32 candidates in just half of the country's fourteen electoral districts, Bangura suggested that in opposition it is not size that counts, but volume. "Our focus is on anti-corruption, accountability, transparency and rebuilding the institutions of state," Bangura told the Sierra Leone Web. "And this of course includes a new of politics based on issues rather than on personalities, and moral leadership in politics, and this we have demonstrated in our campaign. Our campaign is different. And we have told the people that we will run the country like we have run our campaign."

A month short of his 87th birthday, United National People's Party presidential candidate Dr. John Karefa-Smart appears frail as he reminisces about his participation in more than forty years of national and pre-independence politics in Sierra Leone. But looks can be deceiving. Karefa-Smart is still an active campaigner, an insistent advocate for his party's views, and he has a handshake like a vice-grips pliers attacking a stubborn bolt. To those who ask why Karefa-Smart is back on the campaign trail at an age when most men have long retired from public life, Karefa-Smart says they are asking the wrong question. This campaign is not about his personal ambitions, he says. It is about unfinished business. "When I came back (to Sierra Leone) there was no political activity of any kind in the provinces," he said. "I started SOS, got our people with the support of the chiefs to start it, and it’s only because I went away to Nigeria that Sir Milton Margai took my place. I started something, I want to see it finished in the right direction. And until I die I will continue to see that the path I started which led me to take the country to London to negotiate our independence, which led me to the United Nations to negotiate our entrance, is not finished. I see all kinds of interruption. That’s why I’m staying." In 1996 Karefa-Smart and his UNPP party finished second in the polls to the Sierra Leone People's Party. This year, many see a resurgence of the former ruling All People's Congress, which could be expected to cut deeply into the UNPP's voter base in the north. Karefa-Smart disagrees. "I don’t see a resurgence of APC," he said. "If it happens, then that’s the will of the people. But I don’t see myself losing ground to APC for any reason." In a country where most decision-making functions have come to be centralized in the capital, Karefa-Smart says he favours a more limited role for government. "The people of Sierra Leone should expect from their government only two things: one is managing the resources of the country right; two, providing opportunities for every Sierra Leonean to attain the best that they can be in life," he said. "That’s all government should do. If you’re not doing things which will enable the individual Sierra Leonean to improve his status in life, you are not succeeding as a government." Asked whether he expects to be president after Tuesday's vote, Karefa-Smart chooses his words carefully. "I hope our party will do well," he says. But win or lose, he says, he intends to remain a force in Sierra Leonean politics. "If I am the leader of the opposition, if I am second in number, yes, I’ll be leader," he said. "If I am not, if my party is third or fourth or fifth, I have said I am going to stay here. That doesn’t mean I am going to sit down in Sierra Leone, because I’m a free man. I know the world. I go traveling...Till I die I might not even own a house in Sierra Leone. That doesn’t mean I am not staying in Sierra Leone. I have a Sierra Leone passport, I keep it. That means I’m a Sierra Leonean." Karefa-Smart describes himself as "100 percent" patriotic, "200 percent" principled, and "100 percent" uncompromising on principle. Others suggest this translates into an unwillingness to bend on policy matters, but Karefa-Smart denies this. "Compromise on things you may have to do, but you cannot compromise on principles," he said. "My definition of principle is something which is firm, which is rigid, you don’t change it, different principles today and tomorrow. So that the fact that I don’t compromise on principles does not mean that I do not compromise. I compromise all the time. In my party I do that. In my dealings with other people I do that." Only after the microphone has been turned off, Karefa-Smart admits there are times when he wonders whether he should just admit that he has failed and give up. But he doesn't sound like he means it. He says that his wife of 52 years knew when she married him that he was devoted to Sierra Leonean politics "and it's too late to change." And however Tuesday's elections turn out, it sounds very unlikely that 2002 will be this veteran statesman's last crusade.

