The Sierra Leone Web


June 1996

27 June: Sierra Leone's transport minister has grounded the two Russian helicopters flying shuttle service between Lungi Airport and Freetown. Transport Minister Sulaiman Tejan Jalloh took the measure after finding documents in the ministry files which showed that the Russian civil aviation inspectorate had found the helicopters to be unsafe. The helicopters are operated by African Air Charters, jointly owned by Russians and Sierra Leoneans, including Stephen Bio, a relative of former military leader Julius Maada Bio. The helicopters were chartered by the U.S. military earlier this year to assist in the evacuation of personnel from Monrovia. In 1988 and 1990 about 20 people were killed in helicopter crashes, and the service had been suspended until a few months ago.

25 June: The Sierra Leone government intends to crack down on corruption, Information Minister George Banda Thomas announced Monday, saying that arrests of officials and business people are "very imminent." He said that investigations have so far focused on the Treasury and the Ministries of Marine Resources, Education, and Defence. He estimated that two billion leones ($2.1 million) might be unaccounted for. Thomas denounced "the reckless misappropriation of state funds by well-placed state officials, in most cases acting in concert with unscrupulous businessmen, both foreign and local." He said that financial malpractice will also be investigated. According to Thomas, all suspected officials, whether serving in the present government or in the former military government, will be prosecuted. The NPRC, before leaving office, passed a decree giving themselves immunity from prosecution, but Thomas said, "State officials of the former NPRC regime and those serving in the present government, if fund wanting, will be arrested and prosecuted."

22 June: The International Committee of the Red Cross is increasing its aid commitment to Sierra Leone in order the help civilian victims of the war and care for returning refugees. Following peace talks in Ivory Coast, the ICRC has increased its budget for Sierra Leone to U.S. $36.35 million, up from $7.5 million. In a statement issued from the organisation's regional office in Abidjan, "The ICRC has just appealed to donor governments for extra help to cover a significant extension of its operations." The statement said that the Red Cross has already helped thousands of civilians, and announced plans to help tens of thousands more, as well as prepare for the return of 20,000 refugees who fled to Liberia. The ICRC will concentrate its efforts in eastern Sierra Leone, in zones most affected by the conflict, and intends to launch a vaccination programme and increase access to drinking water in isolated areas.

21 June: Parliament Thursday approved the formation of a national unity and reconciliation commission, modeled upon South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to try to heal wounds left by Sierra Leone's civil war. The commission will investigate and identify causes of conflict and divisions in society, including cases of injustice against individuals and communities by the government, from independence in 1961 until 1995. It will also recommend ways of compensating victims and granting amnesty to those responsible. Under the proposed law, the president will need to consider and act upon commission recommendations. The way is now clear for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to sign the bill into law, and to nominate someone to chair the commission. The commission will most likely be headed by a foreign judge, probably from Trinidad, with other commission members being Sierra Leoneans.

20 June: According to a U.N. estimate, Sierra Leone will need more than $40,000,000 to demobilise 32,000 combatants in its civil war and reintegrate them into society. The figure is based on reintegrating 3,000 rebel fighters into society over the past two years. The numbers are also based on an estimate of 16,000 soldiers, 10,000 rebels, and 6,000 members of civil defence units.

18 June: The Russian cargo ship "Zolotitsa" has turned up in Monrovia after fears had been expressed about its fate. The Ukrainian captain said no one had died during the journey. "The Ghanaian navy fired at us, and there was one serious case of malaria, but no death," he stated. He gave the total number of passengers as 434, including 110 women and 46 children. They included 218 Liberians, 135 Ghanaians, 62 Nigerians, with the remainder Sierra Leoneans and Guineans. Five jumped off the ship in Ghana or Togo.

16 June: Bad weather has forced the temporary suspension of an air search for the Russian cargo ship "Zolotitsa," which is carrying 450 refugees from Liberia, including some Sierra Leoneans. An air search on Saturday between Abidjan and Accra by Medecins sans Frontieres failed to find the vessel. A spokesman for the group said searchers are now concentrating on the area west of Abidjan after one ship reported sighting the Zolotitsa and another picked up a message from the ship saying its engines had failed. Medecins sans Frontieres is checking reports that the vessel is stranded off Cape Palmas, near the Liberia-Ivory Coast border. The ship was estimated to have run out of water on Saturday, although rains may help to replenish the water supply.

14 June: A group of 75 Sierra Leonean children has reached Sierra Leone from Monrovia by boat. The children, mostly girls who had been separated from their parents during six weeks of militia fighting in Monrovia, have not yet been allowed to land by Sierra Leonean authorities. A representative of the UNHCR said that food and water had been taken to the boat by the Red Cross and other relief agencies. He stated that many of the children are malnourished. The boat, the Hogan Star, was chartered by the United Nations World Food Programme.

