The Sierra Leone Web


May 1996

30 May: Scientists are reporting an especially virulent and contagious strain of Lassa Fever in Sierra Leone, with epidemic's epicenter being Tongo Field, about 30 miles from Kenema. Of the 76 cases recorded since January, 46 people have died--a mortality rate of over 60%, compared to a more usual 15% death rate in such outbreaks. The Lassa Fever virus is spread primarily by rat urine and attacks most organs in the body, causing vomiting and internal haemorrhage. The infection can also be spread by contaminated needles. A task force has been formed consisting of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), British based Medical Emergency Relief International (MERLIN), the Atlanta (U.S.) based Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local officials. Most cases are being referred to the hospital in Segbwema or a private clinic in Kenema.

29 May: Peace talks between the government and the RUF were suspended Tuesday after deadlocking over the RUF demand for the expulsion of the South African mercenary force Executive Outcomes. Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Amara Essy, who is mediating the talks, said that the mercenary issue is the only obstacle to the signing of a final peace accord while negotiations continue. Negotiators have said privately that the key obstacle remains power sharing. RUF envoy's have called President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's offer "worthless."

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has listed Sierra Leone as one of 14 countries in Africa facing exceptional food emergencies. Other countries named were Angola, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Zaire, and Zambia. The FAO described the food situation in Africa as "precarious," and said that 22 million people in the region faced a food emergency.

24 May: Troops of the West African peace-keeping force have been taking part in looting Liberia, according to the U.S. State Department. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said that looting has reached "Olympian heights," and expressed concern that at least three ships leaving Monrovia contained large quantities of goods looted from the United Nations, non-governmental agencies, and businesses. One of these ships, the Victory Reefer, offloaded passengers in Freetown. According to another spokesman, "The ECOMOG troops have been heavily involved since the day they arrived in ripping off Liberians, in looting goods, in dealing in contraband...These people are supposedly there to keep the peace. Well, they didn't keep the peace very well, they didn't keep it at all. They didn't acquit themselves very well when the factions started fighting and they have been engaged in personal profiteering, pirating." The ECOMOG force, which is Nigerian-led, includes a contingent of Sierra Leonean troops.

22 May: The economy of Sierra Leone contracted during 1995, according to a report by the African Development Bank. This was in contrast to Africa as a whole, where the economic growth of 33 countries exceeded the rate of increase in their population, as compared to 24 states in 1994. Although Africa's economy overall grew by 2.9 percent in 1995, compared to 1.8 percent in 1994, the report said "Overall growth remained below levels considered adequate, because of the region's six major economies -- Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, Egypt, Libya and Morocco -- only Algeria and South Africa registered growth rates above three percent in 1995." The best economic performances were recorded by the CFA zone, following the devaluation and economic liberalisation of early 1994. Apart from Sierra Leone, only Liberia showed an economic decline.

19 May: The Nigerian fishing boat Victory Reefer is returning to Liberia with 41 passengers who have been denied entrance by the Sierra Leonean authorities. At least two of the 41 are Sierra Leoneans. Others had tickets and visas for Sierra Leone, but were denied permission to leave the boat. According to Nini Akiwjumi, country representative for the UNHCR, "The authorities gave no reasons to UNHCR why these people should not be allowed to disembark...It is most disappointing and distressing that people were not given a proper chance to present their cases and it seems like any Liberian or any Sierra Leonean refugee resident in Liberia for a long time is suspect." He said that one of the passengers was a 12 year old girl whose grandmother had come to the port to claim her, only to be told by the authorities that she was too late.

17 May: More than a week after a May 7th deadline to produce a comprehensive peace accord, Sierra Leone government and RUF negotiators remain far apart on the issue of power sharing. The RUF continues to reject the elections, and according to a draft document calls for the dissolution of the elected government, disarmament of the army, and encampment of the army along with rebel fighters. The government has maintained its position that it has the mandate of the Sierra Leonean people. A source close to the RUF said, "The turning issue is how the RUF is going to share power...They have offered some positions which show no semblance of power sharing. Instead RUF is relegated." In an interview with the BBC, Foday Sankoh denied reports that the RUF has accepted a permanent ceasefire. "We did not discuss a permanent ceasefire. We offered an indefinite ceasefire while we are negotiating," he said.

14 May: Sierra Leonean officials have allowed nearly 1,000 refugees stranded aboard the Nigerian fishing boat Victory Reefer to land in Freetown. The passengers had spent six days at sea with little food or water after escaping from the fighting in Liberia. The boat had been barred from landing by officials who said that the passengers must first be screened by police. 908 of those aboard were Sierra Leoneans; 14 were Sierra Leoneans soldiers of the ECOMOG peacekeeping force. The others consisted of Liberians, 21 crew members, some Lebanese, and Italian, and a Nigerian officer. 65% of the refugees were women and children. The UNHCR is now providing food, water, and medical care for the passengers. Officials said that the Liberians will be taken to a refugee camp outside Freetown. The rest will be taken care of by their respective embassies.

13 May: A fishing boat containing 700 or more refugees has moved closer to Freetown, but still has not been allowed to dock. Aid officials reported that food and water has run out, and that there is diarrhoea on board. Most of the refugees are Sierra Leoneans.

12 May: A fishing boat crammed with refugees from the fighting in Liberia has been denied permission to dock at Freetown. Sierra Leone officials have ordered the boat, the Victory Reefer, to anchor 15 miles offshore. A Red Cross official stated that the refugees are badly in need of food and water, and that there are reports of diarrhoea on board. The Red Cross has put the number of refugees on board at 1,500; the High Commissioner of Refugees in Geneva gave the number as 700, with the vast majority being women and children.

11 May: Sierra Leone state radio reported that 100 people were killed by rebels in Bendu-Malen, Pujehun District, on May 6th. The report quoted local hunters returning from the area, where they had been monitoring the ceasefire. The radio reported that most of the victims were between 50 and 75 years old, while teenage captives were taken to Camp Libya, the RUF's main stronghold in the south. A journalist who accompanied the hunters said that children under 5 were abandoned by the rebels, who later moved on to Mattru. 16 more people were beaten to death there by the rebels.

9 May: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has ordered an inquiry into the boating disaster where up to 140 people are believed to have drowned. The boat, the ML Confidence, had a capacity of 55 persons, but was carrying 210 people plus baggage when it capsized in bad weather. Estimates of the death toll vary, but as of Tuesday 94 bodies had been found with 55 people still missing.

Consolidated Rutile Ltd., the 50.1% owner of Sierra Rutile's closed mine, said Thursday that no decision has been made on whether to reopen the mine. The mine has been closed since it was overrun by RUF rebels in January 1995. Last week, Sierra Rutile's chief executive in Freetown reported that the company had secured financing from the World Bank and IMF to restart operations, and suggested that the company could be operating by early 1997. The problem of security remains. The mine is currently being guarded by the South African mercenary force Executive Outcomes.

8 May: A meeting of the nine member ECOMOG committee of ECOWAS in Ghana was called off after most of the West African heads of state failed to show up. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone was the only West African leader to attend. Foreign ministers had made far-reaching recommendations on finding ways to halt the fighting in Liberia. Ghana President Jerry Rawlings, speaking after the summit's collapse, warned that ECOMOG could pull out of Liberia if the fighting continued, and said that Liberia is in danger of being abandoned by the international community.

6 May: At least 116 people drowned Monday when a boat capsized off the coast of Lungi. Most of the boat's approximately 200 passengers were market women headed for Conakry, Guinea. Panic set in when the engine failed and the boat began to capsize in rough weather. Police blamed overcrowding for the disaster. At least 15 of the dead were children.

Peace talks have resumed in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast between representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the Revolutionary United Front. The two sides will spend the next two weeks trying to draft a peace plan.