30 June: International aid donors will meet in London July 15 and 16 to discuss assistance for Sierra Leone, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning James Jonah told Parliament in his Budget Speech on Tuesday. Jonah said the government had a funding gap of about Le 34 billion ($22 million) which the government hoped donors would make up, although they had made no firm commitments so far. "The IMF is convening a donors' conference meeting in London on July 15 and 16 to appeal for funding to fill our budgetary gap and for our balance of payments requirements," he said, adding that the ousted junta had left the economy in tatters and had plundered the Central Bank. In an effort to boost revenue, Jonah announced increases in the price of fuel with immediate effect. The retail price of petrol was increases from Le 3,000 per gallon to Le 3,500; diesel increases to Le 3,000 from Le 2,500; and the price of fuel oil was increased to Le 1,150 from Le 800. The government is projecting total revenues of Le 79.1 billion for fiscal 1998, which covers the period from 17 February to the end of the calendar year. Jonah said the government, which was restored to power in March, had allowed importers to defer tax payments in order to get essential commodities into the country. This had the effect of reducing inflation from 95% in February to 42% at the end of May, he said. Jonah's budget speech was delayed when opposition members of parliament refused to take their seats, protesting SLPP leader S.B. Marah's refusal to address their complaints over the appointment of parliamentary committee chairmen. After four hours of near chaos, threats, name calling, and calls of opposition M.P.'s to leave the chamber so that the budget could be read, Minister of Energy and Works Thaimu Bangura was called from his office to talk to his colleagues. Opposition parliamentarians finally agreed to take their seats, to allow Jonah to read the 1998 budget.
Leaders of Sierra Leone's ousted junta have written a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, blaming ECOMOG for recent atrocities against civilians but seeking an end to the fighting. U.N. officials in Freetown told the Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa (IRIN) that the letter, which was sent to their office and was also published in the local newspaper Punch, appeared to be authentic. It was dated May 10, but apparently only reached Freetown in recent days, U.N. officials said. The letter was signed by AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma, RUF Commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, and S.Y.B. Rogers, Chairman of the People's War Council, and was addressed from AFRC/RUF Headquarters, Kailahun District. In the letter, the junta leaders denied all responsibility for atrocities, blaming "the Nigerians and their allies." The letter also accused ECOMOG of burning towns and villages, including "the diamond-rich Koidu town," and called for the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh from detention in Nigeria. The signatories, who described themselves as a "formidable group of concerned citizens with large following desiring peace and harmony," appealed to Annan "to bring the Sierra Leone crisis to a final settlement."
The U.S. government, through the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), is providing an additional $19.5 in response to the crisis in Sierra Leone and in support of international efforts promoting repatriation and reintegration of Liberian refugees, State Department James P. Rubin said in a statement issued on Tuesday. The amount includes $2 million in response to the $7.3 million Flash Appeal isued by the UNHCR for emergency relief for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia, $3.8 million in support of the ICRCs relief operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia, $300,000 to cover costs of transporting trucks to the Sierra Leone region, including 22 surplus trucks provided by the Department of Defense, which will be used to deliver food to Sierra Leonean refugees in neighbouring countries, $1.3 million for the World Food Programmes special operations programme to rehabilitate key roads and bridges in Liberia to support emergency delivery of food to new Sierra Leonean refugees in Lofa County and to enable the WFP to meet its commitment for the repatriation and reintegration of Liberian refugees, $10 million to the UNHCR for Liberian refugee repatriation and reintegration, $1.8 million for NGOs working in Liberia, and $300,000 for Liberian repatriation activities by the ICRC. Referring to the recent high-level assessment mission to Sierra Leone led by PRM Assistant Secretary Julia Taft, Rubin said: "The U.S. funding contributions are part of an effort to ensure a more concerted and effective response to the humanitarian crisis. To date, the U.S. government has provided over $50 million in food and other assistance within Sierra Leone."
The British Commons Foreign Affairs Committee questioned Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sir John Kerr for a fourth time Tuesday on the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations that members of the Foreign Office knew of arms shipments to Sierra Leone by Sandline International, in possible violation of United Nations sanctions. Dissident Labour M.P.'s combined with Tories and Liberal Democrats to summon Kerr before the Committee over the objections of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who maintained that the Committee was not entitled to compel Foreign Office officials to give evidence on the matter. During two hours of questioning, Kerr disclosed that in February a British military intelligence liaison officer was sent to Conakry, where President Kabbah's government-in-exile was based. The officer moved to Sierra Leone following ECOMOG's ouster of the military junta. Kerr said the officer's role was to advise High Commissioner Peter Penfold and to report back to the Ministry of Defence in London. Earlier, in a letter to Committee Chairman Donald Anderson, Cook said that forcing Foreign Office officials to testify was "unfair to the officials and unreasonable" on the part of the Committee. "If the Select Committee wishes to persist in putting questions on these matters, they must put them directly to myself as head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and not to officials who are accountable to me," Cook said. "It is the collective view of the Government that a parallel inquiry drawing on the same papers that are currently before the Legg investigation would be prejudicial to the rapid production of a balanced and considered report. It is a view Sir Thomas Legg shares." He also repeated his objections to handing over telegrams between the Foreign Office and the British High Commission in Freetown until the Legg investigation is complete. "There was no ministerial conspiracy to breach the arms embargo. There was no connivance within Whitehall to breach the arms embargo," Cook said in his letter. Some M.P.'s said that by denying a government conspiracy, Cook had himself prejudged the outcome of the Legg investigation. Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard accused Cook of trying to gag the Committee. "If this gag succeeds, then any time anything happens which is awkward or inconvenient for the Government, they will start an internal inquiry behind closed doors and refuse to answer questions from a select committee or anybody else on the grounds it would prejudice the outcome of that inquiry," he said. "It would set a dreadful precedent."
29 June: Sierra Leone's Central Bank has less than $5,000 of currency reserves in its vaults, an unidentified bank official told Reuters on Monday. "The military junta left the bank clean of all foreign exchange when it fled Freetown in February," the official said. Reserves rose to over $1 million following the ousting of the junta in February, but deteriorated when the government banned gold and diamond mining last month. The lack of foreign exchange has affected the import of essential goods, and the government has turned to the World Bank for assistance. "President Kabbah has had to beg in the past few days for the World Bank to provide Sierra Leone with $5 million so that the central bank can continue to operate," Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said. "We hope they will give us the money soon and not wait until September, when officials from the World Bank and IMF resume talks with the government to get programmes going again in the country," the central bank official said. Sierra Leone's two largest banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, are also experiencing currency shortages. "We have less than 1,000 pounds sterling in our vaults. Most days we have less than $1,000," said a manager at Barclays head office in Freetown. "Dollars and pounds have stopped flowing from the diamonds. And those organisations that bring in foreign exchange -- the international airlines, the embassies and many international aid agencies -- have not returned to Sierra Leone since they fled after the coup last year."
Following a five week dispute between Minister of Internal Affairs Charles Margai and Deputy Minister of Defence Sam Hinga Norman in which the two ministries have made competing claims over who control the Kamajor militia, Vice President Albert Joe Demby has made a "definitive policy statement" on the issue in the presence of the two ministers, BBC correspondent Prince Brima reported on Monday. Following a tour of the south and east, Demby told Paramount Chiefs and and thousands of Kamajors gathered in Bo on Sunday that the Kamajors have to work alongside ECOMOG under the Ministry of Defence. He called on all Kamajor militiamen to return to their respective chiefdoms to be registered and provided with identity cards, in order for the government and aid agencies to know their numerical strength. On the issue of the eventual disbanding of the militia, Demby said the Kamajors could only be disbanded on the completion of the war in Kono and Kailahun Districts. He promised that the contentious issue of the re-engagement of surrendered soldiers would be resolved soon by the government. Demby also announced that the court martial of junta soldiers would begin soon, and issued a warning to all foreigners still engaged in diamond prospecting in the countryside to move to Freetown or face immediate deportation.
The 60-bed Netland Hospital in Freetown, now converted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into a reconstructive surgery hospital, opened its doors on June 26, according to an ICRC news release on Monday. "The ICRC set up the hospital to provide surgical care and rehabilitation for civilians who have sustained war injuries and require primary or secondary surgery or specialized care to recover the use of their limbs," Netland Head Nurse Stephanie O'Connor was quoted as saying. The first patients were transferred from Connaught Hospital, but arrangements were being made to bring patients from hospitals in other parts of the country, the ICRC said. Blood for the hospital is being supplied by the Sierra Leone Red Cross blood bank. An independent physiotherapy centre with a capacity of 120 patients is being set up, and should start admitting patients in the beginning of July. Medical personnel will be trained in war surgery, the statement said.
