The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

July 2000
 

31 July: British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain said Monday that control of Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas needed to be brought back under government control in order to bring the country's nine year conflict to an end, Britain's PA News reported. "In strategic terms control of the diamond areas has to be restored to the Government of Sierra Leone or there is no end in sight for this war," Hain said following talks with presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai. Hain also warned the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso that unless they stopped helping the RUF to sell illicit diamonds with which it funds the insurrection, they would face international sanctions. "There is a very clear relationship between President Taylor of Monrovia and the RUF," Hain said. "His Government has been enriched from the sale of illicit diamonds and one of the most bloody and mutilating wars ever to stain the African continent. The illicit smuggling of diamonds through Monrovia must stop. Otherwise Liberia will face very clear sanctions." He said Britain regarded the actions of Burkina Faso as "completely unacceptable" and urged the Burkinabe government to cease the illicit sale of diamonds.

Britain and the United States accused Liberia and Burkina Faso Monday of providing support for the RUF in its insurrection against the Sierra Leone government. "The governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso, including through the actions of their presidents, are fueling the war in Sierra Leone and profiting from the diamond trade," Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (left), the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council Sierra Leone sanctions committee. "I appeal to them to end their support for the Revolutionary United Front and to put a permanent halt to their involvement in the diamonds for arms trade." The committee, chaired by Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, began two days of public hearings Monday on the ties between the illicit sale of Sierra Leonean "conflict diamonds" and the illegal sale of arms to Sierra Leone's rebels. Holbrooke said the RUF controls about 90 percent of Sierra Leone's diamond mining areas, and that the United States estimates the rebel group earns $30-50 million annually, and perhaps as much as $125 million, from illicit diamond sales. He said the diamonds were being purchased by unidentified middlemen, mainly Lebanese, who resell them to Belgian, South African, Israeli, Indian, Russian and other buyers. Holbrooke said that while most illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds were smuggled through Liberia, in the late 1990s about 40 percent were sold through Guinea. Subsequently, he said, large quantities of gemstones were routed through Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. He listed Switzerland, Russia and the Netherlands as possible transit points for the gems. Holbrooke said the RUF was using the money to buy more sophisticated weapons. "A year ago, the RUF were...drug-crazed, machete-wielding thugs. They are now acquiring machine guns, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and the means to shoot down aircraft," he said. "This is extraordinarily dangerous not only for the region but for the United Nations." Holbrooke said there was reason to believe that "RUF leaders and the president of Liberia have taken increasingly large commissions for each of themselves, and particularly for Liberian President Taylor, for his services as a facilitator of diamond sales and related arms transfers." The ambassador alleged that Taylor was "charging unidentified investors licensing fees for permitting them to mine diamonds in eastern Sierra Leone," and accused the RUF of offering illicit diamond traders fake 99-year leases on diamond concessions in the east of the country. He added that Burkina Faso and Libya were also helping the RUF by facilitating the arms-for-diamonds trade. "If the U.N. is to succeed in Sierra Leone, those people who are fuelling the conflict through conflict diamonds must stop their efforts," Holbrooke said. British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock (right) also accused the Liberian president of supporting the RUF rebels. "President Taylor is orchestrating the activities of the RUF, he is giving direct military support, he is encouraging attacks against UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone government forces," Greenstock said. "He is using the RUF to retain control of Sierra Leone's diamond resources in his own interests." Steve Pattison, head of the United Nations Department in the British Foreign Office, gave details of recent meetings between Taylor, Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore and RUF rebels. Three RUF leaders, one of them carrying diamonds to pay Burkina Faso for "material support," travelled with Taylor to a June 5 meeting with Compaore in Ouagadougou, he said. On June 10, the same rebel leader flew to Monrovia to meet with Taylor, carrying more diamonds to buy equipment. "President Taylor has assured the RUF of his support and of increased military and other material aid," Pattison said. "This has included supplies of arms, ammunition, fuel, food and medicines. These are regularly transported across the Liberian border in trucks and occasionally in helicopters. President Taylor has also arranged or authorised the transport of RUF, Liberian, Burkinabe, Guinea personnel and RUF mercenaries." He also alleged Taylor had produced a plan to fortify areas around the diamond-producing areas of Kono, which the RUF proceeded to implement in June and July. Pattison told the committee Taylor authorised the establishment in June of a Liberian shell company with a Burkinabe subsidiary — the Liberian Investment Corporation — to provide cover for RUF diamond mining operations in Sierra Leone. Liberian and Burkinabe representatives, however, rejected the charges. "There may very well be some of what is considered evidence in the hands of Western powers, but we would like an opportunity to scrutinise whatever is in their possession," said Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan. He demanded the Western countries produce "concrete evidence" which could be examined by an outside panel of eminent persons. Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso also demanded proof, but said his country was willing to cooperate with investigators from the U.N. or from any other source.

Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarry Deen told the United Nations Security Council Sierra Leone sanctions committee Monday his country was determined to end the illicit trade in conflict diamonds, but would need international help to do so. "For nine years, the people of Sierra Leone have suffered the consequences of the illegal use of the nation's diamonds as a tool for destruction, rape, amputation, abduction, indiscriminate killings and other atrocities," Deen said. Ralph Hazleton (right) of Partnership Africa Canada said Liberia, which has been accused of assisting the RUF to smuggle and market illicit diamonds, had a production capacity of no more than 150,000 carats a year, but was currently exporting about 40 times that amount to Antwerp alone. Guinea exports 2.8 times its annual production to Antwerp, while Ivory Coast sells eight times its annual production, he said. Hazleton urged the U.N. to take the lead in stamping out the illicit diamond trade in order to give urgency to the issue. Global Witness told the committee it estimated the rebels earned some $200 million a year from 1991 to 1999 in illicit gem sales — a figure which, if accurate, would put the RUF's low-technology mining output at over a third of Sierra Leone's record production of two million carats in 1960. Diamond conglomerate De Beers has published estimates that Sierra Leone as a whole produced about $75 million in diamonds during 1999. A sizeable chunk of the profits is alleged to have been pocketed by middlemen in the illegal trade. Diamond industry sources maintain that West African diamond production statistics are inflated by Russian and other diamonds, which are are often declared in Antwerp as originating in Africa in order to avoid the High Diamond Council's non-African import tax. In Monday morning's session, the committee was scheduled to hear from representatives of the diamond industry, human rights groups and others. According to a published schedule, the committee was to hear testimony on the link to the trade in arms and other matériel in the Monday afternoon session, while the Tuesday session would be devoted to a discussion of "ways and means for development of a sustainable and well-regulated diamond industry in Sierra Leone." Among those invited to the hearings were representatives of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Belgium, India, Israel and South Africa, as well as ECOWAS, the World Bank, the High Diamond Council, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses.

Shots were fired Sunday at the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Daru by members of the pro-government CDF militia, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Monday. She said the situation was quickly brought under control by UNAMSIL staff, who disarmed the CDF personnel and later took the matter up with their commander. Befecadu said two more RUF fighters reported to the Daru DDR camp on Sunday, bringing the number of former combatants at the camp to 553 registered and 26 unregistered. Of these, 341 registered and 4 unregistered are ex-SLA, 202 registered and 20 unregistered are RUF and 8 registered and 1 unregistered are from the AFRC, she said. 

Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo are due to visit Freetown this week, according to the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), quoting State House sources. The exact date has not been confirmed but might take place mid-week, SLENA said. Konare also serves as the current chairman of ECOWAS.

32 Russian soldiers arrived in Sierra Leone over the weekend to join the UNAMSIL force, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Monday. The Russians brought four Mi-24 helicopter gunships. The balance of the 115-man Russian contingent is expected by August 7, Befecadu said. 

Jordanian peacekeepers stationed at Rokel Bridge have taken on the task of supporting a local primary school with 350 students,  UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu told reporters. The Jordanians are helping with food and school equipment including desks and exercise books, Befecadu said, adding that local residents had renamed the school as the "Jordan Primary School."

30 July: The Sierra Leone government has shortened the overnight curfew by one hour. According to a statement read on state radio on Sunday, the curfew will now run from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. The curfew previously ran to 6:00 a.m.

Evidence of Liberian backing of the RUF includes aerial photographs of convoys of trucks carrying weapons and medical supplies to Sierra Leone, and electronic intercepts which show Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured left) and some of his senior military commanders regularly meeting with senior RUF commanders to coordinate activities, the Washington Post reported on Sunday, quoting U.S. sources. "The evidence is overwhelming," a Pentagon official was quoted as saying. In a meeting with Taylor in Monrovia on July 17, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering (right) told the Liberian leader he had personally reviewed the evidence linking him to arming and supporting the RUF, a charge Taylor denied. Following the meeting, Pickering said there was strong evidence the Liberian government was both the main patron and beneficiary of the RUF, and he warned that if Taylor was "not willing to play this positive role in word and deed" in ending the Sierra Leone conflict "there will be very negative consequences for our bilateral relations and...for Liberia's relations with the entire international community." While Pickering was vague as to the form sanctions might take, the Post said some of the measures under consideration included revoking visas for Taylor and other senior government officials, reducing personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia and suspending visa services there, and pushing for U.N. sanctions against Liberia, which is already under an arms embargo. The Post quoted U.S. officials as saying the timetable for U.S. sanctions was two to three weeks, enough time for Taylor to meet with senior RUF commanders and political representatives to come up with a proposal to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. "Sources close to the rebels said such a meeting in Monrovia was scheduled for this weekend or later this week," the Post said. "They said senior rebel commanders had been summoned to Monrovia, along with financial backers who deal in diamonds and others who have represented the RUF politically." Pickering's meeting with Taylor "appears to have brought some results," a U.S. official was quoted as saying. "We are seeing movement where we saw none before."

A Russian military cargo plane carrying a group of Russian peacekeepers for the UNAMSIL force flew to Sierra Leone on Sunday, Itar-Tass reported.

29 July: The RUF High Command and RUF field commanders will meet in Kailahun on Monday to select a new leader to replace Foday Sankoh, Gambian President Yayah Jammeh said on Friday. Sankoh has been detained in Freetown since May 17, following the breakdown of the peace process, and after a May 8 incident outside his Spur Road residence when his followers opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators. Delegations representing the Sierra Leone government and the RUF met in Monrovia this week with West African leaders in an attempt to salvage the peace process. Jammeh said he and the other heads of state briefed the RUF on an ECOWAS resolution calling for a change in the RUF leadership. "The RUF high command in turn accepted the resolution and has agreed to have a new leader," Jammeh told reporters. "We told them what had gone wrong with the RUF — not in diplomatic language. At the end of the discussion, the RUF High Command agreed." The Gambian president began a two-day visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday. Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, said he had been briefed by some of those attending the meeting, and that they were hopeful about the peace process. "All of them seem to be quite optimistic that there may be a turning point this time around. Those who were present at the meeting have assured me that the RUF is serious this time around and will be electing a new leader," he said. 

45 persons have died of cholera in Bumbuna during the past three days, Reuters reported on Saturday quoting a senior military source. "Starting from Thursday, cholera has killed 45 people, most of them women and children, and about 200 more are seriously affected by the disease,'' the source said. Thousands of civilians have gathered at Bumbuna, where government forces maintain a strong presence in the otherwise rebel-held area to protect the unfinished hydro-electric plant. Humanitarian agencies are unable to reach the area because of the security situation. "We appeal to people to try to move to Mile 91, which is safer for the humanitarian agencies," a Ministry of Health official was quoted as saying.

28 July: A group of West African leaders has held a meeting in Monrovia with representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah said on Friday. According to the Pan African News Agency (PANA), the heads of state, representing ECOWAS, included Malian President and ECOWAS chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, Togolese President and OAU chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema, Liberian President Charles Taylor, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Gambian President Yayah Jammeh. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa headed the Sierra Leone government delegation. Mulbah did not disclose the composition of the RUF delegation. He said there had been "substantial progress" in advancing the Sierra Leone peace process, but declined to give specifics.

A group of Russian peacekeepers is due to leave for Sierra Leone on Friday evening, Itar-Tass reported, quoting a defence ministry spokesman. Last month Russia approved a contingent of 115 men and four Mi-24 helicopter gunships to join the UNAMSIL force. Friday's flight may be delayed, however, as "several issues concerning the air corridor  are not yet settled," a defence ministry source was quoted as saying. An advance group of 12 Russian officers flew to Sierra Leone on July 24, to conduct reconnaissance and coordinate conditions for deployment of the rest of the contingent. On Thursday, First Deputy Chief-of-Staff Colonel-General Valery Manilov said Russia was planning to airlift to major part of its contingent by mid-August. "Within the framework of the peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone Russian servicemen will carry out convoy duties escorting truck columns and cargoes," Manilov said.

38 combatants surrendered to UNAMSIL on Thursday, according to a U.N. spokesman in New York. The combatants — 29 men, seven women and two children — handed over their weapons and were transported to the disarmament camp at Lungi, the spokesman said. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu told reporters "some 40 West Side Boys, including two child combatants"  had given themselves up to Jordanian peacekeepers at Masiaka. [Reuters later quoted Befecadu as putting the number at 57.] UNAMSIL Military Information Officer Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Coker said the situation in the country was relatively calm. "Little fighting has been taking place between the RUF and government troops, while large numbers of RUF rebels have been surrendering in DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) camps," he said.

The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, has said there is still a consensus that the Lomé Peace Accord provides a framework for the peace process, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Friday. In an address to the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, Adeniji said the agreement would require a thorough review, with its shortcomings and the changed political situation in Sierra Leone being taken into account. In his statement, Adeniji said disarmament should not be left to the leaders of armed groups, but should follow an agreed timetable, with any deviation to be treated as sabotage and an indication of a hidden agenda. "He underscored that a viable reintegration programme was the ultimate objective of the DDR and the real incentive for ex-combatants," Befecadu said.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer has welcomed the introduction of a U.S.-sponsored resolution before the United Nations Security Council which would set up a tribunal to try those accused of serious violations of Sierra Leonean and international humanitarian law committed during the Sierra Leone conflict. "The government of Sierra Leone had requested the Security Council to set up such a court, and we are now pleased that it has reached a stage where it is going to be accepted," Spencer told the BBC's Network Africa programme. Spencer said the setting up of the court would send a "clear message" to the RUF leaders that they would be held accountable for their actions. Spencer told the BBC that "the people of Sierra Leone generally really want to see (RUF leader Foday Sankoh) eliminated," but referring to the fact that U.N. tribunals cannot impose the death penalty, added: "(Sierra Leoneans) may accept that that may not be possible in today’s world, and that they may have to settle for something perhaps slightly less than that. But they definitely want to see those who have committed these crimes, particularly the leadership, being punished." The minister disputed a suggestion that "many other people," not only the RUF, were responsible for war crimes in Sierra Leone. "Well, I don’t know who these many other people are," he said. "They are either RUF or RUF collaborators. They are either local people or international. So whichever way you look at it, the RUF is at the centre of all of what has happened, and I am not sure that the trial is going to be limited only to recognised members of the RUF. I believe it is going to take into account all those who have committed crimes against humanity and human rights violations." Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai also welcomed the draft security council resolution. "We're pleased with it as it shows cooperation and collaboration between the international community and our government," Kaikai told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Friday. "We want those who committed these heinous crimes to be brought to justice," he said. Kaikai said he hoped the court would be set up "expeditiously" and in Sierra Leone rather than in a third country. He said modalities for holding the court in Sierra Leone, such as providing adequate security for those accused, were being discussed with the international community.

UNAMSIL's operation last weekend to clear the Freetown - Lungi highway of illegal checkpoints mounted by the West Side Boys has hampered efforts to move relief supplies up-country, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said in its latest emergency report, current through July 26. The WFP is exploring alternatives, such as using the port at Nitti and the rehabilitation and use of the Mabang Bridge. Security concerns also prevented the WFP from assisting internally displaced persons (IDPs) and residents on Pepel Island, the report said. At Port Loko, a WFP implementing partner has registered 8,648 new IDPs who arrived during the past three weeks, while the WFP registered 816 IDPs who arrived there fleeing fighting in Masiaka. "These and other latest reports suggest that the IDP numbers in Port Loko have risen to over 25,000," the WFP report said. An NGO assessment mission to Daru found some 5,000 IDPs had arrived in the town following UNAMSIL operation in Kailahun. The Kenema - Daru road is currently impassable due to security and logistics constraints, the WFP said. A WFP reported that only small number of displaced reaching Kenema from Tongo Field and Kailahun were going to established IDP camps, with the rest believed to be hosted by the local population. The Food Aid Coordination Committee in Kenema agreed that relief food would target only those in camps. During the past week the WFP distributed 432 tons of assorted food commodities to 25,000 beneficiaries nationwide, the report said, adding that WFP stocks as of July 18 stood at 7,949 tons, including 1,714 tons of cereals. The WFP said road projects in Ribbi, Bumpe and Kongbora chiefdoms of Moyamba District had been completed. "A total of 168 tons of food have been distributed to 600 female and 400 male beneficiaries, after some 79 km. of roads linking the area to the major highway for Freetown and other towns in the province have been rehabilitated," the WFP said.

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) called on the United Nations Security Council on Friday to increase the size of the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone, already the world's largest active U.N. peacekeeping operation, and to change its mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), the statement followed an ambassadorial-level meeting in Addis Ababa of the OAU's Central Organ for Conflict Prevention. The meeting also called on the U.N. to provide adequate logistical support for UNAMSIL.

