The Sierra Leone Web


June 2003

30 June: Two leaders of the former Kamajor militia will make their initial appearance before Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal Tuesday, where they each face an eight count indictment on crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law allegedly committed during their country's civil war. Director of War Moinina Fofana and Chief Initiator Allieu Kondewa were detained on May 27 under a court rule which allows them to be held up to thirty days before being charged. They were indicted on Thursday. According to IRIN, a United Nations news and information service, charges include unlawful killings, terrorising civilians, causing physical and mental suffering, looting, burning, and using child soldiers. "Civilians, including women and children, who were suspected to have supported, sympathised with, or simply failed to actively resist the combined RUF/AFRC forces were termed as collaborators and specifically targeted by the CDF...These 'collaborators' and any captured enemy combatants were unlawfully killed...Victims were often shot, hacked to death or burnt to death. Other practices included human sacrifices and cannibalism," the indictment read in part.

27 June: Sierra Leone will face the Republic of Congo in the preliminary round qualifier for the 2006 World Cup. The draw for the Africa Zone took place in Paris on Friday. The matches will be played in September and October. The top 21 teams will advance to the second round, which will consist of five groups of six teams. The top team in each group will qualify for the World Cup, and the top three teams in each group will qualify for the 2006 African Cup of Nations. Complete draw: Botswana vs. Lesotho, Burkina Faso vs. Central African Republic, Burundi vs. Gabon, Chad vs. Angola, Congo vs. Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea vs. Togo, Ethiopia vs. Malawi, Gambia vs. Liberia, Guinea vs. Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau vs. Mali, Madagascar vs. Benin, Niger vs. Algeria, Rwanda vs. Namibia, Sao Tome e Principe vs. Libya, Seychelles vs. Zambia, Somalia vs. Ghana, Sudan vs. Eritrea, Swaziland vs. Cape Verde, Tanzania vs. Kenya, Uganda vs. Mauritius and Zimbabwe vs. Mauritania. Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia have first round byes.

The head of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed grave concern over the fate of 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who were forced to flee when rebel forces overran refugee camps around the Liberian capital Monrovia. A spokesman for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said there were sketchy reports that up to 1,000 refugees and displaced Liberians had gathered in and around the UNHCR's compound in Monrovia. Many others are believed to be sheltering in stadiums, schools, and other public buildings around the city. Lubbers renewed his call for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed in Liberia, where his agency says as many as half of the country's estimated 2.7 million people have been displaced or are in danger of displacement. "The High Commissioner believes that whether the force is in the form of an expanded UNAMSIL mandate from neighbouring Sierra Leone, under the leadership of a UN Security Council member state or through some other arrangement, something needs to be done now to stop the killing and end the suffering of Liberia's people," the spokesman said. The UNHCR warned that the conflict was threatening the stability of Liberia's neighbours. Of the more than half a million refugees in the region, some 300,000 are from Liberia. Meanwhile, ECOWAS mediators in Accra put peace talks on hold for a week, saying renewed fighting between government and rebel forces has compromised the process. The announcement came despite a unilateral ceasefire declared by the largest rebel group, LURD, which was to have come into effect at 10:00 a.m. local time Friday, the BBC reported.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar, pound sterling and Euro, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2150 / 2350. [£] 3100 / 3350. € 2100 / 2300. Commercial Bank: [$] 2200 / 2400. [£] 3250 / 3450. Frandia: [$] 2400 / 2550 [£] 3500 / 3800. € 2500 / 2700. Continental: [$] 2240 / 2550 [£] 3500 / 3900. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2450 / 2480 [£] 3700 / 3850. € 2700 / 2750. 

26 June: 30 persons, most of them women, drowned Tuesday when the boat in which they were travelling capsized off the coast of Sierra Leone during a storm, the Reuters news agency reported. Police in Kambia District said the boat was underway from Guinea, and was believed to be carrying contraband items such as cigarettes and petrol. "All passengers and crew on board died, including the captain," a police officer said, adding: "This boat was involved in smuggling."

A young British soldier who helped restore peace to Sierra Leone has been killed in southern Iraq, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, 20, was one of six Royal Military Police killed by a mob which stormed a police station in the town of Majar al-Kabir. Keys had been training Iraqi police officers since February, and was due to return home in two weeks. He was awarded a medal for bravery as a paratrooper in Sierra Leone when he was just 18.

Members of the United Nations Security Council left for Guinea Bissau Wednesday on the first leg of a 12-day mission to West Africa. The mission was originally scheduled for May, but had to be postponed at the last minute due to a pending resolution on Iraq. But British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who is heading the mission, told reporters in New York that the delay should not affect the usefulness of the mission, and he said Security Council members wanted to concentrate on conflicts in Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast and Liberia, which he said had consequences for the entire sub-region. The mission is scheduled to visit Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Guinea as well. In Liberia, Greenstock said, the Security Council wanted to support ECOWAS peace initiatives and would "lend its own support to that negotiation to try and use what weight it can generate to persuade the political leaders of all factions to come together and agree what the next political arrangement should be." If fighting in Monrovia makes it too dangerous for the group to visit the Liberian capital, the mission will attempt to meet representatives of the warring factions and political parties in either Accra or Abidjan. Security Council members will then go to Guinea and Sierra Leone which, together with Liberia comprise the Mano River Union, to seek their views on current events. "Obviously (we want) to check on the state of the re-building process in Sierra Leone, which is one of the more satisfactory stories in West Africa of recent years, and to see whether we can take forward further what are known as the Rabat agreement arrangements for good practice among the countries of the Mano River Union," he said. While in Freetown, the mission will pay a call on the Special Court, which earlier this month disclosed it had indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes. Greenstock said the visit was meant to demonstrate the Security Council's support for the court. "There will be, I think, a clear view amongst members of the mission that the court is there to be respected, and the decisions of the court are there to be respected," he said. In reply to a question as to whether the timing of the indictment had undermined prospects for peace in Liberia, Greenstock said the timing of indictments was up to the court, but that the indictment of Taylor should not have come as a surprise. "There were very strong numerous reports of a sealed indictment before the prosecutor made the public announcement that there was an indictment against President Taylor," he said. The president of the Special Court has asked the U.N. for Chapter VII authority, which would mandate member states to cooperate, while regional leaders have suggested that Taylor should be offered immunity from prosecution if he would step down. Greenstock noted that this was "quite a tricky area" which would be handled "sensitively" by the United Nations – but not now. "I don't think the Security Council will do anything between now and our potential visit to Monrovia to affect the situation one way or another," he said. "I would put as very low indeed the possibility that the Security Council as a body would get into the immunity question." But Greenstock said that given what he called the "very miserable set of options" currently facing the Liberian leader, "there is a case for saying the least bad option for President Charles Taylor is to submit to the jurisdiction of the court."

25 June: Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane told reporters in Freetown Wednesday he was confident Liberian President Charles Taylor would stand trial for war crimes, but he called for the international community to help make it happen, the Associated Press reported. "We are going to get Charles Taylor, I assure you," Crane said, adding: "It is the responsibility of the international community to make sure that Charles Taylor is turned over to us alive – and let the story be told." Crane said the court's lack of U.N. Chapter 7 authority should not stop states from cooperating with the court, and that governments had a legal and moral responsibility to turn in war criminals. In Monrovia Wednesday, LURD rebels intensified their attack on the Liberian capital, days after rebel leaders accused Taylor of reneging on a ceasefire agreement reached in Accra just last week. According to news services, fierce fighting took place at Freeport, west of the city, with only one bridge separating the attackers from the city centre. Liberia's defence minister was quoted as saying fighting had reached Bushrod Island, within small arms range of the downtown. In a midday broadcast on his private KISS-FM radio station, Taylor squelched rumours he had fled and vowed to stand with his troops, the Associated Press reported. "This blatant act of terror will be fought all the way," he said. "My life is no more important than yours. I am here with the men and women in arms, encouraging them to fight on, because my survival is their survival, and their survival is mine."

Special Olympics track and field athlete Rugiatu Kargbo (pictured left) won gold for Sierra Leone Wednesday with a first place finish in the women's 1,500-metre race. "She took a commanding lead early in the race and held on to it right through to the finishing line, beating off five other competitors," an observer in Dublin told the Sierra Leone Web. Kargbo triumphed over runners from the United States, Martinique and Slovenia. Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean runner Victor Coker won a silver medal in the men's 400-metre run, and Claytus Williams took the bronze. With 7,000 athletes from 166 countries participating, the Special Olympics is the world's largest athletic event this year, and the largest such event ever hosted by Ireland. The Special Olympics was formed in the United States more than 30 years ago to provide sporting opportunities for persons with learning disabilities at all levels.

23 June: Switzerland's Federal Office of Justice announced Monday it had ordered the freezing of any bank accounts determined to belong to Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured right) or his close associates at the behest of Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal. The order, which took effect on Friday, blocks accounts belonging to Taylor, his relatives, members of his government, and various business people and companies. The court also asked the Swiss authorities to turn over relevant bank records. The Federal Office of Justice said it had acted on a request by the Special Court, which has indicted the Liberian leader for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and that it had ordered the accounts frozen as a precaution. The case will be handed over to the Swiss Attorney-General's Office following a preliminary inquiry. At present, there is no indication as to the extent of the assets involved, but a spokesman for the Federal Office of Justice told the Sierra Leone Web that court officials told the Swiss authorities they believed Taylor had invested the proceeds of illicit diamond sales in several countries, including Switzerland. "The (court) estimates the proceeds at several millions Swiss francs, but doesn't say in the request how much of that amount is suspected to have been invested in Switzerland," the spokesman said. "In the request for legal assistance there are some indications about assets in Switzerland but the Federal Office of Justice has to date not received any reports from the banks concerned." In the past, Taylor has denied he has foreign bank accounts. In Freetown Monday, Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane (left) welcomed the Swiss action. "The money may be evidence of the joint criminal enterprise that we allege Taylor, with several other indictees, conducted in Sierra Leone over a period of years," he said. "In conjunction with the Swiss, we will work to disentangle Taylor’s finances and identify the profits he reaped from his criminal activity here."