Sierra Leone has deported U.S. businessman Roger Crooks, allegedly for arms trafficking, Police Commissioner James Kakanyako said on Monday. "Crooks was given 48 hours to pack his baggage, and yesterday afternoon was escorted to Lungi Airport into the plane that took him out of the country," Kakanyako said. "Crooks was deported for trafficking in arms from Northern Ireland to Sierra Leone and the other way around." Crooks, a Texas native, was formerly involved in diamond mining in Sierra Leone, and maintained extensive business interests in the country, including the Mammy Yoko Hotel, which was badly damaged in a battle between AFRC/RUF fighters and ECOMOG last June. Crooks and a number of foreign "security experts" guarding his hotel and other interests, were evacuated from Sierra Leone by U.S. Marines the following day. He reportedly returned to Sierra Leone about the same time President Kabbah returned from exile, and began operating hovercraft and other ferry services between Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Kamajor militia leaders have acknowledged recruiting thousands of child soldiers to fight AFRC/RUF rebels, according to an Inter-Press Service (IPS) report published on Monday. "In Kailahun District alone, we have 3,000 child Kamajors," said Kamajor field commander Patrick Zangalaywah. "These kids are very brave on the frontline." He said the children were "unadulterated" and that they followed rules governing the conduct of Kamajors, such as abstinence from sex, drugs, and looting while in combat. "We don't trust adults quite (as) much because many have breached the rules governing our militia group and so they get killed by the enemy," he added. Last month the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, urged an end to the recruitment of child soldiers, and called for those already serving to be demobilised. "I saw children as young as 10 and 14, bearing arms and in battle-readiness. This is unfortunate," Otunno said after visiting eastern Sierra Leone. He said that Deputy Minister of Defence and Civil Defence Forces leader Sam Hinga Norman had assured him that no more children would be recruited by the Kamajors, and that a process to demobilise them would begin soon. Up to now that has not happened, the report said, adding that the IPS recently saw dozens of child soldiers being drafted into the militia in the north, where AFRC/RUF rebels have committed atrocities against the civilian population. Kamajor commander Monya Farmah said the militia would rather do away with adult Kamajors. "The children know the battle terrain quite well and they can meander through the forests in pursuit of rebel bandits," he said. That view has been rejected human rights and child advocate groups. "It is appalling and I think the government should move fast enough to demobilize the kids within the Kamajor group," said Jonathan Freeman of "Save a Child," a Freetown-based children's rights group. "These children have killed, maimed and acted as adults. I believe they should be immediately demobilized and a process of trauma counseling be put in place for them," said Thomas Sandi of the Freetown-based Human Rights League.
The Washington, D.C.-based organisation Refugees International (RI) said Monday that ECOMOG "is losing ground in its fight" against AFRC/RUF rebels. "ECOMOG has suffered heavy casualties and rebel forces seem to be getting stronger," RI said in a bulleting issued in Washington. Based on the recommendations of Natacha Scott, the organisation's field representative in Sierra Leone, RI called for ECOMOG to be reinforced. "A strengthened ECOMOG with a strong military posture may be the best means of encouraging discussions between the government and the rebels to seek an end to the civil war," the group advised. The statement expressed concern about the plight of refugees in northeastern Sierra Leone, saying little is known about the humanitarian situation there as security problems prohibit travel by international organisations and NGO's in much of the country outside the capital. An RI spokesman quoted Scott as saying that no NGO's or international organisations are currently able to travel outside of Freetown by road. RI has also called on relief agencies to plan for the delivery of large quantities of food aid to Sierra Leone until at least August 1999.
Some 60 AFRC/RUF rebels drowned in the Moa River in Kailahun District Saturday when the canoes in which they were travelling struck rocks and capsized, according to a Catholic relief organisation quoted by AFP. Last week, fisherman pulled five bodies from the Moa River, also identified as rebels.
Cypriot authorities took in 116 foreign immigrants Monday after the fishing trawler in which they were travelling, the Syrian-flagged Rita Allah, experienced engine trouble 35 miles off the coast of Cyprus. The boat was found drifting in the Mediterranean Sunday night, crammed with men, women, and children from Sierra Leone, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Two men aged between 20 and 30 died from lack of food and were thrown overboard two days ago.... They were stacked in that boat like sardines. This is flesh trade," a police source said. Ten of the passengers, including two children, were taken to a hospital in the town of Limassol. The vessel had set out from Lebanon on June 18 with the stated destination of the Libyan coast.
27 June: Police in Freetown had arrested 15 rice and petrol traders accused of hoarding goods in anticipation of President Kabbah's budget statement on July 3. "The dealers were arrested and charged with hoarding rice and petrol in their stores and filling stations, thereby creating artificial scarcities of these essential commodities," a senior police official said. Justice Ministry officials said the traders began hoarding on Monday after SLBS (state radio) announced the date of the budget. President Kabbah told Parliament earlier this month that Sierra Leoneans should expect an increase in the price of utilities and petrol.
National Power Authority (NPA) workers staged a work stoppage Thursday in protest over the murder of NPA Assistant Supervisor Jeffery Williams by an ECOMOG soldier, according to a Ministry of Information news release issued on Friday. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe expressed regret to Williams' family, and said the soldier, a Private Ibrahim, had been "tried, found guilty, jailed, and dismissed from the Armed Forces of Nigeria."
26 June: Three men claiming to be carrying a message from AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma and AFRC Chief Secretary Solomon "SAJ" Musa told ECOMOG and the press on Friday that the two junta leaders wanted to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the the restored civilian government of President Kabbah. "Our mission is to find out on behalf of the bosses in the bush how to surrender and enjoy the amnesty offered recently by the government to all those soldiers, RUF rebels and other rebel combatants willing to give up," Mohamed Koroma said. "They want to be sure the government is serious about this. And they want to be sure also they will not be summarily executed." ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said they were too late. "The amnesty was for two weeks only and that period has come and gone," he said. "We have heavily reinforced our positions with troops and equipment and very soon the areas of the country still being held by the rebels will be liberated." The three said they had come to Freetown from Kailahun, which ECOMOG says is the rebels' last stronghold.
President Clinton will nominate career diplomat Joseph H. Melrose Jr. to replace John Hirsch as U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, according to a White House statement issued on Friday. Melrose, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is currently serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. His past positions include Executive Secretary of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament in Europe and Executive Director of the Near East and South Asian Bureau at the State Department. He received a B.A. degree from Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and an M.A. in journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia. He is past president of the American Foreign Service Association.
The United Nations appealed for $20.8 million to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of populations affected by the Sierra Leone crisis. These include internally displaced persons as well as Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia and Guinea. According to the U.N., more than 237,000 Sierra Leoneans have fled to Liberia and Guinea in the past three months, bringing the total to over 500,000. Over 50,000 internally displaced persons have also sought refuge in camps and towns in the north. The condition of the refugees is said to be deteriorating, with new arrivals suffering from exhaustion, disease, and malnutrition. The United Nations has also consolidated an inter-agency appeal for humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone. The U.N. will support the emergency assistance priorities and objectives of the Sierra Leonean government, as well as making efforts to facilitate peace and reconciliation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun moving 60,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia further away from the border to prevent them from getting caught up in the conflict. Alexander Kulu, an official of Liberia's Refugees Repatriation Commission, said aid workers had discovered that thousands of AFRC/RUF rebels had crossed into Liberia and entered the refugee camps, putting genuine refugees at risk of cross-border attacks.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a 15-year programme to control malaria throughout the world. The WHO said that although malaria cannot be eradicated, the disease can be brought under control given adequate resources. According to WHO figures, malaria causes between 1.5 and 2.7 million deaths a year, with one tenth of the world's population being affected by the disease. Malaria is endemic in Africa, including Sierra Leone, but is also a major cause of illness in Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe. WHO's goal, in response to an appeal by African leaders, is to halve the number of malaria deaths by the year 2010, and to halve it again by 2015.
25 June: Some 50 Sierra Leoneans, "at the end of their tether and suffering from dehydration" landed in Pantelleria, Sicily Wednesday, Italian television reported on Friday. The report observed that the refugees were "fleeing a war around which the refugee racket has wasted no time in getting organised."
24 June: The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) warned Wednesday that food supplies in Sierra Leone will be strained as the "hungry season" approaches. "Food harvested and stored by farmers at the end of last year has by now been exhausted or was lost during the rampant looting and destruction by junta forces that followed ECOMOG, the West African Force, intervention in February," the WFP said in a statement. Fighting in the east and north of the country was "severely affecting food availability in most of the country," the statement said. "Many farming families have been displaced by the fighting and will likely miss the planting season entirely," said Patrick Buckley, the WFP's representative in Sierra Leone. "Many farmers are relying on relief supplies provided by the international community to cultivate and protect staple rice crops." Since May, the WFP has distributed food aid to some 20,000 farm families who are also receiving seeds and agricultural tools as part of an international effort to target the country's neediest waf-effected farm families. The WFP has also provided emergency food aid to more than 35,000 vulnerable and displaced persons in Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Makeni, and Segbwema. "We have managed to deliver food aid to Sierra Leoneans in need despite prevalent insecurity and logistics constraints," Buckley said. "Trucks carrying relief supplies have been commandeered by soldiers and armed men. Private truck owners are often reluctant to let their vehicles travel to some up-country destinations."
ECOMOG has begun the transfer of additional troops from Liberia to Sierra Leone in anticipation of relocation of ECOMOG headquarters to Freetown, Nigerian Acting Director of Defence Information Col. Godwin Ugbo said Wednesday. Ugbo said Nigeria currently has some 6,000 troops with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. They are expected to be joined by troops from other ECOWAS countries, in fulfillment of a pledge at a meeting of Army Chiefs of Defence Staff in Ghana in May. "The meeting identified that about 10,000 troops would be needed to cover the area," in Sierra Leone, Ugbo said, adding that more troops were expected from Ghana and Gambia. The transfer of troops follows a recent heightening of tension between ECOMOG troops in Liberia and Liberian security forces. ECOMOG withdrew its troops from checkpoints in Monrovia after a "provocation" Sunday night by government security forces, ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said. The confrontation occurred when a member of Taylor's State Security Force refused to allow a passenger vehicle in which he was riding to be searched at an ECOMOG checkpoint. About 30 more members of the State Security Force then arrived, acting in a "hostile and provocative manner," Shelpidi added. He said ECOMOG troops would not return to the checkpoints until the government guaranteed their safety and right to operate. Shelpidi denied that ECOMOG headquarters was being moved to Freetown, saying he had not received instructions from ECOWAS to relocate. He said only the Nigerian contingent's headquarters was being transferred to Freetown, a move authorised by the Nigerian government.
Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer warned newspaper editors Tuesday that the government was prepared to crack down on newspapers which published "disturbing reports likely to cause alarm or despondency to public safety, the public tranquility, and the the maintenance of public order." Spencer said if the editors continued to ignore his request to clear all stories relating to "war, military matters, and national security" with ECOMOG before publication, the government would begin to implement a Public Emergency Regulations Order subjecting those found guilty of "the publication of disturbing reports" to a fine of not more than Le 500,000, a two year prison sentence, or both. According to a news release issued by the Ministry of Information on Wednesday, Spencer reminded the editors that the Newspaper Act requires them to send complimentary copies of their publications to his ministry. "He also reminded them about their income tax obligation to the State, adding that those editors who are complaining about their tax positions should do their homework properly," the news release added.
23 June: The Liberian foreign ministry has accused Sierra Leonean governments since the Momoh regime of employing Liberian mercenaries to augment Sierra Leone's security capacity, Liberian Star Radio reported Tuesday. In a statement issued in Monrovia on Monday, the foreign ministry called on Sierra Leone to admit the Liberian claims and to stop accusing the Liberian government of involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict. A number of Liberian fighters from the former NPFL and ULIMO militias have been captured while fighting alongside AFRC/RUF rebels, leading to allegations of complicity by Liberia. Liberia has denied the charges, saying that any Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were doing so without the government's knowledge. The Liberian government says it wants to collaborate with Sierra Leone in dealing with Liberian nationals involved in the Sierra Leone conflict.
Gambia will contribute some 300 troops to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, a diplomat in Gambia was said Tuesday. The diplomat said the contingent will be drawn from soldiers who participated in peacekeeping training by French military personnel in Senegal last March.
Nigerian leader General Abdusalam Abubakar has called on ECOMOG to redouble its efforts to wipe out the rebels in Sierra Leone, Liberian Star Radio reported on Tuesday. The directive followed a tour of ECOMOG positions in Sierra Leone by ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. Shelpidi visited troops at Lungi, Makeni, Kabala, Kenema, and Daru. He also visited Holy Trinity Military Hospital, ECOMOG's field hospital at Wilberforce, where wounded troops are being treated. At Lungi, Shelpidi told some 4,000 encamped surrendered Sierra Leonean soldiers to build and defend their country, not to destroy it. He warned the soldiers not to permit AFRC/RUF rebels to infiltrate their ranks. He told the soldiers that ECOMOG would assist in "retraining the soldiers after proper screening." Those who had passed the mandatory age limit would not be re-enlisted, Shelpidi said.
A United Nations-chartered vessel left Freetown Tuesday carrying 180 Liberian refugees bound for Monrovia. The ship had earlier repatriated 175 Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia. UNHCR spokesman Chrysantus Ache said there are still about 7,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone. He added that another batch of Liberian refugees would depart from Freetown in a week's time. Ache called for financial assistance "to sustain the operation," saying that of the $20 million needed, only $4 million had already been received. He said some 5,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Gueckedou, Guinea would soon be repatriated by air. "These are mainly civil servants, students, and medical doctors from main towns in Sierra Leone who fled the country in the wakd of the May 25 coup," he said.
British Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sir John Kerr refused Tuesday to answer questions on whether the Foreign Office knew of arms shipments to Sierra Leone by Sandline International, in possible violation of the U.N. arms embargo. Kerr said that, under instructions from Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, he would decline to answer any questions which would overlap an independent inquiry being conducted by Sir Thomas Legg. "The Foreign Secretary has said his concern is that we should not prejudice an on-going inquiry," Kerr said. "His answer is not no, his answer is not yet. I think you have to accept that given that officials give evidence before a select committee on behalf of and under instructions of their ministers, it is very difficult for us to answer questions which are in an area which clearly fall into the Legg inquiry."
Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the United States, John Leigh, on Tuesday denied that the Sierra Leone government intended to exclude Civil Defence Forces militiamen from the country's new military force. Responding to "misgivings" on the subject expressed last week by ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, Leigh said: "That is not our policy." In a news release issued by the Embassy on Monday, Leigh said the Civil Defense Forces would be "an integral part of any new internal security system."
22 June: The United States has given the ECOMOG force $3.9 million in helicopters, logistics, and communications equipment for use in its offensive against the AFRC/RUF rebels, the BBC reported on Monday. According to a U.S. Embassy press release, this includes over 50 trucks and two helicopters. The press releases said a U.S. funded transportation center is already operating in Kenema, while a second Transportation and Communications Maintenance Center for ECOMOG will be fully operational in Freetown by the end of June.
A three member delegation from the World Bank has arrived in Freetown to develop and finalise a comprehensive disarmament and demobilisation strategy for former combatants. U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said the team will establish a program for the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of all former combatants, and will set up a structure of the Sierra Leone Veterans Assistance Board. There are already some 7,000 surrendered ex-combatants currently encamped in military barracks in Sierra Leone, and the problem of feeding them needs to be urgently addressed, according to ECOMOG officials in Freetown.
African leaders concluded a forum with World Bank President James Wolfensohn in Dakar, Senegal on Monday, with Senegalese President Abdou Diouf calling the conference successful. "The discussions were held in a spirit of solidarity. It no longer makes sense for our countries to embark on individual adventures while others are left in abject poverty," he said. "We discovered the movement of Africa as a whole toward on brighter future." Wolfensohn said the meeting had achieved its primary goal of helping both sides reach a consensus on how to tackle development problems facing the continent. "I came to seek advice from the presidents because they are the ones ruling the countries and not the bank. The important thing is that they spoke their minds. We have taken note of their complaints and would integrate these concerns in out future partnership." The meeting's primary objective was to allow the leaders to discuss their development experiences, and to reach consensus for the strategic development of Africa within the context of globalisation and integration. The deliberations centered on management of natural resources, human capacity building, promotion of the private sector, and foreign investment. Special emphasis would be given to education, health, and the management of public resources, which were seen as major impediments to the continent's development. The Dakar forum set up a committee to liaise with the World Bank on the implementation of its decision, comprising the leaders of Senegal (West Africa), Gabon (Central Africa), Uganda (East Africa), and South Africa (Southern Africa). Attending the conference were: Presidents Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Antonio Mascarenhas of Cape Verde, Felix Ange-Patasse of Central African Republic, Idriss Deby of Chad, Dennis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo, Teodore Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Bongo of Gabon, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, Henri Konan Bedie of Ivory Coast, Didier Ratsiraka of Madagascar, Alpha Omar Konare of Mali, Ibrahim Mainassara Bare of Niger, Miguel Trovoada of Sao Tome and Principe, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, Abdou Diouf of Senegal, and Vice President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The leaders of Cameroon, the Comoros, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bisssau, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, and Togo were invited, but did not attend.
21 June: World Bank President James Wolfensohn said Sunday that the World Bank "should work on helping the whole of Africa in education, in developing human resources." African leaders from Sierra Leone and 16 other African countries met with Wolfensohn in Dakar, Senegal for an informal two day closed door summit devoted primarily to development issues. Wolfensohn said the leaders were critical of the way the Bank dealt with the continent. "It is necessary to have the kind of relations whereby presidents can criticise me, and also in return give me the opportunity to be critical as well," Wolfensohn said. "I am here to show that we can listen." He added that the leaders had openly talked of corruption on the continent during the meeting. The future of the loss-plagued multinational airline Air Afrique was also debated. "It was decided that the bank could help to make Air Afrique a profitable airline," Senegalese Minister of Finance Mamadou Lamine Loum said. A spokeswoman for South African Vice President Thabo said Saturday that the conference was meant to cement ties between the Bank and the African continent, and would likely also discuss the crisis in emerging markets which had battered South Africa's financial markets. "The current turmoil in emerging markets is not really on the agenda but since its the burning news around I think it will come up during the meeting," the spokeswoman said. The topics of globalisation, regional integration, management of natural resources, and the future of Air Afrique were said likely to be featured in the discussions. Officials said 15 of the 17 countries were represented by their presidents, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Liberia Refugee Agency have expressed concern about persistent reports of harassment of Sierra Leonean refugees, Liberian Star Radio reported on Sunday. They said Liberian government security forces were seizing the belongings of refugees, the two organisations claimed in a one day workshop put on for security officers. They called for an end to these acts and stressed the need to respect the rights of refugees. The workshop was attended by participants from the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the Armed Forces of Liberia, and the National Security Agency. Speaking after the conference, Colonel Togba of the Armed Forces of Liberia contingent in Lofa County said fighters entering Liberia from Sierra Leone are posing as refugees. He said it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between fighters and refugees at Vahun, and suggested measures to separate the fighters from the refugee population. He said this would help to improve security in Vahun and in other areas of Lofa County.
20 June: ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Saturday that Gambia and Niger will sent troops to Sierra Leone in July to reinforce the ECOMOG contingent. He also announced the deployment of a Ghanaian Air Force contingent. Shelpidi gave no numbers on how many troops each country would send. Shelpidi said 52 AFRC soldiers hiding in Guinea had asked to be repatriated under the government's offer of amnesty. Shelpidi said there was no timetable on the length of ECOMOG's operations in Sierra Leone. Mountainous and heavily forested terrain in eastern Sierra Leone were hampering ECOMOG's efforts to "flush out" AFRC/RUF rebels, he said.
19 June: The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) wants the international community to criminalise the recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18, UNICEF Deputy Director Stephen Lewis told delegates meeting in Rome to consider the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC). "We are appalled at what is being done to children in the name of child soldiers," Lewis said. "We are putting it quite explicitly that the recruitment of children into armed forces or groups under the age of 18 should be considered a war crime." UNICEF estimates that there are at least 250,000 child soldiers serving armies around the world. "Our experience with child soldiers everywhere from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the last number of years is further evidence that the phenomenon is growing, not abating," Lewis added.