27 July: The United States circulated a draft United Nations Security Council resolution Thursday which would set up a joint Sierra Leonean - international tribunal to try Foday Sankoh and other RUF rebel leaders accused of committing atrocities in Sierra Leone. The proposed court would have jurisdiction over "senior Sierra Leonean nationals who bear the greatest responsibility for the most systematic and egregious criminal violations of Sierra Leone law and international humanitarian law, in particular those whose actions have posed, since July 7, 1999 (the date of the Lomé Peace Accord), serious threats to peace and security in the region.'' The proposed resolution calls on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send a team of experts immediately to Sierra Leone and to a possible alternate host state, and to enter into an agreement on creation of the court. U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who tabled the resolution, said that the court's location would depend on the situation in Freetown. "Let's see how secure Freetown is, let's see whether a trial in Freetown is a stabilising or destabilising factor,'' he said. He added that an international component to the court was necessary because the Lomé Peace Accord had included a blanket amnesty for war crimes committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone, which the United Nations declined to recognise. Sierra Leonean law also does not provide for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Holbrooke said the draft resolution had been "endorsed in its general framework by all the other" members of the Security Council during closed-door consultations, and said he hoped it would be voted on next week. "It is very important that Foday Sankoh and his henchmen who have committed these war crimes be brought to justice," he said. The tribunal would be funded by voluntary contributions.

UNAMSIL has ordered Kamajor militiamen in Freetown to turn in their weapons and to leave the capital, UNAMSIL Military Information Officer Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Coker said on Thursday. Coker said another 50 Kamajors would remain in Freetown, but that their arms would be held under UNAMSIL control. "This is not a reaction to any excesses," Coker told reporters. "This is part of the ongoing move to make Freetown a weapons-free zone. We are neither for nor against the Kamajors. However, their return home is a result of consultations between the CDF and UNAMSIL." Coker said 17 members of the West Side Boys militia were disarmed Wednesday after surrendering to UNAMSIL at Mile 38. In New York, a U.N. spokesman said more were believed to be on the way. Also on Wednesday, six RUF combatants turned in their weapons to U.N. military observers at Daru and registered for the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, Coker said. He added that the combatants had handed over five AK-47 and two SLR rifles.

Four Sierra Leonean aid workers working with Christian Health Association of Sierra Leone (CHASL) have been missing in southern Sierra Leone since July 21, and their organisation has expressed fears about their safety. CHASL Executive Director Marion Morgan told reporters Thursday that three CHASL officials and their driver had been organising an educational workshop in Mattru, and were carrying five million leones (about $2,600) in their vehicle. "I am worried that up until today I have not got any information as to the whereabouts of my staff," Morgan said. Morgan told reporters she suspected the four had been abducted by the pro-government Kamajor militia, who had commandeered the group's vehicle. A senior Kamajor commander confirmed by radio that the militia was using the group's vehicle, but said he knew nothing of the missing aid workers, she said. A U.N. spokesman in New York said humanitarian agencies were investigating. UNAMSIL Military Information Officer Lieutenant-Commander Patrick Coker told reporters on Thursday the U.N. had military observers in Bo, Kenema and Pujehun "who may be able to help resolve any such problem."

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has declined to penalise Togo for failing to show up last month for a preliminary round African Nations Cup qualifying match in Freetown. The Togolese football team refused at the last minute to travel to Sierra Leone, claiming security concerns. Instead, CAF has ordered the preliminary round rescheduled. The two countries will play their first leg in Freetown on August 20 and the return leg in Lomé on September 3.

26 July: Amnesty International called on Sierra Leone and the United Nations Wednesday to establish a "judicial process of an international character" to bring all those accused of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone to justice in a way that is "credible, effective, and meets international standards of fairness." In a new report, "Sierra Leone: Ending impunity — an Opportunity Not to be Missed," the human rights group argued that without substantial international assistance it would be possible to conduct trials that meet international standards. The tribunal, Amnesty International said, should consist of both Sierra Leonean and international judicial officials, with a majority of international judges, prosecutors and investigators to ensure independence and impartiality. The Amnesty International report said the tribunal should be able to try grave crimes under Sierra Leonean law as well as war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law which are not covered in Sierra Leone's judicial code. The report argued in essence that since the United Nations had declined to endorse a provision of the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord granting a blanket amnesty to those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, that U.N. participation in the tribunal would allow it to prosecute those guilty of human rights offenses since the Sierra Leone conflict began in 1991. Amnesty International also called for a "non-selective, balanced and independent prosecution policy," which would focus on all those responsible for grave human rights abuses, whether they were members of the RUF, the AFRC, the Sierra Leone Army, or the CDF, and regardless of their current political position or allegiance. "The international community, in particular the U.N., must seize this opportunity to deal effectively with impunity for the horrendous human rights abuses, committed by all parties to the internal armed conflict, which have occurred in Sierra Leone," Amnesty International said. 

An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) surgeon working in Sierra Leone has died in the Netherlands of Lassa Fever, the ICRC said on Wednesday. Dr. Salahuddin Ramez, 48, died Tuesday at Leiden University Hospital after falling ill on July 11 in Kenema, where he worked at a hospital funded by the ICRC. He was hospitalised on July 15, a day after arriving in the Netherlands to visit his family. Ramez joined the ICRC in 1995, and had carried out missions in Pakistan, Sudan, East Timor and Sierra Leone. In March, a British aid worker, Ian Janeck, died of Lassa Fever in London after being evacuated from Sierra Leone. In the largest recent outbreak in Sierra Leone, 820 cases of the disease were reported between January 1996 and April 1997, resulting in 153 deaths.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive body, proposed new regulations Wednesday to ban the import of Sierra Leonean rough diamonds into Europe. The move would bring EU statues in line with a global embargo adopted by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, which would ban the sale of "conflict diamonds" unless they were accompanied by a certificate or origin issued by the Sierra Leone government. The measure must still be approved by the EU Council of Ministers. According to the Pan African News Agency, Minister of Mineral Resources Alhaji Mohamed Swarry Deen has been in London since Monday where the security printer De La Rue is producing documents which cannot be forged. The certificates of origin are to be presented to the Security Council before the end of July to enable Sierra Leone to resume exporting diamonds, PANA said.

More than 35,000 persons, including Sierra Leonean refugees, have fled Liberia's northern Lofa County in the wake of fighting between Liberian troops and insurgents, Liberian President Charles Taylor said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley was expected to arrive in New York on Wednesday, a United Nations spokesman said. Jetley has meetings scheduled with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and with nations contributing troops to the U.N. peacekeeping force. He has also scheduled a town hall meeting with a group of Sierra Leoneans on Thursday evening.

1,087 former combatants who have completed the disarmament and demobilisation process are currently benefiting from training and employment opportunities conducted by National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) by six implementation partners, the NCDDR said Wednesday. The programmes include a six-month vocational skills project by the Opportunities Industrialsation Centre, a Lumley Beach beautification project run by the National Tourist Board, a Sierra Leone Roads Authority project to improve feeder roads in Waterloo District, a small business development project operated by the National Industrial Development and Finance Organisation, and a twelve-month project to provide small enterprise development training, micro-credit assistance carried out by CORD (Sierra Leone), and a 12-month project by the Sierra Leone Housing Corporation to train ex-combatants in the production of local building materials. An NCDDR team visited Bo and Kenema during the second week in July to explain modalities for accessing reintegration assistance from the NCDDR, the statement said. The visit was prompted by an apparent need for reintegration assistance for some 4,000 former combatants in the provinces.

The Associated Press has paid tribute to AP Television Network cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno, who was killed in May while covering the conflict in Sierra Leone. Judges for the AP's Gramling Awards for excellence in journalism issued a special citation in his honour Wednesday while announcing nine AP staff writers to receive the awards in the current year. "We cannot overlook the loss of APTN cameraman Miguel Gil, shot to death in Sierra Leone this year,'' the citation said. "Danger and Miguel's assignments in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and Sierra Leone went hand in hand. His courage, skill and sacrifice remind us that bringing truthful, unbiased journalism to the world frequently has a terrible price."

25 July: Britain introduced a resolution in the United Nations Security Council Tuesday that would give UNAMSIL a more robust mandate, but fell short of changing the U.N. force's mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. The resolution would allow UNAMSIL to "decisively counter the threat of further RUF advances and incursions into areas under government control, by responding robustly to any hostile actions or intent." It calls on U.N. troops to help pro-government forces establish control over RUF-held areas, but does not order UNAMSIL to conduct an offensive against the rebels. The new resolution did not address a recommendation by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to increase UNAMSIL's authorised strength from 13,000 to 16,500 troops in the face of opposition by the United States. Instead, the draft resolution asks Annan to make recommendations for restructuring and strengthening the U.N. peacekeeping force with aviation, maritime, specialist combat and logistic units. "It is our view the situation in Sierra Leone merits a review of the purpose of UNAMSIL," said Deputy U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg following the Council meeting. "It is important to define the tasks and then the numbers and not the other way around."

The highway connecting Freetown to the provinces has been closed again to traffic following the ambush on Monday of two government-owned Road Transport Corporation buses by the West Side Boys — ex-SLA soldiers nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma.  The buses were headed for Bo and Kenema when they were attacked between Mile 38 and Masiaka. The incident occurred just two days after UNAMSIL's "Operation Thunderbolt," aimed at clearing the highway of illegal roadblocks set up by the West Side Boys. Two passengers were seriously injured, and many others fled into the bush, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers said on Tuesday. "One of the commuters I spoke to yesterday told me that in fact they were addressed by a lance corporal, turned "Colonel Savage," who told them that their intention really was to strip all the passengers naked in the buses, to give them a message to the government and UNAMSIL," Rogers said. "But that message was never clear from that West Side colonel." A somewhat different account was subsequently given by the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), which quoted a passenger as saying the bus was stopped at Ropath by armed men. "The driver did not stop automatically but accelerated and the West Side Boys started shooting the bus sporadically," SLENA said. The bus finally reached Masiaka after evading three ambushes, but after passengers heard shots fired from the Mile 91 area they decided to return to Freetown with a UNAMSIL escort. The passenger, Mr. Nicol of the Bank of Sierra Leone, said they met at Masiaka with "Rambo" and later "Colonel Savage" who told them he was at a meeting in the bush when he heard gunshots. "Colonel Savage" told them the situation was under control as those responsible for attacking the bus had been executed, Nicol said. In Freetown, RTC Traffic Manager John Elba told Reuters that some passengers had jumped off the bus and fled into the surrounding bush, and were still missing. "The West Side Boys fired several times while the two buses were approaching the group but the two drivers managed to reverse," Elba said in describing the attack. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu spoke of "an unfortunate incident concerning a civilian bus travelling between Magbontoso and Laia Junction," and said UNAMSIL had provided the bus with an armed escort on its return trip to Freetown. "The objective of 'Operation Thunderbolt' was to clear any unofficial checkpoints off the road between Freetown and Lungi," Befecadu said. "We are now intensifying our patrols and continuing our negotiations with the West Side Boys, with the aim of getting to a point where we can ensure free movement on these roads. But we are not there yet. A meeting has been planned between senior officials of UNAMSIL and representatives of the West Side Boys today." Reuters quoted witnesses as saying hundreds of commercial vehicles were lined up at Songo, hoping to use a secondary road to eastern Sierra Leone via Mabang. Road authorities and relief agencies have said that the bridge at Mabang is dangerous and that only light vehicles should use it, Reuters added.

UNAMSIL has strengthened its cordon-and-search patrols around Freetown, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu told reporters. "In Freetown, a patrol arrested three people yesterday whom we suspect are West Side Boys combatants." She added that a woman in military uniform had also been arrested and turned over to Sierra Leonean authorities for investigation, while at the U.N. checkpoint in Kirima Village, Lungi, one RUF combatant was arrested and handed over to the police. "In Daru, 16 RUF combatants from Jojoima Village, including some child combatants, one combatant from Pendembu, and one from Baima, have surrendered for registration in the DDR programme. They brought with them AK-47s, RPGs and G3 rifles," Befecadu said. "Also yesterday, an RUF combatant surrendered to our Ghanaian battalion at their headquarters at Kenema."

The European Union will propose a ban on Sierra Leonean "conflict diamonds" on Wednesday to bring the EU into line with a United Nations embargo, EU officials said on Tuesday. The ban would cover all rough diamonds originating in Sierra Leone not accompanied by a certificate of origin issued by the Sierra Leonean government. The measure needs to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers before it takes effect.

The United Nations Security Council's sanctions committee on Sierra Leone will meet in open session July 31 - August 1 to examine the relationship between the illicit sale of "conflict diamonds" and illegal arms trafficking in Sierra Leone, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday. Representatives of interested states, regional organisations and the diamond industry, as well as individual experts on diamonds and arms will be invited to attend, the spokesman said. Those invited include representatives of Sierra Leone, Angola, Belgium, India, Israel, Liberia and South Africa; ECOWAS, the OAU, the World Bank, the High Diamond Council, the International Diamond Manufacturers Association and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses. The sanctions committee, a Security Council committee of the whole, is chaired by Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh.

UNAMSIL displayed on Tuesday two truckloads of arms and ammunition seized from RUF rebels last week during an operation to free 233 United Nations personnel surrounded by rebel forces in Kailahun. According to Colonel Satish Khumar, UNAMSIL's commanding officer in Daru, most of the weapons were captured when U.N. peacekeepers intercepted a truck between Kuiva and Mobai, near Pendembu, during the Kailahun operation. He said "quite a variety" of weapons had been seized, including eight GPMGs (Belgian-made general purpose machine guns), two AAMGs (anti-aircraft machine guns), and one HMG (50-calibre heavy machine gun). "None of these weapons were taken from UNAMSIL personnel," Khumar said.

Since the breakdown of the peace process at the beginning of May, the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies have registered nearly 200,000 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sierra Leone, bringing the total number to about 355,000, UNAMSIL Human Rights Officer Ahunna Eziakonwa said on Tuesday. Eziakonwa added that in the wake of renewed fighting in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL had received reports of human rights violations, including rape and torture, re-recruitment of children into fighting forces, destruction, and the looting of property. The highest concentration of IDPs is in the Tonkolili District - Mile 91 area where more than 96,000 IDPs are now located. "The displaced are experiencing food insecurity due to reduced road access and lack of access to their land, and chronic health problems due to congestion and limited services, in addition to death and injury resulting directly from military activities," Eziakonwa told reporters. At Mile 91, humanitarian agencies have been hindered by security concerns, logistics, and access to the Mile 91 area; however, in the past month the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and CARE have managed to distribute food to at least 100,000 persons. Health agencies have confirmed an outbreak of diarrhoea in the Mile 91 area. A number of agencies, including the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) and CARITAS have been supplying drugs and assisting the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in three clinics at Mile 91. About 500 patients are being treated at the clinics per day. A nutritional centre is providing 150 severely malnourished people with therapeutic feeding, while about 500 more are receiving supplementary feeding. UNICEF is assisting the organisation Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) to chlorinate wells, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is providing shelter and has distributed non-food packages to 30,000 IDPs in the past two weeks. "We have just carried out a careful assessment of the security situation in Mile 91, which is very fluid," Eziakonwa said, adding that CARITAS was leading an initiative to establish a small transit camp to accommodate more IDPs.

24 July: Saturday's military operation by U.N. peacekeepers to clear the Freetown - Lungi highway of illegal roadblocks was a success despite a later attack on a U.N. convoy near Masiaka, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said in a BBC Network Africa interview broadcast on Monday. "It’s after the actual finish of the operation that this convoy — the regular convoy — going from Lungi to Bo was ambushed by just a few men," Befecadu said. "And this is bound to happen, because what we did was we cleared the road from any checkpoints that were put up by the West Side Boys. And now that we have cleared the road, our strong patrols are going through, but this was just a mishap." She said the U.N. troops from Jordan, Nigeria and India were mounting a "very strong patrol" not only on the roads but also "surrounding the roads as far as they can go." She said traffic was now flowing along the highway unhindered. "Even yesterday after we felt that the roads were free, civilians were going back and forth from Lungi to Freetown, and they felt no moment of tension," she said.

AFRC leader and CCP chairman Johnny Paul Koroma (pictured left) has described as "very, very appropriate" UNAMSIL's military operation on Saturday to clear the Freetown - Lungi highway of illegal roadblocks mounted by the West Side Boys. Koroma said the ex-SLA soldiers should come out of the bush. "Both myself and the government have been talking to them to get out from the bush," he said. "Now they have understood the language which is to remove them by force." Meanwhile, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer (right) has warned the West Side Boys to report to disarmament camps. "If they fail to do so and continue to cause any harassment against civilians, they will be held as armed robbers and charged accordingly," he told Reuters. A U.N. spokesman in New York said U.N. troops had regained control of Masiaka during the operation. The West Side Boys had previously been part of a pro-government coalition, but their defiance had reached the point where they were harassing civilians, obstructing the security and freedom of movement of U.N. personnel and the local population as well as blocking delivery of humanitarian assistance, the spokesman said. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Monday that the operation was a pre-emptive strike against a group of rebels who were planning an attack on UNAMSIL. "Basically, we are going to remain vigilant," he said. "Anyone who attempts to attack the peacekeepers would know that they will defend themselves and that there will be a price to pay." 

A Sierra Leonean delegation led by Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman met in Beijing, China Monday with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. Chi is also Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission and a state councilor. Prior to the meeting, Norman also held talks with Xiong Guangkai, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

An advance group of ten Russian military officers was due to arrive in Freetown Monday morning, Itar-Tass reported, quoting the Russian defence ministry. The group, headed by Major-General Anatoly Surtsukov, flew into Conakry, where they were to the Sierra Leonean capital travel by road. The officers will do reconnaissance and coordinate with local authorities about stationing of the rest of the contingent, which will operate in Sierra Leone as part of the UNAMSIL force. Xinhua quoted Colonel-General Valentin Bogdanchikov, Deputy Head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the Russian Defence Ministry, as saying 12 officers had travelled to Freetown. According to Bogdanchikov, the deployment of the 115-man Russian helicopter unit, which includes four Mi-24 helicopter gunships and other military hardware, will be completed in mid-August. 