The Sierra Leone government announced on Monday the appointment of four Sierra Leoneans and three non-Sierra Leoneans as commissioners for the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC is charged with documenting human rights abuses and helping to heal the wounds caused by a decade of brutal civil war. The commissioners announced Monday are Sylvanus Torto, a Teaching Fellow and Director at the Institute of Public Administration and Management in Freetown; Rev. J.C. Humper, Bishop of the United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone; Justice Laura Marcus-Jones (pictured left), a member of the Sierra Leone Court of Appeals; Prof. John A. Kamara, former principal of Njala University College; Yasmin Louise Sooka, Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa; Prof. William A. Schabas, Professor of Human Rights Law at the National University of Ireland; and Satang Ajaaraton Jow, former Gambian Minister of Education.

12 May: Leaders of seven political parties and the National Electoral Commission signed a joint statement Sunday condemning Saturday's violent clashes between supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party and members of the former rebel Revolutionary United Front Party. The statement referred to "recent unfortunate incidents" and pointedly did not refer to the parties by name. Instead, it urged supporters of political parties "to refrain from any acts or threats of violence and intimidation." The statement was signed by leaders of the All People's Congress, the National Democratic Alliance, the Peace and Liberation Party, the Revolutionary United Front Party, the Sierra Leone People's Party, the United National People's Party and the Young People's Party, and by Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol. Dr. John Karefa-Smart, who attended the meeting as leader of his United National People's Party, said a number of party leaders expected to meet on Monday with Police Inspector-General Keith Biddle, and would insist that police investigate Saturday's election violence and not simply sweep it under the rug.

Hundreds of RUF Party supporters milled around their vandalised offices at the corner of Lightfoot Boston and Charlotte Streets Sunday morning, a day after clashes between members of the RUFP and the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) left an unknown number injured on both sides. On Charlotte Street, a short distance from the party office, RUFP members had erected a barricade adjacent to the construction site which provided a ready supply of stones thrown in Saturday's rioting. Half a block across Lightfoot Boston Street, a white UNAMSIL armoured personnel carrier kept an eye on the situation. Meanwhile, RUF interim secretary-general and presidential candidate Pallo Bangura (pictured left) called Saturday's fighting "a provocation, just as happened in May (2000)." But in an interview with the Sierra Leone Web early Sunday afternoon, Bangura insisted that the clashes would not endanger the peace process. "Really, there have been young men who are very angry, but every effort is being made to calm them," he said. "We’re trying to get them to understand that having come this far, it doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s in nobody’s interest — certainly not in the interest of the people of this country who now want peace —  to piece their lives together again." Bangura was cautious over the number of casualties in the fighting. The BBC reported at least 15 wounded on both sides, and rumours of those killed in the fighting range from none to five. So far, no deaths have been confirmed. "I am trying to get confirmation of all of that because I do not want to just make wild accusations without being able to substantiate them," he said. Bangura said that RUF interim leader Issa Sesay and others had been to the party offices to calm the former combatants, and that Jonathan Kposowa (right) was being sent to take control of the situation. "We want a senior person to be there with them whilst we are trying to get things organized officially," he said. Bangura said he was busy preparing a report to present at a consultative meeting between the National Electoral Commission and the various political parties scheduled for Sunday afternoon. "So I really want to get all of this information before that meeting," he said.

Final figures released by Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission late Sunday show that 2,329,161 persons have registered to vote in Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections, including 13,386 returned refugees who were eligible for late registration. Western Region: West-East - 237,636 (132 returnees). West-West - 171,161 (72 returnees). Total - 408,797 (204 returnees). Southern Province: Moyamba - 125,954 (6 returnees). Bo - 282,067 (107 returnees). Pujehun - 113,469 (1,860 returnees). Bonthe - 71,050 (32 returnees). Total - 592,540 (2,005 returnees). Northern Province: Kambia - 122,339 (804 returnees). Bombali - 195,525 (118 returnees). Koinadugu - 102,353 (44 returnees). Tonkolili - 196,638 (134 returnees). Port Loko - 191,249 (30 returnees). Total - 808,104 (1,130 returnees). Eastern Province: Kono - 128,145 (2,262 returnees). Kailahun - 113,878 (6,447 returnees). Kenema - 291,083 (1,338 returnees). Total - 533,106.