18 June: Several hundred AFRC/RUF rebels attacked ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen near Masiaka on Wednesday, 47 miles from Freetown. "The fighting took place in the bush less than one mile outside Masiaka, and it lasted for more than eight hours during which both sides lost men," a source close to ECOMOG said. Witnesses said the ECOMOG soldiers were outnumbered and were forced to withdraw. "The sounds of rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns exploded from the battle," a bus driver reported. An ECOMOG spokesman declined to comment on the battle, but sources close to ECOMOG said reinforcements had been sent to the town.
President Kabbah told ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi Wednesday that Sierra Leoneans would not tolerate supporters of the ousted AFRC junta in the new army, SLBS (state radio) reported. Shelpidi assured Kabbah that ECOMOG would not integrate offenders into the new force, but he described the security situation in Sierra Leone as "precarious."
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi has said that building a new army, Sierra Leone must concentrate on the top echelon rather than the rank and file, the Inter-Press Service (IPS) reported on Thursday. "Once the command structure is overhauled, the re-trained Sierra Leone army would be professional and defend the country and its constitution." ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe has expressed misgivings about suggestions that civilian hunters militias be integrated into Sierra Leone's new military force. "Soldiers are already trained and experienced and battle-tested, and so it takes just a bit more to shape the army up," he noted. In 1991, prior to the outbreak of the country's civil conflict, the Sierra Leonean army was some 4,000 strong. By February 1998, its numbers had increased to about 14,000.
The New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch expressed concern on Wednesday about the "desperate plight" of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia. Human Rights Watch, which visited the refugee camps last week, said that some 32,000 Sierra Leoneans at one camp in Lofa County are receiving inadequate assistance and face serious security threats because of their proximity to the border. The organisation called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to urgently develop and implement a clear plan to assist and protect refugees in Lofa County. "The refugees are in need of immediate food, medicine and other aid, assistance with their relocation to new, safer camps farther away from the border, and protection from combatants," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Yet, the international community and humanitarian agencies have been slow to provide such assistance, apparently due to the risk of international aid being diverted to support active combatants in Sierra Leone." Human Rights Watch said many former combatants, some of whom may have carried out atrocities against civilians, remained mixed with the general refugee population. Unless ex-combatants are separated from the other refugees, violence is likely to escalate, the organisation warned. Human Rights Watch called for provision of emergency aid, relocation of refugees to camps further from the border, efforts to separate ex-combatants from refugees, and "where appropriate" the prosecution of those who had committed war crimes.
17 June: 8 civilians were killed and 18 wounded Tuesday when AFRC/RUF rebels attacked at Kasanba, 24 miles from Makeni, which serves as a base for ECOMOG troops. Heavily armed rebels reportedly attacked the village at 6:00 a.m. and began shooting indiscriminately. When the outnumbered ECOMOG soldiers retreated, rebels hacked 8 residents to death, including a 4 year old girl. 18 others suffered severe gunshot wounds. When villagers came out of the bush on Wednesday, they found almost all the houses had been set on fire.
ECOMOG officers have screened some 5,000 volunteers for places in the new Sierra Leone army. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said Tuesday the men would form the core of a new defence force to replace the former national army, which was disbanded after the ouster of the military junta in February. "The soldiers now undergoing training are ones who have so far been found ready to learn about the rights and responsibilities of a patriotic army," Khobe said. "People will be surprised how these soldiers will be completely different after undergoing their present training." The new recruits reportedly include some of the 1,500 soldiers who surrendered to ECOMOG during the amnesty which expired a week ago. "The public does not want Sierra Leonean soldiers to be recruited into the new army or to be deployed to the battle front," Khobe said. "I want people to understand that it is the command structure that matters. People will be surprised how these soldiers will be completely different after undergoing the present training." He said there were some specialised training methods that would allow some qualified members of the former army to be usefully integrated into the new defence force. Further screening would distinguish between soldiers with formal training and those "just putting on army uniforms," Khobe added. The new force will be based near Lungi International Airport.
Five United Nations agency heads issued a joint statement in Geneva Wednesday to stress the need for an international criminal court. "The current crisis in Sierra Leone is a brutal reminder to the delegations now meeting in Rome of the urgent need for an effective International Criminal Court to provide justice for the appalling violations of human rights in that country and elsewhere," the statement said. Joining in the call were United Nations Children's Fund Executive (UNICEF) Director Carol Bellamy, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict Olara Otunno, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Sergio Vieira de Mello. "A standing International Criminal Court empowered and resourced to take action when national systems are either unable or unwilling would provide a credible deterrent," they said. "We believe that much of the criminal violence in armed conflicts and rebellions is the result of impunity. It is no longer sufficient for humanitarian and human rights officials to denounce atrocities while unable to prevent their recurrence. The International Criminal Court is intended to be the first effective weapon against the culture of impunity which has fuelled cycles of violence in every part of the world over the past decades." The five said the brutality in Sierra Leone is a reminder that diplomatic decisions have "flesh and blood, life and death consequences" for people in many parts of the world, and urged delegations meeting in Rome "to study carefully the situation in Sierra Leone and to ensure that the Statute they adopt will result in a court able to combat impunity, bring justice, and contribute to a lasting peace in this country."
Some 1,500 AFRC soldiers and RUF fighters have surrendered at ECOMOG bases in the north and east this week in response to a promise of amnesty by President Kabbah, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jomoh Okunlola said on Tuesday. "They came in slowly at first, then their numbers started to increase," he said, adding that those who surrendered "looked very malnourished and some could hardly walk straight...It is apparent they had suffered from lack of food or medicine." Humanitarian sources in Freetown said Wednesday they were unable to verify the numbers. One source said Kabala had been a particular focus for troops deserting the AFRC, but that few RUF fighters had surrendered. Other sources said they believed many more AFRC troops wanted to give up, but feared reprisals both from local residents and from fellow junta members.
The Kono-based Donso militia, comprised of some 400 traditional hunters, said it rescued 3,000 civilians when it liberated 36 villages in eastern Kono. "Because of the atrocities being inflicted on civilians in Kono, we have decided to take up arms to help ECOMOG in the liberation exercise," Chief Sangba told a meeting of elders in Freetown. "With the help of hunters, we can clear pockets of rebel resistance in remote parts of Kono," he said, appealing for logistical support. The newly-formed Kono District Council of Defence and Reconciliation has called on more than 2,600 hunters to back up the ECOMOG force.
The United States will send $450,000 in medical supplies and equipment within the next two weeks to help treat persons wounded in the Sierra Leone conflict, the U.S. Embassy in Freetown said in a statement issued Wednesday. The medical contribution, which includes 45,000 pounds of bandages, dressings, sheets, and medical equipment, is being provided by the Department of Defense and is intended for use in medical clinics around the country. The donation will be distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in consultation with the Ministry of Health. The U.S. will also fund a grant to the ICRC to provide helicopter evacuation of amputation and mutilation victims of the current conflict.
A report by the London-based human rights group Amnesty International says armed conflicts and political unrest in sub-Saharan Africa has led to appalling human rights violations on the continent. The report pointed to the Great Lakes region, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria as the worst offenders.
Minister of Trade, Industry and Transport Allie Bangura met Wednesday with a seven member delegation from Libya. The delegation leader, Mohammed Mahamat Hammah, who is Director General of Technical Cooperation in the Ministry of External Affairs and International Cooperation, said they were seeking practical information on establishing trade and commercial links with Sierra Leone. The delegation expressed interest in the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation, the Produce Marketing Board, the National Shipping Company, and the Mammy Yoko and Lungi Airport Hotels.
16 June: The charity ActionAid told the International Development Committee of Britain's Parliament which is investigating the "Arms to Africa Affair" on Tuesday that the British Department of International Development (DFID) cut humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone to assist the Kabbah government-in-exile. Philippa Atkinson, a West Africa specialist who worked as a consultant to ActionAid, cited what she said was a private conversation between workers of the French charity Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) and a Foreign Office official. She said the discussion made it clear that British High Commissioner Peter Penfold supported President Kabbah's position that food aid should be discouraged. "The High Commissioner took the view that humanitarian aid should be blocked and Non-Governmental Organisations (aid agencies) should not be encouraged," she said. "Kabbah felt food was a tool of war. There was a consensus that this was a policy by Kabbah himself, supported by the British High Commissioner." ActionAid Director of Policy Margie Buchanan-Smith said no food aid reached Sierra Leone between May 1997 and February 1998, although people were dying of malnutrition and from outbreaks of preventable disease. Department of International Development cut its projected aid budged for Sierra Leone from $10.5 million to just over $1 million. "To cut back humanitarian aid at the same time as providing aid to President Kabbah's Government in exile does appear to be part of a wider political strategy," Buchanan-Smith told parliamentarians. "We do fear that it encourages the unethical use of humanitarian aid and we are very concerned this area sets dangerous precedents for the future. We would like to see evidence that lessons are being learnt...We were able to continue our programme despite the fact that it was clear we weren't going to get any funding from the Department for International Development. There was a very serious situation in Sierra Leone and it was despite this evidence that the DFID was effectively restricting humanitarian aid. There was a refusal to look at the NGOs' proposals. It was very much `there's no point submitting any proposals to that because we are not intending to provide aid to NGOs'. We found it very hard to understand why aid was being restricted in this way." She said ActionAid believed it was wrong to make Sierra Leoneans suffer twice. "It is entirely unacceptable to make decisions that x-number of people should die in the interests of long term political stability," she said. "Humanitarian aid should be provided regardless of the political regime in power." She called for an "urgent review" of the DFID's policy on humanitarian aid so that what happened in Sierra Leone would not become a precedent. A DFID spokeswoman defended the Sierra Leone budget cuts, saying it would not have been appropriate to support an illegal military regime. She said the DFID had held regular meetings with NGO's, and had assessed the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone based on consultations with the U.N. Department for Humanitarian Affairs, the European Commission Humanitarian Office, and other U.N. agencies. "Although there were pockets of humanitarian need in Sierra Leone, there was no widespread humanitarian crisis," she said, adding that the DFID supported the European decision to limit humanitarian aid to a few NGO's with experience in the area, and had made bilateral contributions to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sierra Leone. "We supported the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone and we had a bilateral partnership with them. It would not have been appropriate to have the same with an illegal regime," she said.