Pro-government forces recaptured the western town of Lenge Koro on Thursday, the Associated Press quoted army Director of Media Operations, Major John Milton as saying. Reuters quoted Milton as saying Monday that 11 RUF combatants and one army soldier had been killed in fighting on Sunday for the northern town of Bafodia, which had been under rebel control for a year. Milton said an army patrol found hundreds of skulls Sunday at Gbinti, which was recaptured at the end of last week. "We believe that these skulls were civilians killed by the RUF," he said. There has been no independent confirmation of the report. In another incident, Milton said, RUF rebels attacked government troops and Nigerian peacekeepers at Rogberi Junction. The attack was repulsed and two RUF fighters killed he said. There has so far been no confirmation by UNAMSIL. In yet another incident Sunday, Milton said army soldiers killed two more rebels in a clash between Masiaka and Mile 91.

16 RUF fighters accompanied by 22 child combatants handed over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers in Kenema on Saturday, according to UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu. More RUF fighters surrendered at the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camp at Daru, Befecadu said.

The United States is expected to introduce a resolution in the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to set up a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, the United Press International (UPI) reported on Monday. Britain is also expected to introduce a resolution on Sierra Leone, possibly as early as Tuesday. A previous draft would have increased UNAMSIL's authorised troop strength from 13,000 to 16,500, but faced U.S. opposition. A new draft reportedly would look at what kind of forces are needed in Sierra Leone rather than how many, and asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his staff to make recommendations.

23 July: A convoy of Guinean peacekeeping troops carrying food rations from Lungi to Bo was ambushed by armed men near Masiaka on Saturday, the BBC reported on Sunday. One soldier was seriously wounded. The incident occurred shortly after UNAMSIL completed a military operation to clear the highway of illegal checkpoints mounted by dissident ex-SLA soldiers, the so-called West Side Boys nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said one Guinean peacekeeper was critically wounded by retreating renegade troops. She added that UNAMSIL was now patrolling the highway to maintain security. "The operation was very intense to clear the road," Befecadu said. "Nobody is running around anymore with guns." BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana said that apart from the ambush on the convoy, no other incidents had been reported since Saturday and that civilian vehicles were now plying the road unhindered. 

230 experienced combat troops from Britain's Royal Irish Regiment arrived in Sierra Leone over the weekend to train a batch of about 1,000 new Sierra Leone Army recruits, British army spokesman Captain Fergus Smith said on Sunday. They replace a similar number of soldiers from Britain's Royal Anglian Regiment who on Saturday completed a six-week programme to train 986 Sierra Leonean troops. 

22 July: United Nations peacekeeping troops launched an offensive early Saturday against the so-called West Side Boys — ex-SLA troops nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma. In May the West Side Boys joined a pro-government coalition to halt the advance of RUF troops toward Freetown, but in recent weeks they have clashed with Sierra Leone Army soldiers at Lunsar and Masiaka. Last week the West Side Boys ignored a government order, backed by Koroma, to turn in their arms to UNAMSIL troops. Instead, they returned to their Okra Hill base where they have harassed army and civilian traffic along the highway. "This morning at around 6:45 a.m., UNAMSIL launched an intensive operation to facilitate the free flow of people and humanitarian assistance by security the roads between Freetown and Lungi, particularly in the Okra Hills area," said UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu. "This operation, which we call 'Operation Thunderbolt,' involves robust patrols by UNAMSIL Indian, Jordanian and Nigerian troops, that was supported from the air as well. As part of this operation, all unofficial checkpoints on the road were cleared, and we are giving out messages that any resistance will be met with force in accordance with the mission’s mandate." Reuters reporter Christo Johnson reported "heavy exchanges between peacekeepers and the dissidents," while BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana later reported that the situation had calmed down. "Apparently UNAMSIL has concluded its operations, and I’m told also that a number of vehicles have been plying the roads," Fofana said. "Commuters have been going back and forth and I’ve spoken to some, and they were telling me that the road is free of any illegal checkpoints manned by the so-called West Side Boys." In a briefing later in the day Befecadu said the checkpoints had been dismantled and the West Side Boys had been driven from the highway and back to their base. "We went to clear the road. We have done that. The operation is over," she said, adding that peacekeepers had been deployed to prevent them from returning to the road. Befecadu said the U.N. had gone in after repeated attempts to persuade the West Side Boys to hand in their weapons prior to being integrated into the new army. "Even now we shall continue talking to them," she said. Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer on Saturday declined to blame Koroma for the actions of his followers, pointing instead to what he called criminal elements within the faction. "He is not, let's say, in full control of what is going on,'' Spencer said, adding that Koroma, who also serves as chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, was "solidly on the side of the government.''

President Kabbah called on 986 British-trained soldiers at Benguema Training Centre Saturday to set a standard for military professionalism, and to help restore the image and credibility of Sierra Leone's armed forces. "Disloyal armed elements as well as your colleagues and potential recruits will be watching you closely," Kabbah said in an address delivered on his behalf by Vice President Albert Joe Demby at the pass-off ceremony for the first group of soldiers to complete the British short-term training programme. "Let me emphasise that the objective of the operations you will be called to embark upon is not merely to defend the principles of democratic governance and the institutions for maintaining the rule of law," Kabbah told the newly-trained soldiers. "First and foremost, your job will be to protect the very survival of this nation and its people." He stressed that in the course of military operations the troops would be required to protect the civilian population, to respect human rights, and to respect international humanitarian laws and other laws of armed conflict. Kabbah said he would soon order the establishment of a Code of Conduct for the armed forces, which would be printed and distributed to all members of the military. "They will be required to carry the booklet at all times as a constant reminder of their special responsibility for the safety and welfare of the people, as well as for the protection of the constitution of our republic," Kabbah said. The president also warned the soldiers against attempting military coups. "You must set an example by recognising that interference by the armed forces in government, or the forceful overthrow of a government democratically elected by the people, is no longer tolerated in Sierra Leone and in the African continent," Kabbah said. "Being a member of the armed forces is neither a right nor an entitlement to gain political power by force. Your allegiance is to the government elected by the people. So, you must always act within the law and the constitution."

21 July: ECOWAS has offered 3,000 additional troops to the UNAMSIL force in Sierra Leone on condition that the international community pays the cost, and that UNAMSIL's mandate is changed from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Lansana Kouyate said ECOWAS member states wanted the diamond-producing areas, now under RUF control, to be brought under the authority of the Sierra Leone government. "To do this, we need to go beyond a strong peacekeeping mandate to peace-enforcement, and the international community must fulfil its pledge to equip our soldiers," Kouyate said. He added that ECOWAS was still anxious to facilitate dialogue between the government and the RUF "under a new leadership."

Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa has said RUF leader Foday Sankoh should face trial in Sierra Leone rather than before an international tribunal, the BBC reported on Friday. Berewa told a human rights seminar that the government wanted any trial to be fast, judicious and effective. An international tribunal would take too long and would not be in the best interests of the Sierra Leonean people, the BBC said. Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Dr. Sama Banya told a visiting Kenyan delegation Thursday that the government was committed to securing neutral judges to try those accused of crimes against humanity, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA).

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman told the BBC Friday that neither government troops nor the RUF was "permanently" on the offensive in Sierra Leone. "Especially the government forces are not on the offensive," said Norman, who is also National Co-ordinator of the pro-government CDF militia. "We say that whenever the government forces are attacked, they counter in return and they make it safe, or make their area safe. That’s what it is." Norman told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle that pro-government forces were close to forcing the RUF to resume negotiations. "I believe that that position is already obtaining, that if I were any member of the RUF I would say that the game is near up and so therefore there should not be any hostility," he said. "Military operation means that there has to be a permanent finish to the war, either by the barrel or forced by the barrel to the negotiating table, maybe conditional or unconditional agreement. We believe that this time is going to be probably unconditional because the government forces seem to be stronger, and we have international support; we have national support. Every support is seen to be in the way of government." Norman denied that the RUF had established control over the mining areas in eastern Sierra Leone. "No, I wouldn’t say that they control," he said. "I would say that they are in that area, probably [still in], and because of the decency of democratic principles, government did not go all out to attack them at the time when they were there, so therefore United Nations put together a team to go and make sure that the Lomé Peace Agreement was made to hold. That could not be seen as a weakness on the part of government at all." Norman acknowledged that there were no ongoing negotiations with the RUF, but said "the doors are open" for talks. "Government is not in search of looking for leadership of the RUF," Norman said in response to a question on who could negotiate for the RUF. "It is the RUF that seems to be in search of its own leadership. So as soon as they identify they can approach government on that issue...General (Issa) Sesay, as he calls himself, has been a fighter in the bush, and he’s still there, so we don’t know whether he’s in charge or he’s not in charge. If he’s in charge, then let him come forward and say ‘since Foday Sankoh is in the clutches of government I seem to be in charge now.’ Then perhaps government can talk to him." Norman said he believed the RUF still wanted to take over the country. "It is always the agenda of terrorists, they always seem to be wanting to take over at any time until they are finally, effectively defeated or brought to understand that they cannot win," he said.

The United Nations Security Council has welcomed a resolution passed by the world's two main diamond-trading associations to curb the illicit trade in "conflict diamonds," which have been used to finance conflicts in Africa. On Wednesday the International Diamond Manufacturers Association and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses passed a resolution at the World Diamond Congress in Antwerp which would require rough diamonds to be accompanied by certificates of origin. Canada's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Robert Fowler, told the Security Council the move by the diamond industry was "absolutely remarkable," adding: "Candidly, I never would have expected this a year ago." The resolution provides that each diamond importing country enact legislation requiring imported parcels of rough diamonds be sealed and registered in a universally standardized measure by an accredited export authority. The resolution also called on diamond exporting countries to establish boards responsible for sealing diamonds and registering them in an international database. Fowler said it might be possible for the U.N. to play some role in that process.

The spokesman for Liberian insurgents who launched an attack into Liberia's northern Lofa County last week has denied Liberian government allegations that the group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, was receiving support from other countries in the sub-region. "The only people who have supported us, and we must say thank you to them, are Mr. Taylor and his RUF rebels," Joe Wylie told the Voice of America on Friday. "We have no support whatsoever from Guinea and Sierra Leone," Wylie said. "The Sierra Leonean factor must be noted here. Taylor sent our brothers and sisters to die for his mining company that is called RUF in Sierra Leone. Those brothers and sisters, we changed their orientation. We talked to them, and the very arms that Taylor gave them is the arms we use to initiate this war in Liberia." There has been no independent confirmation of his claim.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Bank: [$] 1900 / 2000. [£] 2850 / 3300.  Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2400  [£] 3000 / 3500; Continental: [$] 2250 / 2450  [£] 3100 / 3500; Sierra Forex: [$] 2250 / 2450  [£] 3100 / 3500.

20 July: 22 RUF rebels have been arrested in Kenema where they were posing as displaced persons, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said on Thursday. "They were recognised by some displaced people and we are on the alert to prevent any reprisals for last weekend's UNAMSIL operation in Kailahun," Befecadu told reporters. She also said that 21 RUF fighters — 19 in Kenema and two in Daru — had surrendered to UNAMSIL on Wednesday in order to join the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. 

The army has promoted four former AFRC military officers, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Thursday, quoting military sources. Colonel Gabriel Mani, who took command of a faction of the AFRC led by Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa after Musa was killed at Benguema in late 1998, was named Director of Army Training. In mid-June a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web that Mani was "taking a strong role with the coalition of various pro-government forces." Also promoted were Colonel Alfred Nelson-Williams, who was named Director of Operations, Colonel KIS Kamara, who was made Director of Medical Services, and Major John Milton, who was promoted from Director of Information to Director of Media Operations. 

Canada will send up to ten military trainers to participate in the British-led International Military Advisory Training Team (IMATT) due to arrive in Sierra Leone in early September, Canadian National Defence Minister Art Eggleton said on Thursday. "Our Canadian Forces members will provide advice and training to help the Government of Sierra Leone rebuild a new, effective and democratically accountable Armed Forces in line with the Lomé Peace Agreement, signed between the belligerents in July 1999," Eggleton said. "The efforts of the Canadian Forces and its allies are vital to the long-term restoration of peace, security and stability in this country." Canada has made a one-year commitment to the IMATT starting as of September 1. Members of the Canadian Forces will serve for periods of six months.

Liberia has called for an independent investigation into allegations of Liberian government support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, according to a statement issued Thursday by the Ministry of Information. Liberia has been accused of dealing in illicit diamonds with the rebels, and of supplying them with arms — a charge Liberia has denied. The statement suggested a "statesman of former President Nelson Mandela's stature" could "investigate allegations leveled against the state and help to mediate the dispute in the Sierra Leonean crisis." The Liberian statement also called on the United Nations, the Mano River Union, Britain and the United States to monitor the Sierra Leone - Liberia border. "The government is prepared to make available its international airport to enhance efforts by ECOWAS and the U.N. to end the on-going conflict in Sierra Leone," the statement said, adding that the Liberian government "adheres to the ECOWAS Plan of Action for the resolution of the Sierra Leonean conflict." It also called on President Kabbah to enter into direct negotiations to other parties in the conflict, in line with the Lomé Peace Accord. The statement said Liberia opposed any "further escalation of conflict in the sub-region."

A ban on "conflict diamonds" agreed by the diamond industry Wednesday at the World Diamond Congress in Antwerp will go a long way toward stopping the flow of cash to Sierra Leone's rebels, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer told Reuters on Thursday. "The reaction here is good — from both government and others. At last something is being done," Spencer said. "We expect it to have a major effect." Because most of the diamonds being mined are alluvial, he said, extraction was relatively easy and impossible to regulate. "In the past all people needed to do was smuggle it out and sell it. Now if they are going to have problems selling it, then it makes it easier for us," he said. Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council imposed a embargo on the sale of all rough diamonds originating in Sierra Leone not accompanied by a certificate of origin. Until such a system of certification is in place, the embargo effectively bans the sale of all Sierra Leonean gemstones. "We're expecting in the next few weeks that the system should be in place and the ban will be lifted," he said.  Spencer said the government was working to reduce the chances of corrupt officials certifying illegal diamonds. "The certificate of origin has to have the signatures of, I think, between three and five institutions, including the minister (of mineral resources) himself," he said. "There may be still some people who may be able to circumvent the measures, but if they are properly monitored and policed...we should be able to find them out and take appropriate measures. I think the measures we are taking now should solve the problem." Spencer pointed to Liberian involvement in helping the rebels in the illicit diamond trade. Charles Taylor says all of the right things publicly — well, most of the time — and talks about cooperating and that sort of thing, but behind the scenes he's doing things completely different," he said. "While we were talking to him and appealing and things like that, it really didn't make much difference. I think what is happening now and the messages he is getting are much more effective."

19 July: Diamond industry leaders meeting at the World Diamond Congress in Antwerp, Belgium have adopted measures to clamp down on the illegal trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling conflicts in Africa. "We will immediately close off all the legal loopholes by which conflict diamonds may currently be entering the market," the World Diamond  Congress in a statement issued at the end of their three-day meeting. The industry will adopt a certification system to track diamonds from where they are mined to the international diamond trading centres. The measure also provides tough penalties against dealers who break U.N. embargoes on diamond dealing with rebels in Sierra Leone and Angola. 

United Nations humanitarian agencies reported Wednesday that thousands of internally displaced persons were continuing to arrive in Kenema to escape fighting over the weekend between government forces and the RUF. Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said the people appeared to be coming from Tongo Field and surrounding villages. "At present, the agencies on the ground appear equipped to handle the influx," he said.

The main highway from Freetown to Kenema reopened to commercial traffic on Wednesday, a month after it was closed following fighting between pro-government forces and rebels. "Our bus services to Bo and Kenema resumed operations today followed by other commercial vehicles," Sam Elba, Traffic Control Manager of the Road Transport Corporation, told Reuters. Military vehicles are still prevented from using the road following clashes between Sierra Leone Army soldiers and the ex-SLA "West Side Boys," nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma. Sierra Leone Army spokesman Major John Milton said the dispute between the army and the West Side Boys, who have returned to their Okra Hill base not far from the highway, has not yet been resolved.

Forty Sierra Leone Army officers will complete their military training at the Ghana Armed Forces Staff College on Wednesday, after undergoing an eight-week intensive Emergency Command and Staff Course, the Accra Mail reported. The Ghanaian government provided the facilities, while training and most of the instructors were provided by Britain. The purpose of the course was to train selected Sierra Leonean officers — mostly captains and lieutenants — so that they could occupy key command and staff appointments and unit, formation and defence headquarters, the newspaper said.

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley will arrive in New York early next week to brief the United Nations Security Council on last weekend's operation to free 233 U.N. personnel who had been surrounded by RUF forces in Kailahun since May, according to a U.N. spokesman.

Paramount Chief A. A. Mani of Lei Chiefdom in Kono District reportedly died Wednesday morning at his residence in Brookfields. Mani was also Chairman of the Kono Council of Chiefs. 

Liberian President Charles Taylor has lashed back at the United States over allegations of Liberian support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. On Monday a U.S. delegation led by U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering said his country had evidence of Liberian support for the RUF, and warned of "consequences" unless the Liberian government played a more positive role in ending the conflict in Sierra Leone. In a national radio and television broadcast on Wednesday, Taylor rejected the charges. "We refuse to accept and reject efforts on the part of any nation to muffle this country, engage in arm-twisting without facts in an attempt to subdue this nation," Taylor said. "We want to ask those that purport to have evidence (of Liberian support for the RUF) to please bring them forward...They have told us they are satisfied with what evidence they have, but I have said what you have is a diabolical lie...Powerful countries have said that they have evidence but they will not show it to us. Well, this is wrong. Even a condemned man deserves his day in court. Bring the evidence. You cannot be the judge and jury at the same time." Taylor said his administration "will not condone anyone speaking down at us as a government," adding: "We don't intend to challenge any world power, but we will stand for what is right. We are entitled to fight for our rights and we don't intend to surrender an inch of it." Taylor said he had received an "extremely reasonable" note from the European Union, which last month withheld $48 million in aid over British allegations that Liberia was involved in illicit diamond dealing and supplying arms to the RUF. "(The European Union) have shown the capacity to understand the issues, as intricate as they are," Taylor said. Meanwhile, Taylor declared a state of emergency in Lofa County, in northern Liberia Wednesday as insurgents occupied Voinjama and other nearby towns.