Two radio stations in Bo and a reporter for the Freetown newspaper Standard Times were the winners Friday in the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) first annual National Media Awards. This year's awards were given for coverage of issues on National Reconciliation and the fight against HIV/AIDS between March 2002 and March 2003, with separate categories for radio, television and newspaper. In the radio category, Bo-based KISS-FM 104 won the prize for the best article on HIV/AIDS, while Albert Ross of SLBS 96.5 FM, also located in Bo, won in the National Reconciliation category. Saiu Kamara of the Standard Times won in the newspaper category for his coverage of HIV/AIDS. There were no entries in the television category. Each of the winners received a Certificate of Recognition and a cash prize of Le 500,000 (about $250). Beresford Taylor of Radio 98.1 FM received a Certificate of Participation and a Le 250,000 consolation prize. About 150 persons, most of them journalists, attended Friday's ceremony.

Britain has added Sierra Leone and 15 other nations to a list of countries whose citizens need visas to travel through Britain on their way to a third country, the Associated Press reported on Monday. Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes (pictured left) said the measure was aimed at preventing would-be asylum seekers from avoiding immigration controls by claiming they were travelling to another country. "We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure the integrity of our borders," she said. "Unacceptably high numbers of people are refused leave to enter the country when they arrive at our airports and some may go on to make unfounded asylum claims." Other countries affected are Albania, Belarus, Burma, Burundi, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Liberia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Nepal, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan and Vietnam. The new rule becomes effective on Tuesday. The Home Office said it would not affect persons anyone on the return leg of a trip started before Monday who had passed through Britain on the outward leg. There is also a grace period until 22:59 GMT Saturday for persons who purchased air tickets on or before June 23.

22 June: The Leone Stars of Sierra Leone defeated visiting Equatorial Guinea 2-0 in Freetown Sunday, in their return leg of the African Nations Cup qualifying matches. Scoring for Sierra Leone were Mohammed Kallon in the 71st minute, and Kabbah Samura in the 90th. The game had originally been scheduled for Saturday, but had to be postponed when the Equatorial Guinea failed to arrive in the Sierra Leonean capital. Sierra Leone still trails the Atlas Lions of Morocco, who maintained their one-game lead by defeating Gabon on Friday. Weekend Results: (Group 1) Nigeria 2, Angola 2. (Group 2) Guinea 2, Liberia 1; Ethiopia 2, Niger 0. (Group 3) Zambia 1, Sudan 1; Tanzania 0, Benin 1. (Group 4) Burkina Faso 3, Republic of Congo 0; Mozambique 1, Central African Republic 0. (Group 5) Cape Verde 3, Mauritania 0; Togo 2, Kenya 0. (Group 6) Eritrea 1, Seychelles 0; Mali 0, Zimbabwe 0. (Group 7) Morocco 2, Gabon 0; Sierra Leone 2, Equatorial Guinea 0. (Group 9) Swaziland 3, Botswana 2; Democratic Republic of Congo 2, Libya 1. (Group 10) Egypt 6, Madagascar 0. (Group 11) South Africa 2, Ivory Coast 1. (Group 12) Algeria 1, Namibia 0. (Group 13) Ghana 1, Uganda 1.

The Liberian authorities accused the LURD and MODEL rebel groups Sunday of attacking government forces near Monrovia and in the southeast, in what they claimed was a breach of the ceasefire agreement signed between the country's warring parties last Tuesday. A spokesman for President Charles Taylor also rejected accusations by the rebels, who accused loyalist forces of launching attacks on their positions last week. A Defence Ministry statement, citing what it said were intelligence reports, accused LURD of massing 2,000 troops along Liberia's border with Sierra Leone in preparation for a new attack on Monrovia – an operation, the statement said, which was being carried out with the consent of the Sierra Leone government using newly-recruited Sierra Leonean and Guinean fighters. The claim was dismissed by Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Patrick Foyah, who told the Reuters news agency there was not "an iota of truth" in the statement. Meanwhile, the departure of ceasefire monitors for the Liberian capital was delayed because representatives of the Liberian government and the rebel groups had not yet arrived, ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas (pictured left) said on Sunday. "Travel between Monrovia and other parts of West Africa at this point is not that easy," he told the BBC. "We are trying to see if we can get all the representatives to Freetown, Sierra Leone so that the mission can start tomorrow Monday the 23rd." Chambas said it was essential that members of the warring groups were represented on the monitoring teams. "For the credibility of the findings, you need a representative of each side in these teams to verify their location and to ascertain certain military facts on the ground which they should more or less also agree to," he said. Chambas stressed that the monitors needed to begin their work quickly in order to take advantage of the current momentum for peace. "The longer it takes, the more you have accusations and counter-accusations," he said. "Even if they’re not verifiable and if they’re exaggerated, there is no way anybody can tell what exactly is on the ground, so it’s important for all the parties to appreciate the importance of sending these teams to start to determine who is holding what territory."

Police in Freetown detained a security officer working for Sierra Leone's Special Court after thieves broke into the Chief Prosecutor's office on Saturday, the Reuters news agency reported on Sunday, quoting an unnamed police official. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office told the Sierra Leone Web that only a radio was stolen. "No documents of any kind (were taken) and no areas of the office that include sensitive materials were breached," he said. 

20 June: Liberian President Charles Taylor blamed the Sierra Leone government Friday for his indictment by the country's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, and he vowed not to relinquish power to a transitional government before his six-year presidential term ends in January, news services reported. Taylor added that following a brief transition period led by his vice president, Moses Blah, he could even seek a new term as president.  Earlier this month, Taylor told delegates to a peace conference in Accra that he was prepared to stand down if this would help bring an end to his country's four-year civil war. "If President Taylor is seen as a problem, then I will remove myself," he said on June 4. "I'm doing this because I'm tired of the people dying. I can no longer see this genocide in Liberia." That statement was cited in a ceasefire agreement that representatives of Taylor's government and members of the LURD and MODEL rebel groups signed last Tuesday. The agreement calls for the country's warring factions, together with Liberia's political parties and civil society groups, to hammer out within 30 days a blueprint for a transitional government "which will not include the current president." But in a phone-in television programme Friday which was carried live on his KISS-FM radio station, Taylor backtracked on his pledge. The vast majority of Liberians including chiefs and elders, he said, "are now protesting that I can't step aside without their approval." He suggested, too, that he had never promised not to seek another term in office. "I said I was prepared to step aside," he said. "I didn't say I was not going to run. I have a large following in this country. It is in the interest of peace that I'm prepared to step aside, but let nobody think that our backs are against the wall, so we are going to accept anything." He added: "The conference in Accra is not a sovereign conference. It is a peace conference. It has its limitations." Taylor now says he intends to hand over power at the end of his term to his vice president, Moses Blah, and that Blah will lead a brief transitional government into the next elections. That transitional government, he said, will include members of the country's two rebel movements, but it will only be an extension of Taylor's ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP). "There will be nothing such as an interim government here," he said, "The NPP will remain in government until elections are held." Taylor also stressed that the other two branches of government, the legislature and judiciary, would remain untouched by the political arrangement. And following the transition period, he said, he might even seek a new term as president. "I reserve the right, my constitutional right, following the transition, to run for general elections if I decided to do so," he said. Taylor also lashed out at the Sierra Leone government Friday, blaming the Sierra Leonean authorities for his indictment on war crimes charges and accused Sierra Leone of harboring LURD rebels seeking to overthrow him. "This indictment is not versus Charles Taylor," he said. "It is Sierra Leonean versus Liberia. This will bring confusion between the two countries for years and years to come." He said his government "has launched a formal complaint to Sierra Leone for allowing use of its territory as a launching pad." Taylor claimed to have 40,000 fighters under his command, and he warned his forces "will not feel comfortable" if he were "indicted and a war criminal." Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency said there were reports of fighting between government and rebel forces near Tubmanburg Friday, some 38 miles outside of Monrovia, and also at Bo Waterside on the country's border with Sierra Leone. A spokesman for MODEL said rebels had been attacked in four places. He said the breaches of the ceasefire had been reported to mediators.

President Kabbah officially opened the Second Session of Sierra Leone's Second Parliament Friday, telling lawmakers that with the end of the country's civil war, Sierra Leone had enjoyed more than a year of peace, security, democracy, and a reasonable level of economic recovery and social stability. In sectors from security to governance to the economy, the president said, Sierra Leone had recorded significant progress. "Our economic performance in the past year was well above average, and better than many other African countries," he said. And while acknowledging that the economic growth started from a low base and was largely donor-driven, Kabbah also credited "prudent leadership" and the patience of Sierra Leoneans in facing hardship for the positive economic developments. Not all the news was good, however, and Kabbah pledged his government would institute measures to address problems in areas which he said had failed to perform. The civil service, which the president noted had been plagued by political intrusion, a lack of resources and a decade of conflict, will be restructured to develop a professional, independent and well-paid public sector. Kabbah also pointed to problems in Sierra Leone's mining sector, where he said "the age-old problem of smuggling, exploitation, cheating and chaos in the diamond mining areas have not been brought under full control." He pointed, too, to a continuing need to address corruption, a lack of public transparency, and "an urgent need to strengthen accountability systems in order to ensure that public officials are held accountable for any misappropriation of funds." And, Kabbah said, Sierra Leone needed to see an improvement in the country's schools. "From now onwards, government will seek to match the level of funding for school reconstruction and rehabilitation with funding for recruitment, training and improving the conditions of service for teachers," he said. Kabbah expressed particular concern over the relative lack of educational opportunities for the nation's girls. Beginning next school year, he said, the government will pay school fees at the JSS1 level for every girl in the North and East who successfully completes her primary level NPSE examinations. These regions currently experience the lowest educational rates for girls at this level. He added that the government also planned to build and stock libraries in every region of the country to address the educational needs, not only of children, but of adults as well. The president urged lawmakers in both the executive and legislative branches of government "to always strive to enhance the creation of wealth for the benefit of the general population rather than agitate for personal comfort or advantage." Said Kabbah: "The occupation of a public office should always be regarded as a heavy and sacred responsibility and not as a source of personal reward."