At 52 years of age, Young People's Party (YPP) presidential candidate Andrew Duramani Turay barely qualifies any longer to be described as "young." But Turay's rapid-fire delivery and his obvious passion for his issues might be calculated to make one forget, if only for the moment, the fact that many of his party's supporters are little more than half his age. "The whole thing is that over the last 40 years of politics in this country, the old political parties have misused young people," Turay told the Sierra Leone Web. "They do not seem to have a future for us. Okay? And what they will do here is during electioning time they are not talking of issues, they’re not talking of direction for this country." Turay decried political campaigns based on handing out money, alcohol and drugs to voters, or on appeals to tribe and region, and he accused the two political parties which have governed Sierra Leone since its independence of not doing enough to help the country's youth. "All the income-generating activities in this country have been closed down, and all the job-creating activities in this country have been closed down," he said. Turay said the YPP would present a vision that would see decentralization of government and of government services, with significant functions of governance devolving to the district and chiefdom levels. "We have power centralized in Freetown, and the interior part of the country is left out," he said. "You see, what I normally tell people, you don’t start building a house on the rooftop downwards. You start building a house on the foundation upwards." Local affairs would be run by councillors and management teams, he said, adding that this should attract educated people to go back to their villages and work there. The YPP would also seek to reform the civil service to rid it of corruption and inefficiency, and "to push the democratic process far more strongly" than has hitherto been the case. Turay, an agriculturalist who holds a masters degree from McGill University in Canada and degrees from Njala University College and Bradford University in the United Kingdom, said that if there was no intimidation and if the elections were free and fair, then he expected to make it into a second round presidential runoff. At the parliamentary level, where the party is fielding 71 candidates in just eight of the country's 14 electoral districts, Turay predicted that the YPP "might have 15, 16, but not more than 20" seats. But if the YPP finds itself in the parliamentary opposition after Tuesday's elections, he said, the party will provide a loud opposition voice. "We know what we stand for and we know the programmes that we pursued in this country," he said. "We believe that we can influence this country by negotiating with other political parties to put pressure on whatever government is in place to rethink and redo what is necessary for Sierra Leone to develop."

President Kabbah appealed for restraint and tolerance Saturday as tens of thousands of Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) supporters gathered at Freetown's National Stadium for a final campaign rally before Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections. "Security is the responsibility of all of us," the Associated Press quoted Kabbah as saying. "Let us behave like civilized people...All ex-combatants who have come forward begging for forgiveness, let us receive them as brothers and sisters." Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's smallest political party announced Saturday that it would back Kabbah for re-election. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is fielding just 32 parliamentary candidates in only three of the 14 electoral districts, and has no presidential candidate of its own.

11 May: Sierra Leone's election campaign was marred by violence Saturday as supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the former rebel Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) clashed in central Freetown. By mid-afternoon the streets were littered with large stones and broken glass as far east as Percival Street. At 3:30 in the afternoon, hundreds of angry former rebel combatants stood in the street outside their party offices, some of them still holding rocks in their hands. Armed police and U.N. peacekeepers watched warily from a distance. I pushed through a crowd of angry RUFP supporters and saw that the offices I had visited only hours earlier were completely vandalised and looted. Hassan P. Kamara, the RUFP's assistant secretary-general for the Western Area, said SLPP members "including Kamajors" pursued demonstrators taking part in an RUFP Women's Rally near Upgun and followed them back to their party offices. He claimed that "$4,000 and some leones," along with four computers, a television and video equipment had been stolen. Each side blamed the other for starting the violence. A BBC correspondent on the scene witnessed RUFP members beating SLPP supporters with sticks and stoning them. Inside the office, furniture had been visibly destroyed and shards of glass lay covered the floor. Kamara displayed what he said was a captured CDF identity card identifying the owner as a member of the former pro-government Kapra militia. There was no immediate word on the number of casualties, but I saw wounded on both sides. At Connaught Hospital, medical personnel were attempting to treat several injured persons, most`of them suffering from head wounds. One young man was still wearing his green and white SLPP t-shirt. As I waited, a police vehicle rushed through the hospital gates carrying yet another wounded man.