A U.S.-sponsored resolution in the United Nations Security Council which would set up a special tribunal to try war criminals in Sierra Leone has been stymied by disagreement between the U.S. and Britain over the scope of such a court, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper. The Guardian said British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the United States' Permanent Representative to the United Nations, held several discussions on the issue but were unable to resolve their differences. Britain would like to see a mainly Sierra Leonean court with some help from the Commonwealth instead of the U.N. "We want a swift and simple system that builds on Sierra Leonean structures and is owned by them," a Foreign Office official was quoted as saying. "It is the subject of discussion between various U.N. Security Council members." The U.S.-sponsored resolution would make the Sierra Leonean tribunal part of the U.N. system, where it would use the appeals system set up for earlier tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The resolution calls on the U.N. secretary-general to appoint an appropriate number of trial judges and one pre-trial judge, and says qualified prosecutors should be selected through a join process between the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government. According to the Guardian, the Sierra Leone government favours a court with a narrow mandate to prosecute only those most responsible for war crimes, and the leadership of the RUF. The government requested a tribunal which would operate under both Sierra Leonean and international law because the Sierra Leonean judicial system has no provision for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, President Kabbah has asked that the court be structured so that Attorney-General Solomon Berewa would be the chief or co-chief prosecutor. "This structure will allow the government of Sierra Leone to play a lead role in the prosecution while receiving international assistance and expertise," Kabbah wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in June. Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka noted that human rights abuses were also being committed by pro-government forces, notably the ex-SLA solders, or "West Side Boys," nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma. "The U.N. could not support in any way a court that limited jurisdiction to post-Lomé (the July 1999 peace accord which included a blanket amnesty provision for those who committed war crimes) and only the RUF," Dufka said. According to the Guardian, disagreement in the Security Council has impeded a British-sponsored resolution to increase UNAMSIL's authorised strength to 16,500 troops. The U.S. is reluctant to approve an additional 3,500 troops unless UNAMSIL were given a more robust mandate. "The U.S. favours the deployment of Nigerian troops, who have fought in Sierra Leone before, a move opposed by Britain because of alleged Nigerian corruption," the Guardian said.

Exiled former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie has expressed a desire to return to Sierra Leone to support the peace process, President Kabbah said late Tuesday. "Bockarie is very enthusiastic about coming home, joining the peace process and trying to convince his colleagues to come out of the bush," Kabbah said in a radio interview. He said he had spoken to Bockarie on Monday night. The former field commander has been in Liberia since publicly falling out with RUF leader Foday Sankoh last November. At the time, Bockarie objected to his troops being disarmed by ECOMOG soldiers, or by former ECOMOG soldiers who had been absorbed into the UNAMSIL force. In December, Bockarie accused Sankoh of trying to have him killed, and abducted two expatriate MSF workers because, according to his spokesman, he did not approve of the disarmament process. But on Tuesday Kabbah quoted Bockarie as saying he broke with Sankoh "because he suspected that Sankoh was not genuine and sincere with the peace process." 

18 July: A Nigerian peacekeeper was killed on Sunday when his patrol came under fire from RUF rebels near Rogberi Junction, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. "The incident took place Sunday and his body was recovered yesterday," said Fred Eckhard, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Since May 1, when the peace process broke down, at least seven peacekeepers — five Nigerians, one Indian and one Jordanian — have been killed in the line of duty, Eckhard said. Eight others are listed as missing.

Thousands of civilians have fled the Tongo Field area after fighting erupted on Monday between the RUF and the AFRC, military sources said on Tuesday. Reuters quoted sources as saying the fighting started when the RUF fired on a government helicopter gunship, which had been dropping leaflets warning civilians not to join the rebels. The gunship returned fire, killing nine RUF fighters, the sources told Reuters. There was no independent confirmation of the casualties, and no word on casualties among civilians. Sierra Leone Army spokesman Major John Milton confirmed the gunship had attacked the area, but gave no further details. A humanitarian source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web that "realistically, around 2,500 to 3,000" civilians were forced to flee the area, but added that some national staff were reporting as many as 5,000. Meanwhile, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima confirmed that hundreds of Tongo area residents had arrived in Freetown carrying bundles of belongings. "The situation in Kenema town is tense and anyone arriving in the township is screened before being allowed to move freely," Brima said.

An advance team of the Russian contingent is expected to leave for Sierra Leone on July 22-23, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman told Itar-Tass on Tuesday. Last month the Russian Federation Council approved a measure to send four Mi-24 helicopter gunships and 115 soldiers for the UNAMSIL force. Their departure was delayed last week as Russian officials sought clarification over UNAMSIL's mandate, expressing concern that the United Nations Security Council would change the mission from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. Defence ministry sources were quoted as saying the Russian contingent would be led by Major-General Anatoli Surtsukov, Deputy Head of the Army Air Force.

Health conditions for some 60,000 displaced persons gathered at Mile 91 have continued to deteriorate due to poor water and sanitary conditions, according to Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general. He said a key obstacle was the lack of Ministry of Health staff, who left for security reasons. Eckhard said the World Food Programme (WFP) was in the process of distributing 700 metric tonnes of food in one-month rations to the internally-displaced in the area.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Tuesday Britain would train an additional 1,000 Sierra Leonean soldiers after the first group finished training at the end of the week. Hoon, who is ending a two-day visit to Freetown, said Britain would assist the army at every level "to make sure that those forces trained can be used effectively," and would continue to supply ammunition to government troops. Hoon said his country would help Sierra Leone create a "big stick" to confront the RUF. "If the RUF are willing to compromise and accept the will of the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone, all the good," he said. "We want to make certain that (Kabbah) has the big stick to sort them out if necessary."

President Kabbah has downplayed divisions within a coalition of pro-government forces which has resulted in recent clashes between Sierra Leone Army soldiers and ex-SLA soldiers — the so-called West Side Boys, who are nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma. The West Side Boys ignored a government order to turn in their weapons last week and instead returned to their Okra Hill base. "I don't really want to believe that the (ex-SLA) are defying government orders," Kabbah said after a meeting Tuesday with British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon. He said he thought the former soldiers were remaining at the Okra Hill base for logistical reasons, and that they would soon leave.

Officials from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea began talks in Monrovia Monday over recent cross-border incursions by Liberian dissidents into Liberia's northern Lofa County. The meeting, which is taking place within the framework of the Mano River Union, was originally scheduled for Saturday, but had to be postponed after the Liberian delegation failed to arrive. "The meeting finally started on Monday evening. Guinea is being represented by its Consul-General to Liberia," said Charles Maltadi, Director of Communication at Liberia's Justice Ministry. The Liberian government last month accused the neighbouring states of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast of harbouring dissidents planning to launch attacks into Liberia, while Sierra Leone has charged Liberia with supporting the RUF rebels. On Monday, Kamajor militiamen said they had repelled attackers along the Sierra Leone - Liberia border whom they now say were members of the Liberian Armed Forces. There was no independent confirmation of the claim, and on Saturday they identified the insurgents as Liberian-based RUF fighters. Three Kamajors wounded in the fighting were taken to Bo Government Hospital on Sunday night, according to BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima. 

The United States has warned Liberia to play a positive role in ending the conflict in Sierra Leone or face international sanctions. "I have called in the strongest terms for President Taylor to reverse this situation," said U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering (right) following a meeting in Monrovia between a high-level U.S. delegation with and Liberian government officials. "He must show that he will use that influence to bring about an immediate return to the peace process. If President Taylor is not willing to play this positive role in word and deed, we regret that there will be very negative consequences for our bilateral relations, and I believe, for Liberia's relations with the entire international community. He should act, and act now." The Liberian government has been accused of trafficking in illicit diamonds with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and of supplying arms to the rebel group, a charge the Liberians have denied. But Pickering insisted Monday that there was strong evidence that the Liberian government was the main patron and beneficiary of the RUF. "To date, Liberia's role unfortunately has been largely negative," Pickering said. He said Taylor's failure to end the conflict in Sierra Leone could have many consequences. "We have to consider precisely what to do," he said. "That is bringing the U.N. together to take collective steps. Sanctions have been mentioned." On Tuesday, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah said his government was "taken aback" over the U.S. charges. He claimed the Liberian government had recently arrested some persons involved in the illegal diamond trade. "The Liberian government is not involved with the activities of trading in diamonds," Mulbah said. "But we are saying that because the borders are porous, some people are saying that some of these diamonds are even coming from Guinea, some are alleging that some are coming from Russia. So we want the international community to help us so as to bring these allegations to a close." Mulbah described the meeting with Pickering as "a frank exchange of views." "He gave his side of the story about the accusations being levied (sic.) against us, and President Taylor was very frank with him too," Mulbah said. "The only thing we didn’t take lightly was the accusation levied against us that this was our last chance or face the consequences if steps were not taken. We have taken steps but people are not listening, and we are not getting the support of the international community in enhancing government efforts." the minister said he doubted whether Liberia would face international sanctions. "We do not think that Liberia is going to be cut off because we are collaborating with ECOWAS," he said. "Liberia will accept any decision by ECOWAS. If ECOWAS agrees that 3,000 ECOWAS troops be sent to the side of RUF to keep the peace while U.N. forces remain neutral, we are prepared for that. If the RUF will attack ECOWAS or they would attack U.N., we think that attack would be against us and we would support any decision by ECOWAS and the United Nations."

Two diamond trade groups have voiced support for a resolution aimed at controlling the illicit trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling conflicts in Africa. The World Federation of Diamond Bourses, which has 18,000 members and represent 24 diamond exchanges around the world, and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) both said they would support a resolution due to be presented on Wednesday to clamp down on the sales of illicit gemstones. On Monday the IDMA proposed a system of international controls on the export and import of rough diamonds.  On Monday, British Minister of State for Africa Peter Hain said it still was not possible to determine whether diamonds originating in Sierra Leone, Angola or the Democratic Republic of the Congo were legitimate. Robert Fowler, Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations and the Chairman of the U.N. Security Council Angola Sanctions Committee, told the Congress Tuesday that it must take the lead in demonstrating the diamonds it sells are not funding African conflicts. "To do otherwise would be to court commercial catastrophe," Fowler said. "I believe that within your industry it is becoming received wisdom that diamonds will not be forever unless you are able to demonstrate to governments and, above all, to consumers worldwide that your product in no way contributes to misery and death in Africa," Fowler said. "You ought to be contributing to the design and implementation of those regulations so that they are, and are seen to be, uncompromisingly effective. If you fail to act, you will be contributing, however passively, to the demise of your industry." Not all those attending the Congress were in agreement over how far to go in attempts to control conflict diamonds, which the industry believes constitute under four percent of diamonds sold each year. Sergei Ouline, President of the Diamond Chamber of Russia, warned Tuesday that the proposed measures should not be too bureaucratic or interfere with countries' internal affairs. Ouline, who is also vice president of the Russian diamond producer Alrosa, disputed whether African conflicts were being fought over gemstones. "War is the fight for power, not for diamonds," he insisted. He said he supported measures to prevent illicit diamonds from reaching the market, but said: "It is not acceptable when both legal and illegal parties are treated equally and sanctions are imposed on those who have not violated the laws." Ouline said some African governments had expressed concern at a campaign aimed at boycotting African diamonds. "For Alrosa, like for many other companies, it is also unacceptable that various unjustified restraining mechanisms would be introduced at international level to control strictly sovereign processes of rough diamond sales by the Russian governments and Alrosa," he said. He also warned against introducing "over-exaggerated bureaucratic procedures which might just ruin the business." Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada welcomed the proposed measures, but said they did not go far enough. "Our big concern is the war in Sierra Leone," he said. "Diamonds are still being smuggled to Liberia. There's been no mention of Liberia. Liberia is funding the RUF. It's training the RUF, and it's doing it with money from Sierra Leone diamonds." Smillie warned that the certification programme could be undermined by any government willing to misrepresent the origin of diamonds it was exporting. Alex Yearsley, campaigner for Global Witness, was more optimistic. "It will definitely work," Yearsley said of the IDMA proposals. "It won't be 100 percent. No system is 100 percent."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley to New York to brief the Security Council on the "extraction" last weekend of 233 U.N. peacekeepers and military observers surrounded by the RUF at Kailahun.

A seven-member Indian delegation headed by Defence Minister George Fernandes was due to leave Tuesday for a four-day visit to Sierra Leone, according to a Ministry of Defence statement issued in New Delhi. The delegation will meet with Indian UNAMSIL soldiers, including those rescued over the weekend after being surrounded in Kailahun since early May.

17 July: One Indian peacekeeper died and seven were wounded in the weekend rescue of 233 United Nations personnel who had been immobilised by the RUF in Kailahun since May. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley said the soldier was a member of the rescue mission who died from injuries sustained in the operation. "This is the price we pay for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone," Jetley said at a press briefing in Freetown. A U.N. spokesman in New York said the soldier died from wounds he received when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his truck. Jetley told reporters the U.N. remained neutral in the Sierra Leone conflict. "We are here as a peacekeeping force and we will continue to be neutral, taking no sides," he said. "This is the opportunity to make amends, let bygones be bygones and give yourselves a chance." At the weekend United Nations officials said the ten-hour rescue operation had become necessary after the RUF refused the U.N. permission to resupply its troops. On Monday, Jetley indicated the rebels were preparing to take the surrounded troops hostage. "If we had not moved quickly, the RUF was planning to disarm the peacekeepers," he said. The UNAMSIL commander said the U.N. attack on the RUF base at nearby Pendembu had recovered three stolen U.N. vehicles and yielded semi-automatic rifles, machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. Meanwhile, an RUF commander accused U.N. peacekeepers of attacking population centres during the rescue operation. "This morning (UNAMSIL) bombed down the entire township of Pendembu in the Kailahun District, and at the same time they bombed the entire township of Tongo Field and killed 250 people with their helicopter gunship," Colonel Augustine Gbao told the BBC Network Africa programme. "These are our controlled areas I'm talking about. They even went to another town called Buedu, killed about 20 people there, innocent civilians, with their helicopter gunship." Gbao denied that the RUF had been holding the peacekeepers hostage. "That is a sad mistake on their part," he said. "(The peacekeepers) were free to move about. They were free to do what they want in Kailahun town. So we are just surprised to see whole amounts of helicopter flying over Kailahun township, killing innocent civilians, burning down houses, killing people. I really wonder whether these U.N. [word indistinct] are here for peace. And now we have started to doubt their credibility, really."

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon flew to Freetown Monday for two days of talks with officers of UNAMSIL and the British force in Sierra Leone. Hoon is also expected to hold talks with President Kabbah before returning to London.

The Sierra Leone government has welcomed the rescue of 233 United Nations peacekeepers surrounded by RUF forces in Kailahun since May. In a statement issued by the Office of the President, the government praised peacekeepers who took part in the rescue operation as well as the "courage and professionalism" of the Indian peacekeeping troops and military observers whose movement had been restricted by the RUF. "Government would also like to state that it fully understands UNAMSIL’s prior restraint in the pursuit of sustainable peace in Sierra Leone," the statement said. "It is hoped that after the events of the last few weeks the RUF will no longer regard this restraint as weakness, and will stop challenging the resolve of both the Government of Sierra Leone and the entire international community to bring peace to our devastated country." OTHER REACTION: BRITISH U.N. AMBASSADOR SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: "This (rescue) has shown the U.N. is learning how to change, and is getting the right support for what it wants to do. But it has to build on that...There's a massive amount still to do in Sierra Leone and we must go on supporting them." U.S. DEPUTY U.N. AMBASSADOR JAMES CUNNINGHAM: "I think it shows what the U.N. can do when it has good capable troops and good leadership." U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT: "(UNAMSIL had) no choice but to take resolute action to restore the security and freedom of movement of UNAMSIL personnel...The Council believes that there is now a firm foundation on which UNAMSIL can build as it continues to implement its mandate and work towards a lasting peaceful settlement to the conflict in Sierra Leone." FRED ECKHARD, SPOKESMAN FOR U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: "The courage and remarkable discipline and determination displayed by all (those involved in the rescue operation) bring credit to them, to their countries' armed forces and to the United Nations...Now that this episode is behind us, the Secretary-General hopes that all efforts can now be directed toward establishing conditions conducive to a resumption of the peace process in Sierra Leone and an early end to the prolonged suffering that the people of Sierra Leone have had to endure."

Six persons were killed Sunday night at Bo Town Hall when a grenade exploded at a dance organised by students to mark the completion of their basic education certificate exams, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Monday. 24 others who were seriously injured were admitted to Bo Government Hospital. "The incident occurred when two armed men who were about to enter the hall were stopped by the organisers of the disco, and during the ensuing struggle to get them out one of the men who was armed with the grenade dropped it," Brima said.