Four Sierra Leonean track and field athletes, accompanied by their coach and a Head of Delegation, arrived in Ireland's capital Dublin Friday to compete in this year's Special Olympics Games. (From left) Victor Coker will compete in the 200 and 400-metre race and the high jump, while teammate Rugiatu Kargbo qualified for the 800 and 1500-metre runs. Kelly Marah will represent Sierra Leone in the 100-metre run and the 4 kg. shot put event, and Claytus Williams will compete in the 100, 200 and 400-metre races. Rounding out the team are Head Coach Joseph Orielly-Campbell and Head of Delegation Pamela E.J. Williams. The Special Olympics was formed in the United States more than 30 years ago to provide sporting opportunities for persons with learning disabilities at all levels, and is now active in more than 160 countries. This is the first time the games have been held outside the U.S. This year's competition includes delegations from 166 countries, including 32 teams from Africa. The competition runs from June 21-29.

76,000 Sierra Leonean refugees returned home in 2002, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday. Worldwide, an estimated 2.4 million refugees were repatriated in 2002, one million more than the 1.4 million annual average over the past decade. The number of new refugees also fell in 2002 by 41 percent over 2001. As a result, the number of refugees worldwide at the beginning of 2003 fell by 1.7 million to 10.3 million – 14 percent over the previous year. But while many refugees were able to return home, nearly 300,000 more people were forced to flee their homes in 2002. The numbers included 105,000 Liberians and 22,000 Ivorians who became refugees during the year due to new or escalating civil strife in their home countries. Meanwhile, the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea's Kissidougou Prefecture came to a halt last week due to funding shortfalls for the non-governmental organisation GTZ, which manages the logistical side of the operation, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. 

19 June: The European Union (EU) announced Thursday it plans to provide €220 million ($258 million) in assistance to Sierra Leone over the next five years Thursday. According to a statement by the European Commission, the EU's executive body, the money will be used to help rebuild the country after a decade of civil war, and to implement the government's poverty reduction strategy. Priority will be given to the rehabilitation of Sierra Leone's infrastructure and to good governance measures. Of the money, €70 million will go to rehabilitating roads and social infrastructure, €19 to institutional support and improvement of governance, €50 million to direct budget support to stabilise Sierra Leone's economy and support the implementation of the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy, and €5 million will go to "non-focal sectors," including civil society groups and non-state actors. In addition, €76 million will be allocated to cover unforeseen needs such as emergency assistance, contributions to internationally agreed debt relief initiatives, and support to mitigate the adverse effects of instability in export earnings. 

At least one UNAMSIL military officer will join the Joint Verification Team (JVT) charged with monitoring the ceasefire in Liberia, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General said on Wednesday. The JVT is due arrive in Monrovia at the weekend. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji told Radio UNAMSIL that UNAMSIL would likely provide some logistic support for the monitoring effort, but that any further role for the peacekeeping force would await a decision of the U.N. Security Council. "We haven't reached the stage of sending (UNAMSIL) troops into Liberia," he said. "What is important at the moment is to ensure that the ceasefire holds, to verify that the parties observe the ceasefire, identify their current position, and make sure that they stay there. Of course, there would be the need as soon as possible to inject a stabilization force. That is being called for now. The composition of such a force is yet to be worked out." Since last year, UNAMSIL has reduced its troop strength from about 17,500 to around 13,000. Adeniji said the drawdown plan was on course, and that UNAMSIL was now consolidating its position and watching the security situation before embarking on the next round of troop reductions. "The Liberian development has come at a very good stage in the sense that it comes at a time when we have a pause between one phase of our drawdown and the other," he said. "It gives us a very good opportunity to decide whether to carry on with the drawdown or to stay where we are for the time being if we consider the threat perception for the Liberian crisis great enough. But with the ceasefire, and hopefully with the deployment in Liberia of a force, I do not think that there would be any interference with our drawdown plans." In Accra, where Liberia's political groupings have begun discussions on plans for a transitional government, ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas told the BBC that members of the Joint Verification Team were expected to assemble in the Ghanaian capital by Friday so that the team could fly to Monrovia on Saturday. "All the ECOWAS members, the officers to participate in that team, are currently in Accra," he said. "The U.N. has also identified two officers to be part of the verification team. So has the United States of America. We are waiting the various parties – that is the government, LURD and MODEL – to give us the names of their two representatives." Chambas said ECOWAS wanted the United States to provide peacekeeping troops for Liberia, and called on other members of the International Contact Group on Liberia, including Britain and France, to provide material and financial backing for the ECOWAS peace initiative. "We expect members of the International Contact Group who have worked very closely with ECOWAS to broker these peace talks to continue to support our efforts in implementing whatever agreement comes out of these talks in Accra," he said. "There is an emerging consensus on these issues, and yes, we have started talking to the members of the International Contact Group, especially the United States, to think and consider very seriously what role it will play in this process. There is a determination this time on the part of the International Contact Group, including the United States, to support ECOWAS fully so that we can bring finality to this long drawn out saga of crisis in Liberia." 

U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas and his wife Lucille led a U.S. Embassy delegation to Sierra Leone's northern Koinadugu District on Wednesday to inaugurate U.S.-backed community development initiatives in three villages, the embassy said in a statement. The projects included a new school and a water well for Kamadugu Sokuralla, a well and health post in Kondeya, and a well and a market square in Yataya. Funding was provided by USAID, and the projects overseen by the Christian Children's Fund (CCF). The local villages provided the labour, land and raw materials. "The best part about each project is the level of community involvement that went into them," Chaveas was quoted as saying. "CCF efforts made it possible for these communities to undertake their own development activities. We did not just want to build a school, health post or well. We wanted to provide skills training and know-how to the people who live here so that they could do these things for themselves."

17 June: Negotiators for Liberia's government and the LURD and MODEL rebel forces signed a ceasefire agreement in Accra Tuesday under which the guns in the country's four-year civil war would fall silent at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday. Representatives of the Liberian government, rebels, political parties and civil society groups would then begin work immediately to hammer out within 30 days a comprehensive peace accord which would result in "the formation of a transitional government which will not include the current president." But when that transitional government might take over government is not clear. At the opening of the peace talks in Ghana, Taylor announced he would consider stepping down if his continued presence was an impediment to peace in his country. He later suggested that this meant he might not be a candidate for re-election and that he could step down at the end of his current term in January. In a BBC interview, Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said that despite rebel demands, it was not likely that Taylor would leave office in 30 days. "It’s not a matter of what the rebels said," he said. "They are only one part of this whole process. You have 19 political parties that represent stakeholders across the spectrum. You have the government and other interested parties. So the rebels making a demand is one thing, but what we are saying is that we need not rush the process in Liberia. We need to approach the whole thing from a holistic perspective so that whatever peace comes to Liberia will be durable and not like the peace that they brought in 1997 that has erupted again into conflict." Taylor's press secretary, Vaani Paasewe, said the Liberian leader's pledge was that he would leave office "if Liberians believe he is the problem to the peace process," but he insisted this was not the case. "What has come to the fore from the conference that everybody sees President Taylor also as an essential part of the solution," he said. "The solution in disarming the fighters, the solution in ensuring that the democratic virtues that we fought for in 1997 is not derailed completely." Earlier Tuesday, the Chief Mediator at ECOWAS-sponsored peace talks in Accra, former Nigerian leader Abdulsalami Abubakar, told Radio France International that one of the main stumbling blocks to an agreement had been the indictment of Taylor for war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. "The announcement of this indictment came at a very, very wrong time, throwing a spanner in the wheels and giving us a big problem," he said. "Whether we like it or not, we have to address this issue of indictment if at all we are going to move forward." Abubakar said the indictment should be lifted "in order to give peace a chance." Representatives of the LURD and MODEL rebel groups put off signing a truce agreement on Monday, citing as their primary reason a renewed military offensive by government forces. 

The Washington, D.C.-based Gbonkolenken Descendants Organization announced this week it had donated $3,500 for the people in Tonkolili District's Gbonkolenken Chiefdom. $3,000 of the amount was earmarked for the completion of a guest house in Yele, to which the group contributed $6,000 a year ago, and $500 was to go toward a soap-making project in the village of Mayeppoh. The money was contributed through P.C. Bai Sunthba Osara, the Paramount Chief of Gbonkolenken, and Dr. Alfred Bobson Sesay, the Minister of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment. Sesay, himself a Gbonkolenken descendant, announced the gift in Yele on Saturday.

16 June: A battalion of 600 Liberian soldiers, accompanied by 400 family members, is negotiating to enter Sierra Leone and surrender their weapons to Sierra Leonean security forces, IRIN said on Monday, quoting relief workers in Freetown. The battalion, led by General Davidson, had reportedly been based in Lofa County. The relief workers said a second battalion of 700 soldiers accompanied by family members was also apparently to cross the border.

Liberia's Defence Minister, attending ceasefire talks with LURD and MODEL rebels in Ghana, told IRIN he knew nothing about the reported death in Liberia of fugitive parliamentarian and former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. "I heard about it on TV this morning," Daniel Chea told IRIN. "I don't know where the Court got its reports from. I have no intention of commenting on such news. I don't believe he was in Liberia. We have said often that anytime Koroma comes to Liberia he will be arrested and sent back to Sierra Leone. I am shocked to hear that he had died in Liberia."