Thousands of supporters of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) demonstrated in the streets of Freetown Saturday, the last official day of campaigning ahead of Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections. In the late morning, groups of demonstrators took to the streets singing, dancing and waving leaves from the palm tree — the SLPP party symbol. By afternoon the crowd, overwhelmingly youths, had swollen to perhaps tens of thousands. In the middle of the town, SLPP members clashed with RUFP supporters (above story), but outside the city centre away the mood was festive and noisy as the crowd moved westward along Siaka Stevens Street toward the National Stadium, where a mass SLPP rally was scheduled to take place. Among the marchers were families with small children, while along the side of the street small boys sold bags of cold water. As I walked back and forth through the crowed, a few youths joked about how they would defeat the rival APC party, and one small group dragged what appeared to be a long red sock to represent their rivals. The march was orderly, however, and a small number of people lining the streets to watch the demonstration openly wore their red APC shirts and APC party insignia. As one group of singing SLPP supporters passed within inches of a Fourah Bay College student and known APC supporter along Bathurst Street, several of the singing demonstrators — his fellow students — pointed at him and laughed. He smiled back. 

Voting passed off peacefully Friday as security officials and others responsible for conducting Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections cast their votes around the country, Radio 98.1 (state radio) reported. (Photo: election officials sealing ballot boxes.) Voter turnout was reported by be high. In some areas there was up to a two hour delay before the voting got underway, the radio said. Meanwhile, political parties prepared for their final day of campaigning on Saturday. In Freetown, the United National People's Party held its final rally on Friday, with the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party scheduled to demonstrate on Saturday. The UNPP is due to hold their final rally at Lungi. Following voter registration in February, there were fears that voter apathy might be the dominant theme of the 2002 elections following ten years of war. But in offices and on the streets of Sierra Leone's capital the upcoming vote was the dominant topic of conversation this week. In Kissy, a youth loading taxis at the wharf proudly displays his APC head scarf to passengers. A few miles closer to Freetown, a young woman passing by vehicles caught in one of the city's frequent traffic jams says quietly "Wutehteh (the SLPP slogan) yah?" through an open car window. A young UNPP activist with a bullhorn passes among houses in Freetown and urges residents to "vote for the lamp." The campaigning, both official and unofficial, is nearly swallowed up amid the activity of Freetown's busy streets and competition with announcements for an upcoming concert. 

The appeal by All People's Congress candidate Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh against the National Electoral Commission's (NEC) decision barring him from standing as a candidate will now go to the Supreme Court, Radio 98.1 (state radio) reported. 

10 May: Voting got underway Friday in Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary election as members of the country's security forces, election officials, reporters, and others responsible for conducting next Tuesday's vote gathered at polling stations across the country to cast the first ballots since the end last January of ten years of civil war. In Freetown, hundreds of police officers stood for hours in a line around two sides of Freetown's burned-out City Hall to cast their ballots (see photo). Members of the armed forces, fire fighters and even prison officials also voted at various locations around the country.

British High Commissioner David Alan Jones has warned that would attempt to thwart the democratic process in Sierra Leone that it would not be tolerated by the international community — or by Sierra Leoneans. In a recorded message in advance of Tuesday's presidential and parliamentary elections, Jones urged registered voters to exercise their right to vote.

9 May: A total of 2,309,277 Sierra Leoneans registered to vote in next week's presidential and parliamentary elections, according to the latest provisional figures released by the National Electoral Commission on Tuesday. Western Region: West-East - 235,796. West-West - 168,118. Total - 403,914. Southern Province: Moyamba - 125,052. Bo - 279,057. Pujehun - 111,408. Bonthe - 70,883. Total - 586,400. Northern Province: Kambia - 120,757. Bombali - 193,219. Koinadugu - 101,645. Tonkolili - 195,246. Port Loko - 190,120. Total - 800,987. Eastern Province: Kono - 125,495. Kailahun - 107,206. Kenema - 285,275.