16 July: U.N. peacekeeping troops have destroyed a major RUF base in the eastern town of Pendembu, UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley told the BBC on Sunday. Jetley (left) said his troops had seized missile launchers, ammunition and communications equipment from what he described as an RUF brigade headquarters. On Saturday, UNAMSIL launched a rescue operation to free the 222 Indian peacekeepers and 11 military observers who had been pinned down by RUF forces since May. The operation, codenamed "Operation Khukrii" (after a type of sharp Indian knife), involved peacekeepers from Nigeria, India and Ghana, backed by Indian and British helicopters. In the early hours of Saturday, RAF Chinook helicopters landed at the camp where the U.N. troops were trapped. 40 United Nations personnel — the 11 observers and 29 sick and injured peacekeeping troops — boarded the helicopters within 30 seconds. Major Harinder Sood, who was among the rescued troops, said the peacekeepers had burst out of their base with their guns at ready, taking the RUF by surprise. "When we started to break out it was a shock to the RUF surrounding us," he said. "They just did not know what had hit them...They saw us coming out all charged up and they just ran away." According to the Associated Press, the Indian troops packed their equipment and belongings into 16 vehicles and travelled the 20 miles to Pendembu, a journey made difficult by muddy roads and RUF gunfire. At Pendembu, the Indians linked up with another U.N. contingent which had fought its way up from the south. The peacekeepers spent most of Saturday night at Pendembu before most of the freed detainees were flown to the UNAMSIL base at Daru on Sunday morning, while the relief column provided covering fire to protect the helicopter landings. Later, a convoy of soldiers who assisted in the rescue returned to Daru by road. All of the tanks and armoured personnel carriers were brought from the Kailahun camp. Reuters reported that seven peacekeeping troops were wounded by rebel fire during the operation. Jetley said the U.N. planned further "robust" operations in towns threatened by the RUF. "We hope that by what has happened today, we have sent the right message to the right people that UNAMSIL is a robust force," he said.

Some 170 Indian peacekeeping troops rescued from Kailahun on Saturday were airlifted by helicopter Sunday morning to the UNAMSIL base at Daru. 11 unarmed military observers and 29 peacekeeping soldiers judged too ill to travel were flown to Daru on Saturday, while the remaining 193 troops, escorted by Indian, Ghanaian and Nigerian peacekeeping troops, set out for Daru by road. "We want to pull out (by air) the entire amount that had been in Kailahun," said Major Anatheram Arun, Special Assistant to UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley. He said the airlift had come under "intermittent fire" from the RUF, which he described as "nothing serious." He said their rescuers planned to continue on to Daru by ground, travelling in a convoy of armoured personnel carriers over roads which have been turned to mud by heavy rains. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley, who oversaw the rescue operation from Daru, told reporters that five peacekeepers had been injured when the convoy encountered resistance from the rebels while travelling to Daru. He said U.N. troops had returned the fire, inflicting heavy casualties. Jetley said UNAMSIL would continue to deploy in Sierra Leone. "It is our mandate for us to deploy, but this time we will have to do it in a robust manner because of our past experience," he said.

Demands to curb the illicit trade in "conflict diamonds" was expected to dominate talks at the World Diamond Congress, which opened in Antwerp on Sunday. Alex Yearsley, a campaigner for Global Witness, said the group wanted diamond industry leaders to agree on an international certification system to ensure diamonds could be traced to the country where they were mined. Yearsley said such a system was necessary to ensure diamond sales were not funding conflicts in Africa. "Failure to commit to these reforms will leave human rights organizations with little choice but to increase the level of public awareness regarding the diamond trade's failure to provide meaningful guarantees," Global Witness said in a statement issued on Friday.

The United States will equip and train 3,000 Nigerian soldiers who will strengthen the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering said in Nigeria at the beginning of a tour of the sub-region. Pickering is heading an eight-member delegation which will also visit Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Mali to discuss training and equipping peacekeeping contingents from their countries, and will also visit Sierra Leone. Pickering, who formerly served as ambassador to Nigeria, said his country was committed to ensuring peace and democracy in Sierra Leone. 

15 July: Indian peacekeeping troops who broke free from RUF encirclement at Kailahun early Saturday, and an accompanying U.N. force which includes helicopter gunships, have come under rebel attack while advancing toward the UNAMSIL base at Daru. "Along the road there has been (some resistance) but this is a strong force that they (the RUF) have to deal with," said UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu. "They (the U.N. peacekeepers) have to clear the road as they come along." Major Anatheram Arun, Special Assistant to UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley, said the troops had come under fire after leaving Kailahun. "RUF rebels did engage our column extensively and our troops had to carry out firing," he said. He added that two Indian soldiers had been slightly wounded, with gunshot wounds to the hand and thigh, respectively. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, the wounded soldiers were evacuated to the Daru military hospital, where they were undergoing treatment. 29 other soldiers judged too ill to travel were also airlifted to Daru, while the remaining 193 peacekeepers, escorted by Indian, Ghanaian and Nigerian troops, travelled in a convoy toward the RUF stronghold of Pendembu. Arun described the situation as "fluid" and said the RUF had suffered heavy casualties. 

Heavily armed U.N. troops backed by helicopter gunships launched an operation early Saturday to rescue 222 Indian peacekeeping troops and 11 unarmed military observers pinned down at Kailahun by RUF forces since May. "UNAMSIL peacekeepers...rescued the 11 U.N. military observers with no resistance from RUF," said UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu. "The U.N. peacekeeping team entered Kailahun at the position where the observers were encircled and walked them out." The military observers, from Bangladesh, Britain, Gambia, Guinea, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Tanzania and Zambia, were flown to Freetown by helicopter. According to one report, by BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, the military observers were rescued by British troops. "It isn’t clear exactly what exactly happened there, but I understand that the British troops went there, flew closer to where the troops were encircled, and then rescued them," Fofana told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. The Associated Press confirmed the observers were flown to Freetown in British military helicopters. "One of the rescued observers said that the RUF was taken by surprise," Fofana said. "It was an operation that lasted for just a minute. In 30 seconds the helicopter had landed using both (an) armed helicopter and (an) unarmed one. All of (the military observers) went free, they were not shot at, they were not shot down at all, and then they rescued all of them." Meanwhile, Befecadu said the 222 Indian peacekeepers were on their way to Daru by road. Over the past two weeks the RUF had refused to allow the U.N. to resupply its troops at Kailahun. A UNAMSIL statement issued earlier Saturday said the peacekeepers had sent a distress signal to Freetown saying they were running low on food and medicine. "With a distress signal received from Kailahun regarding the dwindling food and medical stocks, there was no alternative to a military option," the statement said. "The RUF's illegal actions, which have been universally condemned and for which appeals had been made by UNAMSIL to the RUF for quick resolution, yielded no results...In view of the imminent danger posed to the very survival of the 233 peacekeepers, UNAMSIL swung into action." The statement said the rescue team consisted of U.N. troops from Ghana, Nigeria and India. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley personally oversaw the mission from UNAMSIL's base at Daru.

RUF forces and Kamajor militiamen reportedly clashed Saturday along the Sierra Leone - Liberia border in eastern Sierra Leone, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said on Saturday. Brima quoted Eddie Masalay, the CDF Administrator for Pujehun District, as saying the rebels launched an attack on Kamajor positions at Dar es Salaam village at about 2:00 a.m., some six miles from the town of Zimmi. He said the attackers claimed to be RUF fighters from the Liberian side of the border. There was no independent confirmation of the claim, and details of the ongoing fighting were sketchy. The attack was confirmed by the Resident Minister of Southern Province, Foday Sesay, who said plans were underway to send reinforcements to the area. "But reports from the eastern capital town of Kenema state that a large number of Kamajors have already been dispatched to the area," Brima added.

14 July: A Sierra Leone Army helicopter gunship has attacked RUF positions at Bunumbu and Manowa in eastern Sierra Leone, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said on Friday. "Hundreds of RUF fighters had gathered in Bunumbu town to plan an assault on the provincial capital of Kenema when they were attacked by government helicopter gunships," Brima reported, quoting civilians who had fled the area. "The entire RUF ammunition depot at Bunumbu was destroyed during the attack. A number of vehicles recently seized from U.N. troops in the north of the country and taken to Bunumbu by the rebels were pulverised in the raid." There was no independent confirmation of the report.

U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering arrived in Nigeria on Friday at the start of a regional tour which will focus on the situation in Sierra Leone. Nigerian officials indicated Pickering would meet Saturday with President Olusegun Obasanjo and Defence Minister Theophilus Danjuma. Pickering will also visit Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone has banned all diamond exports until a proper certification system is in place, Minister of Mineral Resources Mohamed Swarry Deen said on Friday. Deen said the government imposed the ban in compliance with last week's United Nations Security Council resolution which imposed a global embargo on Sierra Leonean diamonds. "The government decided to stop all sales of diamonds abroad because of the recent resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council," he told Reuters. "In fact, the government has to take such a decision because of the support and determination foreign countries involved in diamond buying are showing for the measures adopted by the Security Council." Deen said the same day the resolution was passed in the Security Council the government had authorized shipment of a diamond parcel to Belgium. On arriving in that country the parcel was seized by Belgian authorities. "Our government was contacted and we then informed the Belgians that the diamond parcel was authorized, the process was legal," Deen said. "The government was appreciative of the fact that the international community had already started action." He added that another parcel had been seized in Guinea. That parcel had not been authorized and both governments were investigating. The minister said everyone involved in mining should ensure they had a valid license. "There is no ban on the sale of diamonds internally, but both dealers and exporters must make sure that they buy from legal diamond miners and not from any person who does not have a valid license issued by the government," he said.

British troops remaining in Sierra Leone to train the country's military and to advise on the security situation there see their mission as "to make sure we can help government forces increase their combat effectiveness," according to Brigadier Gordon Hughes, the commander in charge of British forces in the country. "The end game is to force the collapse of the RUF or to quickly bring to an end the violence," Hughes told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle on Friday. He said the British troops would provide course training, advice and staff support to increase the effectiveness of the Sierra Leonean military. "This is something that will happen over time — It’s not something that happens overnight," he said. "But the more we train, and the better we train, the more we will increase the combat effectiveness of government forces." Hughes said that although there might not be a military solution alone to the long term future of Sierra Leone, he argued the military could condition the security environment to allow a "robust and durable" solution to the conflict. "In my mind it means leaving the RUF with no choice but to abandon the military option," he explained. Hughes said he was confident government forces would eventually be capable of achieving this task. "Government forces are being organised, they are being supported, and they will undoubtedly improve as time goes on," he said. "This is not something that will happen overnight, but as time goes on they’ll become much more coherent. They’re already starting to work much closer together at the higher levels of planning and organisation, and as we continue to invest training time and expertise into the government forces, their ability to conduct operations on the frontline will undoubtedly increase."

Military sources said Friday there would be a high-level investigation into an ambush Monday by Kamajor militiamen of a vehicle carrying salaries for Sierra Leone Army soldiers, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The ambush, which reportedly took place near the town of Moyamba, resulted in an exchange of fire between the Kamajors and the army. According to an unconfirmed Reuters report, Two Kamajor militiamen were killed  and five soldiers were injured in the attack. A CDF spokesman in the United States, quoting Deputy Defence Minister and CDF National Coordinator Sam Hinga Norman, told the Sierra Leone Web there was "absolutely no possibility that two CDF personnel or anyone else was killed in the incident" as reported by Reuters. "Nobody died and the money seized by the CDF was turned over to the Sierra Leone Police," he said. He added it was "very clear" the incident took place at Waterloo where the CDF is based.

A humanitarian convoy, escorted by U.N. peacekeeping troops, arrived in Bo on Thursday, according to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Project (IRIN). It was the first time in two weeks that such a convoy had reached the area, IRIN said.

Nigerian UNAMSIL soldiers serving in Sierra Leone have expressed widespread discontent over the payment of their salaries, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. "The disgruntlement among the Nigerian contingent in the U.N. is not limited to any particular company or battalion; it simply runs across the board," Fofana told the BBC Network Africa programme. He said the soldiers had complained that since being transferred from ECOMOG to UNAMSIL last year their salary arrears had not been paid. Last week Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Major-General Victor Malu, himself a former ECOMOG commander, told the News Agency of Nigeria that money earmarked for Nigeria's 3,229 soldiers in Sierra Leone had not been disbursed, as payment modalities were still being worked out. Malu said the $7.5 million received from the U.N., which had been paid in three installments, was less than the $18 million owed, and that an outstanding amount of more than $10 million was still expected. Malu said that while ECOMOG soldiers received five dollars a day, troops serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force were entitled to $30 a day. Nigeria could not afford to pay that amount, but would pay $20 so as not to jeopardise discipline among its troops in Sierra Leone, Malu said. But some Nigerian soldiers say they have yet to see the money. "Officially, they were supposed to receive a $30 stipend per day, but this was reduced to $20 by their home government, and even this money is not forthcoming," Fofana said. "Some said they’ve gone without salaries for some six months or so...Some of the soldiers said they have been surviving on monies they saved during their days in ECOMOG and largesse from benevolent friends in Sierra Leone." There are currently some 3,229 Nigerian soldiers serving with the UNAMSIL force, consisting of four battalions and a tank company. 

Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has ruled out any possibility that India might withdraw from the UNAMSIL force. "It is India's tradition to continue to contribute to U.N. peacekeeping operations," he said.

Greek authorities took into custody 192 illegal immigrants, including 18 women and 22 children, after the 130-foot freighter they were on ran aground in high winds off the town of Kalamata in the southern Peloponnese. The refugees, said to be from Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Sri Lanka, said they had been at sea for 40 days and had not eaten for four days. According to a spokesman for Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry, the refugees were given immediate medical help, food and shelter at the local customs house. 11 others were taken to a Kalamata hospital. The spokesman said a number of the illegal immigrants said they had embarked in Bulgaria and had each paid $2,500 for their passage. The ship's Turkish captain and one crew member were arrested. So far this year, Greece has arrested 1,559 illegal immigrants, seized 24 vessels and arrested 67 immigrant smugglers.

13 July: Britain will send military equipment and five million rounds of ammunition to Sierra Leone to help the Sierra Leone Army with "urgent operational needs," British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said on Thursday. "The ammunition is being provided subject to further reassurances that it will be used only by regular soldiers, in accordance with humanitarian law and human rights standards, and not by child soldiers," Hoon said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society have completed a major agricultural programme they launched in April to help persons severely affected by the conflict to grow their own food, the ICRC said in a statement. Farm implements and seeds were distributed to a total of 172,000 displaced persons and vulnerable resident farmers, the statement said. A total of 30,765 families benefited from the assistance, including 12,948 families in Tonkolili District, 12,614 in Kenema District and 5,303 in Pujehun District. Some 200 families living along the Moa River also received freshwater fishing equipment, the ICRC added. In addition, the Red Cross has set up an emergency programme to meet the immediate needs of thousands of persons displaced by the conflict. In May and June the ICRC and the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society distributed supplies consisting of tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, buckets and soap to 72,293 newly-displaced persons on the Lungi Peninsula and at Mile 91 — mostly women and children who had arrived after several days' journey on foot or by boat. "All in all, 34 ICRC trucks were used during the last two months to carry out 382 trips throughout the country," the ICRC statement said. 

Fewer than 6,000 former combatants who were disarmed under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme are still encamped, the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) said in a statement issued on Wednesday. That compares with a figure of 24,285 ex-combatants who had been disarmed as of 5 May, when hostilities broke out again between Sierra Leone's warring factions. Of the nine demobilisation centres which had been built, only those at Lungi and Daru are still operational. The centre at Lungi currently houses 1,166 ex-combatants while the one at Daru houses about 507. In addition, there are some 4,000 former combatants in Kenema who have not rearmed, 400 of them members of the CDF, the statement said. Disarmament centres at Moyamba, Bo and Kenema are still intact, while the two in Port Loko have been partially affected by recent fighting to protect the town from RUF attacks. The centres at Makeni and Magburaka were destroyed. As of 5 May, 22,542 adults and 1,743 children had been disarmed: 4,503 RUF (30% of the 15,000 target); 5,771 AFRC/ex-SLA (82% of the 7,000 target); 3,804 current/loyal SLA (63% of 6,000 target); 8,744 CDF (58% of the 15,000 target); and 1,463 others, including discharged SLA (73% of the 2,000 target). In addition, the NCDDR said 14,807 weapons had been collected, along with 225,719 rounds of ammunition. "Reintegration activities are at various stages of implementation depending on access capacity and the willingness of implementing agencies to support the ex-combatants," the statement said, adding that the NCDDR had received 11 proposals for the processing of 4,914 beneficiaries.

Médecins Sans Frontières Holland has released a report demanding attention for the desperate plight of persons forced from their homes in Sierra Leone, and concluding that most of the tens of thousands of people displaced from recent fighting fled from attacks carried out by government helicopter gunships. "Sierra Leone Army bombings begun in late May against a number of towns in the Northern Province and reportedly did not discriminate between civil and military targets," MSF Holland said in a statement on Thursday. The displaced people also report the RUF continues to be widely implicated in serious abuses of the displaced persons, including extra-judicial killings, rape, amputations, forced labour, flogging and looting, which the group said was also a factor in people fleeing. "Other ill-disciplined militia groups, allegedly fighting on the side of the government, have created insecurity in areas of displaced populations, further creating fear, disorganisation, and denying the possibility of providing shelter, food and medical assistance," the statement said, adding: "The condition of the civilian population in Sierra Leone and the behaviour of both sides in the fighting demands that the international community take a new, more comprehensive approach to the conflict. That approach should put at its centre the interests of the people of the country who have been displaced, abused and terrorised by the warring parties."

12 July: Kamajor militiamen ambushed an army vehicle carrying pay for Sierra Leone Army soldiers on Monday, stealing the money and resulting in an exchange of fire in which two Kamajors were killed and five soldiers injured, Reuters reported on Wednesday, quoting military sources. Fighting between army and the Kamajor militia, which makes up the main component of the pro-government Civil Defence Force (CDF), continued into Tuesday at a Kamajor base in Waterloo, the sources said. In its humanitarian situation report released on Tuesday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) complained that the work of humanitarian agencies in southern Sierra Leone was being "constrained by the on-going harassment by the CDF, especially with respect to vehicle commandeering." On May 26, four of the pro-government militiamen were arrested in Freetown by U.N. peacekeepers while attempting to rob a civilian. The government has pressed for the Kamajors to leave the capital, which has been declared as a weapons-free zone, although some of the militiamen remain at their base at the former Brookfields Hotel, Reuters said.