United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Soren Jessen-Petersen on Tuesday called for the establishment of an international criminal court with broad jurisdiction, which would deter crimes against humanity and help prevent flows of refugees. "It is a fundamental moral imperative that justice be served," said Jessen-Petersen, who is the UNHCR's senior policy official. "Tragically, as we meet here, the horrific memories of Cambodia, former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are being relived by the victims of rebel atrocities in Sierra Leone," he told a meeting of the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court in Rome. "The international community must send the signal that crimes committed in the context of civil war are every bit as heinous as those committed in international conflicts." Jessen-Petersen said the UNHCR would urge the court to include in its jurisdiction attacks against civilians, denials of humanitarian assistance, forceful displacement and planting of anti-personnel mines, as well as attacks on humanitarian workers.
15 June: Former President Joseph Saidu Momoh denied Monday that he was involved in the May 1997 coup that ousted President Kabbah's elected government. In a statement read to the High Court, Momoh said he had condemned the coup at the time, and was "hard put" in conceiving that the AFRC - RUF alliance would auger well for Sierra Leone. Momoh acknowledged meeting several times with AFRC Chairman Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma, but said he continually stressed the suffering of the people and told Koroma that a military solution was not an answer to the impasse in Sierra Leone.
United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Sergio Vieira de Mello said Monday that rebel atrocities in Sierra Leone were comparable to those committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Speaking in Geneva after a three day visit to Sierra Leone, Vieira de Mello called for continued international support for the ECOMOG force. He said AFRC/RUF rebels controlled parts of the east, including the diamond areas, parts of the north and northwest, and "even central parts hitting district capitals." Vieira de Mello predicted the emergency humanitarian situation would last well into 1999, and would have to be followed quickly by a longer-term programme to rebuild the country's infrastructure. "(The rebels) are active and brutally so," he said. "The Khmer Rouge committed atrocities comparable to these. Maybe they did not go to this extreme cruelty against individuals, this useless suffering imposed on women, children and the elderly." Vieira de Mello, who visited Connaught Hospital in Freetown, said: "I have close to 29 years of experience with these conflicts I had not seen something like this before...There is a pattern of cruelty against civilians without discrimination, including children. The pattern is one of amputations, of lacerations, of maiming of civilians -- men, women of any age including children. Hands are cut, ears and noses are amputated. "The (rebels') message as a rule is after they have been amputated is to give back the limbs to the victims and to tell them: 'Now you go to Kabbah and tell him we are here.' There are no words to condemn this sort of practices, of bestiality -- and even that is unfair, because I don't think that animals do that to each other." In response to a question on the number of victims, he said: "No one knows. What I can tell you is that for one individual that survives amputations -- imagine living three, four or five days in the bush after you have been amputated of both of your hands -- for those who make it to an ECOMOG post and can be flown to a hospital by an ECOMOG helicopter -- there are at least five in my opinion, many more, who die." He said he feared the number of victims was in the thousands. Vieira de Mello said he briefed members of a joint assessment team from the United States, Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the European Commission Humanitarian Office in Conakry over the weekend. "We will try to devise a comprehensive plan that deals not only with humanitarian but also rehabilitation and development needs as soon as possible after their mission," he said.
The United Nations Security Council held closed-door talks Monday on a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send a 70-member observer mission to Sierra Leone to monitor the security situation and to eventually help to disarm and demobilise combatants. "We had a discussion this morning about the Secretary-General's recommendations about Sierra Leone, which, as you know, includes a recommendation that there be a U.N. military observer force sent there to help in the efforts of ECOMOG and other agencies of the international community which are trying to put Sierra Leone convincingly back on its feet again," British U.N. Ambassador Sir John Weston said.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on Monday refused a request by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to turn over telegrams sent between the Foreign Office and the High Commission in Sierra Leone relating to the "Arms to Africa Affair." In a letter to the Committee chairman, Labour MP Donald Anderson, Cook said he would not hand over the documents while an investigation conducted by Sir Thomas Legg was continuing. "The Government cannot disclose information which falls within the remit of Sir Thomas Legg's investigation while it is in progress because to do so could prejudice it," he said. "It is also Sir Thomas Legg's view that the release of documents now could be damaging to the prospects for the early completion of a comprehensive and consistent report." Cook warned the Committee that it would be "unwise" for them to conduct a parallel inquiry.
Junior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons on Monday rejected allegations that she had misled Parliament in March about her knowledge of possible arms shipments to Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International. She said it would have been "quite wrong" to have revealed the Customs and Excise Office inquiry in Parliament, and dismissed Tory accusations as "specious nonsense." Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary countered that Symons had gone to "great lengths" to give the impression she had not been briefed on the Customs investigation.
14 June: British High Commissioner Peter Penfold received a hero's welcome Sunday upon his return to Freetown. Penfold had been recalled to London last month to face an inquiry into the "Arms for Africa Affair." Thousands lined the streets and cheered as he drove from Lungi Airport. Shortly after reaching the capital, Penfold, wearing a traditional gown, was carried by hammock to the Cotton Tree where he was made an honourary Paramount Chief by parliamentary leader Sanna Marah. He also received a staff of office to signify the importance of the title. Penfold said he was "deeply touched" by his reception.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook denied Sunday that junior foreign office ministers had misled Parliament over the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations that Foreign Office officials had knowledge of possible violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Sierra Leone by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International. "I am absolutely clear neither of them did mislead Parliament. Baroness Symons most certainly didn't, not did Tony Lloyd," Cook said. Last week, Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sir John Kerr told Parliament Symons had been briefed in March on a Customs and Excise Office investigation into Sandline's activities. Symons later said she had not seen any papers relating to the investigation. Opposition members have demanded an apology. "(Symons) did not mislead the House therefore why should she be expected to apologise. She behave impeccably and has no reason to apologise," Cook said, rejecting suggestions that she should have revealed the Customs inquiry to the House of Lords. "I can't imagine anything more absurd than to suggest in the very early stages of a Customs inquiry a minister should get up in the House and announce it," he said. "We are not going to get many successful investigations if we carry on in that way."
12 June: The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern Friday about what it described as "an excessive 383% tax increase in tax assessments on publishers" announced by Sierra Leone's Income Tax Department on June 3. "The tax assessments appear to have been determined arbitrarily without the requisite financial audits," the CPJ said. "All print media, whether they were operational or not during the 10-month Armed Forces Revolutionary Council junta rule, are being charged based on the assumption that they were publishing daily, despite the protestations of the affected publishers and editors." The CPJ statement added that publishers may only register objections to the taxation procedure after half the assessed taxes have been paid. The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) has registered a complaint with Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James Jonah.
The European Commission has approved ECU 1 million in humanitarian aid for Sierra Leone. The aid, which will be administered by the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), will allow five NGO's --- Concern Universal, Médicins sans Frontières, Action Contre la Faim, Merlin, and Handicap International -- to carry out emergency programmes over the next two months. The funding covers basic and emergency medical aid, surgery and rehabilitation for the injured and mutilated, and remedial feeding for infants.
The U.S. government has already provided more than $50 million in humanitarian assistance for Sierra Leone in the current fiscal year, and expects to announce further contributions, State Department Spokesman James P. Rubin said Friday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday that since May 25 it had evacuated 23 persons from northern Sierra Leone who had suffered gunshot wounds, deep lacerations, and amputated limbs requiring immediate urgent reconstructive surgery. The ICRC used a helicopter to reach areas inaccessible by road due to poor security conditions. The ICRC statement noted that since April over 1,000 wounded civilians had been admitted to the country's medical centres, most of which lack the equipment to perform war surgery. Connaught Hospital in Freetown, which does have the facilities, is struggling to cope with the influx of patients. The ICRC is providing 6 hospitals and 11 clinics throughout Sierra Leone with basic medicines and surgical supplies, and an ICRC surgical team is being sent to Freetown to install a surgical unit at Netland Hospital. The ICRC said the maiming of civilians had reached "unprecedented proportions", with 140 mutilation victims having been admitted to hospitals around the country. Many more may have died of their wounds before reaching a medical centre, the statement said, adding that the fate of thousands who fled into the bush during attacks on villages remains unknown.
11 June: President Kabbah has told Sierra Leoneans to brace for tough times ahead, Liberian Star Radio reported on Thursday. In a nationwide broadcast, Kabbah said the economy was in shambles, and that in order to salvage the country people need to pay taxes and will have to pay for electricity, water, and telephone utilities. Kabbah said Sierra Leoneans should expect an increase in fuel prices in a week or two.
Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told the BBC Thursday that the Sierra Leone government was prevailing in its fight against AFRC/RUF rebels. "I think we have already won," Spencer said during a visit to London. "What is happening now is simply banditry, which is not really unexpected. And we have groups of AFRC, RUF people roaming around in the bush. They have been perhaps falling foul of ECOMOG. Their bases have been destroyed. So they are just roaming around, and the indications we have is they are running out of ammunition. they dont have food. So what do they do? They attack helpless villagers." Spencer said the RUF had survived in the bush for many years "because they were actively collaborating with the army, or the army was actively collaborating with them." He said the army had provided the rebels with ammunition, and had collaborated in attacks on villages. "Now the Sierra Leone Army is, in a way, non-existent and they dont have anybody to collaborate with within the country. So there is no way they can survive, the way they survived in the past." Spencer said the presence of the ECOMOG force, increased activity by the Civil Defence Forces, and lack of support for the rebels throughout the country meant that the rebels would not be able to operate for much longer. "The reason why they have survived this long is because ECOMOG has had problems with logistics and so on, which have been sorted out," Spencer said. "Pretty soon, they will not even be able to hide anywhere...There is just no way they can continue doing this for much longer." Spencer said the government and ECOMOG were "trying all within their power" to bring the conflict to an end, but appeared to rule out any suggestion of a settlement with the rebels. "These are not people that one can reason with," he said. "If you have seen them, you have even looked into their eyes, you know that these are not rational people. One can hold discussions with people who can think, but these people are people on drugs and they dont think as normal human beings...It is really no question of compromising the principles for which the people of Sierra Leone have stood up, which is that the people should have the right to determine who should lead them. They made a decision and they want to stick by that decision. And nobody can simply come because you have a gun in your hand and say I should rule you. The people are not prepared to accept that."
Senior officials from the United States, the European Union, and other donor countries will travel to Sierra Leone and the surrounding region June 13-20 to assess and better coordinate humanitarian relief. "We are doing what is really a first time ever effort of coordinating our mission -- our U.S. mission -- the E.U., and other donor nations so we can be on site together for several days in the field, meeting with officials to identify ways in which we collectively as donors can find ways to undergird the humanitarian delivery systems and ensure that the people who have been victimized in this war [in Sierra Leone] are taken care of and we can try to promote stability," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Julia Taft on Thursday. Taft, who leads the U.S. delegation, said the mission would visit refugee camps and talk to refugees themselves -- in particular, with respect to trauma care for recent amputees and for those who are hospitalised in Freetown. Taft described the rebels' "Operation No Living Thing" as promoting "a level of barbarity unusual for Africa and unacceptable in the eyes of the world." The goal of the joint mission, she said, is to raise the level of emergency assistance, and to call international attention to the Sierra Leone conflict -- "the most forgotten war in the world." Taft said it was important that all the international actors communicate with each other. The situation was complicated by the different types of emergencies in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, she said. "We are hoping that if we get the international donors from their national offices sitting down in the region with the non-governmental organizations, the U.N. agencies, and host government officials we will be able to sort out who is doing what, who is responsible for what aspects of it, and we can then say, 'All right, where are the gaps? Let's go forward and make our commitments.' We do expect that there will be additional resource commitments coming out of this." Mission participants for the U.S. include Ambassador Howard Jeter, Special Envoy for Liberia and State Department Director of West African Affairs; Roy Williams, Director of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at USAID; Margaret McKelvey, Director of the State Department's Office of Refugee Assistance for Africa, the Americas, and Asia, and Michael Thomas, State Department Desk Officer for Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The European Mission will include Mukesh Kapila, Head of the Conflict and Human Affairs Department of the British Department of International Development, along with other representatives of the U.K., the Netherlands, and the European Commission Office of Humanitarian Affairs. Officials from the World Bank, the UNHCR, and the U.N. World Food Programme are also expected to participate.
U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Johnnie Carson told the House Subcommittee on Africa Thursday that a humanitarian crisis is looming in Sierra Leone. "In a cynical attempt to avoid disarmament and demobilisation while it attempts to regain control of Sierra Leone's rich diamond fields, the RUF has embarked on "Operation No Living Things." This campaign of terror has visited untold suffering on the people of Sierra Leone," he said. Carson noted that the United States has important interests in Sierra Leone, and will "continue to participate in international efforts to further peace" in the country. He told Subcommittee members that the Administration has three major policy objectives in Sierra Leone: "to prevent the humanitarian situation from degenerating into an unmanageable large-scale crisis, to enhance ECOMOG's ability to provide security for civilians and the Kabbah government, and to encourage and support establishment of a durable peace, including national reconciliation as well as disarmament and demobilisation of combatants." Carson praised the work of ECOWAS and the role of the ECOMOG force, saying their efforts had prevented the country from descending into near chaos. "As in Liberia, support for ECOMOG in Sierra Leone promises to be an efficient, cost-effective peacekeeping operation," he said. Carson noted that the United States is the largest bilateral donor of aid to Sierra Leone, and said the U.S. would team with the British to garner further donor support for ECOWAS countries who have pledged troops to ECOMOG, conditioned on their receiving assistance to deploy and sustain their contingents. While denouncing AFRC/RUF atrocities as "political terror at its worst," Carson did not rule out the possibility of negotiations with the rebel group. "ECOWAS, with the support of the international community, must explore every political avenue and determine the best way to proceed," he said. "However, we find it difficult to envision talks with the RUF and former junta leadership until they unambiguously and honestly renounce the systematic carnage and widespread human rights violations they have visited on their country."
ECOMOG claimed Thursday its troops had killed 500 AFRC/RUF rebels celebrating the death of Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, according to the German Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) news agency, citing "ECOMOG sources." ECOMOG soldiers located and encircled the RUF camp after the rebels fired their guns in celebration, DPA said. Local sources, citing an SLBS (state radio) report and accounts of people who had travelled from the area, said the attacks took place at Koeyor, Sinna Town, and Kamadu, near Koidu in Kono District.
10 June: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended Wednesday that the U.N. send a 70 member observer team to Sierra Leone. The U.N. Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) would also include a 15 member medical unit and civilian administrative staff. The mission, which would have an initial six month mandate, would monitor the military and security situation in Sierra Leone and eventually help with the demobilisation of former combatants. It would also monitor compliance with international law. Because of the volatile security situation in the provinces, Annan said the deployment of the U.N. observers would take place in phases. The first group of observers would be sent to Freetown, Hastings, and Lungi beginning in July. Deployment of the remainder would depend on the security situation, progress in disarming and demobilising combatants, and the availability of logistical equipment and resources. Annan called on the government of Sierra Leone to "continue to show the necessary resolve to adhere to international human rights standards and its own distinguished legal traditions" to ensure fair trials for those charged with treason and other offences, accused of involvement with the ousted military junta. "I am aware that the government has held to this course so far in the face of strongly voiced public contempt for the accused," he added. Annan said he would keep the situation under review during the Observer Mission's initial six month mandate, and make further recommendations to the Security Council concerning a possible extension or expansion of the mission.
African leaders ended their OAU summit in Ouagadougou Wednesday with a call for the United Nations and the international community to help ECOMOG deploy in remote areas of Sierra Leone, in order to flush out AFRC/RUF rebels accused of committing atrocities against of civilians.
700 soldiers who surrendered to ECOMOG are being held at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, Liberian Star News reported on Wednesday. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said the soldiers had been sent to fight alongside ECOMOG but had proved to be disloyal and were playing a double role, helping rebel forces against ECOMOG. He said the soldiers were rounded up from various parts of Sierra Leone where they had been posted to help fight rebels.
The Africa Subcommittee of the U.S. House International Relations Committee will hold hearings on Sierra Leone in Washington, D.C. Thursday afternoon. Scheduled to testify are Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, Sierra Leonean Ambassador to the United States John Leigh, All Peoples Congress leader Eddie Turay, and Bernie McCabe, the U.S. representative for Sandline International.
President Kabbah described the late Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha as "a selfless and compassionate leader and an Africanist" during a condolence visit to Nigeria on Wednesday. Kabbah said Abacha would occupy a strategic place in the history of Sierra Leone, according to a report on Voice of Nigeria radio.
9 June: Nigeria's new military leader, General Abdusalam Abubakar, said Tuesday that he would maintain his country's commitment to ensuring peace and stability in West African sub-region, where Nigeria backs ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Abubakar, who served as Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, was elevated to the position of Head of State following the death of General Sani Abacha on Monday. Abubakar called on the international community to end Nigeria's isolation over its human rights record. "My fervent appeal goes to the international community for their understanding and cooperation. Nigeria demands a fair hearing and constructive engagement and not isolation," he said. Abubakar warned that: "In spite of the recent developments in the country, we shall resolutely defend our sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity."
Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs Shirley Gbujama disclosed Wednesday that President Kabbah has set up a committee to investigate alleged junta collaborators who have not been charged in court, according to an SLBS (state radio) news summary. Gbujama told acting British High Commissioner David Wyatt that this could result in a reduction in the number of detainees and speed up of the due process of law.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Michel Camdessus told African leaders Tuesday that African countries should target a growth rate of 7% a years. Camdessus told the OAU summit that this could be achieved with a mixture of macroeconomic control, ensuring that their banking and financial sectors were solid, and ending crony capitalism and corruption. He said Africa's economies, after two decades of decline, were now on the road to recovery. "Africa is getting better and what is more, it owes all, or almost all, to the efforts of Africans themselves," he said. "Since 1995, Africa is getting richer, compared to its birthrate." Camdessus said Rwanda had been the first country to benefit from special help to nations emerging from conflict under an initiative agreed by the IMF in 1997. "We would like countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia to benefit from help, but the countries have to take the first step and set up a programme that we can support," he said.
British Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sir John Kerr, under intense questioning by members of parliament, confirmed Tuesday that junior Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons had been briefed on the "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations that London-based mercenary firm Sandline International had shipped arms to Sierra Leone in violation of U.N. sanctions -- before she took part in a debate in the House of Lords on March 10. Kerr also admitted that the information had been passed on to Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd, who has maintained he did not see it. "I can tell you straight away there was a side copy marked to Mr. Lloyd's office," Kerr said. "We know he did not see it. We don't know if it was sent and he did not see it or if it was not sent." Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard said Symons might have to resign because of her failure to mention the inquiry during her appearances before the House of Lords. "Baroness Symons has, on the face of it, misled the House of Lords. If it is advertent, it is a resigning matter. So this has very, very serious implications," he said. Symons denied Monday night that she had misled the Lords, adding that her papers would would be examined as part of Sir Thomas Legg's independent examination into the affair. "If my remarks to the House are shown to have been inaccurate, although made in good faith, I shall of course correct them," she added.
8 June: Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha died in the early hours of Monday morning, reportedly as the result of a heart attack. Diplomats attending the OAU conference in Burkina Faso said Abacha had already been buried in his home town of Kano, in accordance with traditional Muslim practice. Abacha had been a vocal supporter of President Kabbah's civilian government and, as chairman of ECOWAS, had backed military intervention by the ECOMOG force which led to the eventual ouster of Sierra Leone's military junta in February.
President Kabbah cut short his attendance at the OAU summit in Ouagadougou Monday to fly to Abuja with Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi in order to take part in funeral rites for General Sani Abacha. In a nationwide radio broadcast from Ouagadougou, Kabbah called Abacha "the best friend of Sierra Leone" and ordered flags to be flown at half mast. He also ordered churches and mosques to remain open for national prayers for General Abacha.
Over two dozen African Heads of State, including President Kabbah, had arrived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso by Sunday for the OAU summit which begins on Monday. African leaders will discuss peace and stability on the continent, and will look at progress toward economic integration mandated by the OAU's 1991 treaty establishing an African Economic Community by 2025.
Catholic church sources have confirmed a Concord Times story on June 1 which reported an alleged plot by AFRC/RUF rebels to kidnap Bishop George Biguzzi, the Catholic Bishop of Makeni, to gain leverage in their dealings with the Sierra Leone government. Biguzzi played a role in negotiating the release of kidnapped missionaries in February and in freeing seven Xaverian nuns kidnapped in January 1995. The alleged plot was discovered during the questioning of a rebel soldier captured by ECOMOG, the Concord Times said. "The security surrounding me is substantial and it makes me confident," Biguzzi told the newspaper on Saturday. "However, we are to be mindful that all the people of this country must be protected so that the country may be returned to normalcy," the Bishop added. Church sources report Biguzzi has been given an escort of ECOMOG troops for his protection.
7 June: African foreign ministers meeting before the OAU Summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, have expressed their support for ECOMOG, and have called for international help in transporting troops to mop up rebel resistance in remote areas.
5 June: The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to partially lift the arms embargo on Sierra Leone. The resolution said all weapons and ammunition must enter Sierra Leone through specific government-controlled border points, to ensure they do not fall into the hands of the rebels. Under the resolution, the Sierra Leone government should "mark, register, and notify" the Council of all arms imports, while U.N. member states must advise U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of arms exports from their territories to Sierra Leone. Annan is to report back to the Council in six months on the state of arms exports to the country. The Council also expressed its willingness to end all restrictions once the rebels have been disarmed and demobilised, and the civilian government controls the entire country.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook welcomed the U.N. Security Council's decision to lift the arms embargo against the Sierra Leone government, saying the move "reflects the changed situation in Sierra Leone." In a statement Friday, Cook said: "Now that the democratic government has been restored, it is essential that peace and order return as quickly as possible. The campaign of savagery which is still being waged by rebel forces must be brought to an end."
Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan denied Friday allegations made former AFRC Air Force Squadron Leader Victor King on Thursday that Liberia had allowed weapons for the ousted military junta to pass through its territory. King alleged that the weapons were sent from Burkina Faso, and shipped via Liberia in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1132. Speaking at the OAU foreign ministers meeting in Ouagadougou, Captan said Liberia's borders were controlled at the time by ECOMOG. If arms got through, it was their responsibility, he said.
A summit called by Guinean President Lansana Conte in a bid to re-establish the Mano River Union collapsed Friday when Liberian President Charles Taylor failed to attend. Guinean officials had no immediate comment, and Sierra Leonean diplomats deferred comment. "We will give our official reaction to President Taylor's actions in due time, said Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai, who explained that Taylor's failure to appear prompted President Kabbah's early departure. Liberian Vice President Enoch Dogolea, who was sent to represent Taylor at the summit, extended an invitation from Taylor to Kabbah and Conte to attend Liberia's Independence Day celebrations on July 26. The Liberian Ministry of Information statement said Taylor was unable to attend the summit because of "pressing matters."
Interior Minister Charles Margai repeated the Sierra Leonean government's offer made last week of amnesty for rebels who surrendered within 14 days, but warned that he would intensify military efforts against those who did not meet the deadline. "If they do not surrender, I intend as minister in charge of internal security, along with my colleagues who are ministers and MP's, to move to the provinces in the areas affected to mobilise our fighting forces to ensure that this whole menace is brought to a conclusion once and for all," Margai told the BBC on Friday. "We shall take leave of His Excellency for two weeks, and I believe that at the expiry of the two weeks I shall have the pleasure to inform His Excellency that the situation has been finally and decisively brought under control." Margai acknowledged that he did not know the rebels' location, but said: "I believe that we have an idea of where they are, and when the time expires for them to surrender, if they don't, you can rest assured that we shall locate them."
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday "strongly condemned" atrocities committed by AFRC/RUF rebels, calling them "serious violations of international law which will have a devastating impact on rural communities in Sierra Leone." In a statement issued in Geneva, the ICRC said more than 1,000 wounded civilians had been treated in the country's hospitals since April. Most of the victims had been mutilated or had deep and multiple lacerations of the upper limbs and face. More than 140 villagers had been treated following partial or total amputation of one or both arms, the statement said. Based on the first-hand accounts of survivors, the ICRC estimated that hundreds of people had been killed in rebel attacks, and that only one in four survivors had managed to reach a health centre. The ICRC is preparing to send a surgical team to Sierra Leone to back up medical facilities which, the statement said, "are overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with these types of injury."
UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen asked the Liberian government Thursday to screen Sierra Leoneans fleeing to Liberia to establish that they are genuine refugees, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday. Jessen-Petersen told the Liberian government that the UNHCR is concerned about reports of the presence of AFRC/RUF rebels in the camps. Although there had been no incidents, he said, the presence of former fighters could make the camps vulnerable to attack.
4 June: Former AFRC Air Force Squadron Leader Major Victor King said Thursday that the military junta had received arms from Burkina Faso via Liberia, despite the U.N. arms embargo. King made the statement after being repatriated from Nigeria with two colleagues arrested with him, Kemoh Mansaray and Arnold Bangura. "During the arms embargo imposed by the international community, large quantities of arms and ammunition were sent by air to Magburaka from Liberia after they were sent by Burkina Faso," King said. "The arms were then transported to Freetown and delivered to the Wilberforce Military Camp or to the residence of Lt.-Col. Johnny Paul Koroma," he added. King, who was arrested in Liberia where he fled after the ouster of the junta, and later transferred to Nigeria, said he had seen RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Sankoh, who has been detained by the Nigerian government since March 1997, is being held at the Gadunastu military base at Abuja, King said.
South Africa will establish diplomatic relations with Sierra Leone, the South African Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement Thursday.The statement said the decision came after the reinstatement of President Kabbah's civilian government. South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo said at the OAU ministerial meeting on Thursday that South African will steadfastly support the government of President Kabbah. "Let it be a signal to others that Africa will continue to reject the illegal seizure of power from governments who have been democratically elected," Nzo said in Ouagadougou. He said South Africa would provide some form of humanitarian assistance once the Sierra Leone government gave him an assessment of its immediate needs. "It is important that we, as a fellow African country, demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Sierra Leone in a tangible and meaningful way," he said. Nzo invited his Sierra Leonean counterpart, Dr. Sama Banya, to visit South Africa at a mutually convenient date.
Four civilians were killed on Wednesday and some 300 forced from their homes after AFRC/RUF rebels attacked the village of Masimra, 30 miles north of Freetown, the AFP reported on Thursday. Several other people drowned while fleeing the attack, witnesses said.
Liberian President Charles Taylor's last minute decision not to attend a Mano River Union summit in Conakry was due to "present state matters at home," Information Minister Joe Mulbah said on Thursday. "We are preparing for our 150th centennial celebration here, and the president has been organising this," Mulbah said. "Peace for us matters a lot, just as peace matters between Kabbah and President Taylor." He said Taylor "would have loved to be there" but that he was trying to ensure security in Liberia. Mulbah denied that Taylor's failure to attend the summit was a snub to President Kabbah. "In fact, initially it was President Taylor who started the ball rolling when he visited Guinea immediately after his inauguration, met with President Conte and President Kabbah, and they decided that this Mano River Union should get started again."
ECOMOG will conduct "routine flights" over Freetown and its environs starting Thursday, SLBS (state radio) reported. "Residents are asked not to panic as there is no cause for alarm," the radio said.
ECOMOG Commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Wednesday that rains had slowed efforts to wrest control of Kono and Kailahun Districts from AFRC/RUF rebels. He said also that ECOMOG needed logistics to deal decisively with the situation in Sierra Leone. Shelpidi said the rebels were running short on ammunition and supplies, and had resorted to attacking civilians. "The unfortunate thing about this incident is that they have unleashed a lot of atrocities on innocent villagers, seizing their livestock, foodstuff, raping women, and at times ripping pregnant women open to know the sex of the baby," he said. Instead of sparing children, he said, "the dissidents amputate their legs and arms. We expect the international community to condemn such barbaric acts." Shelpidi said ECOMOG had liberated 80% of Sierra Leone, and appealed to the international community for logistical aid in the form of vehicles, helicopters, fuel and spare parts to enhance the force's mobility and to cordon off remnants of rebel troops.