8 May: United Nations peacekeepers could pull out of Sierra Leone by the end of next year if all goes well after next week's elections, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General told Reuters. But Behrooz Sadry (pictured left) said the U.N. didn't want to give the impression that the elections were part of UNAMSIL's exit strategy. "For the initial three months after elections, we pretty much wouldn't touch UNAMSIL," Sadry said on Tuesday. He said any scaling down of forces would be done in the context of normal troop rotations. If a battalion were to leave it wouldn't be replaced. Remaining forces would be concentrated in strategic areas, like Sierra Leone's diamond mining fields. "Elections are the 75-percent line for a peacekeeping mission, we cannot pack up and go because of elections," he said. "In a best case scenario. If everything goes absolutely well and all the conditions you put on it can be met, I would say (we could leave) by mid to end of 2003." Sadry also noted that a pullout of U.N. forces could lead to an economic shock in a country where much of the economy is supported by the estimated $2 million a day spent on the peacekeeping effort. This, he said, could create further problems for Sierra Leone, where unemployed youths could once again be recruited into armed rebel groups. "We are not talking about the RUF doing something again, we're talking about the youths," Sadry said.

6 May: The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to extend sanctions against Liberia for another twelve months, saying the government of Charles Taylor "had not yet fully complied" with Council demands that it halt its support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and for other armed rebel groups in the sub-region. It noted also the conclusion of a U.N. Panel of Experts that there was "credible evidence" that Liberia has continued to violate an arms embargo — a fact admitted by the government, which says it needs the weapons to defend itself from an armed rebellion in the north. Monday's Council decision leaves the arms embargo in place, along with a pared-down travel ban on senior Liberian officials, and a prohibition on the import of rough Liberian diamonds by U.N. member states. The resolution goes on to say, however, that the sanctions could be lifted with immediate effect if it were determined that the Liberian government had complied with U.N. demands. The Council called again for Liberia to implement an effective Certificate of Origin scheme or ensure that illicit diamond revenues do not go to fund armed rebel groups. The decision to extend sanctions was not unexpected, and drew fire a week ago from the Liberian president. According to the Associated Press, Charles Taylor (pictured right) told several hundred churchgoers that the sanctions would be extended because the United Nations plans for Liberia had failed. "They want to see all of us dead," he said. "They want us away from our homes. They don't want a Charles Taylor here. They want a puppet that they can manipulate." In the runup to the U.N. decision, the Liberian government insisted that it had complied with the U.N. demands, and sought to portray the sanctions as rebounding against ordinary Liberians. "God will bring his wrath upon all those perpetrating evil against Liberia," Taylor said.

Sierra Leone's child delegate to this week's United Nations General Assembly's Special Session on Children was refused a visa to travel with the Sierra Leonean delegation to New York because the U.S. consulate in Conakry said she was too young. 16-year old Fatmata Baila-Leigh was to have participated in the three-day Children's Forum which got underway on Sunday. Ambassador Sylvester Rowe (pictured left), who is President Kabbah's personal representative for the summit, said that seven other members of the delegation, including Baila-Leigh's chaperone, were issued visas. Rowe said the UNICEF office in Freetown had asked the U.S. Embassy to review the case "on an exceptional basis." Baila-Leigh and her chaperone were expected to return to Conakry on Sunday in hopes of obtaining a visa on Monday morning. "This means that they could fly to New York via Paris Monday night, arrive here Tuesday afternoon — too late for the Children's Forum," Rowe said. "It's a shame. There are a number of side events, but the Forum is the highlight of the General Assembly's Special Session on Children." In New York Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General opened the Children's Forum saying it was "right and necessary" that youths should play a part in the coming General Assembly session. 179 of the 300 gathered children participated as representatives of official government delegations from 101 countries. The rest were part of accredited NGO delegations. Still more were expected to sign up. "We all want a better world for children, but so far it is adults that have called the shots," Annan said. "Now, we are going to build a better world with children. It's high time we adults hear what you have to say." The secretary-general urged the youths to continue to work in support of children's issues after they returned home. "I hope you will help us to follow up afterwards to make sure we keep our promises," he said. "It is when the talking ends that the really hard part begins. I look to you to continue to watch out for children's rights when you go back home, and keep a close eye on progress in your countries." 