The Speaker of Parliament announced Tuesday the dismissal from the House of Representatives of seven opposition members for failure to attend thirty parliamentary sessions. According to Freetown’s Pool newspaper, later confirmed by a parliamentary source, the seven include Dr. John Karefa-Smart (UNPP leader), Abdulai Bundu Kamara (UNPP), Augustine Kembe Stevens (DCP), A.F. Serry-Kamal (APC), Victor Foh (APC), Dr. Jengo Stevens (APC) and Edward Turay (APC Secretary-General). Under Sierra Leone’s constitution (Chapter VI, Article 77 (e), a parliamentarian may be dismissed "if he is absent from sittings of Parliament for such period and in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the rules of procedure of Parliament." Four of those expelled, Karefa-Smart, Turay, Kamara and Stevens, are currently living abroad.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan held high-level talks in Lomé, Togo Wednesday with on the situation in Sierra Leone. Following a meeting with President Kabbah, Annan attended a meeting to review U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, a U.N. spokeswoman said in New York. Attending were the Chiefs of Staff of the Guinean and Nigerian armies, the Ghanaian foreign minister, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, and the UNAMSIL force commander in Sierra Leone. "We discussed some of the operational difficulties on the ground and the need for us to work as a force that is solid and 'solidaire'," Annan was quoted as saying after the meeting. "There was unanimity as to what we should do to pull support for Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley, and full support for our efforts on the ground. There are certain missing equipment that we need to provide for the contingents on the ground [that] some of the Western countries have promised and it will be my responsibility to press them to deliver."

Ex-SLA soldiers nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma — the so-called "West Side Boys" — have ignored a government order to turn themselves in to be disarmed by UNAMSIL, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The West Side Boys have clashed repeatedly with Sierra Leone Army soldiers in recent weeks, resulting in a number of deaths on both sides. The strife within the ranks of the pro-government forces also led to the capture of Lunsar by the RUF and the temporary loss of Masiaka to the rebels. The government order, which was supported by Koroma, called on the ex-SLA soldiers to report to Masiaka on Monday and Tuesday to be disarmed and encamped. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said about 200 of the soldiers turned up at the disarmament reception centre at Masiaka, but refused to turn over their weapons and were turned away by the U.N. military observers.

Human Rights Watch expressed concern Wednesday that the Sierra Leone government had caused civilian casualties and massive civilian displacement as a result of helicopter gunship attacks on suspected RUF positions. The attacks took place during May and June at Makeni, Magburaka and Kambia, and resulted in the deaths of at least 27 civilians, with some 50 more wounded, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. The human rights group called on the Sierra Leone government and its British military advisors to ensure that government forces obey humanitarian law and take the necessary precautions to protect civilians. "Displaced civilians from Makeni...and Magburaka...have described several air attacks on public places, including crowded markets. The actions of the helicopter caused a massive civilian exodus which emptied entire towns and villages," the Human Rights Watch statement said. "In Makeni, the government MI-24 gunship on May 31 dropped leaflets warning the RUF of a future air attack, but attacked the center of town just minutes later. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that between seven and nine people were killed when a government helicopter attacked the central lorry park with bombs and gunfire." While Human Rights Watch said it was possible there had been a legitimate military target near the market place shortly before the attack, it pointed out that the Geneva Convention prohibits the targeting of civilians, and requires that armed forces take precautions to limit the danger of attacks to civilian populations. The human rights group also "strongly condemned" the continuing practice of extorting "taxes" from fleeing civilian populations. "All witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they had been forced to pay a "tax" to pro-government Civil Defense Forces before entering the town of Mile 91, and civilians who fled through RUF-held territory described how they were forced to hand over personal belongings and money at RUF-controlled territory," the statement said. "It is unconscionable that pro-government and rebel forces are stealing the last possessions from frightened, fleeing people," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. "The government of Sierra Leone needs to act immediately to stop theft and extortion by forces loyal to the government, particularly the Civil Defense Forces."

A "significant aid convoy," sponsored by the U.N. World Food Programme and Catholic Relief Services, is on its way from Freetown to Kenema under UNAMSIL military escort to bring relief to displaced persons gathered there, a U.N. spokeswoman said in New York on Wednesday.

11 July: Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said Tuesday that Foday Sankoh and other RUF leaders should be tried under international auspices, but that the U.N. should not set up another war crimes tribunal. "We don't want to create a third international war crimes tribunal,'' Holbrooke said. "They are expensive, they are time-consuming and they move too slowly. At the same time we feel that the actions of him (Sankoh) and his henchmen fully justify putting him under some kind of international umbrella so that the proceedings, however they are structured...have the weight of international law behind them." The U.S. is sponsoring a resolution in the U.N. Security Council which would reportedly establish a joint structure operating under elements of both Sierra Leonean and international law. "We are micro-calibrating that issue in ways that I will leave to the lawyers," Holbrooke said following a closed-door Council session. "(Sankoh) should be tried under a system which is under the international war crimes structure but not a third tribunal," Holbrooke said. "These things cost $100 million each, are very slow to set up (and) that's not the most efficient way to have justice done."

The RUF has official turned down a UNAMSIL request to resupply 233 U.N. personnel surrounded by rebel forces in Kailahun by helicopter, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday. Marie Okabe, the Associate Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, said efforts to supply the contingent were continuing at every level.

ECOWAS will hold a three-day meeting in Accra, Ghana beginning on July 19 to discuss modalities for sending a contingent of West African troops to Sierra Leone, according to an ECOWAS statement issued on Tuesday. In May, ECOWAS offered up to 3,500 additional troops to the UNAMSIL force, on condition that the United Nations would pick up the cost. UNAMSIL's current authorised strength currently stands at 13,000, with nearly that many troops on the ground in Sierra Leone. The U.N. Security Council is considering a British-sponsored resolution which raise the ceiling to 16,500 troops, but that resolution was put in doubt Tuesday when the United States voiced opposition to an immediate strengthening of the U.N. force. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said Washington wouldn't sign off on another costly increase without more details from the U.N. Peacekeeping Department on what the strengthened force would be asked to do. He told the Security Council Tuesday that the U.S. wanted a study to determine what would be necessary for the U.N. force to succeed. "Everyone in the room, all 15 nations agreed, Sierra Leone must be turned into a United Nations success, which it hardly can be called right now," Holbrooke said. "Our government is of the view that these issues are of such consequence that we have to get them right...We are not happy with UNAMSIL right now. It has not done a good job. There was a consensus on that in the room, that the job they had done was inadequate to their mission for very many, many reasons and that we have to redouble our efforts to find a solution to these problems."

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) said Tuesday it has postponed this weekend's second-leg African Nations Cup qualifying match between Sierra Leone and Togo while officials investigate why Togo failed to show up in Freetown on July 1 for the first-leg match between the two teams. Togo cancelled the trip at the last minute citing security concerns and asked that the game be played instead in a neutral venue. CAF said they would discuss the matter when they meet in Cairo on July 29.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to require U.S. Customs to enforce a ban on the purchase of "conflict diamonds." The move follows a vote by the United Nations Security Council last week to impose a global ban on the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds. The U.S. measure, which was attached without dissent to a $29 billion bill to fund the Treasury Department and general government operations for the next fiscal year, would block trade in diamonds from Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone — apart from Sierra Leonean diamonds which carry a government certificate of origin. "This one thing in itself could stop the war," said Representative Frank Wolf (pictured right), who sponsored the measure. "Until the link between diamonds and war is severed, these African wars will not end." He added that the Security Council resolution "obligates our country, as a member of the United Nations, to enact legislation that will implement the embargo."

Group of 8 (G-8) foreign ministers are expected to approve a document which features five conflict-prevention measures to deal with social and political problems in vulnerable and post-conflict areas, a senior G-8 official was quoted as saying. The foreign ministers begin a two-day meeting in Japan on Wednesday ahead of the G-8 summit set for July 21-23. The measures include tightening the controls on the illegal diamond trade to curb arms purchases by rebels in Sierra Leone, Angola and other African countries, pressuring countries to stop recruiting child soldiers, promoting the eradication of poverty, helping nations establish and train civilian police forces, and strengthening regulations on the export of arms to areas experiencing conflict.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), together with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and Rotary International, will organise synchronized National Immunization Days (NIDS) in 18 West and Central African countries later this year as part of a global effort to eradicate polio. The NIDs are to be carried out in two phases in October and November in Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal and Togo. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Ebrahim M. Samba, said the campaign would target at least 35 million children. "The peer psychology of doing things together engendered by this exercise would foster effective cross-border collaboration among health officials in the 18 countries involved," he said. The exercise will also be more cost-effective, and the logistics of the operation better streamlined and better managed." Samba appealed to the heads of state of the 18 countries to give their personal support to ensure that every child was reached during the exercise.

A British aid worker who was held hostage by the RUF for six weeks managed to escape his captors by disguising himself as a Sierra Leonean, Britain's PA News reported on Tuesday. Alan Smith, 55, was captured by the rebels in early May while visiting Sierra Leone to check on the progress of a technology college he set up ten years ago. As the military situation deteriorated, Smith decided to attempt to escape in traditional clothing supplied by friends. "They bought the clothes I was to dress in, an old Muslim gown to make me look like a grandfather, and a mixture of charcoal and palm oil to rub on my skin," he said. "I rubbed it all over my face and all visible parts of my body, it looked grotesque in the daylight because of my European features but it did the job at night." After a five-hour trek Smith and four other hostages captured with him were found by a local militia and flown to Freetown in British helicopters.

10 July: The Sierra Leone government has ordered the "West Side Boys" — ex-SLA soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma — to report to Masiaka on Monday and Tuesday to be disarmed by UNAMSIL. The government statement, read several times over state radio — follows allegations of indiscipline as well as recent clashes between the West Side Boys and Sierra Leone Army soldiers. According to the statement, those who surrender to U.N. peacekeepers will be screened and then either allowed to enter the British military training programme at Benguema military training camp or, if found ineligible, will enter the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme. UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu told reporters in Freetown Monday that U.N. military observers had already been deployed at Masiaka in preparation for the disarmament exercise. She did not say how many of the West Side Boys had turned up at the reception centre, but said UNAMSIL's action came in response to a call by the government. Koroma told the Sierra Leone Web late Monday that he supported the government's decision to disarm and demobilise the West Side Boys. "They have to take them to Benguema for retraining," Koroma said. "Some of them will have to go to the DDR programme." He added: "Some politicians are playing games; they want to use the West Side Boys to pull me down." Koroma declined to provide names, but referred to his call in May for all pro-government troops to assemble in the face of an RUF advance toward the capital. "That’s what they are fighting against — when I mobilised all the fighting forces," he said.

African leaders opened their three-day OAU summit in Lomé, Togo on Monday, with the conflict in Sierra Leone expected to rank high on the agenda. Organizers said 24 heads of state and foreign ministers were attending the summit, which is being held at Lomé's Hotel Deux Fevrier — the same venue where the Lomé Peace Accord was negotiated last year. According to the Pan African News Agency (PANA), the OAU's Council of Ministers, which met in advance of the summit, has urged the leaders "to take appropriate measures" to try RUF leaders for "crimes against humanity and human rights violations."  They also expressed support for ECOWAS' appeal to the United Nations Security Council that UNAMSIL's mandate be changed from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. The ministers called on the rebels "to immediately stop" all atrocities, including summary executions, rapes, and the abduction of civilians, and called on them to free all hostages, including those abducted before the signing of the peace agreement. The ministers also welcomed a decision by ECOWAS to conduct an investigation into the illicit trade in Sierra Leonean diamonds, and expressed support for the Security Council's decision to impose a global embargo on the sale of diamonds originating in Sierra Leone.

UNAMSIL has been unable to re-supply 222 U.N. peacekeeping troops and 11 military observers surrounded by RUF forces at Kailahun since May for a considerable length of time, a U.N. spokeswoman said in New York on Monday. "The situation there is that the rains have flooded the roads in the area. That’s made transportation by road very difficult to resupply this area, said spokeswoman Marie Okabe. "We also had an added complication on Friday in which a helicopter resupply to the troops there was also denied, so there was an escalation of obstacles in trying to resupply them." Okabe said the peacekeepers had only ten days worth of rations left. "We are taking this situation very seriously and every effort is being made to re-supply them by any possible means," she said.

UNAMSIL has discovered a large cache of arms near Lungi, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said on Monday. She added that an investigation was underway. Okabe said the general military situation in Sierra Leone was "calm." 

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the near-collapse of the UNAMSIL force in May resulted because the RUF "more-or-less tore up the (peace) agreement and behaved in a manner that was inconsistent with their undertaking that they had made in Lomé." Annan told the BBC that the U.N. had now stabilised the situation in Sierra Leone and would work with the government to restore peace in the country. "In time we expect to work with the government to extend its administration throughout the territory and eventually take over the diamond mining area so that this resource, this natural gift that has been given to the people of Sierra Leone, will be exploited for the benefit of the people and nation, not for RUF to wage a war against people of Sierra Leone," he said. Annan insisted that the U.N. force's problems were not the result of its mandate. "I don’t think the mandate was weak; I think the mandate was adequate," he said. "They had a robust rules of engagement. They had a mandate that was adequate and they had the right use force to defend themselves and their mandate. In some situations the commanders will tell you ‘yes, we could have made a stand and we could have won the day, but we were so hopelessly outnumbered that we could have had a problem later.’ So, a judgment for the commander on the ground to make." The secretary-general said he had been "furious" at the seizure of U.N. peacekeepers by the RUF. "They were not the enemies," he said. "They were not the protagonists, and so to turn on men and women who have come in the name of peace is not something any one of us could condone or accept. I’m gratified that now all of them are out and are going about their business, but I think they are going to be much more determined to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again." 

Zambian UNAMSIL troops who were captured in May by the RUF have received new military equipment to replace arms and military equipment seized by the rebels, Zambian Army Commander Geojogo Musengule told the Times of Zambia on Sunday. Musengule said the Zambian government, in cooperation with the United Nations, had secured the equipment for the Zambian peacekeepers. He added that the Zambian peacekeeping contingent would remain in Sierra Leone as long as the U.N. mission continued. "The contingent that is in Sierra Leone has a mandate of six months and should the period elapse before the mission is cut, another unit from Zambia will go and replace those currently there," Musengule said. 

Brigadier (Rtd.) Kellie Conteh has been named Acting National Security Advisor, replacing Sheka Mansaray who is leaving Sierra Leone to pursue post-graduate studies overseas, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. Conteh previously served as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff, under the Ministry of Defence.

9 July: Ghana defeated Sierra Leone's Leone Stars by a score of 5-0 in their second-round World Cup soccer qualifying match. Scoring for Ghana before a home crowd of 45,000 were Charles Asamoah (13th and 60th minutes), Charles Akunnor (67), Yaw Preko (75) and Ishmael Addo (89). The game was originally scheduled to be played in Freetown, but was ordered moved to Accra by the Confederation of African Football last month for security reasons.  The return leg will be played in Freetown in May 2001. Other weekend results: Cameroon 3, Angola 0; Liberia 2, Nigeria 1; Senegal 0, Egypt 0; Democratic Republic of Congo 2, Congo 0; Guinea 3, Burkina Faso 2; Morocco 2, Algeria 1; Zambia 2, Togo 0; Tunisia 1, Madagascar 0; South Africa 2, Zimbabwe 0. The game between South Africa and Zimbabwe was abandoned Sunday in the 84th minute after police in Harare fired tear gas at bottle-throwing fans. 12 people died in the ensuing stampede and many others were injured, at least four critically. Players on the field from both teams were overcome by the effects of the gas.  

Liberia said Sunday its territory had come under attack from unidentified dissidents from across the border in Guinea, but pointed a finger at Sierra Leone and Britain. Liberia has waged a war of words against the two countries since being accused last month of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. According to a statement broadcast over KISS-FM radio, owned by Liberian President Charles Taylor, the attack was launched Saturday morning at the border town of Koryama, near Voinjama in northern Lofa County. "Liberian territory has once again come under attack by dissidents operating in neighbouring Guinea," the statement said, quoting Deputy Defence Minister Sayvanus Williams. It described the attack as a "purely diversionary" one ahead of an expected offensive against Liberia from Sierra Leone. The statement said the Liberian government was "outraged" at the incursion. "The government will do all it can to prevent the conflict from spreading and has therefore rushed reinforcements into Lofa County," the radio said. "This latest attack on Liberia is a direct result of the massive influx of arms brought into the sub-region by the British government under the guise of arming so-called Sierra Leone forces." Liberian dissidents first launched an attack in the same area last August, forcing tens of thousands of Liberian residents and Sierra Leonean refugees to flee. The Liberian government at the time accused Guinea of backing the rebel military incursion. A British foreign office spokesman dismissed the Liberian allegations and accused Liberia of arming the RUF which have been "murdering, mutilating and maiming the civilian population" in Sierra Leone. "The aim and the result of British aid is to make Sierra Leone a safer place,'' the spokesman said. "To say that that aid is destabilizing is a little fanciful.'' Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor has decided not to attend the OAU summit meeting which opens in Togo on Monday, Togolese officials said. No reason for his absence was given.

8 July: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to Liberian President Charles Taylor and other African leaders "to do their utmost" to bring about the release of 222 Indian peacekeeping troops and 11 military observers surrounded by the RUF in Kailahun since May. "This cannot be allowed to continue," Deputy Spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said on Friday. "The secretary-general continues to be extremely concerned about the unacceptable encirclement" of the peacekeepers.