15 June: In January, former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma fled Sierra Leone's capital during a police raid on his home in western Freetown. The security sweep followed an armed attack on a military supply depot by a group of current and former soldiers and former RUF rebels which the authorities now say, officially, was a coup attempt in which Koroma was implicated. Others, however, suggest the attack was motivated by a desire to disrupt the work of Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, the Special Court. Koroma, on the run, telephoned the BBC to protest his innocence, and then vanished. Well, not quite. About a week after his disappearance, Koroma called former RUF official Omrie Golley, then in Croatia, and asked for his assistance. During their three-minute conversation, Golley said, Koroma asked him to contact Western diplomats in Freetown for their assistance if he would agree to surrender to the Sierra Leonean authorities. He said he also wanted Golley's help in contacting a couple who had organized an August 2001 peace-building conference in Caux sur Montreaux, Switzerland they both had attended, and he expressed a desire to contact President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso. Koroma never called back, however, and two months later the Special Court indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the former junta leader and his followers during Sierra Leone's civil war. Then, in May, court officials said they had finally tracked him down. Koroma, according to "credible reports," was in fact just across the border in the Liberian town of Foya Kamala, in command of 3,000 troops loyal to President Charles Taylor. Now, court investigators believe Koroma is dead – executed in late May on the orders of the Liberian president himself. The Associated Press and Reuters both quoted Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White as saying he had "credible information" Koroma had been killed. But White subsequently told IRIN, a United Nations information service, that the reports were unconfirmed. Koroma's wife Makuta told journalists Sunday she had spoken with White, and that she believes her husband was murdered two weeks ago by two Taylor loyalists – Ziza Maza, a follower of Taylor Security Chief General Benjamin Yeaten, and Roland Doe. Mrs. Koroma said she had contacted court officials, the Sierra Leone government and regional leaders to request their help in securing the return of his body. Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White told the Sierra Leone Web he had spoken to Mrs. Koroma for corroboration of the court's information, and also to ask her when she had last spoken with her husband, but he gave no details.

61 Liberian soldiers, including a colonel, five majors, and about 30 captains and lieutenants had surrendered as of Saturday to Sierra Leonean security forces in eastern Sierra Leone, RSLAF Third Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Samuel Omaru Williams told the BBC. The soldiers had reportedly fled fighting at Foya in Liberia's Lofa County, and entered Sierra Leone at the Bendu Crossing Point east of Koindu with their arms and ammunition. 200 Liberian civilians, most of them women and children, were also reported to have crossed into Sierra Leone Sunday morning and are being screened in Koindu. 

14 June: President Kabbah voiced support this week for the work of Sierra Leone's Special Court, but he refused to be drawn into commenting on specific indictments handed down by the war crimes tribunal. Kabbah spoke to the BBC during a trip to the northern town of Makeni, where he and his ministers held a cabinet meeting on Thursday. "I have a policy that since we agreed that the court will do whatever they want to do to address the issue of impunity in our country, that I will not interfere into what they do or make any public statement about what they do," he said. "But what I can say is that I willingly consented, actively, in the decisions about the establishment of the court. And I know that with the court addressing this whole question of impunity, all these problems that we’ve had in our country will be over. I’m convinced about that. You see, this is part of the problem that we have in Africa, that we feel that there should be sacred cows around; the untouchable. And you create those sacred cows, they feel that the other people, they are not completely human beings. Any sort of thing can happen to them, and people can get away with it." The president returned to Freetown Saturday morning, and his spokesman described the visit to the country's Northern Province as "very successful."  "There was dialogue between government ministers and the Paramount Chiefs and other local government leaders," Kanji Daramy told the Sierra Leone Web. "It was very interactive as ministers disclosed their development plans for the region and the local authorities and other stakeholders made comments and contributions about the plans." During the visit, the president opened the new Rogbaneh Police Station in Makeni and announced that about ten public buildings in and around the provincial headquarters town were to be rehabilitated soon. Vice President Solomon Berewa officiated at a ceremony marking the rehabilitation of Makeni's Wusum Stadium, and visited the nearby town of Magburaka to inspect the newly rebuilt Mathora Girls' Secondary School. Meanwhile, the Minister of Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance inspected ongoing construction and maintenance work on the Makeni-Kamakwie road, while the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security visited farms and consulted with local leaders about agricultural potential in Bombali District.

13 June: The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said its team in Liberia is looking urgently for ways to help several hundred Sierra Leonean refugees who have been camping outside the agency's offices in Monrovia since Sunday, when camps outside the city were overrun by LURD rebels. Before the weekend, some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees lived in four camps near Monrovia. Aid workers believe that Sierra Leonean refugees from three of those camps which were overrun have fled along with the local population. Later Friday, however, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that thousands of persons still remained in the seven refugee and displaced camps which ring the city, and that aid workers were seeking a humanitarian corridor to reach them, evaluate the situation, and provide food. "These people have been out of food for now nearly six weeks," she told the Voice of America. "We have never been able to feed these people because the food was looted immediately after distribution. Our job is not to feed soldiers or rebels, but people are in need, or are displaced, or refugees." Meanwhile, the UNHCR said some of the Sierra Leoneans who had lived at the VOA Camp had begun to arrive in Monrovia via bush roads with what the agency said were "worrying reports of widespread incidents of violence, intimidation and extortion during and after the fighting" which took place over the past week between government and rebel forces. There were also unconfirmed reports that three of the Sierra Leonean refugees may have been killed, and others arrested. Following a meeting on Thursday between UNHCR staff and the Liberian government's refugee agency, LCRRR, the authorities said they would dispatch teams to the refugee camps, wherever possible, to assess the situation. The UNHCR also asked for security for humanitarian workers to allow them to resume their work. Meanwhile, negotiators for the Liberian government and the two rebel groups, LURD and MODEL, began a second day of ECOWAS-mediated talks in the Ghanaian resort town of Akosombo aimed at bringing about a truce in the country's four year old civil war.

Four leading members of the U.S. House International Relations Committee called on the Bush administration Friday to release an additional $10 million pledged for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and suggested that the court could be facing an additional security threat in the wake of its announcement last week of the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Taylor demanded Thursday that the indictment be quashed as the price for peace in his country, but a spokesman for the Special Court said that's unlikely to happen. "The court’s not reacting to (the demand) at all, and at the moment it’s the judicial matter of an indictment. There’s no way that we envisage it being dropped," David Hecht told the Voice of America. "If the prosecutor realized that the indictment was false for instance, or that he made a mistake, then that might be a reason, but there is certainly certainly no grounds that he just have the indictment dropped from political considerations." In their letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell the three Republicans and one Democrat, led by International Relations Committee chairman Henry Hyde, urged that the Liberian leader not be offered any deals. "There can be no peace in Liberia, or in West Africa, as long as Charles Taylor is allowed to maintain influence and act as a menace to his neighbors," the letter said. "To regard Mr. Taylor as an honest broker who is capable of contributing to a peace process for Liberia, or to acquiesce to conditions for his voluntary retreat into exile, would be a mistake...Exile for Mr. Taylor is not a sound option." Similar sentiments were echoed in Ottawa by Parliamentarian David Pratt (pictured left), who served as Canada's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone. "Under no circumstances should the Sierra Leone Special Court indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor be lifted," he said. Pratt argued that Taylor's attempt to link the lifting of the indictment to the Liberian peace process should be summarily rejected by the United Nations and the international community. "If we are ever going to end the culture of impunity, we must support this Special Court and others in the future whose objective is to bring to justice those charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity," he said, adding: "The Special Court is breaking new ground for justice in Africa and it is extremely important it not be weakened in any way." Meanwhile, a European Union (EU) statement issued in Athens was more circumspect. The EU called for the warring parties to cease hostilities and to seek a negotiated solution to the Liberian crisis. "The European Union holds the view that the indictment against Charles Taylor should not impede peace efforts underway in Ghana," the statement said. 

12 June: President Kabbah will hold a meeting of his cabinet in Makeni Thursday as part of his effort to "take government to the people," his spokesman said late Wednesday. The cabinet meetings are being rotated among the provincial capitals, with the first session held last month in Kenema. The next meeting of ministers outside of Freetown will be in Bo. Presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy (pictured right) told the Sierra Leone Web that the Thursday's cabinet meeting would allow the president to interact with traditional leaders and local government functionaries, and to address issues relating to local government administration and development on the spot. He added that there was a psychological effect as well. "To get the entire cabinet, including the president and the vice president, in the midst of ordinary rural people can be quite reassuring not only about their presence, but that they care and are ready to reconstruct and rebuild," he said. After Thursday's cabinet session, the president and his ministers are scheduled to travel to nearby Magburaka to inspect rehabilitation work being done on the Boys' Secondary School and the Girls' Secondary School at Mathora. On Friday, Kabbah will recognize two newly-elected paramount chiefs from Koinadugu District. Daramy said holding cabinet meetings in the provinces gave ministers a chance to keep abreast of developments in the regions and to see first-hand what really goes on in the country outside of Freetown. "There is a feedback approach inherent in this exercise as ministers would be able to evaluate projects that are being implemented under their ministries during visits to project sites in these regions while they are there," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor told reporters Thursday there could be no peace in his country unless an indictment for war crimes is lifted, news services reported. "The question of this indictment is principal for peace in Liberia," he said. "That whole stigma must be removed. How they do it is up to them, but it has to be removed." Sierra Leone's Special Court announced last week it had indicted the Liberian leader for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Taylor angrily denounced the indictment as racist and an attempt by the prosecutor "to disgrace an African president."  "This is not about Charles Taylor," he said. "It’s about how Africa can be free and how African leaders can be respected. We are an African people." Taylor said he was ready to agree to a ceasefire in the country's civil war, but that he would not agree to rebel demands that he resign. Negotiators for the LURD and MODEL rebel groups in Ghana for peace talks say they won't sign any agreement which Taylor is a party to. But the Liberian leader said he would not step down until his presidential term ends in January, and he insisted that his participation was necessary to the peace process. According to the BBC correspondent in Monrovia, Taylor pointed to the large number of combatants loyal to him, and he maintained they would have no incentive to disarm if they saw their leaders forced to leave office in shame. 