The European Union Commission is threatening to ban fish imports from at least 49 countries, including Sierra Leone, as of July 1 because of inadequate information about hygiene standards, an EU food safety official said Thursday. The official said the EU has urged countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific to provide information on their hygiene standards. A number of other countries that have already provided information are being asked to offer more convincing details. The largest exporters to the EU facing the ban are the Netherlands Antilles, Vanuatu, Ukraine, and Belarus. Those being asked to provide further information on fish hygiene standards include Sierra Leone, Yemen, Oman, Grenada, and Saudi Arabia. All together, the 49 countries accounted for only 0.5% of EU fish imports during 1996.
3 June: British International Development Secretary Clare Short told Parliament Wednesday that Britain did not reduce aid to Sierra Leone during the period of military rule in order to put pressure the junta to relinquish power. "We did not reduce humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone in order to put pressure on the coup leaders," she said. "There was real trouble getting resources in and not feeding the fighters, but we put in as much relief for NGOs and the Red Cross as we could get through to people. We also funded a radio station so they could get access to the truth, we funded a lot of refugees and of course we prepared the government to return. We did not cut resources in order to hurt people." Clare said that since the return to power of President Kabbah's civilian government, Britain had provided £1 million in order to restore core functions and get the government up and running, £1 million for non-governmental organisations delivering humanitarian assistance, and £1 million to continue humanitarian aid and protection work. In addition, she said, the European Union was providing ECU two million for seeds and tools, and ECU 200,000 to help refugees in Guinea return home. "We are looking at what more can be done to strengthen government and bring immediate relief to the people. We hope in the future to be able to assist in demobilising and reintegrating ex-combatants," Short added.
Sierra Leonean officials who extort money will be publicly flogged as well as prosecuted, Interior Minister Charles Margai said Wednesday. Margai warned civil servants "to refrain from collecting monies from chiefs and other members of the community in the guise of having to entertain government ministers" who travel to the interior. "The act is an extortion and is calculated to smear the good image of government. Any administration caught in such a dishonest act will not only be prosecuted but will be publicly flogged," Margai said upon his return from a week-long trip to the provinces.
Sierra Leone is expected to be on the agenda Thursday when OAU foreign ministers meet in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to prepare for a Heads of State and Government Summit next week. The foreign ministers are also expected to discuss crises in Comoros, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, and Angola, as well as efforts to limit the proliferation of small arms and light weapons on the continent.
A second lawyer has withdrawn from the treason trial, Liberian Star Radio reported Wednesday. Steve Conteh announced Monday that "for personal reasons" he could no longer represent the ninth and tenth accused, Bai Hinga Kooray Bangura and Mohamed Adkalie Bangura. One of the accused described the "last minute u-turn" as a blow, and appealed to the government to provide them with suitable defence counsel. The judge reminded the accused that they would have to represent themselves if the government could not find defence lawyers for them. Conteh follows Dr. Bubuakou Jabbie, who earlier resigned as defence counsel for Victor Foh, Olivia Mensah, and Kwaku Dixon.
2 June: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday issued an urgent appeal for $7.3 million in funding to help Sierra Leonean refugees who have fled AFRC/RUF atrocities. UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen, who visited refugee camps on Guinea's border with Sierra Leone over the weekend, said he was shocked by the experience. "The atrocities the rebels have committed against these people are extremely barbaric and unequaled. Many had both arms and legs cut off by the rebels. Others had other parts of their bodies like ears and eyes removed." Jessen-Petersen said many refugees "are already half dead" by the time they reach the refugee camps. "The people who fled Sierra Leone are in terrible shape, and we have to do all in our power to help them. We urge donors to respond generously and quickly so that we can continue providing life-saving relief," he said. "This is a race against time since soon rains will turn roads into mud and our resources are running out fast." In May alone, 147 children under the age of five died in refugee camps in Guinea. "The UNHCR is racing against time to stop the deaths as the refugees are arriving in very very bad shape, sometimes after trekking for hundreds of miles in the forest, battling disease, starvation and exhaustion," he said. Since February of this year some 182,000 refugees have fled to Guinea, and another 55,000 to Liberia, bringing the total number of Sierra Leonean refugees in the two countries to 530,000. Many more victims have died before reaching safety. Jessen-Petersen said he was appalled by the evidence of rebel atrocities. "Those who turn their weapons against innocent civilians in this way are cowards and barbarians and should be brought to trial," he said, adding that events in Sierra Leone highlight the urgent need to set up an international criminal court. "We have to see to it that justice is done but also to deter such crimes in the future," he said.
The United Nations Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunno, said Tuesday that Sierra Leone should become an international pilot program to rehabilitate civilians following a civil conflict. He stressed that if the world waited until there was a "perfect peace" in Sierra Leone, there was a danger that Sierra Leone's democracy could be jeopardised. "If (the international community) does not act now, I fear it will be too late to act," he said, adding that the country had become stable enough to allow "programs of rehabilitation and reconstruction." One advantage Sierra Leone had over other countries emerging from conflict was the widespread support enjoyed by the newly restored government of President Kabbah, he added. Otunno said both ECOMOG and local military officers were making a special effort to protect and rehabilitate children, and not to shoot child soldiers who escaped or were captured with rebel forces. In Daru and Segbwema, groups of orphans were emerging from the bush, many of them under five years old, who had survived on bush yams and wild fruit. In Freetown, he spoke to hundreds of persons maimed by AFRC/RUF rebels, including young children. "Suddenly from nowhere, almost overnight, there is the emergence of a new community of people -- persons without limbs," Otunno said. He recalled a child, about five years old, who was told by rebels who cut off his hands: "Go tell President Kabbah we are still here."
U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) regional director Paul Ares on Tuesday asked NATO to provide all-terrain military vehicles to help distribute urgently needed humanitarian assistance to refugees in remote areas of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Ares asked NATO to donate or sell at least 30 trucks to supplement the WFP's fleet of 17. "We have enough food to feed all the refugees in Guinea during the rainy season but due to limited trucking capacity, we have great difficulties keeping up with the demand," Ares said.
President Kabbah will meet with Guinean President Lansana Conte and Liberian President Charles Taylor in Conakry on June 11, at a summit of the defunct Mano River Union. "The revival of the Union is an important mechanism to foster peace, stability, youth employment and political and economic integration in the sub region," Guinean Foreign Minister Lamin Camara said in an invitation letter to President Kabbah. The letter noted the collapse of the Union after war broke out in Liberia in 1989 and in Sierra Leone in 1991. SLBS (state radio) said the meeting would provide an opportunity for Kabbah and Taylor "to hold fruitful discussions on the declining relationship between the two countries." Relations between the two countries have been strained by allegations that Taylor supported the military junta that overthrew Kabbah last year. "The vast majority of the people in Liberia and Sierra Leone are poor and peace in both countries will ensure the reallocation of resources from war for the development of the people," Kabbah said in accepting the invitation to Conakry.
Britain circulated draft proposals of a U.N. Security Council resolution Tuesday which would exempt the Sierra Leone government from the arms embargo. The draft resolution would maintain the arms embargo against AFRC/RUF rebels, and calls on the rebels to cease their resistance to "the authority of the legitimate government of Sierra Leone." The text clarifies the question as to whether the arms embargo imposed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1132 also applied to the ECOMOG force. The U.N.'s legal office, in an opinion issued on May 21, said ECOMOG was implicitly exempted from the embargo.
Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Solomon Berewa, who is acting as chief prosecutor in Sierra Leone's treason trials, warned defence lawyers Monday to take their briefs seriously or face investigation. Berewa said some of the lawyers were "making outlandish applications which are not in the best interests of their clients." He described as "unprofessional and condescending" the practice of some defence lawyers of "absenting themselves even when witnesses are giving evidence against their clients."
ECOMOG has put on display a large quantity of arms seized from Sierra Leonean soldiers over the weekend in raids on Wilberforce Barracks and the OAU Village. The weapons included AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and long range machine guns with ammunition. The arms were displayed by ECOMOG troops at Wilberforce Barracks, along with looted household items.
U.S. President Bill Clinton on Tuesday authorised the release of $37 million in emergency funds "to meet the urgent and unexpected needs of refugees and other persons at risk in Africa and Asia," according to a White House statement. In Africa, the aid will go to Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Great Lakes region, and the Horn of Africa. The assistance will be administered through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.N. World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and other non-governmental organisations.
1 June: The U.K. provided more than £340,000 to the civilian government of President Kabbah while he was in exile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair disclosed in a written statement to Parliament. Blair said the money was used for "basic services" for the exiled government, including communications equipment, a workshop and seminar in the U.K. on restoring the civilian government, and funds to enable a delegation to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh last October.
AFRC/RUF rebels are inflicting "terror and havoc" on villages in Kono District, according to former Housing Minister Dominic Musa, who fled to Freetown at the weekend. Musa said rebels had attacked the towns of Tombodu, Sukudu, Yormandu, and Kayima. He said he had stayed in the bush for three months between Yardu-Sandor and Yekuma. He fled with 20 other people by bush paths, travelling through villages to reach Sewafe, which is controlled by ECOMOG. "The people of Kono are suffering and they needed some psychological boost to keep them feeling traumatised," Musa said. "During our escape, we saw scores of dead corpses of rebels lying in the bush, and I fear an outbreak of diseases very soon," he added. Musa said that in Kono District, "people are not only mining but are also vandalising and ferrying personal belongings left behind by Kono residents, including roofing sheets, generators, and mining equipment to towns in the north."