Exiled former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie said Saturday he is no longer a combatant in Sierra Leone's civil conflict. Bockarie fled to exile in Liberia last December following a public falling-out with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "We are not anymore fighters," Bockarie told the BBC. "We have [word indistinct] the problem there and decided to seek refuge, and more specially, I was asked by his excellency here the president (Charles Taylor) to, since that is the case, I should disregard everything to help the peace process there, to help my country to gain lasting peace, and that’s why I’m here." Bockarie dismissed a suggestion that he follow the lead of other former rebel commanders and join the Sierra Leone government in Freetown. "Maybe they want to fight," he said. "We feel they have some interest there that they don’t want to lose. And I feel I was not fighting because I want to be a president or I want to be a minister. I thought I was fighting because I knew my country was suffering, and I feel by then it was necessary for armed struggle by then because all procedures to bring in a change failed our country, so we felt only armed struggle could have succeeded to bringing a change." The former rebel commander argued that his presence in Sierra Leone might be a detriment to the peace process. "I don’t need nothing there," he told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. "I believe my being there, somebody may threaten my life, and I feel I have thousands of men who love me, who are armed men. So if anyone threatens my life I’m surely going to defend myself. Defending myself may create another new war. So it’s necessary for me to get out of it. I feel I’ve been targeted as one of the people who are wanted to be tried by a war crimes tribunal, it’s gonna be [funded]. I think so far what I know is my name is number one on that chart." Bockarie denied he still had armed supporters in Sierra Leone. "Whosever left there is a fighter of the RUF, not for Sam Bockarie as individual," he said. In response to a question on why the Liberian government was according him VIP treatment if he was no longer a factor in the Sierra Leone conflict, Bockarie responded: "That is a very good question that I will like to answer. I’ve been thinking over it this few days that, really, I was discussing with my men, a few of them, the only solution to change a man like me, my mind, is like giving me a good home to stay, giving me a good car to ride, and then, maybe giving me a job to do, and then I’ll be able to earn some money to support myself and my family, what made me to become disgruntled or to take up the arm."

President Kabbah will be among more than 30 African heads of state and government attending the 36th OAU summit which opens in Lomé, Togo on Monday, the Togolese information ministry said on Saturday. Countries which have confirmed their participation in the summit include South Africa, Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea and Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Arab Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Chad, Tunisia and Zambia. Angola and Namibia have announced they will not attend after accusing Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema of supporting Angola's UNITA guerillas. OAU rules bar countries governed by military regimes from attending.

The OAU supports Wednesday's decision by the United Nations Security Council to ban the sale of rough diamonds originating in Sierra Leone, OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim said on Saturday. "Obviously when the Security Council takes this decision of that nature, the members of the organization have clear responsibility to comply with that," he told the Xinhua news service in Lomé, Togo. Salim also urged Liberian President Charles Taylor to help the OAU in bringing about the release of 222 Indian peacekeeping troops and 11 military observers surrounded by the RUF in Kailahun. "We think we should try to make it a task less difficult by trying to encourage them to go on that purpose so that peacekeepers are released," he said.

7 July: The Sierra Leone government has ordered ex-SLA soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma to turn themselves in to be disarmed by U.N. peacekeeping troops. The so-called "West Side Boys" joined a pro-government coalition to fight against the RUF when the peace process collapsed in May, but in recent weeks have clashed repeatedly with Sierra Leone Army soldiers. "The government has heard your grievances and concerns and hears that you are loyal to the government and wish to continue to fight against our common enemy, the RUF," said an official statement read over state radio. The ex-SLA fighters were ordered to report with their weapons to Masiaka on July 10 and 11 to be disarmed and taken to a disarmament camp. Those who failed to report would face disciplinary action, the government statement said.

Russia has suspended the departure of four Mi-24 helicopter gunships and 115 troops to Sierra Leone, apparently out of concern that UNAMSIL is being turned into a "peace enforcement" rather than a peacekeeping force. "Until the U.N. Security Council finally decides on the mandate of the peacekeeping force in this country, the departure of the Russian military contingent to Sierra Leone has been suspended," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The foreign ministry also rejected local media reports that Russians had already taken part in hostilities in Sierra Leone. "Reports by some Russian media about the alleged participation of the Russian military in hostilities in Sierra Leone can only arouse regret," the statement said, adding: "the authorities of Sierra Leone do not conceal their intention to use force to cut the rebels' activities." The foreign ministry statement said the U.N. Security Council was drafting a resolution to revise UNAMSIL's mandate, and that Russian troops would leave for Sierra Leone only after the Council had taken a final decision regarding the peacekeeping troops deployed there. The Russian contingent had originally been scheduled to leave for Sierra Leone between July 5 and July 15.

Minister of Mineral Resources Alhaji Mohamed Swarry Deen said Friday the Sierra Leone government was working on a system to certify legal exports of Sierra Leonean diamonds. "Since the announcement by the British Foreign Secretary that Britain was going to sponsor a resolution in the Security Council banning the illegal export of diamonds from Sierra Leone, we have been working on certification," Deen told the Voice of America. "We have drafted a certificate which we have shown to the British High Commission here, and we had a visit from the Diamond High Council from Belgium, we have discussed this certification with them. We are now in touch with the security printers De La Rue in Britain. We hope that the certificate will be ready very soon." The minister pointed to the problem of distinguishing diamonds mined in rebel-held areas from those originating in areas under government control. "We are doing our best with our monitoring system to make sure that we ourselves do not bring the rebel diamonds into our own system, because what happens is the money will still go to them, and they will still make use of it in the way they are doing now," he said. "So that’s a difficult area which we’re actually looking at. We’ll make sure that right from the beginning we start distinguishing between rebel diamonds and the legal diamonds." Deen pointed to a recent increase in diamonds being exported through official channels. "The whole of last year our export was $1.5 million, just about. In June alone we exported very nearly $3 million," he said.

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were beneficiaries of World Food Programme (WFP) assistance Lokomasama and Kaffu Bullom Chiefdoms has dropped from 41,500 to 25,300, the WFP said following a verification exercise after reports that some displaced persons had returned to their homes at Lungi Lol and the Four Mile. In its latest report, current through July 6, the WFP said there were reports that other IDPs were seeking refuge in eastern Lokomasama Chiefdom, fleeing from Mange, Mambolo and other parts of Kambia District. During the past week, the WFP distributed 542 metric tons of assorted relief commodities to 41,900 beneficiaries in Sierra Leone. "After several delays since the last distribution in April, which were due to insecurity on the road, 14,300 registered IDPs and 2,000 new arrivals in Port Loko finally received their food entitlements," the WFP reported. Planned distributions to 10,361 new and 8,786 existing IDPs in 11 villages on the Masiaka - Mile 91 axis had to be postponed until secure access and adequate security for the IDPs was assured. An inter-agency mission will take place as soon as possible to identify a secure location for a displaced camp.

Sierra Leone would be excluded from a new British debt-relief scheme announced on Friday because of the ongoing conflict in the country, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said. The British plan is aimed at speeding up an international effort to write off debts owned by the world's countries. "There is a new initiative in this area which I will propose to my (G7) colleagues. There are now ten countries which cannot benefit from debt relief because they are in conflict," he said. "We want the international community to send a message to these countries: if by October, they can turn away from these conflicts...we will make additional efforts to bring them forward in debt relief." Last year G7 leaders agreed to speed up an IMF/World Bank Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative to that $100 billion of debt to up to 30 HIPC countries could be written off by the end of 2000. So far only nine of those countries have reached the "decision point" where the funds could be released. Brown said Britain's Department for International Development (DIFD), the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence would share one budget to finance the government's operations in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning with an initial injection of £7.5 million. Brown acknowledged it would be difficult for the ten countries to end their conflicts by the end of October. "But one of the key barriers to debt relief being successful this year is the extent of conflict in Africa," he said. Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Horst Koehler said Friday he favoured greater debt relief for developing countries and wanted to give them a stronger voice within the IMF. "I am in favour of an even bolder programme for debt relief, but the debtor countries must do their own homework to get more credibility to get that debt relief," Koehler told reporters in South Africa. 

100 parliamentarians, religious leaders and civil society officials marked the first anniversary of the Lomé Peace Accord Friday by calling on UNAMSIL and the Sierra Leone government to use "robust measures" to ensure the RUF disarms and relinquishes territory under its control. In a joint statement, they also called on the government to act "as a matter of extreme urgency" to unify the alliance of pro-government militias, both to contain the rebel threat and to ensure stability. OTHER REACTION to the first anniversary of the Lomé Peace Accord: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Deliberate and arbitrary killings, mutilations, rapes and abductions are still taking place in Sierra Leone, and following the resumption of hostilities between government and rebel forces in May, these abuses against civilians have increased. The peace agreement signed on 7 July 1999 has brought neither peace nor an end to atrocities in Sierra Leone." U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN (On whether RUF leader Foday Sankoh should face trial): "I don't think we should allow impunity to stand...We reserved our right at a future date to deal with those who had committed such crimes. We should not get the impression out — not in this region, not in any part of the world — that impunity is allowed to stand and people can get away with these sorts of atrocities." The United Nations will work with the government of Sierra Leone to extend its authority to the diamond mining areas "so that this natural gift that has been given to the people of Sierra Leone will be exploited for their benefit." AMBASSADOR SYLVESTER E. ROWE, Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative (Political Affairs) to the United Nations: "I think it's a shame that one year later, the viability of an Agreement that held so much hope for the traumatized people of Sierra Leone has apparently become a matter of serious concern. However, irrespective of the political and legal status of the document, there is no question that the humanitarian and DDR aspects of the conflict would have to be vigorously pursued, if we are to achieve real peace and security throughout the country any time soon." MONSIGNOR GEORGE BIGUZZI, Bishop of Makeni: ""The agreement responded to the longing of a nation devastated by nearly nine years of war. The accord contained disputable sections on a moral viewpoint, such as general amnesty for all the combatants of the RUF from the crimes committed, though it was retained the only possible way to end the sufferance and violence of civil war. It should have been the beginning of a process. Unfortunately the accord remained a mere formality...Two months ago the war resumed as did the ordeal of tens of thousands of people...As Bishop of the Sierra Leonean Catholic Church I appeal for a real change of heart, a sincere penitence and a profound reconciliation in justice and forgiveness. We know that the Lord loves us. Let us pray for the world to not abandon Sierra Leone to the violence of arms."

6 July: Intelligence reports obtained from the secret files of the Sierra Leone Police's Special Branch indicate the direct involvement of the Liberian government in supplying weapons to the RUF and in diamond dealing with the Sierra Leone's rebels, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported on Thursday. According to one document, on June 21 Liberian President Charles Taylor sent a group of well-armed men into Sierra Leone on board nine trucks. On the same day, according to the Special Branch report, a large weapon described as a "forty-barrel gun" was escorted into Sierra Leone by 200 fully-armed Liberians. "Details of the alleged rebel battle plan against the Sierra Leone government then followed, with a major attack on Freetown apparently due for July 5. This reported plan, if true, appears to have been forestalled by more recent military developments," Doyle said. A second document described two truckloads of arms being sent into Kono District in early June. These trucks allegedly contained rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition for AK-47 rifles. "This intelligence report also refers to training for the Sierra Leone rebels taking place at the military camp in the Liberian town of Batala, just north of Monrovia," Doyle said. "Batala Camp was said to be controlled by President Taylor’s elite anti-terrorist unit." A third document quotes an informant as saying a named woman living in the diamond mining area of eastern Sierra Leone was President Taylor's representative there. The woman allegedly received the proceeds of the diamond mines on a daily basis and handed the gems over to an RUF rebel, also named in the report, who was said to then transfer them to Taylor. "All of the examples quoted here were sifted from less convincing reports by Sierra Leonean police intelligence officers for onward referral to their superiors, meaning that the details mentioned were taken very seriously in Freetown," Doyle said. In Monrovia, Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah rejected the allegations of Liberian complicity in the Sierra Leone crisis. "The latest allegation is not strange, as all along the Kabbah government — now the police are all involved — have tried to fake a lie in order to implicate Liberia, something we do not consider authentic," Mulbah (pictured right) told the BBC. He called for the international community "lay this whole issue" by deploying observers along the Sierra Leone - Liberia border. "I think the problem in Freetown, as we’ve said over and over, is purely a Sierra Leonean one and as such there should be no scapegoating," he said. Mulbah welcomed Wednesday's U.N. Security Council resolution to ban the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds, and said Liberia would support it. "I think this will help us because there have been many lies being told against Liberia," he said. With this embargo now, the world will see where the diamonds are coming from...We are very excited because we are in the business of diamonds. We have numerous diamonds in our country. We are looking for the international community to aid us in trying to mine our own diamonds. Why should we be running behind a Sierra Leonean diamond?"

Belgium said Thursday it had taken immediate action to enforce a United Nations Security Council ban on the export of diamonds from Sierra Leone. "Economics Minister Charles Picque immediately instructed civil servants...based at the Diamond Office in Antwerp and in charge of delivering licences for importing diamonds into Belgium to ban the entry of Sierra Leone diamonds without a certificate of origin," the Economics Ministry said in a statement. Antwerp, which is the world's largest diamond trading centre, handles about 80 percent of the world trade in rough diamonds and 50 percent of the trade in polished stones. 

India's Gem and Jewelry Export Promotion Council, the country's main diamond industry body, said Thursday it would require all diamond exporters to declare the stones' country of origin. The new regulations are aimed at ensuring no "conflict diamonds" are purchased from Sierra Leone, Angola or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Council said it would ban traders caught dealing in conflict diamonds, and would pressure banks not to finance them.

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara, said Thursday that the government was working on a certification system to authenticate legitimate Sierra Leonean diamonds. The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to ban the sale of all Sierra Leonean rough diamonds not accompanied by a certificate of origin from the government. Until such a certification system is in place, this would have the effect of banning all Sierra Leonean diamonds. Kamara told the BBC the Ministry of Mineral Resources might introduce a certification system in less than a week. "They already have some mechanisms put in place. The certification itself will be out within a few days, I suppose," he said. Kamara called the U.N. ban "a big move forward towards the resolution of the conflict" in Sierra Leone. "With the cooperation of all members of the Security Council and neighbouring states, we believe the ban will be very effective, and it will work, and it will move the peace process in Sierra Leone forward," he said.

Serge Muller, the chief executive officer of Rex Diamond Mining, called Thursday's United Nations Security Council ban on Sierra Leonean conflict diamonds a good first step, but said the embargo should be extended to Liberia, named in the resolution as a conduit for the illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds. Rex Diamond Mining owns non-operating diamond concessions in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. "Everybody would have liked it to cover diamonds from Liberia as well," Muller told Reuters. "Liberia has always been the source of diamond smuggling out of Sierra Leone. Liberia is a very minor diamond producer. They have very small and marginal deposits. It cannot possibly support the amount of diamonds coming out of there...The underground diamond reserves in Sierra Leone are very significant. It could certainly support a significant fiscal income for the government." According to diamond industry sources, diamonds labeled as Liberian include Sierra Leonean conflict diamonds, Russian diamonds seeking to evade European tariffs, and South American gemstones.

REACTION to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1306, imposing a global ban on the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds. ALHAJI MOHAMED SWARRY DEEN, Minister of Mineral Resources: "Our reaction is that it’s a very good thing for Sierra Leone, and it’s the best way to really stop the illegal flow of diamonds by the rebels for fueling the war in Sierra Leone...It is one of the best ways to help us minimize the smuggling of diamonds, which are being mined and sold by the RUF to purchase arms and ammunition," he said. "Once they are unable to get more arms, the fighting will stop." RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT: "It is critically important that the term of action of the sanctions concerning illegal exports of diamonds be limited to 18 months, after which the Council can again examine the situation in the country. Another step has therefore been taken to make the mechanism of sanctions more effective and fair, including confirmation in the future of the practice of limiting sanctions in terms of time and scope." ALEX YEARSLEY, GLOBAL WITNESS CAMPAIGNER:  "It’s a very positive first step, compared to the embargo on Angolan diamonds, that was a partial embargo...It will go a long way if properly implemented by the trade and by UN countries to cutting off the supply of weapons and food to the RUF." FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN ANNE GAZEAU-SECRET: Welcomed the resolution and said the re-establishment of peace in Sierra Leone would depend on a control of the diamond trade which is used illegally by the rebel RUF as a financial resources in a great part of its war effort. The installation of a regime for controlling Sierra Leone's diamond production would complete the efforts undertaken by the Security Council in other African states, notably Angola. It would give back legitimacy to the diamond trade which should contribute to peace and development in Africa. BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY ROBIN COOK: "I have seen for myself the misery and brutality of the civil war in Sierra Leone, which the rebels fund through illegal diamond sales. That is why Britain inspired and drafted this resolution to ban the import of illicit diamonds from Sierra Leone and cut off this means of income for the rebels at source...The people of Sierra Leone deserve to see a quick end to this civil war. This is one way in which we are playing our part in helping to bring that about...We want the genuine diamond industry to flourish and avoid the tarnished reputation brought by illicit diamonds which fund death and destruction in conflict zones." DE BEERS SPOKESWOMAN TRACEY PETERSON: "It is great news. Any measures that are taken by the United Nations or other authorities to curb illicit diamond trafficking are fully welcomed and supported by De Beers." MAKENI BISHOP GEORGE BIGUZZI: "I consider the decision of the U.N. Security Council...as a positive factor. It is a known fact that the proceeds from diamond trade are utilised by the combatants of the Revolutionary United Front for the acquisition of arms. I do however feel that the embargo, to serve its purpose, must be backed by adequate technical measures. Until the borders of Sierra Leone remain uncontrolled, the RUF will continue the diabolical trafficking. An organism should also be created, under the aegis of the U.N., to control the diamond industries that buy the precious stones. Without these conditions the embargo risks remaining merely a formality."

The Moroccan Customs and Indirect Taxes Directorate said Thursday it has slashed customs duties on imports from 34 African countries, including Sierra Leone, by 50 percent in order to help in their economic development. "This concession has been ordered by King Mohammed who announced it during the last Afro-European summit in Cairo (in April) in favour of less developed Africa countries," a directorate official said.