The wife of jailed former rebel leader Foday Sankoh described her husband as "a vegetable" and said he was in urgent need of treatment abroad. Following a press conference in Freetown with officials of the Special Court, which last March indicted Sankoh for war crimes, Fatou Mbaye Sankoh told the BBC she felt the problem was not in finding a third country which would accept him, but in persuading the United Nations to lift its travel ban on the RUF leader. "I don’t think that the Special Court is talking about not finding a country to take Sankoh for medical treatment," she said. "Only to my knowledge one country was approached, and I don’t think that the other countries refused to get Sankoh. It has to be done." She said she believed the U.N. Security Council would lift the travel ban if the third country would give assurances that Sankoh would return to Sierra Leone after treatment. "Foday Sankoh is not going to fight for political asylum or to stay in any other country," she said. "He is going just for a medical examination pursuant to the judge’s order. It’s a court order. So I don’t think that some third country is going to refuse to take him." Mrs. Sankoh said her husband's condition was deteriorating daily. "What needs to be done is for them to take him into a third country and to follow up for the treatment," she said. "That’s what needs to be done. The hospital is serving as a hotel. That’s all. He’s just laying, eating, they’re watching him and that’s all, nothing else."

11 June: Sierra Leone's former rebel leader is in urgent need of medical treatment outside of Sierra Leone, but no country has agreed to accept him, court officials said on Wednesday. Foday Sankoh was indicted by Sierra Leone's Special Court earlier this year for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during by his rebel group the country's civil war. He has been in prison since May 2000, and his condition has deteriorated markedly since his brief appearances before the Sierra Leonean courts a year ago. According to the Special Court's medical officer, Dr. Donald Harding, by the time Sankoh came into the war crimes tribunal's custody in March he was in a catatonic state, and is incapable of walking, talking or feeding himself. Harding added that the rebel leader's condition is growing worse. A proper medical assessment would require a CAT-scan machine and other equipment which is not available in Sierra Leone. "Until we understand what is wrong with him we can’t treat him properly," Harding said. Court Registrar Robin Vincent told reporters that if a country could be found which would accept Sankoh, the United Nations Security Council would likely be willing to lift a travel ban barring the rebel leader from leaving the country. "The government of the country would have to ensure there were no legal impediments to accepting him," he said. According to the Associated Press, Vincent added that if no country would agree to take Sankoh, the court plans to appeal for $600,000 to bring the necessary equipment to Sierra Leone. In a press conference Wednesday, the court's Registrar and its Chief of Defence, together with Sankoh's younger brother and his Senegalese-born wife, appealed to the international community to accept him on humanitarian grounds.

The President of Sierra Leone's Special Court, Justice Geoffrey Robertson, wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week asking for a Security Council resolution which would give the court Chapter VII authority under the United Nations charter. Chapter VII authority, the court said Wednesday, would oblige U.N. member states to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal. Court prosecutors insist the Special Court's mandate already gives it the authority to prosecute anyone implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Last week, however, the court failed to persuade the Ghanaian authorities to hand over Liberian President Charles Taylor after issuing an international warrant for his arrest. Instead, the Ghanaian government put the Liberian leader on a plane for Monrovia. A spokesman for Annan told reporters in New York that since the court did not have Chapter VII authority, there was no enforceable obligation on member states to cooperate. 

Sierra Leone's Under-17 football team has been drawn into a group with the United States, South Korea and Spain for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Finland. The Sierra Stars qualified for the competition by reaching the finals of the CAF U-17 championship this month in Swaziland, only to lose in overtime to Cameroon. Groupings: Group A, at Helsinki: Finland, China, Mexico and Colombia. Group B, at Turku: Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica and Nigeria. Group C, at Tampere: Yemen, Portugal, Cameroon and Brazil. Group D in Lahti: Sierra Leone, United States, Spain and South Korea.

Food production in Sierra Leone made a significant recovery last year as many displaced farmers returned home to plant crops following ten years of civil war, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Wednesday. According to IRIN, a United Nations information service, the FAO said rice production had recovered to 78 percent of its pre-war level, and acreage under cultivation for rice had increased by 47 percent, thanks in part to the distribution of 5,772 tons of seed rice to over 144,000 farmers. But the FAO said many refugees returned home only after the planting season had begun, meaning that more than 135,000 rural families will require food assistance in 2003. Parts of the north and the east where resettlement is continuing remain particularly vulnerable from the standpoint of food security. A food survey showed that besides rice, Sierra Leone's staple crop, there was also a strong recovery in the production of such food crops as cassava, sweet potato and groundnuts. The FAO report concluded that food production should reach pre-war levels this year if support for the farming sector is maintained. Even that amount, however, would not be sufficient to meet the country's needs. The report said Sierra Leone produced just 50 percent of its cereal requirements last year. The government has set a goal of achieving self-sufficiency in food production by 2007.

The Sierra Leone government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, but the authorities are "making significant efforts to do so despite severe resource constraints," the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. In its 2003 report on human trafficking, the State Department described Sierra Leone as "a source country for trafficked persons." During the country's decade-long civil war, the report noted, tens of thousands of men, women and children were abducted as forced labourers, combatants, and sex slaves. But despite the end of the conflict in January 2002, few of the girls believed to have been taken as sex slaves have been accounted for. Moreover, the report said, small groups of persons are likely still being held for forced labour or sexual servitude. Children are being trafficked to Liberia as forced conscripts and to Europe under false adoption schemes, and child prostitution is also said to be on the rise. While the authorities were said to have have taken steps toward the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking and the protection of its citizens, the State Department called for the government to do more. "Sierra Leone can make additional progress through undertaking a comprehensive public awareness campaign, stepping up law enforcement efforts, and committing additional resources for victim protection and repatriation of victims," the report said. 

UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker confirmed Wednesday that a number of people were killed in a road accident involving a U.N. armoured personnel carrier. According to the Freetown newspaper New Citizen, four persons were killed and 13 injured on Saturday when an armoured vehicle belonging to UNAMSIL's Zambian contingent lost control on a slope and rammed into the Largo market, in Kenema District. Coker told the Sierra Leone Web there were fatalities, but that he had no details on the number of dead and injured. "A board of inquiry is already set up to investigate the incident," he said, adding: "It was really tragic. UNAMSIL deeply regrets the incident."

10 June: Liberia's defence minister said Tuesday his government was ready to enter into a truce with LURD rebels besieging the country's capital, the Reuters news agency reported. "The government of Liberia wants a ceasefire," Defence Minister Daniel Chea was quoted as saying. West African mediators. The statement came as West African mediators sought the backing of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia for a cessation of hostilities and support for peace talks taking place in the Ghanaian resort town of Akosombo. In Monrovia, foreign nationals took advantage of a brief lull in the fighting to leave the city. French military helicopters flew 535 Westerners to a warship off the Liberian coast on Monday, while, according to the BBC, a group of stranded Sierra Leonean residents gathered in front of the UNHCR compound in hope of being sent home. Ghana announced Tuesday it was sending a warship and three planes to evacuate its nationals from the city. Meanwhile, news agencies reported renewed fighting in Monrovia Tuesday afternoon. And as ECOWAS mediators attempted to stabilise the situation in Liberia, substantive peace talks between government and rebel negotiators in Ghana were being put on hold until Wednesday pending the arrival of negotiators from a second rebel group, MODEL. In an interview Monday with the Voice of America, MODEL Chairman Thomas Nimeley said his group had changed its mind about taking part in the talks after receiving what he called "a considerable level of pressure from the international community." Nimeley also claimed that the indictment last week of President Taylor by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal had played a role in convincing MODEL leaders to take part in the negotiations. "That played a 99.3 percent role in our decision to go," he said. "Now that the indictment came down, it gives us a sense of empowerment to now begin to feel that we do have somebody on our side." A different reading of the indictment's fallout was made by Taylor's press secretary, Vaani Paasewe. Paasewe claimed the indictment had encouraged the rebels to attack the capital, and he claimed that many of these fighters were Sierra Leoneans. "The sort of fighters that we are meeting on the war front at this moment clearly show that they are drawn from Sierra Leone Kamajors and other likes," he told the BBC. "We do know that this is a great plot which has now been hatched over us and now has derailed or has a potential of derailing the peace process." Paasewe rejected a 72-hour ultimatum by LURD for Taylor to step down by Wednesday or face a renewed assault on the capital. He said, however, that the Liberian government would be willing to observe a ceasefire if LURD forces withdrew to their pre-peace conference positions.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern about the fate of some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who had been staying in camps around Monrovia. International staff have been evacuated from the city, and the 33 remaining national staff are unable to carry out any meaningful activity in the refugee camps, a spokesman for the agency said on Tuesday. The UNHCR has lost contact with two of its camps, VOA and Banjor, which were overrun by fighting last week. The UNHCR office in Monrovia has managed to remain in contact with another camp, Samukai, east of the capital. Some Sierra Leonean refugees are sheltering there, along with hundreds of displaced Liberians. The UNHCR clinic and some shops in the camp were looted, however, and food is said to be scarce. Meanwhile, a group of 300 to 400 Sierra Leonean refugees were camping in and around the UNHCR compound in Monrovia together with a number of other West Africans. Agency staff have tried to disperse them for their own safety because of reports that some of the rebels captured by government forces in the past few days were Sierra Leoneans. The group has refused to leave, fearful of what could happen to them amid the chaos in Monrovia.