The European Community has approved aid to assist the approximately one million war displaced persons who are clustered around the cities of Bo, Kenema, and Freetown. The aid will allow a coordinated effort by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Children's Fund and non-governmental organisations from France, Belgium and the United Kingdom. The package is worth ECU 4.2 million, and will include food aid, shelter for the displaced, emergency medical aid, and provision of clean water and sanitation.

10 June: Nearly 600,000 women die in childbirth every year in developing countries, according to a UNICEF report released Tuesday. One in four women dies or is seriously disabled from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. The country recording the highest death rate was Sierra Leone, with 1,800 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The report says that the situation can only be corrected by addressing the inequalities between men and women, starting with education. "The rights of woman--including her right to education, to dignity and respect, to time, to rest, to adequate food and health care...are a fundamental part of any permanent solution to the particular problem of child malnutrition."

9 June: The Russian cargo ship "Zolotitsa" has been chased out of Ghanaian waters. According to the Ghana News Agency, the port officials with tugboats, backed by the navy, forced the ship 19 nautical miles off the coast. The ship is carrying 450 refugees, including some Sierra Leoneans. It is not clear where the ship is now headed.

8 June: The Russian freighter Zolotitsa was off the coast of Ghana on Saturday, according to officials at the Ghanaian port of Takoradi. The ship had earlier been reported missing after being turned away from several countries, including Togo and Benin. Aid agencies have supplies outside of Takoradi for 5,000 refugees. At present, there are only 1,427 refugees in their camp. Aid officials said they expected Ghana to offer sanctuary to the passengers of the Zolotitsa, but a senior government official has declined to comment on whether the ship will be allowed to land. The passengers are fleeing the fighting in Monrovia, and there is reported to be an unspecified number of Sierra Leoneans aboard.

7 June: Speaking at the opening session of parliament Friday, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has laid out the priorities of his government: "Our emphasis will be placed on what I would like to refer to the three R's: reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction...Granting of amnesty may be a pitter pill to swallow, but his is what reconciliation is all about." He said that, despite economic problems, Sierra Leone must continue to service its debt with international institutions and bilateral creditors, in order to maintain international credibility and enable the country access to further credit. He described the country's financial position as precarious, with foreign earnings at an all-time low, a trade deficit, and a heavy debt burden. On the peace negotiations with the RUF, he stated that the talks have been suspended to a date yet to be specified to discuss two remaining obstacles: removal of foreign troops and disarmament.

A Russian vessel carrying 450 refugees from Liberia, including people from Sierra Leone, has not been heard from since departing from Togolese waters on June 4th after being turned away from the port at Lome. The ship, "Zolotitsa" (Little Golden One), left Monrovia May 26th and was turned away from the Ghanaian port of Tema on May 30th. UNHCR officials in Geneva quoted witnesses who described health and sanitary conditions aboard the vessel as deplorable. The passengers are said to include many children and pregnant women. About half are Liberians, but there are also about 135 Ghanaians, 50 Nigerians, and others from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Gambia aboard.

6 June: Thousands of people are being forced from their homes due to a new wave of attacks. International aid workers in Bo said that the attackers are resorting to killing, torturing, and maiming their victims. The government has alleged that the attacks are ceasefire violations by the RUF, but the local head of one aid agency said that identification of the attackers is difficult. "There seems to be more than one group involved. Some are simply looking for food and have systematically looted all the villages around Bo. Others are engaging in an orgy of violence, mutilating and killing innocent civilians. The perpetrators are usually uniformed men, and so it is difficult to distinguish between RUF rebels and renegade soldiers," he said. The government is so far playing down the damage to the peace process.

5 June: The Sierra Leone government has sent troops to Tissor in Kenema District after new attacks were reported there. Director of Defence Information Colonel Abdul Sesay said that the government has called upon the RUF to respect the truce agreed upon in Ivory Coast in April. The RUF has stated that their troops are observing the ceasefire. Witnesses said that it is difficult to tell who is behind the attacks, and Tissor is in an area where renegade soldiers have carried out attacks in the past. Earlier, state radio had accused the rebels of killing and wounding people in Bumpeh and Kowa Chiefdom in Bo and Moyamba Districts.

3 June: Sierra Leone radio has reported that 76 people have died of Lassa Fever in eastern Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year. At least 168 people have been afflicted by the disease, and it is feared that there may be unreported cases in rebel-held areas. The latest strain, with a mortality rate of over 60%, surfaced in Sierra Leone in January.

2 June: Sierra Leone lost to Burundi 1-0 in the first leg qualifier of the World Cup Africa zone first round. The only goal came by Wembo in the 87th minute. The game was played Sunday in Bujumbura, Burundi before a crowd of 10,000.