5 July: The United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday to impose a global embargo on the sale of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds in an effort to halt the flow of funds to the RUF rebels, who are in control of most of the country's alluvial diamond mining areas. The British-sponsored resolution makes it illegal to buy Sierra Leonean diamonds unless they are accompanied by a certificate of origin from the government. Until such a certification system is in place, the resolution will ban all diamonds originating in Sierra Leone. The embargo will initially run for a period of 18 months, but it could be extended if the government fails to reassert its authority over the diamond mining areas. The resolution also calls for hearings to be held in New York to assess "the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone conflict," and it asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to name a panel of experts for an initial period of four months to examine the link between the illicit sale of diamonds and illegal arms purchases. The vote on the resolution had been scheduled for last Friday, but was postponed after disagreement emerged among Council members on the length of time the embargo should remain in effect, and on whether Liberia should be named as a conduit for the illicit sales of Sierra Leonean diamonds. The United States, which pressed for an open-ended ban, voted for the resolution but with reservations, according to Deputy U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg. "The United States strongly believes that sanctions, to have meaning and force, must be tied to a change in the behavior that prompts imposition of sanctions in the first place — not an arbitrary date on the calendar," she said. She argued that the use of time limits encouraged the targets of sanctions to try to "outlast the patience of the council or somehow divide its members (in the belief that) sanctions will be lifted without compliance or will just simply expire." Malian Ambassador Moctar Ouane called the naming of Liberia "unacceptable," because ECOWAS had not yet carried out a planned investigation of that country's alleged role in the illicit sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds. Mali abstained on the vote even though the Council softened the resolution's language to express concern at reports diamonds were being shipped through Liberian "territory," which replaced a more direct reference to the Liberian government. Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, also voiced opposition to naming Liberia, because President Charles Taylor was working to free 233 U.N. peacekeepers surrounded by the RUF in Kailahun. Sierra Leonean Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara, however, hailed the resolution, saying the Council had "for the first time, gone to the root of the conflict." "We have always maintained that the conflict in Sierra Leone is not about ideology, tribal or regional differences," Kamara said. "It has nothing to do with the so-called problem of marginalized youths, or, as some political commentators have characterized it, an uprising by rural poor against the urban elite. The root of the conflict is and remains, diamonds, diamonds and diamonds...Ours was not a civil war, but a rebel war based on brutality, supported by regional, sub-regional and international surrogates, and, more importantly financed by the illicit trade in Sierra Leone's diamonds." British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who sponsored the resolution, said it offered "a real opportunity to shine a powerful light on an industry that prefers to operate in the shadows," referring to the diamond industry. "The panel of experts will look at violations of the arms embargo and the link between diamonds and arms," he said. "It's a very important step, and a clear signal that the international community will no longer tolerate sanctions busting."

African leaders are expected to discuss ways of ending conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo when they meet in Lomé, Togo July 10-12 for the 36th Organization of African Unity summit. The summit will be preceded by a meeting of the OAU Council of Ministers on July 6-8 to prepare for the summit. African leaders will reportedly focus their discussions on regional cooperation and integration, security and stability, and the challenges of AIDS and poverty in Africa. They will also discuss a draft treaty on the establishment of the African Union and a draft protocol to the setting up of the African Economic Community.

Sierra Leonean journalist Claudia Anthony is among a group of writers from 22 countries who have been awarded Hellman/Hammett grants this year, Human Rights Watch announced on Wednesday. The grants are given annually by Human Rights Watch to writers around the world who have been the targets of political persecution. Anthony has contributed to many independent newspapers and to the BBC World Service. She is also founder and executive director of the Alliance for Female Journalists in Sierra Leone. In February 1997 she founded her own newspaper, the Tribune for the People. In January 1998 the AFRC junta warned her to stop filing reports for the BBC, and in February "armed rebels stormed her office because that day's paper had published a story describing an incident of looting carried out by a well-known rebel commander," Human Rights Watch said. During the rebel invasion of Freetown in January 1999, armed men damaged and looted the newspaper's offices, forcing it to close. "Ms. Anthony remains in Freetown at great risk," Human Rights Watch said.

4 July: U.N. peacekeeping troops took control of the crossroads town of Masiaka Tuesday, only hours after Sierra Leone Army's Director of Operations, Colonel Alfred Nelson-Williams, said pro-government forces had withdrawn to Mile 38 in the face of a rebel attack. "The RUF attacked us yesterday and we fought for six hours before we finally withdrew,'' Williams said. Other sources said there "wasn’t really very much of a fight, and 100 or 200 or so of the government forces left when they heard some serious shooting," BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported. He added that the poorly-organised "disparate alliance" of pro-government apparently ran away when the RUF attacked. UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley, who flew over the town, said Indian and Jordanian peacekeepers used tanks and infantry to expel the RUF forces. "Masiaka is now under UNAMSIL control," Jetley said. "The situation is still fluid. We are clearing out the RUF. We are in considerable strength." "There was a lot of shooting according to (Jetley), and according to another source the U.N. were shooting at anything that moved," Doyle said. He called UNAMSIL's retaking of Masiaka "a very significant move insofar as it’s the first time that the U.N. has acted in such a muscular way." UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said U.N. troops had encountered little resistance and were now "in total control" of Masiaka.  "During the night there was some disturbance and apparently the RUF was claiming it had taken over the town,'' she said. A British army officer working in Sierra Leone, however, told the BBC that the rebels had established a "significant presence" there. Masiaka was the scene of fighting last week between rival pro-government factions. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman confirmed Monday that the "West Side Boys" — ex-SLA fighters nominally loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma — had excluded SLA soldiers from roads leading to Masiaka, Doyle said.

A subcommittee of the Russian Duma's Committee for International Affairs has included Sierra Leone in a list of 28 strife-torn countries and regions which Russian nationals are advised to avoid. Oleg Naumov, Chairman of the Subcommittee for the Protection of Russian Citizens Abroad, said Monday's decision by lawmakers to compile the list "was prompted by their desire to warn fellow-countrymen against possible dangers." He noted, however, that the list did not include some regions of the Commonwealth of Independent States where travel could also be dangerous. The countries and regions named in the list are Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Haiti, Northern Sri Lanka, Angola, Nigeria, Somalia, Burundi, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Major-General Victor Malu has denied reports in the Canadian and British press that Nigerian peacekeeping troops had not been paid for months because the Nigerian government had diverted U.N. contributions intended for the troops. Malu, a former ECOMOG commander, acknowledged the Nigeria was not paying its soldiers at the rate paid by the United Nations, but insisted this was because the U.N. had not paid its full obligations. "What is outstanding to our troops in terms of allowances from December to date is more than $10 million," Malu said. "It is not true that we've got money from the U.N. and used it for other purposes."

3 July: Amnesty International has called for an end to violence against girls and women in Sierra Leone. "Rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence by rebel forces have been systematic and widespread," the human rights group said in a new report issued on Monday. Amnesty International said thousands of girls and women had been raped and abducted, often forced into becoming the "wife" of combatants. The report stressed that beyond the brutality and trauma of rape itself, sexual assault can result in serious physical injury, forced pregnancy, disease, and even death. The report noted that, under customary international law, rape committed by combatants during the conduct of an armed conflict is recognized as a war crime. When committed on a systematic basis or large scale, it is considered to be a crime against humanity, and as such is subject to universal jurisdiction. Amnesty International argued that the systematic and extensive pattern of rape and violence in Sierra Leone indicated "a deliberate strategy to use rape and sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon of war" and to instill terror in the victims. "There can be no amnesty for the systematic rape and sexual violence against women and girls in Sierra Leone which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity," Amnesty International in a statement. "All those who are responsible must be brought to justice." The human rights group made specific recommendations to Sierra Leone's warring factions, UNAMSIL and the international community to take steps aimed at ensuring the protection of women and girls from rape an sexual violence, and the prosecution of those guilty of such offences.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), in an emergency update through June 25, said Monday the WFP had been forced to delay food distribution to some 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Mile 91 after RUF rebels attacked the nearby town of Mogbolo. The WFP team said they saw residents fleeing the area and were advised by UNAMSIL not to proceed to Mile 91. After a later assessment, UNAMSIL gave security clearance and food distribution was set to continue on June 27. The WFP report added that on June 25 the rebels attacked the town of Katonga in Lokomasama Chiefdom. The town is located about 25 km. from Lungi International Airport. In Conakry Dee (the Lungi area), the WFP distributed over 76 tons of food to 10,012 IDPs. Distribution was interrupted on June 15 because of security threats to the area. On Tasso and Kakum Islands, the WFP distributed 118 tons of food to some 8,100 beneficiaries.  A  WFP convoy was also sent to Port Loko carrying 208 metric tons of food for 14,300 IDPs, the report said, adding that UNAMSIL tightened security along the Freetown - Port Loko road to allow the convoy to proceed. During the reporting period, the WFP distributed a total of 1,500 tons of assorted food commodities to 99,891 beneficiaries in Sierra Leone, the report said.

Ottawa-based Partnership Africa Canada expressed concern Monday that a British-sponsored resolution being considered by the United Nations Security Council aimed at curbing the sale of illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds would be counter-productive without looking at Liberia. Voting on the resolution has been postponed until Wednesday, in part over disagreement as to whether Liberia should be mentioned by name. "If Liberia is excluded from the resolution, the Security Council will be putting United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone at even greater risk; it makes absolutely no sense," said Ian Smillie (pictured left), co-author of Partnership Africa Canada's report "The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security." The report documented the flow of illicit Sierra Leonean diamonds to Antwerp via Liberia, and Liberian diamond sales to Antwerp far exceeding that country's very limited production capacity. Diamond giant De Beers estimates Sierra Leone produced about $70 million worth of diamonds in 1999, almost all of them sold illicitly. According to De Beers, gems claimed to originate in Liberia are largely Sierra Leonean conflict diamonds, Russian diamonds seeking to evade European tariffs, and other illicit stones. Liberia has also been accused, most recently by Britain, of providing arms to the RUF, a charge the Liberian government denies. Partnership Africa Canada's report recommended that an embargo be placed on the purchase of diamonds said to originate in Liberia until a full review could be made of the country's legitimate resource base, and until diamond exports fall into line with the country's mining capacity. "Instead, the ban is being placed on Sierra Leone, and the Security Council is now debating whether or not Liberia should even be mentioned — and in the most tepid of language at that," Smillie said in the statement. "Ignoring Liberia is the surest way to get more U.N. peacekeepers killed in Sierra Leone."

UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Vijay Jetley has expressed his condolences over last week's ambush of a Jordanian convoy in which one peacekeeper was killed and four wounded, a U.N. spokesman said in New York Monday. Jetley also commended the Jordanian troops for their "robust, professional and vigorous response" to the attack. The spokesman said the attack occurred about 20 km. west of Mile 91, and was launched from and around a house set back from the road by rebels using small arms and at least one rocket-propelled grenade. The U.N. casualties were all caused when the lead vehicle of the Jordanian patrol took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade, he added. The spokesman said the Jordanians returned fire and obliterated the house from which the firing was coming, killing at least ten attackers. In a separate incident, the spokesman said Jordanian peacekeepers deployed at the Rokel Bridge suffered no casualties when they were fired on by a small group of attackers. The Jordanians returned fire and the attackers fled, the spokesman said.

Two government soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with a unit of the RUF near Port Loko on Saturday, according to the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). There were no reports on RUF casualties. MISNA quoted "independent sources" as saying the RUF's "North Jungle Division" was being led by "Commander Komba," who is said to command RUF forces in the Kambia - Kamakwie axis. MISNA also quoted "sources in our agency" as saying the RUF had bought 300 bags of rice in Guinea for use by rebel units operating throughout northern Sierra Leone.

Four persons including a doctor have died in Freetown of Lassa Fever within the past two weeks, Dr. Haroun Turay of the government's disease prevention unit told state radio on Monday. Turay said the doctor had been treating four of his relatives for the disease. 

The Moroccan navy arrested 20 persons claiming to be Sierra Leoneans off the coast of Tangiers on Friday, the Pan African News Agency said Monday, quoting official sources in Rabat. The would-be illegal immigrants, including eight women, were trying to cross the Straits of Gibraltar to Spain in a fragile boat. None of them identity cards. Because some European countries grant preferential treatment to Sierra Leoneans, many African illegal immigrants claim Sierra Leonean citizenship.

Sierra Leone has not yet completed ratification of the Rome Statue to set up an International Criminal Court, the United Nations said on Monday. Last month Sierra Leone announced it had ratified the treaty, but it has not yet registered its ratification with the U.N., the final step in the process. So far 98 countries have signed the treaty and 13 have ratified and registered their ratification with the United Nations. The court will become operational when it receives 60 ratifications.

2 July: UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu has said there were casualties when Jordanian peacekeeping troops manning a checkpoint at Rokel came under fire overnight Friday from unknown attackers, the Associated Press reported on Sunday. She gave no details. On Saturday, Reuters quoted Befecadu as saying several U.N. troops were injured slightly when they were attacked by a gang of armed men seeking to loot two civilian vehicles which had crashed near Rokel.

Ex-SLA soldiers loyal to AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma — the so-called "West Side Boys" — have closed the stretch of road from Magbuntoso to Masiaka to Sierra Leone Army soldiers, Reuters reported on Sunday. The action follows recent fighting between the two pro-government factions at Lunsar and Masiaka. "This has been a serious setback for government troop movements," a military officer told reporters at Magbuntoso. He added that soldiers further down the road were running short of food and medical supplies.

Togo's football team failed to appear in Freetown for Saturday's African Nations Cup preliminary round first leg match against Sierra Leone, citing security reasons. "We have simply asked that the match be played with proper security conditions or that it should be moved elsewhere," Togolese Football Federation President Rock Gnassingbe said on Sunday. "That's why we refused to make the trip." He said the Togolese Football Federation was awaiting a response from the Confederation of African Football to its last-minute decision to pull out of the match. Other weekend African Nations Cup results: Djibouti 1, Burundi 3; Mauritania 0, Burkina Faso 0; Gambia 2, Guinea 2; Sao Tome e Principe 1, Gabon 1; Seychelles 0, Zimbabwe 1; Tanzania 0, Mauritius 1; Benin 2, Namibia 0; Central African Republic 1, Democratic Republic of the Congo 1; Chad 3, Libya 1; Equatorial Guinea 0, Angola 1; Ethiopia 1, Zambia 0; Lesotho 1, Mozambique 0; Niger 0, Ivory Coast 1; Rwanda 2, Congo 1; Sudan 5, Eritrea 1; Swaziland 3, Kenya 2; Uganda 3, Malawi 1. Morocco won over Guinea Bissau by forfeit.

1 July: A UNAMSIL investigation team has concluded that Friday's ambush of Jordanian peacekeepers between Masiaka and Mile 91 was a deliberate, planned attack by the RUF, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle said Saturday, quoting a U.N. military spokesman. One Jordanian peacekeeper was killed and four were wounded when the rebels ambushed six vehicles carrying Jordanian troops on their way to meet a logistics convoy. The investigative team, made up of Jordanians and Nigerians, found the ambush had been launched from a house along the main road to Mile 91, from which the rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade. "Ten bodies were found in a house that was hit by the UNAMSIL soldiers...there could be others," said UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu. The military spokesman said evidence found in the house proved the assailants were RUF rebels. "The incident is being treated extremely seriously by the U.N. in view of the apparent planning behind it," Doyle said. "The U.N. is making contacts with the RUF, not only to condemn the attack, but to try to establish the motive behind it."

RUF rebels attacked pro-government troops north of Port Loko on Saturday, BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported. No details or reports on the number of casualties were available. 

Several Jordanian peacekeeping troops were slightly injured Saturday when they came across a gang of armed men trying to loot two civilian vehicles which had crashed near Rokel, UNAMSIL spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said. Befecadu said the gunmen opened fire on the U.N. patrol, which returned fire. The identity of the gunmen was not clear, but RUF rebels are not believed to be operating in the area.

The United Nations Security Council has delayed until Wednesday a vote to impose a worldwide embargo on illicit diamonds originating in Sierra Leone. The resolution would ban all rough diamonds originating in the country until the Sierra Leone government set up a proper certification system for the gemstones, and could reassert its authority over diamond-mining areas now under rebel control. British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who drafted the resolution, said the delay had resulted from disagreement over the time limit for the embargo. Some countries wanted an 18-month ban, subject to another vote for renewal, while others supported a 12-month embargo. The United States wanted the ban to be open-ended. There was also disagreement as to whether neighbouring Liberia should be singled out by name for its alleged role in the illicit diamond trade in Sierra Leone. Ambassador Sylvester Rowe of Sierra Leone said his country was "not asking for punitive measures against Liberia because both of our countries would suffer. But we do want to shame them." Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, opposed naming Liberia because President Charles Taylor was negotiating the release of 222 Indian peacekeepers and 11 military observers surrounded by the RUF in the eastern town of Kailahun. Mali, a current member of the Council, also reportedly opposed naming Liberia. The current Council president, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte of France, promised a vote for Wednesday, adding "that's final." The resolution also calls for hearings within one year on "the role of diamonds in the Sierra Leone conflict," and asks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to appoint a panel of experts for an initial period of four months to report any violations of the embargo to the Security Council.

The Group of 8 (G-8) industrial nations have agreed to tighten controls on illicit diamonds in an attempt to curb the flow of illegal arms to Sierra Leone and other conflict-torn countries, Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ryozo Kato said on Saturday. According to the Xinhua news service, Kato said the outline for next month's G-8 summit in Nago, Japan also incorporates U.N. reform, disarmament and nuclear proliferation, international crime, terrorism and regional security issues. The G-8 nations include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.