8 June: Morocco defeated the Leone Stars 1-0 Sunday in their African Nations Cup qualifying match in Casablanca. The goal came off the foot of midfielder Youssef Chippo (Coventry City) in the 25th minute on a strike from 25 yards out following what the BBC described as a poor defensive clearance by the Leone Stars. The win puts the Atlas Lions in sole possession of first place atop Group 7. Weekend results: (Group 1) Nigeria 4, Malawi 1. (Group 2) Niger 1, Guinea 0; Liberia 1, Ethiopia 0. (Group 3) Zambia 2, Tanzania 0; Benin 3, Sudan 0. (Group 4) Central African Republic 0, Congo 0; Burkina Faso 3, Mozambique 0. (Group 5) Mauritania, 0, Kenya, 0. Togo 5, Cape Verde 2. (Group 6) Seychelles 2, Zimbabwe 1; Mali 1, Eritrea 0. (Group 7) Equatorial Guinea 2, Gabon 1; Morocco 1, Sierra Leone 0. (Group 8) Senegal 3, Gambia 1. (Group 9) Botswana 0, Libya 1; DR Congo 2, Swaziland 0. (Group 10) Egypt 7, Mauritius 0. (Group 11) Ivory Coast 6, Burundi 1. (Group 12) Namibia 2, Chad 1. (Group 13) Uganda 0, Rwanda 1. 

A lone goal by Cameroon in the 6th minute of overtime has made the Lion Cubs Africa's U-17 champions for 2003, and ended the hopes of the Sierra Stars. The Sierra Leoneans held on to a 0-0 draw through the end of regulation in Sunday's CAF U-17 finals in Swaziland. The two finalists and third place Nigeria will represent Africa in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Finland this August.

7 June: Nigeria will join Sierra Leone and Cameroon as Africa's representatives at this year's FIFA U-17 World Cup with a 3-1 win over Egypt. Saturday's victory gave the Golden Eaglets in third place at CAF U-17 championship tournament in Swaziland, and sets up Sunday's championship game between Sierra Leone and Cameroon.

The Leone Stars take on the Atlas Lions of Morocco in Casablanca Sunday for the return leg of their African Cup of Nations qualifying matches. The two teams battled to a 0-0 draw in Freetown last March, leaving them tied for first place in Group 7, although Morocco has an edge in goals scored. The Sierra Leoneans will be captained by Inter Milan star Mohamed Kallon in place of Lamin Conteh, who has been sidelined with an injury. 

Liberia's president lashed out at Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal Saturday, even as his loyalist forces battled to prevent LURD rebels from entering the capital. The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone announced this week it had indicted President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, and asked the Ghanaian government to arrest him during his brief appearance at peace talks in Accra. Instead, the Ghanaian authorities put Taylor on a plane back to Monrovia. "(The indictment is) mostly politics," Taylor told the Associated Press. "Let's not kid ourselves: It's about politics – to have me thrown off so the Liberian people could try to turn against me." In a press conference, Taylor asserted that the arrest of an African leader "could become precedent and could be terrible" for the African continent. "For the Sierra Leonean government to ask for a court to be set up in which a sitting president of Liberia or any West African country or its officials would be tried under a Sierra Leonean judge I think is a recipe for constant conflict in Africa," he said. "I think, what a better way of trying an African president – someone comes from someplace and spews out all type of venom against him, lies and such a disinformation based on politics, and what not." Taylor denied accusations that he had backed Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. Instead, he suggested, it was Liberia which was the victim. "Let’s get at the facts: There was a war in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone invaded Liberia. Some terrible things happened. Powerful countries have backed insurgencies for national security concerns. Listen, history is replete with facts about the attitude of powerful countries and what they have done. This is a slur campaign against President Taylor and my government." Meanwhile, news services reported heavy fighting Saturday on the outskirts of the Liberian capital as LURD rebels tried to enter the city against stiff resistance from Taylor's security forces. Taylor expressed confidence, however, that the defenders would triumph. "My government is going to do everything possible to defend its citizens even with the meager means that we have," he told the Associated Press. "This city is not for the taking. I think they will be beaten back."

6 June: LURD rebels have overrun refugee camps on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia, including the VOA and Banjor camps housing thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and seven displaced camps, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday. U.N. staff said the camps were deserted Thursday, and that tens of thousands of refugees and displaced Liberians had been forced to flee the area. World Food Program spokesman Ramin Rafirasme, quoted by the Associated Press, said the camps had been home to as many as 115,000 people. "People are fleeing in all directions. Loads of people. Thousands or tens of thousands. We can't quantify them," he said, adding: "The situation remains highly volatile." News agencies quoted Liberian government sources Friday as saying the rebels had briefly crossed the St. Paul River Bridge, six miles from Monrovia's city centre. "We have driven the insurgents back from the bridge," Defence Minister Daniel Chea told the Reuters news agency. "Now they are shelling the area." Chea said nearly 600 rebels had attacked the suburb of Virginia at down. The Associated Press quoted him as saying loyalist forces were pushing the insurgents back from the town's Organization of African Unity Bridge. There was no independent confirmation of his account. Military sources and witnesses said LURD forces had raided the Monrovia suburb of Brewerville on Thursday, ten miles from Monrovia. 

A former spokesman for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels has said that atrocities committed by the group during Sierra Leone's civil war were ordered at the highest levels. Gibril Massaquoi (pictured left) held the rank of colonel within the the RUF, and at one time was Personal Assistant to rebel leader Foday Sankoh. He broke with RUF interim leader Issa Sesay in October 2001 and later claimed to have left the rebel movement. Until recently, Massaquoi had summarily rejected allegations of RUF responsibility for killings, amputations and other crimes carried out against civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war. Now he admits it. "They were ordered from the top – the battalion commanders and brigade commanders," Massaquoi said in a National Public Radio interview which was broadcast on Friday. "When they attack an area, either you run for your life or you are going to be a dead man. In most cases Foday Sankoh was the one giving them instructions." Prosecutors for Sierra Leone's Special Court, who have so far indicted ten persons including Sankoh and Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been reluctant to discuss the evidence upon which the indictments were based. But Johan Peleman, a Belgian arms expert who served on a United Nations Panel of Experts, told National Public Radio the U.N. had evidence that the RUF was "mostly armed through Liberia."  "We have evidence of diamond traffickers who were clearly based in Liberia were driven around in government vehicles and were setting up deals with the RUF under the supervision of Charles Taylor," Peleman said, adding that Taylor was not just an arms broker for the rebels. "We have witnesses who were part of the inner circle of Charles Taylor said 'we created the RUF'," he said.

The number of Liberian refugees on camp registers in Sierra Leone has been reduced by around nine percent following a verification exercise completed on May 23, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. The camp census took place in Kenema, Bo and Moyamba Districts, and involved aid agencies and camp managements. The WFP added that the exercise "vexed numerous people who were identified as fraudulent cases" and whose names were subsequently dropped from feeding lists. The resulting minor protests and violence were quelled by police and U.N. peacekeepers. Between May 19 and June 1, the agency provided 936 tons of food to 103,343 persons in the country through a variety of WFP projects. In addition, 2,662 returning refugees from Guinea each received a two-month resettlement food ration amounting to 84 tons. 

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has named a former top UNAMSIL officer as his country's Chief of Army Staff, Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper reported. Major-General Martin Luther Agwai became UNAMSIL's Deputy Force Commander in November 2000, seconding Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande of Kenya. He left Sierra Leone for New York last November to take up a post as the United Nations Military Advisor in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Agwai succeeds Lieutenant-General Alexander Ogomudia, who takes over as Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff.

5 June: A 1-0 victory over Nigeria's Golden Eaglets Thursday has launched the Sierra Stars into Sunday's CAF U-17 title game in Swaziland. The Sierra Leoneans, who are making their first appearance at the championships, will face off against the Lion Cubs of Cameroon on Sunday. The Cameroonians clinched their place in the finals with a 2-1 defeat of Egypt. Third place honours will be decided in a confrontation on Saturday between Nigeria and Egypt. By reaching the finals, the Sierra Stars guarantee themselves a place in FIFA U-17 World Cup, to be played in Finland in August. The World Cup draw will take place on 11 June.

Following a security assessment mission by last August, Peace Corps officials expressed optimism that a small group of Crisis Corps Volunteers could be on the ground in Sierra Leone by early 2003, and that a full Peace Corps programme might be re-established in Sierra Leone within a year. It didn't happen, and a Peace Corps spokesperson said Thursday that the likely reason was a lack of money. Barbara Daly told the Sierra Leone Web that Sierra Leone was on a list of countries where Peace Corps expects to look at establishing or re-opening programmes after the beginning of the agency's fiscal year in October. But because more than a year will have gone by since the last mission, she said, a new security assessment will have to be conducted. "The assessments need to be done almost immediately in advance of us actually sending staff over and then getting volunteers there," she said. She added that the August assessment was strictly for safety and security purposes. "It was not an assessment that we would do for a country programme," she said. "That would be a much more thorough assessment, where we look at the infrastructure, housing for volunteers, programme opportunities and things like that. We would need to do a full assessment before we could go back into Sierra Leone." That full assessment is expected to come some time after October 1. Daly stressed that making a decision about returning to Sierra Leone after the start of the fiscal year would not present a problem, because Peace Corps' budget includes money for assessment missions and for the opening of new programmes. "Obviously money would be moved from one place to another depending on what region it was in," she said. "But we set aside money for the opening of new programmes, and for the most part the general costs would be about the same." Peace Corps currently has volunteers in 70 countries around the world. The programme pulled out of Sierra Leone in 1994 due to the deteriorating security situation in the wake of Sierra Leone's civil war.