5 May: Supporters of the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) held their first rally in the capital Freetown Sunday ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections. Scores of RUFP members, many wearing photographs of their imprisoned leader Foday Sankoh or carrying placards, marched from Hastings to the city centre for a rally outside the party offices. There, RUFP public relations officer Eldred Collins (pictured left), himself a parliamentary candidate in the West-East electoral district, told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana he expected the former rebel group's party to win the elections because, he said, they fought a war of liberation for the Sierra Leonean people. "We know that definitely for ten years past we have been fighting for the people’s power," he said. "And the people did not understand why we took up arms against the system. The people have now had awareness that we are fighting against a system that has derailed the progress of this country." But the party's interim secretary-general and presidential candidate, Pallo Bangura (left), acknowledged to a crowd of 2,000 supporters in Makeni Saturday that he stood little chance of wining the presidency, Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson reported. "We know we as the RUFP can not win the presidential elections, but we are certain we can win seats in the parliamentary elections," he told supporters in the former rebel headquarters. "We want you, former combatants of the RUF and civilians who have been supporting the RUF, to join the RUFP in the national political process of our country...The war is now over." Fofana noted that the RUFP's campaign has been hindered by defections from the party and by a shortage of funds. "They have certainly lost most of their former strongholds to rival parties, and there have been some significant defections from their ranks," he said. "All this is made worse by the fact that the former rebels don’t have the financial capability to mount serious campaigning in a country where they are yet to win the hearts of the people."

3 May: A 30-member ECOWAS election monitoring team is due to arrive in Freetown on May 6 ahead of this month's presidential and parliamentary elections, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Friday. The delegation will be led by Theresa Striggner-Scott of Ghana, one of the ECOWAS Council of Elders. The delegation — the largest team of election observers ECOWAS has ever fielded — includes legislators, lawyers, political scientists and diplomats from 13 of the economic community's 15 countries. An advance team of four members of the group was expected in Freetown on Friday, with the rest to arrive on Monday. The entire delegation will depart Sierra Leone on May 20, one week after the elections. 

The United States and Sierra Leone signed an agreement Monday which would reschedule payment of some $15 million in debt. The rescheduling implements an agreement reached last October between Sierra Leone and the Paris Club group of creditors. Monday's bilateral Paris Club agreement reschedules concessional debt maturing between 1 October 2001 and 30 September 2004, and arrears arising from payments as of 30 September 2001. Sierra Leone currently owes the United States about $62 million.

The number of Sierra Leonean refugees returning home has dropped to a trickle as many of the estimated 165,000 remaining in the sub-region are adopting a wait-and-see attitude until after the May 14 elections, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. Since September 2000, the UNHCR and its implementing partners have helped nearly 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees, mainly in Guinea and Liberia, return home by sea, by road, or on foot. 51,000 of those returnees were helped to return to their home areas, while 25,000 are being housed in displaced camps. The rest did not seek any aid. An estimated 70,000 people are believed to have returned home on their own, bringing the total to about 160,000. During the first five months of this year, nearly 30,000 refugees have returned home by land convoys from Guinea and Liberia. All such convoys will cease during the election period beginning on May 7 in order to avoid disruptions to the electoral process. Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Friday it assisted 12,174 internally displaced persons in April to leave camps around Freetown, Bo and Kenema and return to areas of the north declared safe for resettlement. The IOM also arranged special transportation for vulnerable persons, such as the elderly and 120 amputees from the Murray Town Amputee Camp and the Grafton War Wounded camp, to their home communities. In the past year, the IOM has helped 28,000 displaced persons return to their homes.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 2670 / 3195. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2350. [£] 3000 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 3000 / 3250. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2200 / 2250 [£] 3000 / 3050.

2 May: All People's Congress vice presidential candidate Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh will ask the courts Monday to overturn a ruling by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) that he is ineligible to stand as a candidate, a source close to Jalloh told the Sierra Leone Web. The NEC questioned whether Jalloh had properly registered as a voter, since he was reportedly out of the country during February's voter registration exercise. Under Sierra Leone's electoral laws, a person who is not registered to vote is not eligible to be voted for. The source acknowledged that Jalloh had registered late, but said the candidate would argue in court that he was properly registered in the presence of the Chief Electoral Commissioner, and that the Chief Electoral Commissioner had even provided him an orderly to accompany him in getting his photograph taken for the voter registration card.