Liberian President Charles Taylor, indicted for war crimes by Sierra Leone's Special Court, said in Monrovia Thursday that his government had foiled a coup attempt while he was attending the opening of peace talks with LURD rebels in Ghana. He gave few details, but accused unidentified foreign diplomats of complicity in the abortive takeover and announced that his vice president, Moses Blah, had been forced to resign. "While this was going on in Accra, certain actions were being perpetrated in Liberia," Taylor (pictured right) told reporters at a midday press conference. "Unfortunately, the same agents managed to persuade certain senior officials of government to stage a coup d’etat to prevent my return. The attempt was foiled because a general of the army refused...We have received and we have accepted the resignation of the vice president, and I’m sure he will have an apology for the Liberian people." Taylor also told reporters his entire cabinet would resign next week to clear the war for a government of national unity at the conclusion of peace talks in Accra. The first day of those talks was overshadowed by the war crimes indictment against Taylor, causing the Liberian president to hurry home aboard a Ghanaian government jet, while the authorities in Accra continued to maintain they had not received a warrant for his arrest. From the Liberian capital, Taylor dismissed the indictment. "To call the President of Liberia a war criminal? God himself will not permit it," he said. He condemned the court's action, and said his government would review its options in response to the indictment. In Freetown, Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane (left) expressed disappointment over the Ghanaian government's decision not to arrest Taylor, and he defended his decision to issue the indictment despite the possibility that it might disrupt the peace talks in Accra. "The disaster would have been if we would have allowed an indicted war criminal to sit through the (peace) process and to allow it to go forward, and then at the middle or the end let it be known that he was an indicted war criminal," Crane said. "It would have completely pulled the rug out from under the peace process. There was no disaster yesterday. The forces of good did in fact face down evil, and we are now chasing this fugitive and we will in fact bring him to justice – hopefully soon."

Former AFRC junta official Brima "Bazzy" Kamara pleaded innocent Wednesday 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity he was alleged to have committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Kamara, who later led the notorious AFRC splinter group known as the West Side Boys, made his first appearance before Special Court Judge Judge Pierre Boutet in a Bonthe Island courtroom. The indictment includes charges of terrorizing civilians, sexual violence, the use of child soldiers, looting and burning, and attacks on United Nations personnel. Judge Boutet also held initial hearings Wednesday for two other suspects from the pro-government CDF militia who were arrested last week without charges: Kamajor Director of War Moinina Fofana and Kamajor Chief Initiator and High Priest Allieu Kondewa. Under court rules, prosecutors have up to 30 days to prefer charges. According to a court statement, defence lawyers for the two men argued that their detention was unlawful. The judge asked them to put their arguments in writing so that they could be reviewed by all three judges of the court's Trial Chamber.

An autopsy on the body of former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie is complete, Special Court Chief Investigator Dr. Alan White told the Sierra Leone Web late Wednesday. White did not disclose the autopsy results, but he said investigators needed to locate a blood relative of the former rebel commander in order to conduct a DNA test. "We are still pursuing that course of action and hope to have that resolved shortly," he said. White added that any DNA testing would need to be conducted outside of Sierra Leone.

Efforts at self-regulation by the global diamond to curb the trade in "conflict diamonds" are inadequate in the absence of an independent monitoring mechanism, Partnership Africa Canada said in a new report released on Thursday. Conflict diamonds are illegally-mined alluvial gemstones blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, parcels of rough diamonds are supposed to be exported in tamper-proof packages accompanied by forge-proof certificates of origin certifying that the diamonds come only from legitimate sources. Partnership Africa Canada calls the certification scheme is a step in the right direction, but says it lacks teeth. Without regular independent monitoring, the group says, the Kimberley agreement "will create false consumer confidence and the appearance of probity where none can be assured. It will do nothing to stop conflict diamonds where they still exist, and it will do nothing to prevent their return where controls are weak and predators are strong."

4 June: Liberian President Charles Taylor left the Ghanaian capital for home late Wednesday, even as officials of Sierra Leone's Special Court in Freetown repeated their call for the government in Accra to arrest him for war crimes (following story). "It's very bad. The president, and you monitoring his every movement," Taylor told reporters at the airport before boarding a plane back to Monrovia. Earlier, the BBC reported Taylor was accompanied to the airport by a Ghanaian military aide de camp. The BBC correspondent in Accra, who observed Taylor's motorcade depart, said he saw no indications the Ghanaian authorities were not going to allow him to leave despite requests from court officials that he be handed over. The Special Court's Chief Prosecutor unsealed a three-month old indictment against the Liberian leader Wednesday morning and issued an international arrest warrant through INTERPOL. Throughout the day, however, senior Ghanaian officials continued to insist they had not received the documents requesting Taylor's arrest. But in a statement released in Freetown, Special Court Registrar Robin Vincent said the Ghanaian Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged receiving the warrant early Wednesday. "Copies of all the relevant documents were served this morning personally on the Ghanaian High Commissioner in Freetown," he said. "In addition, copies of those documents were electronically transmitted to the Ghanaian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and acknowledgement of receipt of those documents has been received by telephone from a senior official in that ministry." As Taylor's plane prepared to leave, however, Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo suggested that an arrest of Taylor had never been in the cards. "Obviously it's an embarrassing incident," he said. "But as far as I'm concerned the focus should not be on our embarrassment...I believe the action of the prosecutor in unsealing the indictment at this particular moment has not been helpful to the peace process."

The Chief Prosecutor for Sierra Leone's Special Court announced Wednesday the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. David Crane called for the Liberian leader to be arrested in Accra, he was attending ECOWAS-sponsored peace talks with representatives of LURD rebels seeking to overthrow his government. In a press briefing Wednesday, Crane told reporters the indictment of  Taylor was judicially approved on March 7, but that it had remained sealed until now. He said the decision to make the indictment public  was made because of Taylor's presence in in the Ghanaian capital. "Upon learning that Taylor was travelling to Ghana, the Registrar of the Special Court served the outstanding warrant for his arrest on Ghanaian authorities and transmitted the arrest warrant to INTERPOL," Crane said. "This is the first time that his presence outside of Liberia has been publicly confirmed. The Registrar was doing his duty by carrying out the order of the court." Crane acknowledged that many in the international community had invested a great deal of effort in bringing about the Liberian peace talks. He insisted, however, that the timing of his announcement was not made for political reasons. "In reaching my decision to make the indictment public, I have not consulted with any state," he said. "I am acting as an independent prosecutor and this decision was based solely on the law." In Accra, Ghanaian government reacted cautiously to the news of the charges. "We have not officially received the indictment, but if we do we’ll take a look at it and cross that bridge if we get there," a senior government official told Radio France International. The BBC and the Associated Press also quoted government officials as saying they had not yet received a warrant for Taylor's arrest. Rumours that Taylor had in fact already been arrested caused panic in the Liberian capital. In a radio broadcast, Taylor assured Liberians he was still free and said he expected to return home on Thursday. "I would like to assure you that (the rumours are) false," he said. "I'm fine. Because of the crisis I assure you that I will return to Monrovia." In his brief remarks at the opening of the peace talks, Taylor suggested that he might step down at the end of his current term in office if doing so would help to end the civil war in his country. "If President Taylor is seen as a problem, then I will remove myself," he said. "I'm doing this because I'm tired of the people dying. I can no longer see this genocide in Liberia. "It has become apparent that some people believe that Taylor is the problem. President Taylor wants to say that he intends to remove himself from the process." Sierra Leone's Special Court is mandated to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in the country's civil war after 30 November 1996, the date of the ill-fated Abidjan Peace Accord. 

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters it was too early to assess what effect the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes might have on the Liberian peace talks, but he stressed that Annan continues to support the work of Sierra Leone's Special Court. Fred Eckhard said Annan was not told in advance when the warrant would be served, and a member of his staff was informed shortly after the announcement was made in Freetown. In answer to a question, Eckhard said the Security Council had called on all member states to cooperate with the court, but since the resolution did not fall under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, there was no enforceable obligation on member states to force them to do so. 

REACTION to the indictment of Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. LIBERIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MONIE CAPTAN: "(The indictment is) not a problem. We don't recognise that court." GHANAIAN FOREIGN MINISTER NANA AKUFO-ADDO:  "Obviously it's an embarrassing incident. But as far as I'm concerned the focus should not be on our embarrassment...I believe the action of the prosecutor in unsealing the indictment at this particular moment has not been helpful to the peace process."  LIBERIAN MINISTER OF STATE FOR ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL AFFAIRS SAMUEL JACKSON: "(The indictment is) tantamount to a declaration of war (by foreign powers), but we are on the path to peace and we will not give vent to our pugnacity."  HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE AFRICAN DIVISION PETER TAKIRAMBUDDE: "The indictment against Taylor sends a strong message that no one is above the law when it comes to accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Charles Taylor should not be immune from prosecution for these crimes simply because he is the President of Liberia." FORUM FOR DEMOCRATIC INITIATIVES: "The indictment of Charles Taylor of Liberia is a welcome boost to processes aimed at reversing ordinary people's skepticism about the rule of law, and leaders' total disregard for that cardinal tenet of good governance, accountability and justice in Sierra Leone, the Mano River sub-region, West Africa and beyond...There can be no better way of convincing Sierra Leoneans and people in the sub-region about the beauty of the rule of law, or of instilling hope in a future respectful of the rights, integrity and achievements of individuals, families and communities than the indictment of arguably West Africa's most feared man – Charles Ghankay Macarthur Dapkpana Taylor." IAN SMILLIE, PARTNERSHIP AFRICA CANADA: "This indictment sends a powerful international message about justice and the long arm of the law to those who foment war and human rights abuse everywhere. There can be no impunity for war crimes." GOVERNMENT OF GUINEA: "We urge countries of the world, particularly countries of the Economic Community of West African States, to do all they can to ensure the speedy execution of the arrest warrant for Mr. Taylor and to cooperate with the tribunal for the achievement of peace in the sub region. This is a clear testimony to Charles Taylor's culpability in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians." U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN RICHARD BOUCHER: "We certainly support the work of the court. We support their decisions. We think anybody who's been indicted should face justice...We have always said that he was a destructive the region. He'd been a catalyst for much of the violence in Liberia. He's been effectively a warlord." CAMPAIGN FOR GOOD GOVERNANCE: "CGG is disappointed that Charles Taylor was not arrested in Accra, Ghana. We are deeply dissatisfied with the Governments and Heads of State represented at the Liberian peace talks who chose to hide behind outdated notions of appeasement. Sierra Leone learned at Lomé that making agreements with war criminals never succeeds. In failing to execute the international warrant for Charles Taylor's arrest, the African leaders present in Accra missed a great opportunity to implement the New Partnership for Africa's Development's (NEPAD) peer review mechanism to tackle 'recalcitrant and irresponsible African leaders.' This is another clear illustration of their rhetoric not matching their deeds." CANADIAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER BILL GRAHAM: "I have every confidence that justice will be served by the court. On the other hand, we also look to President Kufuor of Ghana as Chair of ECOWAS, to make peace in the region."  INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: "The international community has an opportunity - and a responsibility - to support the indictment and help the Liberian people at this critical time, and in doing so help bring peace and stability to the whole region, where Liberia has been the eye of the regional storm."

The United Nations Security Council is expected to end an embargo on the sale of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds when the ban expires on Friday, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday, Security Council President Sergei Lavrov of Russia. The embargo on Sierra Leonean "conflict diamonds" was first imposed in July 2000 to cut off a source of funding for the country's RUF rebels. An exception to the global ban was made for diamonds which were exported through officials channels accompanied by a Certificate of Origin stating that the gems came from legitimate sources. According to Reuters, Security Council members now believe that the system is capable of functioning without the threat of punitive measures. And while a March report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that "diamond trading is yet to be adequately regulated," diplomats were said to believe that the situation no longer merited sanctions and did not pose a threat to international peace and security. 

3 June: Veteran Sierra Leonean police officer Brima Acha Kamara took over the reins of the Sierra Leone Police this week, pledging to stabilise the force and to address problems of corruption, low police salaries, and a lack of public confidence. Kamara joined the force as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police in 1981, shortly after receiving his B.A. degree from Fourah Bay College. He received an M.A. in Police Studies from the University of Exter in the U.K. in 1996, and later completed a strategic command course at Britain's Bramshill Police College. Kamara succeeds Keith Biddle, who led the police from 1999 to 2003 under a Commonwealth initiative aimed at restoring the country's decimated force to professional standards after a decade of war and neglect. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday, Inspector-General Kamara recalled the challenges which Biddle faced. "Everything was going down," he said. "There was no leadership. There were no resources to run the police force. The police force was ill-trained. It was demotivated, and there was no focus or vision." Biddle restructured the service, ridding it of its outdated colonial structure and working to build a strong core management team of Sierra Leonean police officers to succeed him. Now, Kamara says, his first priority will be to stabilise the force. "There’s been pain and suffering in the change process," he said. "Many officers...could not make the new demands of the job." Some left; others were demoted. Kamara said he was anxious to bring those who "are disappointed" with their new status back on board. "They all have a role to play in this new administration," he said. "I know some of them could not make it up. They have either been dismissed or resigned from the force, but the rest we’ll try to bring together." Another urgent need, Kamara said, is to reduce the still high levels of corruption within police ranks. "We are very determined to fight this head on," he said. "Without fighting it, it will spoil all the efforts we have put in." Tied to the fight against corruption, Kamara said, was the need to address the problem of low police pay and benefits. While police pay has gone up fourfold in recent years, Kamara said it was still far too low. "We need to impress on government that the welfare needs of our men needs to be looked into," he said. He said higher pay and housing allowances for officers not living in the police barracks was essential so police officers "will not be tempted to indulge in corrupt practices." The new "IG" said he also wanted to reassure the public with a stronger police presence. While stressing that Sierra Leone's crime rate is low compared to that in some other African countries, Kamara said he planned to increase police beat patrols to reassure a public worried about armed robbery. There has been pressure, too, for the police to step up and to take over responsibility for security from U.N. peacekeepers as UNAMSIL begins to downsize. Kamara noted that the police training school was being expanded to train more cadets, but he insisted that the force needed to do more than just deploy more officers. They also needed the resources to do their job. "In certain areas where UNAMSIL is withdrawing there is no accommodation," he said. "We cannot just build a police station without having in mind where these people will be accommodated. So these are all the issues – logistics, transportation and so forth."

United Nations agencies have asked donors for an additional $3.7 million for humanitarian work this year in Sierra Leone, citing continued opportunities for reintegration and recovery efforts and accelerated repatriation, and instability in Liberia which has generated an influx of refugees into Sierra Leone. The new Inter-agency Appeal for Relief and Recovery for Sierra Leone request noted some progress in meeting Sierra Leone's humanitarian needs, but said that delays in the commitment of resources during the first quarter of 2003 had hampered efforts to implement activities in time for the planting season, and before heavy rains undermined rehabilitation efforts. The main priorities for humanitarian efforts in 2003 are to continue the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from neighbouring countries, to support reintegration efforts, and to enhance the delivery of education, health, agriculture, water and sanitation and shelter services, and to provide assistance and protection to Liberian refugees. Of the estimated 77,000 refugees in Sierra Leone, 53,500 are staying in refugee camps or way stations, 15,000 are in border areas, and 8,700 in urban areas.

President Kabbah is expected to attend the opening ceremony of peace talks in Accra Wednesday between the Liberian government and two rebel factions fighting to overthrow the regime of President Charles Taylor, the Reuters news agency reported. The presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Ivory Coast will also be present. Ghana's Foreign Minister, Nana Akufo-Addo, pointed out the regional implications of a civil war which has spilled over into Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. "It's unacceptable that a nation of three million people should destabilise an entire region of 250 million," he said.

2 June: On the last day of November 1999, 130 Kenyan soldiers disembarked at Lungi International Airport, just a short helicopter flight across the estuary from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, and not much farther from the chaos of a civil war which was still not quite ended. The Kenyans were the first of tens of thousands of soldiers who came from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East to serve in what soon was the world's largest United Nations peacekeeping force. Away from the headlines and the television cameras, peacekeepers have  built and staffed schools, and refurbished churches and mosques. They have supported orphanages, resurfaced roads and put on free clinics, usually pulling the money from their own pockets. And not the least important, they have brought peace to the country's war-weary population. Success didn't come without a price: Since January 2000, 122 blue-helmeted soldiers have died in Sierra Leone. In May 2000, the mission nearly collapsed after RUF rebels abducted more than 500 peacekeepers and threatened to advance on Freetown. On Friday, however, peacekeeping troops were joined by their Sierra Leonean counterparts to celebrate the United Nations' first annual Day of U.N. Peacekeepers. Speeches by Vice President Solomon Berewa and the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss, were preceded by a street march, an inspection of a Guard of Honour, and the laying of wreaths in memory of those who had lost their lives in the cause of restoring peace in Sierra Leone.

Forensics tests were set to begin Monday to determine whether a body returned to Freetown by the Liberian government over the weekend is in fact that of former RUF field commander Sam Bockarie. Sierra Leonean doctor Owizz Koroma, who was involved in the autopsy at Freetown's Connaught Hospital, told the Associated Press the results would not be disclosed until they had been first studied by Sierra Leone's Special Court. Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Patrick Foyah, was first shown the body on May 9. He told reporters Sunday it appeared to still be in good condition. "The body is intact and I have handed it over to the Special Court," he said. Foyah said Bockarie had received five bullet wounds to the chest, and had five exit wounds – three on the back and two on the side. He said the corpse also had a stab wound on the right side of the neck. 

1 June: The body of slain former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie arrived at Lungi International Airport in Freetown Sunday afternoon, nearly a month after his violent death, and hours after the government in Monrovia handed his corpse over to Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia. The Sierra Leonean authorities in turn have handed the body over to Sierra Leone's Special Court, where prosecutors want to perform forensic tests to make sure that the remains are actually those of the former rebel warlord. The court indicted Bockarie last March for war crimes and crimes against humanity he committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. The court will begin an independent forensic investigation on Monday in an effort to make a positive identification of the body. For now, the body has been deposited in the morgue at Choitrams Hospital in Freetown, where it was viewed by reporters. Among them was BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, who said he could not be positive the body he saw was Bockarie's. "The body looked bloated to me, quite different from the General Mosquito I’d seen before," Fofana said. "I saw bullet marks on his chest and head, and it seemed to me that he was stabbed in the neck." The Liberian authorities claim Bockarie was killed in a May 6 shootout with their security forces when he tried to enter their country from Ivory Coast. Despite demands from the court that the body be handed over, the Liberian government held on to if for nearly three weeks, saying they wanted to first complete their own investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death. Bockarie's body was finally handed over to Sierra Leonean Ambassador Patrick Foyah (shown right) Sunday morning, and a chartered plane carrying the remains left Monrovia's Roberts International Airport for Freetown shortly before noon. Before being loaded onto the plane, the coffin was opened and Bockarie's body, wrapped in white cloth except for his face, was displayed to Ambassador Foyah and to journalists. "We are taking home the body of a man who over the years has brought pain and suffering to the lives of Sierra Leoneans," Foyah said. The court is still demanding the Liberians hand over a second man facing war crimes charges in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say former AFRC junta chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who fled Freetown in January, is commanding a contingent of Taylor's security forces in the western Liberian town of Foya Kamala. The Liberian authorities deny Koroma is in Liberia.