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured left) warned soldiers Thursday to remain neutral in this month's presidential and parliamentary elections, citing fears that Peace and Liberation Party presidential candidate Johnny Paul Koroma was trying to rally support within the army, Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay reported. Koroma, who retired from the army in early 2000 at the rank of lieutenant-colonel, led the short-lived AFRC military junta between May 1997 to February 1998. He joined the government following the signing of the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord and until last year served as chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace. Norman cited concerns that Koroma was claiming in campaign speeches that the army was backing his candidacy. The Associated Press was unable to reach Koroma Thursday for comment. Norman said he had told his top commanders that the army would support whatever government the people of Sierra Leone elect. "The army will not take power for themselves," he said. "The army he is talking about is a changed army."

1 May: As the United Nations Security Council prepares to deliberate this week on whether to extend sanctions against Liberia, New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Liberia's security forces of war crimes against civilians, and called on the U.N. to maintain an arms embargo against the Liberian government. The group urged that the embargo be extended to cover the LURD rebels, and it called for an end to Guinea's support for LURD. In a 23-page report, "Back to the Brink: War Crimes by Liberian Government and Rebels, A Call for Greater International Attention to Liberia and the Sub-Region," Human Rights Watch warned that instability in Liberia could spill over into neighbouring Sierra Leone and threaten that country's fragile peace. Peter Takirambudde, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division pointed to the possibility of a widening of the Liberian conflict as growing numbers of Liberian refugees and combatants cross into neighbouring countries. And with peace coming to Sierra Leone, he said, hundreds of combatants from all sides in Sierra Leone's civil war are crossing into Liberia to fight as mercenaries either on the side of the Liberian government or for LURD.

The United Nations will need to remain in Sierra Leone for some time to come in order to help the country cope with the consequences of ten years of civil war, the former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Manfred Eisele told reporters in New York. Eisele, who led a fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone last month to assess the effectiveness of the recently-concluded disarmament and demobilisation process, said what remained in Sierra Leone was a very poor, dilapidated infrastructure and a lack of shelter — a situation, he noted, which will be aggravated by the coming rainy season. Eisele said there was also a need for the continued presence of U.N. peacekeepers as the country restructures its security forces. Only when the police and the army have reached the required levels of professionalism, he said, would the situation allow for the downsizing and eventual withdrawal of the U.N. presence.

United Nations and Sierra Leonean officials met with international donors in New York Tuesday, and urged them to support Sierra Leone's peace process by getting behind efforts to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the war-torn West African nation. "We believe that the establishment of the Commission is an important step to building a truly sustainable peace in the country," said Jean-Marie Guehenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. "This is a matter of great concern to everyone working to ensure the sustainability of peace in Sierra Leone. After all the international community has invested in Sierra Leone, We cannot afford to be complacent about its future." The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was agreed three years ago, in the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord signed between the Sierra Leone government and the Revolutionary United Front. The TRC's estimated cost of operation for the first 15 months is $10 million. With the start-off date just a month away, there has thus far been no firm commitment from the international community to provide the needed funding. Meanwhile, seven commissioners have been identified and confirmation of their appointments is expected to take place soon. Hearings are scheduled to begin in September. TRC Interim Executive Director Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff said donors had been very generous and that this was reflected by the positive changes which had taken place in Sierra Leone. She urged them to "go the extra mile to make sure that their huge investment in peace will not be lost." Jusu-Sheriff explained that the TRC was meant as a counter-balance to the Lomé Accord's amnesty provision, which let those guilty of gross human rights violations off the hook. "It is necessary to address the needs of the victim," she said. "TRC is seen as a mechanism for promoting reconciliation and help consolidate peace at the national, regional chiefdom and village levels...There were high expectations placed on the TRC. Now the TRC must manage those expectations. We must listen to the victims who are now saying 'we who had no hand in the war, what do you have for us?'" She explained that the scope of the Special Court, mandated to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, would be limited to trying a handful of the "big fish," but that many of those who committed atrocities would escape prosecution. She said there was a need for another forum where the victims' stories could be validated. "Since war in Sierra Leone was part of a sub-regional conflict, the TRC will provide an opportunity for others in the sub-region, including refugees, to participate in the healing process, and in creating the conditions that will ensure peace and stability in the sub-region," she said. The donors' briefing was hosted by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights.